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3 travel nurse pay pitfalls to avoid

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Many factors go into accepting a travel nurse job, but one of the first questions most nurses ask is: how much will I get paid? The answer to that question isn’t always as clear and straightforward as it should be.

When you receive an offer from a travel nursing agency, you must dig deeper and ask clarifying questions to ensure 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 nursing pay pitfalls to avoid.

infographic of 3 nurse pay pitfalls

1. An offer that isn’t 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 not. It may just be a generic pay package that doesn’t consider your personal preferences or situation.

“Sometimes nurses think an email they received is an offer, but it’s generic to everyone,” says Michele Kluger Loebl, 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’ll 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

Infographic about misquotes on how many hours a travel nurse will work on an assignment

It goes without saying that before you accept an assignment, you should read the offer thoroughly. Kluger Loebl says one issue that comes up repeatedly is that 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, and you’ll only discover this after you begin your assignment. Kluger Loebl gives an example of someone who started 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

At their most elemental level, travel nurses’ paychecks are comprised of four 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 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. However, another nurse may choose a lower taxable hourly salary but a higher housing and per diem. In either scenario, though, the gross compensation is the same. The only difference is how much your compensation is taxable vs. non-taxable reimbursement.

Infographic about how some travel nurse agencies may offer higher pay rate which may result in tax penalties later

However, some agencies may try to woo you with offers of lower taxable wages but high non-taxed compensation to inflate your take-home pay. Accepting an excessively low taxable hourly wage — what Kluger Loebl calls a “babysitter’s” wage — could set you up for tax penalties later. 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 the IRS audits you.

Open and honest is best

There are a lot of factors that come into play when considering travel nursing 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, and honest — and help you secure the perfect job with the best compensation package possible.

Want to get started on your next travel nurse adventure or learn more about travel nurse pay? Give us a call at 800.866.0407 or check out today’s travel nurse jobs.

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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