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Understanding Your Travel Nurse Package

Posted on: February 1st, 2022

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Now is a great time to be a travel nurse. You probably have heard of the perks including great pay, bonuses, and the experience of exploring new locations. Reviewing your travel nurse package isn’t glamorous, but it’s a big part of your career as a travel nurse.

It’s important to have a good understanding of what your travel nurse package entails. Your recruiter is there to provide the information, but it’s up to you to make sure all your questions are answered and you feel comfortable knowing all the parts that make up your package.

Your hourly pay (the taxed part)

This is an important part of your package, but don’t get too focused on the hourly pay alone. Many travel agencies also offer enticing benefits that can boost up your overall pay, beyond what you’re getting paid per hour.

Your hourly pay depends on several factors:

  • What specialty you’re working in. Certain specialty areas such as ICU, NICU, and telemetry will pay more than if you were working on a general medical-surgical floor.
  • The location of your assignment: Certain states, cities, and even individual facilities will vary in how much you’re paid per hour. A busy hospital in a major city will probably pay higher than a rural clinic.
  • Where the need is: If facilities are experiencing crucial staffing shortages, they’re going to offer more pay than places where there are plenty of staff or are popular for travel nurses.

Your non-taxable pay

This makes up the rest of your travel nurse package. These reimbursements are non-taxable and are also known as stipends, allowances, and per diems.

Think of this as reimbursements to help cover the general cost of traveling as a traveling career. You may be disappointed initially at an hourly rate that’s offered, but after you look over the reimbursements offered, it actually works out well for you from a tax standpoint.

Agencies may work to get a lower hourly rate for travel nurses so that more money can go to the other non-taxable allowances. This means better overall take-home pay for you. Here is how your non-taxable portion of your package is broken down:

  • Meals
  • Incidentals such as parking fees, Uber rides, busing, and any tips that you leave
  • Housing: Agencies provide housing, but some travel nurses opt to find their own using stipends. If you don’t take the stipend, you still can get other reimbursements for your meals and incidentals.
  • Benefits such as medical insurance, paid time off, bonuses, reimbursement for licenses and certifications, and retirement plans
  • Travel reimbursements: Covering your travel from assignment to assignment

In order to get this non-taxable pay part of your package, you need to have a tax home. This is a place you live (and pay for) during your assignments. With a permanent tax home, you’ll have fewer taxes taken out of your hourly pay.

For example, you might rent an apartment in one state where you return to between assignments. If you can, it may be more beneficial to come home after you complete an assignment, at least once a year. This also means you probably shouldn’t take on assignments that would make the IRS think you no longer live in your tax home. This could be a real headache for you come tax season.

However, if you aren’t claiming a permanent tax home, you’ll be taxed the same way as an employee staff nurse. This means you’ll pay taxes on what you’ve earned in stipends and reimbursement.

What to ask your recruiter

Here are some questions you may want to ask your travel nurse recruiter when it comes to your pay package:

  • How much of your hourly rate is taxed versus non-taxable?
  • What licenses and certifications will you need to take an assignment and how are they paid for?
  • Are there bonuses for assignments?
  • Does the agency provide insurance?

Dealing with your taxes can be complicated. You might consider working with a licensed professional who can help you understand your own packages. As you gain experience, you will understand what to look for in different travel packages and recognize the ones that can most benefit you.

Ready to go on assignment? Contact the Barton Healthcare Staffing team today to get started!

Take our quiz to see if you should be a Travel Nurse!

Risa Kerslake, RN
About Risa Kerslake, RN

Risa Kerslake, RN, BSN is a Minnesota-based nurse and freelance writer. She has experience in a variety of settings including psychiatric nursing, triage, and case management. Learn more about her freelance writing at RisaKerslakeWrites.com.