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Travel Nursing Pay Explained

For dreamers, newbies, and the curious
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How much does travel nursing pay and how does it work?

Travel nursing pays well. In fact, it’s probably the primary reason why someone chooses the travel nurse lifestyle. Sure, the location and the adventure are a huge appeal for a certain free-spirited person but all in all, money talks. Below are a few questions we are frequently asked and the corresponding answers.

How much does travel nursing pay?

This is completely contingent on factors outside your control. Some states pay higher than others, some specialties get paid more than others and some positions have such an urgent need that they offer Crisis Pay. Crisis Pay can be in any state and any Specialty. That pay rate will be higher only if the candidate can get there extremely quickly and it is usually a temporary pay rate. Pay also will fluctuate based on the involvement of a VMS/MSP (see this blog for more info on those organizations), as they have a “service fee” which can dramatically cut into your weekly take home pay.

Tip: You will have the opportunity to make vastly more money by being flexible on locations and on shift.

How does travel nursing pay work?

All companies structure their pay a bit differently so it’s important to know exactly how the pay package is being presented to you. As most core staff nurses speak in terms of an hourly rate, some companies present offers that sound very appealing but if it’s a fully taxed equivalent and you aren’t doing the math, your paycheck being 32% lower may cause minor arrhythmia and a feeling of betrayal toward your Recruiter.

Other companies will confuse you with many different pay scales which also requires some math to comprehend accurately. For example, X amount hourly, plus X amount daily, adding in X amount weekly and also X amount monthly requires you to convert everything to an hourly sum to have an idea what you’re actually receiving. Getting $1000 for housing sounds wonderful but if you’re getting that monthly instead of weekly, be aware that breaks down to $250 a week.

At TRS Healthcare, our Recruiters are trained to not only explain our pay structure in great detail but also have the ability to break down the pay packages of other companies so you can have precise comparisons. Remember, you are dealing with positions typically defined as “sales” so some companies will be less than reputable with their promises just to get you in the door with them. On the flip side, we know that you may love what you do but you also need to get paid to do it. We will give you total transparency and if another deal is a bit sweeter, we’ll even point that out to you.

TRS Healthcare pays weekly, through Direct Deposit. This will include a taxable hourly rate as well as reimbursements (sometimes referred to as stipends or per diems) for lodging and meals. They are more accurately reimbursements because you are being recompensed for expenditures incurred as a traveler. This means that you will not be taxed on reimbursements when you meet the criteria of having a qualifying tax home. It’s an important distinction. Wages are taxed, bonuses are taxed, reimbursements are not.

Tip: Ask your Recruiter what the gross pay will be, as you know what your tax status will be far better than they do. For additional perspective, ask what the hourly equivalent would need to be for you to have travel nursing level take home pay. It’s an eye opener!

Can I negotiate higher pay with my Recruiter?

The short answer is not really. Bill rates are set with contracts negotiated between travel companies and facilities. When a VMS/MSP is involved, those bill rates are standardized between all travel companies. It’s worth asking though, as sometimes Crisis Pay rates are in effect, sometimes there is wiggle room in other areas. Building a trusted personal relationship with a Recruiter will help in situations like this, as you will know if your agent is pushing for the best deal possible for you. While not the case at TRS, some companies will increase commission for Recruiters if they can sell a position to a nurse for a lower pay rate. These things are worth knowing before negotiating.

Tip: Occasionally, there are differing bill rates for things such as Overtime. If you are partial to working as much as possible while on a contract, you can make incredibly higher pay by asking for an increased OT rate. Ask about differentials available to you and if those can be negotiated.

Can I make enough money as a travel nurse to pay all my bills back home?

This is a wonderful question and perhaps not surprisingly, one of the ones we hear quite often. Happily, the truthful answer is yes. There are also ways to ensure that you are getting the most financial benefit possible by being a traveler. Here are some things to think about to increase an already lucrative career path:

Should I consider an RV or a travel trailer?

Definitely. Want to hit the occasional festival or campground in luxurious style? Have you ever dreamed of retiring and traveling the country in an RV? Why wait for retirement when you can invest in an RV for your job? You will be using it to travel and as your housing to work a position on the road.

Tip: While we aren’t offering you advice, there may be tax advantages to purchasing an RV for healthcare traveling purposes; be sure to check with your tax professional and get all your questions answered in advance. As we mentioned previously, there are many benefits to taking it all with you and if you can save additional money on housing expenses, it may be worth thinking about it more seriously.

Should I consider renting my house?

Sure. There are many companies that will offer to do this for you, just be sure you choose a reputable one. You may have even rented someone’s personal home while on an assignment, so you know that you can make some serious money and you can possibly save the day for one of your fellow travel nurses who is stuck finding affordable options.

Tip: Whatever travel agency you go with may be interested in leasing your home for another one of their travelers on assignment. Be sure to ask.

Should I consider a government travel assignment?

Absolutely. One of our travelers shared an impressive insight once that ended up being quite lucrative for him, and for others once we spread the word. Depending on your lender, you can apply for student loan forgiveness when working at a government facility that serves needy populations. Yes, you will not be making huge weekly paychecks but if you can get your financial loan burdens reduced dramatically, it could be well worth it in the long run. Your lender (and Uncle Sam) may have some strict requirements to apply for this but it most definitely is worth further research.

Tip: Working at an Indian Health Services (IHS) facility can be rewarding in other ways, due to the unique immersion into the Native American culture. Ask your recruiter what to expect while working there.

How much thought should I put into researching my company?

As much as possible. Speaking knowledgeably about all companies is not in our wheelhouse of expertise but we can tell you that choosing a company is important. For example, TRS Healthcare will cover the cost of all pre-contract expenses when you work for us, saving you potentially hundreds and hundreds of dollars. We also pay weekly, ensuring you have access to your money as soon as possible in the event that something unexpected happens. TRS Healthcare also offers free CEU’s to our travelers and has the absolute highest paying referral bonuses in the travel healthcare industry. Our most prolific referrer in 2016 made an additional 5 figures, just for speaking well of TRS to colleagues. TRS also is a member of NATHO (National Association of Travel Healthcare), which ensures member agencies uphold the highest standards within the industry so be sure to ask prospective companies if they are members before moving forward.

Tip: You will be representing a travel company while on assignment so consider their reputation when making the decision which company to utilize. Do they represent your standard and ethics? The same way they will have expectations upon you, you should feel free to do the same.

What can travel nurses claim on their taxes?

As a travel nurse, it is in your best interests to seek the guidance of a tax expert when filing Uncle Sam’s due. Being a traveling healthcare professional means that your expenses (and compensations) are outside the purview of many tax preparers who have never been faced with the fiduciary complications of a travel nurse so it’s imperative that you go in to meet your CPA as prepared as possible.

The most important thing in all of this is finding a tax professional who can answer your many questions and who can suggest ways for you to have a more beneficial and compliant tax return. Ask a new tax preparer how much experience they have in dealing with travel healthcare professionals or seek the advice of an expert we recommend, Joseph Smith, RRT/EA/MTax, of As a member of the Tax Compliance Committee of the National Association of Travel Healthcare Organizations (NATHO), he can surely provide you the soundest guidance on tax filing as a travel nurse. You can also listen to a 2015 interview TRS Radio did with Mr. Smith by clicking here.

Earlier this year, Travel Tax released a Detail Analysis of Tax Reform, which comprehensively spells out the changes that went into effect on January, 1, 2018. Below, are some highlights of modified tax laws and while it benefits you to read the entire document, it should truly drive home the point about utilizing a tax professional to help you with your filing, so you can reap the most benefit from your year of travel nursing.

  • The tax home requirement DOES NOT CHANGE
  • As of 1/1/18 an employee can no longer deduct unreimbursed employee business expenses like mileage, meals, CEUS, uniforms, licenses, union dues etc.
  • New “pass through” rates mean that independent contractors are only taxed on 80% of their net income
  • Withholding for most will drop this February after the IRS releases new withholding tables
  • New Corporate tax rate at 21%
  • IRS Likely to change reporting (not taxation) of stipends in the future
  • With new lower corporate tax rate, it is uncertain if traveler wages will rise as facilities/hospitals may try to lower bill rates
  • Record keeping is still necessary to justify the tax free per diems.

Travel nursing is a wonderful option, whether you are young and without ties or you are older and your children have moved out to begin their own lives. You can learn an incredible amount, make your resume vastly more impressive and to stay on subject here, make oodles of money for your hard work. You chose nursing because you care about helping people but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be compensated for it; travel nursing might be everything you’ve been looking for and here at TRS Healthcare, we look forward helping you start your journey!

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