Become A Locksmith If You Want A Promising Career That Doesn't Require Student Loans

With the cost of a four-year college degree rapidly rising, careers paths that don't require a bachelor's degree are becoming more and more attractive. Skilled trades, which offer decent job prospects and above-minimum-wage salaries, are one such career path. If you're looking for a career that offers a decent salary without taking out loans for a four-year college degree, one trade is particularly promising: locksmithing. Here's how you can become a locksmith without taking on debt, along with what the current job market looks like for locksmiths.

Get a License

Before doing any work as a locksmith, you'll need to check with your state, county and city to see whether they have licensing requirements. Many jurisdictions do, in order to prevent unscrupulous people from abusing their role as a locksmith for illicit gain.

On the state level, the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) lists the following states as having state-wide licensing laws for locksmiths: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Even if your state isn't on this list, you should still check with your local governments to see whether they have any requirements. For example, New York State isn't listed as having state-wide licensing requirements, but New York City does have requirements.

Requirements vary among those states, counties and cities that require locksmiths to be licensed. In general, though, no technical knowledge is required to become a legally licensed locksmith. Governments are primarily concerned with whether you'll use the knowledge and tools you gain to illegally break in somewhere, and they aren't as interested in the level of service you'll provide.

In most areas, you'll simply need to submit some paperwork and pay a nominal fee to become a licensed locksmith. Governments usually don't have an exam.

Get a Certification

Since licensure isn't indicative of technical knowledge or skill, you'll also need to get a certification that you know what you're doing. In the locksmith industry, licensure and certification are different. Licensure lets you legally work as a locksmith. Certification shows that you're capable.

ALOA is the primary professional organization for locksmiths in the United States, and it offers a variety of certifications. The first one you'll need is the organization's Certified Registered Locksmith certification, or CRL. The CRL both serves as a prerequisite for more advanced certifications, which you can pursue later in order to distinguish yourself as an expert in the industry, and it establishes you as a competent locksmith.

Unless you're re-entering the locksmith industry, you'll need to take a preparatory course before sitting for the CRL exam. Such courses vary in length and cost, but the price of any company's CRL-preparation course will be much less than the price of a four-year college degree.

Start Working for a Locksmith Company

Once you have any necessary license and a CRL certification, you're ready to begin working as a locksmith. Locksmiths who start their own companies have the greatest potential income, but you will probably be better off working for someone else at first. Purchasing a vehicle, insurance and tools can be expensive when starting out, and there will be times when you'll want a more experienced locksmith's assistance with difficult jobs.

As with any career, salaries among locksmiths vary with region and experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, provides data on typical locksmith salaries. As of May 2014, the median yearly wage of locksmiths in the U.S. was $440,620. You might not make this much starting out, but half of all locksmiths in the country earned between $29,600 and $49,850 annually, or between $14.23 and $23.97 per hour.

When you don't have massive student loans that need to be repaid, an annual salary between $29,600 and $49,850 can go a long way. If you're looking for a promising career that doesn't require four years of college debt, consider getting a license and certification to become a locksmith. For more information, see a website such as