travel nurse assignment pay

Travel Nurse Pay Breakdown | Expenses & Tax 2022

I was originally drawn to the travel nursing field for the opportunity to travel the country while getting paid at the same time. I knew travel nurses were paid fairly well and had been bombarded with various emails advertising travel nursing pay scales as high as $40 an hour.

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I am typically not the type of person to do something just for the money. I tend to be more interested in the experience, but I also realize that I have bills to pay too. I didn’t really pay attention to the breakdown of my travel nursing pay, all I cared about was whether or not I had enough money to live and to get from point A to point B.

Fortunately, I had a wonderful travel experience but wish I took the time to really understand travel nursing pay scales, expenses and how to deal with taxes. Many of your recruiters don’t take the time to break these topics down for you so it is ultimately your responsibility to seek out the information and educate yourself.

Non-Taxable Travel Nurse Pay

The most alluring advertisement travel nursing agencies use to get you in the door is the infamous “tax advantage plan”.  This can also be referred to as per-diem, stipends, reimbursements or a combination of all three. What this basically means is that if you are traveling away from your home for work, there are certain expenses that are tax deductible and certain reimbursements that are non-taxable.

The most common types of stipends or reimbursements that you will hear about in the travel nursing world are referred to as meals and incidentals (incidentals include taxi/bus fares, parking, and tips), lodging or housing stipends, and travel reimbursements which cover your expenses to and from each assignment; other non-taxable items can include retirement plans, license reimbursements and health insurance. When travel nursing companies advertise pay rates, they will often tell you a blended rate. A blended rate combines an hourly taxable wage such as $20 an hour with your non-taxable reimbursements and stipends to give you a higher hourly rate. Here is an example of a typical pay package:

  • $20 per hour – taxable base rate that is reported to the IRS
  • $250 per week for meals and incidentals – non-taxable
  • $2,000 a month for lodging – non-taxable
  • $500 for travel reimbursement – non-taxable

Your blended rate is calculated by breaking down your non-taxable stipends into an hourly rate and adding it to your taxable base rate.   For instance, if you worked 36 hours per week on a 13 week assignment, your hourly rate would look something like this based on the above scenario:

Flex Pay and Rigid Pay

There are two different types of pay packages: flex pay and rigid pay.

Flex pay packages allow you to mix and match, add or subtract various non-taxable stipends such as healthcare, retirement, and license reimbursements to your pay package, while rigid pay packages are non-negotiable.  The benefit of flex pay is that you can decrease your hourly taxable base rate and increase your non-taxable earnings by adding more benefits such as 401K. Many travel agencies have to be careful not to enter the illegal realm of wage re-characterization when dealing with flex pay packages. To learn more about wage re-characterization visit traveltax.com .

Travel Nurse Overtime

There are some travel contracts offering overtime; for example, some agencies will ask you if you want to work 4 days a week instead of 3 days a week. Overtime by law has to be paid time and a half of your taxable base rate. So, if you make $20 and hour, then your overtime pay will be $30 an hour. In the world of nursing, $30 an hour isn’t really that much extra money for an extra shift; however, over the long run it does add up. If this is something you are considering doing than make sure you negotiate a higher taxable rate for lower non-taxable stipends if possible so that you really get more bang for your buck. I have never heard of a part-time travel contract so if you are looking to work part-time than it would be better to consider an agency job in your desired destination.

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Disadvantages of Non-taxable Stipend Pay

Travel nursing Pay package

We also have to take into consideration retirement. I know many of you aren’t necessarily thinking about your social security check right now, but it is important to take into consideration that the social security payments are based on 35 of your highest income earning years. Non-taxable money is not considered income.

Last but not least, if you get injured on the job, you only receive 2/3 of your hourly taxable base rate. These are some scenarios to take into consideration when thinking about a travel nursing pay package.

Travel Nursing Pay: Things to Consider

With all things considered, a travel nurses pay rate, is very comparable to a staff nurse’s pay rate. However, there are some out of pocket expenses travel nurses have to be aware of that regular staff nurses don’t have to consider;

  • Most travel nursing agencies do not offer paid time off. If you are thinking of taking a vacation or are taking time off in between assignments then you will not be paid
  • Most travel nurses have to pay for their own certifications such as BLS and ACLS
  • Sometimes travel nursing agencies will not pay for your annual physical and TB tests
  • If you want to take an assignment that is across the country, your travel reimbursement might not cover the entire cost

Just like any of other profession, it is important to budget and prepare for the unknown. Take care of yourself make sure you are well organized.

What is an “IRS Tax Home”?

In order to qualify for these non-taxable stipends or reimbursements, one must maintain what the IRS calls a tax home. A tax home is your place of residence that you maintain and pay for while you are out on your travel assignment. Ideally, the IRS would like a travel nurse to take an assignment somewhere and then return to their tax home where they maintain a PRN or full-time nursing job.

Most travel nursing agencies will have you sign a form stating that you do have a tax home. If you do not have a residence that you are planning on maintaining when you are traveling, you will be referred to as an itinerant worker. As an itinerant worker, you will be required to pay taxes on all income earned including stipends and reimbursements. When applying with different travel agencies, make sure they are aware of your itinerant status. You can get more information about tax homes here .

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Tips to Make Traveling a Snap

All of this talk about taxes and the IRS can be a little scary. Here are a few easy tips to follow to make your traveling experience a little less complicated:

  • Maintain a mileage log. You will have to write down you odometer reading the beginning of the year on January 1 and again at the end of the year on Dec 31. If you start traveling in the middle of the year you can look back at your maintenance records for previous odometer readings. You must also document your mileage to and from your place of employment.  Click here to print a mileage log.
  • Return to your tax home in between assignments if possible or at a minimum of once per year. Document when you travel back to your tax home. Here is a travel log for your trips back home .
  • Maintain a PRN or agency job in the same vicinity as your tax home. The IRS would like to know that you do business on a regular basis where you live.
  • There is no need to keep track of meal or grocery receipts. The IRS gives you a set stipend for meals. If you exceed the stipend you are considered to be living above your means and will not be reimbursed.
  • Keep a copy of all of your travel contracts. Make sure they have a beginning and ending date on them. This proves that you were really working on a temporary basis.
  • Don’t work in a city more than 12 months in a 24 month period. The IRS will think you abandoned your tax home.
  • There are tax people who specialize specifically in travel nursing. I recommend getting in contact with these people prior to starting your assignment. If you want to tackle this on your own then I recommend getting organized. Here is an organizer that helps you keep track of all your tax information;

Don’t let the IRS or financial aspects of travel nursing scare you.  Travel nursing should be an enjoyable experience not an accounting nightmare.

As with any tax issues, you should seek advice from a licensed tax professional before filing. This article only offers suggestions and isn’t meant to be tax advice. We leave that to the pros.

Professionals can help you through this experience in combination with educating yourself about nursing pay packages. It sounds complicated in the beginning, but the more you learn the lingo, the more prepared you will be to negotiate your next travel contract.

Start your travel nursing adventure here!

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travel nurse assignment pay

How Travel Nurse Pay Works: A Comprehensive Guide

travel nurse assignment pay

Table of Contents

Understanding travel nurse pay: your comprehensive guide.

Travel nursing is an exciting career option for registered nurses, offering the opportunity to explore new locations while helping patients in different healthcare facilities. As a travel nurse, understanding your pay is important to help you make informed decisions about your career and financial future. In this guide, we explore how travel nurse pay works, the factors that influence your earnings, and how to negotiate your contract to get the best pay package possible.

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How Does Travel Nurse Pay Work?

Travel nurse pay can be a complicated topic for many healthcare professionals. Unlike staff nurse positions, travel nursing contracts often come with multiple variables that can impact your take-home pay. This can include the bill rates at healthcare facilities, additional benefits like housing stipends, and vendor management fees that certain travel nursing companies apply to your pay. In this article, we will explore these various factors and dive deeper into how your pay works as a travel nurse.

Taxable Base Rates: What You Need to Know

First and foremost, it's essential to understand that your taxable base rate is the core component of your travel nursing pay package. As a travel nurse, this is the hourly wage that is taxed, similar to how a staff nurse is paid. This ensures you remain compliant with tax laws while working in your nursing position. Importantly, taxable base rates can vary between different travel nursing agencies, so it is essential to be aware of the rate you are receiving when comparing offers.

Tiered Bill Rates: How They Affect Your Earnings

Healthcare facilities typically pay travel nursing companies a bill rate for their services, which in turn covers your pay, benefits, and agency overhead costs. Some facilities use a tiered bill rate system, meaning the rates they pay to travel nursing companies can fluctuate based on specific factors. For example, a hospital may offer a higher bill rate for a nursing position in a hard-to-fill specialty or for an urgent need, which can sometimes result in increased pay for the travel nurse.

Being aware of tiered bill rates can be helpful when comparing travel nursing contracts and understanding the basis of your earnings. By exploring opportunities with higher bill rates, you could potentially maximize your earnings during your assignment.

Gross Profit Margin: Understanding Your Agency's Profit

Travel nursing companies make their profit by skimming some of the bill rates paid by healthcare facilities after covering the costs of your pay, benefits, and company overhead. This profit is referred to as the gross profit margin, and it's an important aspect to understand when examining the difference in pay between multiple agencies.

A transparent travel nursing agency should be able to provide a sample breakdown of how much from the bill rate is allocated towards your pay, benefits, payroll costs (e.g., taxes and Social Security), liability insurance, and company overhead. This understanding can empower you to ensure you're getting a fair deal and to potentially negotiate better pay and benefits if there's room for it within the bill rate.

Breaking Down the Travel Nursing Pay Package

Now that we have a grasp of taxable base rates, bill rates, and gross profit margin, let's dive into the other aspects of the travel nursing pay package, including travel stipends, housing reimbursements, and vendor management fees. These factors can have a profound effect on your final take-home pay, so it's essential to understand and compare them carefully when considering travel nursing contracts.

Travel Nursing Salary: Factors That Influence Your Earnings

Travel nursing agencies typically offer a benefits package on top of your taxable base rate, which can include housing stipends, travel reimbursements, and other tax-free reimbursements. It's important to understand how these factors work in addition to your base pay to get a full picture of your overall earnings on an assignment.

For instance, housing stipends might be offered based on the cost of living in your assignment area, while your travel stipend could cover any expenses related to commuting to and from your tax home. Some agencies may also offer shift differentials, overtime, certification reimbursement, or other bonuses that can influence your pay. Keep these factors in mind as you explore travel nursing contracts and compare offers.

Vendor Management Fees: What They Are and How They Affect Your Pay

Vendor management fees are another crucial aspect of the travel nursing pay package. Some healthcare facilities employ a Vendor Management System (VMS) to streamline the process of onboarding and managing temporary staff, including travel nurses. These VMS companies typically charge a small percentage of the bill rate as their fee, which is ultimately passed on to the travel nursing agency in the form of a reduced bill rate.

When a vendor management fee is taken into account, it can potentially influence the bottom line of your pay package. Agencies might have less flexibility in offering higher pay or better benefits given the reduced bill rates. Understanding this aspect of the system can help you set realistic expectations for pay when working with healthcare facilities that use a VMS.

Agencies Gross Profit: How It Affects Your Paycheck

Lastly, it's crucial to reiterate the connection between your travel nursing pay and the agency's gross profit. As mentioned earlier, travel nursing companies make their money by allocating a portion of the bill rate after covering your pay and benefits. Some agencies may have larger overhead costs or simply choose to retain more profit, resulting in lower pay and benefits for you. In contrast, other agencies that operate on a slimmer margin might be able to offer you better pay or additional benefits.

To ensure you get the best possible pay package and a fair deal from your agency, it's essential to ask questions and ensure transparency in their breakdown of the bill rate. Comparing your pay and benefits across multiple agencies can help you find the best fit for your needs and potentially increase your overall travel nurse earnings.

Understanding Your Total Pay Package as a Travel Nurse

When considering a travel nursing contract, it's essential to understand the various components that make up your total pay package. Unlike staff nurse positions, the travel nursing pay structure often comprises several components, including hourly wages, stipends, bonuses, and even liability insurance reimbursements. Travel nursing companies work with healthcare facilities to determine the bill rate for each nursing position - a figure that encompasses a travel nurse's wages, benefits, and vendor management fee paid to the agency.

To fully comprehend your travel nursing pay package, it's crucial to break down each element, such as the base pay, travel stipend, and housing stipend. Doing so will help you make informed decisions when comparing offers from different travel nursing agencies. Furthermore, understanding your pay package will help you negotiate more effectively with travel nursing companies, ensuring that you receive a fair deal for your services.

Travel Nursing Pay: Other Forms of Compensation to Consider

Beyond base pay, travel nursing agencies offer additional compensation to make their positions attractive and competitive. Recognizing these other forms of compensation is essential when comparing travel nursing pay packages:

1. Travel Stipend: Many travel nursing contracts include a travel stipend to cover the cost of transportation to and from your assignment. This amount varies depending on the distance of the assignment and the travel nursing agencies you choose.

2. Housing Stipend: A crucial aspect of a travel nursing pay package is the housing stipend. This stipend is intended to cover the cost of temporary housing during your assignment. It's essential to verify whether this housing stipend is sufficient to cover the entire cost of accommodation in your destination city.

3. Bonuses and Incentives: Travel nursing companies may also offer bonuses and incentives, such as completion bonuses or extension bonuses, to travel nurses who fulfill their contract obligations or extend their contracts beyond the initial term. These bonuses can enhance the travel nursing pay package and should be taken into consideration when evaluating offers.

4. Liability Insurance: Some travel nursing agencies provide liability insurance coverage for their nurses. This coverage is essential for travel nurses, as liability claims can be financially devastating. Ensure to inquire whether the travel nursing company includes this insurance in their pay package or if you need to secure it independently.

Travel Nurse Housing: Options and Costs

For many travel nurses, housing is one of the most critical considerations when accepting a traveling nursing position. Typically, travel nursing agencies offer two primary housing options - agency-provided housing or a housing stipend. Travel nurses can elect to use the stipend to arrange their accommodation, or they can choose to stay in housing organized and funded by the travel nursing company.

When evaluating housing options, travel nurses should account for factors such as location, convenience, safety, and cost-efficiency. If you decide to arrange your housing, research average rental rates in the assignment's city to ensure the housing stipend is sufficient to cover accommodation costs. Keep in mind that agency-provided housing is often move-in ready and may include furniture, utilities, and other conveniences that make transitions easier.

How to Negotiate Your Travel Nursing Contract

When negotiating your travel nursing pay package, it's essential to approach the process with a thorough understanding of the various components and industry norms. The following steps can help you negotiate effectively with travel nursing companies:

1. Research and compare: Gather information on travel nursing pay packages from multiple travel nursing agencies and identify the industry's standard rates for your specialty and experience. This knowledge will empower you when negotiating your desired pay package.

2. Determine your priorities: Before entering negotiations, identify which components of the pay package are most important to you, such as the housing stipend or travel reimbursement. This clarity will allow you to focus on those areas during the negotiation process.

3. Be assertive and confident: Don't be afraid to express your desires and concerns regarding the contract. Remember that travel nursing agencies' primary goal is to ensure your satisfaction so that you remain with the company. Your assertiveness may secure you a better pay package or assignment conditions.

4. Consult a mentor or colleague: If you have connections in the travel nursing industry, seek their advice on negotiating contracts and navigating conversations with recruiters. Gaining insight from experienced travel nurses can be invaluable during the negotiation process.

Sample Breakdown of a Travel Nursing Pay Package

Here's an example of a travel nursing pay package, with amounts allocated for various pay components:

  • Base Pay (Hourly Wages): $25 per hour
  • Overtime Pay: $37.50 per hour (1.5 times the base pay)
  • Housing Stipend: $2000 per month
  • Travel Stipend: $500 upon completion of the contract
  • Completion Bonus: $1000 upon contract completion
  • Extension Bonus: $500 for extending the contract past the initial date
  • Liability Insurance: Included in the pay package

By understanding the various components and industry norms, a travel nurse can successfully evaluate and negotiate their travel nursing contract. Comparing offers, researching housing options, and effectively communicating your needs to travel nursing companies will ensure that you secure favorable travel nursing pay and assignment conditions.

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How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

Courtney Smith-Kimble, MA

Average Pay for Travel Nurses

Travel nursing pay explained, highest and lowest paying states for travel nurses.

  • Highest Paying Travel Nurse Specialties
  • Ways to Increase Pay

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travel nurse assignment pay

Travel nursing offers a unique work experience with the opportunity to earn above-average hourly wages. These wages may even exceed those of other registered nurses (RNs) with the same education and credentials.

Travel nurses are typically employed by travel nursing agencies and work assignments across the country wherever nurses are needed. Because each assignment is different, the total annual income for travel nurses can vary significantly. Factors include the details of the pay package, where the assignment is located, and nursing specialty.

On this page you will find the most recent information about travel RN salaries, benefits, specialties, and the states with a high demand for travel nurses.

Fast Facts About Travel Nurses

  • Travel nurses generally earn as much or more than staff nurses with the same experience and qualifications.
  • Lodging reimbursement and tax advantages impact travel nursing salaries.
  • The most in-demand travel nursing specialties include labor and delivery, emergency room, and medical-surgical/telemetry.

The average travel nurse salary varies greatly depending on the work assignment. Depending on travel location, these practitioners can earn between $3,000 and $7,000 per week, averaging a 36-hour work week. According to Vivian , a healthcare jobs marketplace, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), travel nurses earn jan average of $2,183 per week, while RNs earn a mean hourly wage of $42.80. However, aspiring travel nurses should note that living on the road leads to additional personal expenses, so the increase in pay accounts for living accommodations.

Max Weekly Pay

Average Total Weekly Pay

Source: Vivian , September 2023

Travel nurse pay differs from full-time nursing positions because agencies offer hourly rates for each assignment, meaning RNs can shop around and find opportunities with ideal pay. In contrast, RNs working full time at hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other facilities usually rely on raises or additional education to increase their earning potential.

Practitioners considering this role also need to explore what take-home pay looks like for travel nurses . Nursing agencies set their own conditions, so pay packages vary. For instance, organizations may offer an hourly base pay with additional stipends to cover housing or meals, while other companies may offer a higher hourly rate to account for additional expenses.

Travel nurse salaries vary by state and region. Locations in need of RNs typically offer more competitive wages. In fact, the popularity of a particular region can influence travel nurses’ earning potential. Less popular locations may pay more, while desirable locations may pay less. Likewise, states with a higher cost of living offer higher wages relative to living costs.

According to 2023 data from Vivian, the top-paying states for travel RNs included New Jersey , California, and Alaska. Practitioners also want to consider the highest-paying specialties to determine earning potential which may vary by state. The following section includes the top specialties in demand.

Highest Paying Travel Nurse Specialities

Typically, nursing specialties that lack licensed practitioners offer more pay than other specialties, which further increases earning potential for travel nurses. Higher acuity facilities also offer higher pay, as they need skilled practitioners who can meet their patients’ needs. Here are five in-demand specialties for travel nurses.

Labor and Delivery

Emergency room, medical-surgical/telemetry, critical care – intensive care unit, operating room registered nurse, 4 ways to increase pay as a travel nurse.

While travel nurse pay may exceed traditional full-time RN salaries, travel nurses can additionally increase their earning potential by considering factors like demand for specialties, understaffed or unpopular shifts, and locations in need of skilled RNs.

Travel nurses should examine the full benefits package to determine if jobs can provide sufficient take-home pay. For instance, regions with a high cost of living may impact how much practitioners actually earn if stipends do not cover all costs.

Frequently Asked Questions: Travel Nursing Salaries

How much does a traveling nurse make per year.

Travel nurse salaries vary significantly, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. Factors that can influence earning potential include geographic location and specialty. However, travel RNs should anticipate working 46 weeks a year and earning about $2,183 on a weekly basis .

Do travel nurses get paid more?

Travel nurses typically earn more than full-time salaried RNs because they often take job assignments where there is a nursing shortage. Travel nurse agencies also pay practitioners by the hour and offer additional benefits, including housing and meal stipends.

Is travel nursing worth the money?

Travel nurses generally earn more than salaried RNs. However, practitioners should consider their lifestyle as well. For instance, an RN with a family may not feel the additional pay outweighs time at home, while another practitioner may find the pay suitable and enjoy the travel opportunities.

Do travel nurses get time off?

Travel nurses often do not receive time off since they work hourly and take temporary job assignments. While assignments vary, travel nurses should plan to work for 8-26 weeks at a time. Most travel nurses schedule time off between job assignments.

Learn More About Travel Nurses

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COMMENTS

  1. Travel Nurse Pay Breakdown

    Here is an example of a typical pay package: $20 per hour – taxable base rate that is reported to the IRS. $250 per week for meals and incidentals – non-taxable. $2,000 a month for lodging – non-taxable. $500 for travel reimbursement – non-taxable. Your blended rate is calculated by breaking down your non-taxable stipends into an hourly ...

  2. How Travel Nurse Pay Works: A Comprehensive Guide

    1. Travel Stipend: Many travel nursing contracts include a travel stipend to cover the cost of transportation to and from your assignment. This amount varies depending on the distance of the assignment and the travel nursing agencies you choose. 2. Housing Stipend: A crucial aspect of a travel nursing pay package is the housing stipend.

  3. How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

    The average travel nurse salary varies greatly depending on the work assignment. Depending on travel location, these practitioners can earn between $3,000 and $7,000 per week, averaging a 36-hour work week.