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3 travel nurse pay pitfalls to avoid

Travel nurse looking over edge of mountain

There are many factors that go into the decision to accept a travel nurse job, but one of the first questions most nurses ask is: how much will I get paid? However, the answer to that question isn’t always as clear and simple as it should be. When you receive an offer from a travel nursing agency, it’s important to dig deeper and ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand what you’re getting. Not all offers are created equal, and it’s easy to be disappointed if you don’t know exactly what you are signing up for. Here are three travel nurse pay pitfalls to avoid.

1. An offer that isn’t really an offer

Once you’ve shown interest or have spoken to a recruiter, some agencies will send you a letter that looks like an offer, when it’s really not. Instead, it may just be a generic pay package that doesn’t take your personal preferences or situation into consideration.

“Sometimes nurses think an email they received is an offer, but it’s generic to everyone,” says Michele Kluger, a senior recruiter with RNnetwork. “I hear this a lot, and I recommend they send me the letter. I can help them clarify what it means, and then we can calculate what they’d actually earn with RNnetwork.”

RNnetwork works diligently to come up with a compensation package that’s customized to each nurse’s situation. Senior recruiter Chris Georgiou says it may take a few extra minutes on the phone with your recruiter, but by the end of the conversation, you’ll know exactly what you’re going to get paid.

“It’s best to be as specific as possible,” he says. “That way you know exactly what you’re going to earn for that specific assignment.”

2. More hours than you signed up for

Nurse enjoying travel

It goes without saying that before you accept an assignment, you should read the offer thoroughly. One issue that comes up again and again, Kluger says, is you were quoted a weekly pay that looked attractive but was higher only because you ended up working more hours than you anticipated.  

Some agencies may not be as transparent as they should be in this regard, and you’ll only discover this after you begin your assignment. Kluger gives an example of someone who began working for another agency: “The nurse didn’t notice, and it wasn’t clearly communicated that the wages being quoted were for a 48-hour work week rather than a 36-hour work week.”

You may be making the promised weekly pay, but you’ll be working more hours than you planned to get it.

3. Overdoing the non-taxable reimbursements

Travel nurses’ paychecks, at their most elemental level, are comprised of three buckets: hourly, taxable wages; per diem; and housing (or housing reimbursement). Per diem and housing are non-taxable reimbursements but are still part of the total compensation package. RNnetwork offers a custom compensation package whereby nurses can work with their recruiter to determine how they’d like to split up their compensation into these buckets. For example, some nurses choose to take a higher hourly taxable wage, then a lower stipend and/or per diem. But another nurse may choose a lower hourly taxable wage but a higher housing and per diem. In either scenario, though, the gross compensation is the same. The only difference is how much of your compensation is taxable vs. non-taxable reimbursement.

However, some agencies may try to woo you with offers of lower taxable wages, but really high non-taxed compensation to inflate your take home pay. Accepting an excessively low taxable hourly wage — what Kluger refers to as a “babysitter’s” wage — could set you up for tax penalties later on. RNnetwork is committed to never going below a reasonable hourly wage, because we don’t want to expose you to higher risk down the road if you were audited by the IRS.

Open and honest is best

There are a lot of factors that come into play when considering travel nurse pay and how it works. It may initially seem confusing, but when you connect with an RNnetwork recruiter, they’ll work diligently to be transparent, open, honest — and help you to secure the perfect job with the best compensation package possible.

To learn more about travel nurse pay, check out the Travel Nurse Pay Guide or give us a call at 800.866.0407 to speak to a recruiter.

About the author

Jen Hunter

Jen Hunter has been a marketing writer for over 20 years. She enjoys telling the stories of healthcare providers and sharing new, relevant, and the most up-to-date information on the healthcare front. Jen lives in Salt Lake City, UT, with her husband, two kids, and their Golden. She enjoys all things outdoors-y, but most of all she loves rock climbing in the Wasatch mountains.


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