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How to earn $170k by 26, including banking and UPS driving

This could be you.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a cost-of-living crisis going on.

As a consequence, people want (or often, need) to earn more money – which is why the news that UPS drivers are earning $170k after a union negotiation with their employer has caught so much attention. That’s a lot of money – but are there any other careers where someone can make so much money so early in their careers?

Just to clarify, UPS drivers aren’t actually making $170k in salary, but rather (a still impressive) $92k. The $170k figure comes from factoring in other benefits such as health insurance and pensions, says Distractify.

Nonetheless, earning $170k is an interesting benchmark. The job requirements on UPS’s website specify an ability to lift 70lb (around 30kg), a valid driver’s license, the legal right to work in the USA, passing a Department of Transport physical test, and “excellent customer service and driving skills.”

Notably, that list doesn’t contain any academic requirements, although some digging through various employee-frequented forums suggests that drivers are most likely to be hired after the age of 21 (the minimum age to deliver alcohol). Therefore, those earning the infamous $170k are likely to be at least 26.

Who makes the cut?

Well, some people in banking. A 26-year-old on Wall Street would likely be an associate (or a VP, but that’s unlikely). They’d likely be earning around $160k to $300k in salary alone in their first year as an associate, with a bonus of around 70% of that again (per our compensation guide). Many people apply for these jobs though: there were 72 applicants per place at JPMorgan's EMEA investment bank this year. 

Also making the cut are private equity professionals. Associates at private equity funds earn anywhere between $220k to $415k, we’ve found, although private equity is so competitive that you might as well try to win the lottery as try to get a job there.

The $170k threshold is also likely to be crossed if you get into a hedge fund, although that’s also easier said than done. Our compensation guide suggests that all hedge funders, including support staff, make over $240k on average. Even hedge fund interns can be well paid. 

Also making the cut are lawyers at top firms. Reuters reported last year that a number of top firms had raised their pay for first-year associates to over $200k. With four years to get an undergraduate degree and three years of law school, a lawyer might be able to start her career at 26. Assuming no failure at any point in their career. Close one, though.

Also barely making the cut are management consultants. If you’ve only got an undergraduate degree or master’s, forget about it. If you manage to get your PhD completed before 26, and secure your job at one of the big consulting firms (MBB + Big Four) then you’ll crack the UPS hurdle, and maybe even $200k (unless you work at KPMG).

Unlikely contestants for the big bucks on the high seas are Alaska fishermen. Fishing has minimal education requirements, and can earn stratospheric amounts of money, says AlaskaFishingJobs.com. Meeting the $175k per year ($14.5k per month) threshold are salmon fishermen ($10k to $50k a month) and crab fishermen ($30k), among others.

If crabs are not your thing, there's the Private Military Contractor (PMC) option. Colloquially known as mercenaries, the “Alfa-Metal International Bodyguard and Tactical Academy” suggests that a PMC with military experience can earn “at least” $275k if deployed to a hazardous duty country. You can leave the army after two to six years of service, so joining at 18 could net you a much higher salary than your friends at UPS by 26 quite easily.

Hall of Shame: Who doesn’t make the cut?

For one, doctors. This one is a double zinger for the medical profession – you can’t really become a doctor in the US before 29 given four years of undergrad, medical school, and everything else. That being said, although once you’ve qualified, doctors are among some of the best paid professions in the country.

Sadly, nuclear engineers also don’t make the cut. Zippia suggests that the average nuclear engineer in the USA only earns $98k with a bachelor’s degree, $112k with a master’s, and $126k with a PhD. Tough luck.

And just for posterity, also not making the cut is literally every other 26 year-old in the world.

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Photo by Tai L on Unsplash

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AUTHORZeno Toulon
  • TA
    TA5
    12 September 2023

    Software Engineers, tech related jobs can pretty easily clear $170k. Source: 26 and clearing $201k

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