How Much Money Can I Make If I Get a CDL?

It’s Possible to Make Quite a Bit

Within a year of starting driving school, you can be making $70,000 per year, plus health insurance, retirement, and other benefits.

How Prevalent Are the Jobs?

There are constantly hundreds of recruiters who are hiring truck drivers.

Truck companies are always short of drivers. This is a perennial truth. Occasionally there will be an excess of drivers in one part of the country or another, but these overages are local and very short lived. Drivers willing to relocate will always find employment.

Currently (late summer of 2021), every seaport intermodal ramp, every railroad intermodal ramp, and every intermodal transfer yard in the U.S. is shorthanded. Loaded 40’ containers are sitting on trailer chassis for up to 11 days waiting for a truck driver to become available to move them.

If you are dependable, careful, and don’t wreck the truck, you can find work.

The First Year

Most of the better driving jobs require a minimum of six months of “recent and verifiable” driving experience”. Right out of school, you won’t have that. So, you will have to work a “starter job”.

Your truck school will arrange interviews and help you with job applications. These “starter jobs” won’t pay very well, but the goal is to drive the big truck for six months without crashing and without getting any negative comments in your DAC report (DAC rhymes with sack).

A starter job will place you with an experienced driver-trainer for two months. During this time, you will make a small amount of money (~$80 per day for any day you actually work or drive, or ~$1,500 per month).

When they give you your own truck, expect a starter job to pay 38 cents per mile. If you drive 10,000 miles per month (easy to do), you’ll make $3,800 per month (or $45,600 per year). If you push hard, you can drive 11,500 miles per month ($4,370/month or $52,440/year). This is a starting wage and only for the first six months of driving.

The Second Year

With six months of experience (plus two months of truck driving school and two months with your driver-trainer), you can apply to a better company and make 51 cents per mile. If you drive 10,000 miles per month (easy to do), you’ll make $5,100 per month (or $61,200 per year). If you push hard, you can drive 11,500 miles per month ($5,865/month or $70,380/year).

After Ten Years

The top rate (10 years or more) is 57 cents per mile ($78,660/year). This is for regular Over The Road (OTR) driving in the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Canada (48/Canada). The hours are long but it is relatively easy work for good money.

A Short Cut

A note from our CDL expert:

“I was able to jump past the starter job step because my brother worked for a company that was willing to hire me, even though I didn’t technically qualify. I know some other people with similar stories. They got jobs at “better companies” without having the required number of years of experience because a friend got them in the door.”

Who do you know that is in the industry? What contacts do you have? Ask around.

A Note About the Oil Fields

Work in the oil fields is boom or bust. You can make $10,000 per month, month after month. Then everything slows down so much, you can barely make the payment on your pickup truck.

In the summer of 2019, the oil fields were jumping: West Texas, Southeast New Mexico, North Dakota, East Montana, West Pennsylvania, etc. Right now (2021), the oil fields are dead. Some of those oil field drivers have relocated and become “ramp drivers”.

In the oil fields, $90,000/year to $120,000/year is doable, until it isn’t. Any change in demand happens suddenly. For months (or years), you could be working long shifts, six days on/two days off. Suddenly, the schedule could have you working eight hours a day, three days out of seven. There is no use in arguing with dispatch if there isn’t any work. And every company in the patch will be in the same boat. All the “help wanted” signs will come down at the same time.

If you go the boom-and-bust route, save your money, and have a backup plan. Maybe move back home and get a job delivering some of those shipping containers?

Also, oil field work is hot, dusty, and dangerous. Recruiters there won’t even look at your resume unless you have two years of “recent, verifiable” experience.

You can make great money with a commercial driver’s license. Expect the first year to be a year of gaining experience, with small to moderate pay. In your second year, you can start making some bank. Driving long term can be hugely rewarding.

How Much Money Can I Make with a CDL?

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