Paid commercial driver’s license (CDL) training can be a great way to start a new career in trucking.
However, it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. While many trucking companies advertise paid CDL training along with a guaranteed job afterward, most programs come with a few strings attached.
Programs can be structured in a few different ways:
Some trucking companies provide the training themselves while others cover the cost of tuition at a third-party truck driving school or reimburse drivers for tuition. Regardless, if a driver does not fulfill their end of the contract (usually driving for the company for the set period of time), they will be required to reimburse the company for the cost of training.
Still, drivers that can commit to staying with the same trucking company can benefit from a paid CDL program. Keep reading our guide below to learn more about these programs including how they work, who can qualify, and to see a list of the top programs.
Paid CDL training refers to programs where trucking companies pay or provide free CDL training to drivers. In exchange, the drivers agree to work for the company for a set period of time afterward.
“Paid CDL training” only means that the company pays for the tuition. Drivers may or may not be paid during the training.
Free CDL training indicates that a trucking company covers the cost of training. Paid CDL training, on the other hand, sometimes means that the company also pays the driver for their time but usually the “paid” just means the trucking company is covering the cost of training.
“Free” and “Paid” are thrown around a lot to attract attention so it’s important to check what’s really covered by a company’s offer.
Despite the name, all companies require something back for free or paid training. Usually, drivers are under contract to work for the company for a set period of time after they receive their CDL. Rates during this initial contract are usually low compared to what more experienced drivers receive. If a driver leaves before their contract is up, they will need to pay back the company for the cost of training.
Some drivers opt to pay for their CDL training for increased flexibility and avoid being stuck in a low-rate contract. However, these drivers not only give up free training but also a guaranteed truck driving job afterward.
CDL training schools usually charge between $2,500 and $7,000 for drivers who pay their own way.
Training can be offered at independent training facilities, known as CDL schools, and through technical or community college programs.
Paying directly for CDL training can be more expensive but it gives the driver more flexibility. Drivers who need to continue working during training can also opt to train at night or on the weekend. Regardless, training is usually slower paced in self-pay courses.
Drivers that pay for their CDL school can apply to multiple trucking companies rather than being tied to the company that paid for their training. In some cases, drivers that pay for their CDL school can still receive free training if they are hired at the right company. For example, Schneider offers up to $7,000 in tuition reimbursement for qualified drivers that just received their CDL.
Some trucking companies offer their own training programs but these are usually free to drivers though some have to be repaid.
You may or may not be paid during training so it’s important to read the fine print or ask the company.
Some companies, like Hirschbach, pay a flat rate of $475 per week during training. Others offer compensation in alternative forms. For example, Pam Transport gives new drivers a $100 Walmart gift card each week during their three-week training.
What expenses the company pays can also vary. You’ll likely attend training away from home so it’s important to check whether transportation, lodging, and meals are covered.
Not everyone will qualify for paid CDL training. Candidates need to apply to join a carrier’s driver training program. Drivers need to meet a carrier’s qualification requirements and sign a contract to drive for them after receiving their CDL. Contract lengths range from 6-24+ months but one year is the most common.
Training programs are held in person and most drivers will need to travel to and stay nearby the training facility. Many providers offer free transportation, lodging, and some meals but it’s important to confirm what expenses are covered before signing a contract.
Candidates should expect long days during training. Companies are incentivized to get drivers on the road as quickly as possible so training can be as short as 2 weeks. By contrast, CDL programs that drivers pay for themselves typically last at least a month for full-time programs or extend over several months for part-time programs.
Some trucking companies run their own training programs, while others contract with training providers. In-house means the company is running its own program. The company has direct control over the training and will prepare drivers for their operating system.
Sponsored training means that the trucking company pays a private truck driving school to train its new drivers. The training in a sponsored course is still focused on passing the CDL exam but may not include training on the company’s processes or expectations.
Even generous paid programs leave some expenses to the driver. For instance, the program may cover breakfast and dinner during training, but not lunch.
Drivers usually need to cover some of the administrative fees that come with CDL applications. For example, a Commercial Learner’s Permit is sometimes required before starting, and costs between $10-30 depending on the state. It’s a good idea to check out state fees and be clear on what the trucking company will cover. Candidates should budget at least $100-300 for unexpected costs.
Paid CDL programs usually last between 2.5 to 6 weeks, with most around 4 weeks. Companies have the incentive to complete training as quickly as possible so drivers can get out on the road.
CDL programs not run by trucking companies are typically longer. Evening and weekend CDL schools also exist, which can take longer but allow drivers to work while studying.
You may be required to repay the cost of your training in the following scenarios:
Drivers must typically meet the following requirements to qualify for paid CDL training:
If you don’t meet all of those qualifications, you might still be accepted but it will come down to your individual circumstances and the company’s willingness to make exceptions. If you’re under 21 but the company needs drivers for in-state work in a state that allows 18+ drivers, you may still have a shot.
However, some qualifications are hard lines for most companies. For example, drivers who can’t pass a drug test are usually disqualified.
Paid CDL training allows new drivers to get started in the industry with minimal upfront expenses. If you are able to dedicate the time and energy, you’ll be out on the road quickly with your first job lined up.
However, it isn’t the right path for everyone. Some drivers prefer not to get locked into a contract that restricts their employment opportunities.
Drivers should ask potential companies the following questions before signing a contract:
The following trucking companies offer paid CDL training:
The above list is not an exhaustive list as other companies may also offer paid CDL training.
TMC Transportation pays $500 per week during CDL training. Most trucking companies don’t pay candidates during training but it’s not uncommon for companies to offer incentives, such as gift cards or bonus payments if drivers make it through training successfully.
Swift has a reputation for paying the most to new drivers after CDL training. However, they do not offer pay during the 4 weeks of CDL training. They also require a 26-month contract to avoid repaying CDL training tuition.
Picking the best trucking company to start your career depends on where you live, how much time you need to train before you pass the CDL exam, and how long you can commit to driving for the same company. Check out our guide above for details on all the top free or paid CDL training offers.
CDL exams are more difficult than exams for a standard driver’s license. Training can prepare you for what to expect on the exam and increases your chances of passing on the first try.
Truck drivers remain in demand in the US. The American Trucking Association estimated a US truck driver shortage in 2022 of nearly 78,000 drivers. This shortage means companies are seeking new drivers to fill the gap even if they are inexperienced.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for US truck drivers is $48,310 per year. How much you can earn will depend on your experience level and location.
Having a felony conviction does not mean you cannot be accepted into a paid program. Companies will consider the nature of your conviction (as it relates to the job) and how much time has passed since the conviction. A few paid CDL programs that have accepted felons include Swift Driving Academy and Celadon Driving Academy.
In short, no. These programs create financial risk for drivers when they are still learning the business.
Lease-to-purchase contracts can trap drivers at a motor carrier even when freight is low. Drivers are also responsible for repair bills to maintain the vehicle and if there isn’t enough in the driver’s settlement at the end of the month they can owe money to the company. Drivers will also lose employee benefits and protections because they are classified as a contractor instead of an employee.
All in all, these are a bad deal for most drivers and have a reputation for taking advantage of drivers.
Veterans of the Army or other armed forces may be able to use education funds from military service to pay for CDL training. This includes GI Bill funds. If you’re thinking of paying for your own training, take advantage of the educational funding provided by the military. If you aren’t sure whether your benefits cover training, check with the VA.