I decided to hypothetically put two people seeking professional careers, one a prospective college student, the other a truck driving school candidate, up against each other in a comparison of job training, annual salary, debt accumulation, and investment capability throughout their careers. We'll start the time frame with the student entering college and the truck driver entering truck driving school.
The college student is seeking one of the top paid careers with a degree in any of the following: Marketing, Business Administration, Mechanical Engineering, Management Information Systems, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Accounting, Finance or Economics. The truck driver is just looking for a good driving job that will put him home every day with good pay.
To be fair, we will base the cost of the college student's tuition on an average of $16,000 at an in-state public university, and about $33,000 for a private school each year for 4 years. These costs include tuition, fees, books, room and board and other expenses.
The average cost of training at a truck driving school is around $1,500 to $3,500. Some truck driving schools pay for room and board and some truck driving schools sponsored by trucking companies pay the student wages while they are training. Trucking company schools will often pay for some, if not all of a student's training if the student agrees to work for them for one year.
First, let's fast forward to the three-month level from our starting point: The college student is learning and acquiring debt. The truck driver has completed his schooling and has been making money driving for a break-in company at the rate of $35,000 a year. The driver has just got enough experience to get hired with a career company and he does.
One year and three months from the starting point: The college student is still learning and acquiring debt, somewhere between $20,000 and $41,250. The truck driver has had several pay raises, and grossed about $45,000 his first year with his new company. He put $6,000 in his 401k including a handsome company match. He also put money in an IRA of $3,000 and is buying stocks. He goes home every day to the brand new house he just purchased, and is enjoying all the freedom that driving has to offer.
Two years and 3 months in: The total debt of the college student is around $36,000 to $74,250 dollars, but he is learning. The truck driver's gross earnings were $55,000 dollars, again topping out his 401k and an IRA for a new balance of $20,000 dollars with interest. He is making extra payments on his home and it has been appraised at a value $4,000 above original purchase price.
Three years and three months from the starting gate: Our college student is beginning to realize how long it is going to take to pay back those student loans. It's a good thing he chose one of the top starting salary majors or he might be in trouble. His total debt acquired so far: $52,000 to $107,250 dollars. And our truck driver's house value has gone up to a total of $8,000 dollars above purchase price. His investment account's total balance is $30,250.
4 years and 3 months later: Congratulations to our college student! Happy graduation! Your debt is $68,000 to $140,250, plus interest. Your starting salary as an Electrical Engineer is $54,599. Our truck driver has earned $60,000 dollars this year and his home value is up $12,500 above the purchase price. His investment portfolio balance is around $45,000 dollars.
A year later: In the following year our college student is working and likes his new job. He is in the market for a new home, but is very limited due to the debt he has acquired. A job starting at $55,000 seemed like a lot of money when he first started school, but with the student loans to pay back it has limited him to a home below previous expectations. As much as the student would like to save for retirement, he just can't seem to find the extra money to invest. To furnish his new home he does what most Americans do, he runs up those credit cards. Sound familiar? Our truck driver couldn't be happier. He has plenty of time at work to study and learn all of the things he finds interesting. His home keeps appreciating and stocks are doing well. He has close to a $65,000 balance in his portfolio and is enjoying all his free time driving down the road listening to audio books on investing. He is getting ready to build a new custom home, and with only about five years in this industry, he can see an early retirement on the horizon.
Now if you look at the college student's $68,000 to $140,250 debt compared to the driver's balance of $65,000 plus home equity, we have as much as a $200,000 difference at about 5 years. The college student has the power of interest working against him, while the truck driver has the power of compounding interest working in his favor!
Being happy or successful in life is not about a title or a piece of paper. It's about making wise decisions that can make your life smooth and stress free. Regardless of the reasoning, taking on debt is not a good plan if you want to achieve financial independence or experience true freedom in a timely fashion. It's a person's debt-to-income ratio, and what they do with their money that counts. In this and most scenarios, the college student may not ever catch up to the truck driver financially, and may or may not ever be as happy.