Travel nurse
pay guide.

You’ve got questions about travel nurse compensation.
We’ve got all the answers.

Your pay should be your way.

Every travel nurse job comes with a certain amount of money, and the breakdown of that compensation depends on lots of factors. Most of the money goes to you, while some also goes to the agency that helped you get the job.

How exactly your money is divided up is determined by you in partnership with the staffing agency. It’s all based on your personal situation and preferences. Each option has advantages. While the combinations are endless, here are four common compensation scenarios to consider.
Jane: The weekly take-home pay maximizer

Jane’s goal is to maximize how much money she takes home every week. She receives a competitive hourly wage and accepts enough non-taxable reimbursement to cover her cost of living while duplicating living expenses on her temporary assignment. These non-taxable living expense reimbursements include housing allowance and meal per diems.

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Hourly wage:

Housing allowance:

Per diems:

Travel reimbursement:

Giving your compensation just the right structure

The money that comes with a travel nursing job can be divided many different ways. Which is best? That depends entirely on you. Let’s look at the different elements of your compensation:
Hourly wage

Your hourly wage is the taxed portion of your compensation. If you choose to take a higher hourly wage, you’ll pay more in income taxes than if you accept a lower hourly wage.


On the other hand, if you take a low hourly wage in favor of more non-taxed reimbursements like housing and travel allowance, you may increase your risk of tax penalties if don’t use the reimbursements as intended. So the best practice is to balance the taxable wage and non-taxable reimbursements to get the best deal possible while minimizing your risk.

Employer-provided housing or housing reimbursement

A portion of your total compensation should go toward covering your housing expenses. You’re not taxed on this form of compensation when you’re duplicating living expenses (i.e. paying for a second place to live while still maintaining your primary residence). Instead, it’s considered a reimbursable expense that’s covered by your employer. This benefit is available either as a reimbursement (where you handle your own housing) or arranged and paid for directly by your staffing agency.


The amount of your overall compensation that can go towards housing expense should be determined by the average cost of housing in the area of your assignment. Places with a high cost of living like San Francisco will obviously require more money than a location like Birmingham, Alabama, which might only need half as much money to cover housing.


We base our housing reimbursements on the published per diem rates from the government’s General Services Administration (GSA) website. These rates are determined by zip code. Each geographic area is assigned a maximum daily reimbursement rate based on the cost of lodging that would be incurred by your employer if they were to pay directly for your temporary housing.


See also: How travel nurse housing works


RNnetwork housing options

When you work for us, you can take your housing benefit in two different ways:

RNnetwork housing: We book your housing for you and pay for all of the costs directly. This is the best option for new travelers or those that don’t want to worry about finding and maintaining their own housing.

Housing reimbursement: You find your own housing and get reimbursed a reasonable estimate of housing costs incurred based on the published GSA rates (typically a non-taxed reimbursement).


Accuracy is essential for travel reimbursements

Be careful not to ask for a larger housing reimbursement with the hopes of pocketing more money that isn’t taxed. A travel reimbursement that exceeds the fair market value of housing in the area may increase your risk for tax penalties later.

For example, if you were to receive a non-taxable reimbursement of $500 per week for housing, you might have to prove that you used that money for housing and related expenses. If you were only able prove you used $100 of it to pay for housing, you may have to pay taxes on the remainder later.

Meals and incidentals reimbursements (per diems)

Part of your overall compensation can go toward the cost of meals, baggage handler and room service tips, and other incidental expenses. These can come as non-taxable reimbursements paid for by your employer.

The amount you can receive for per diem reimbursement for meals and incidentals depends on your contract and GSA standards. The nice thing about these reimbursements is that there’s no need to keep your receipts like you would if you were going to write them off as business expenses for your taxes.

Travel reimbursement

A travel reimbursement is another form of non-taxable compensation that you may want to include if it’s right for your situation. It often makes sense if you’ve already maxed out the reimbursement you can get for housing and other non-taxable reimbursements, but don’t want to take an inflated hourly wage.

However, taking a travel reimbursement means additional paperwork, so many nurses opt against choosing a travel reimbursement in favor of other options when available.

Bonus

Bonuses can be an attractive option and many staffing agencies promote them to incentivize nurses to take a job. However, they aren’t always the best way to take your compensation.

Think of a bonus as just another part of your compensation that is getting paid out in a different form. Because taxes for bonuses are withheld at a higher rate than your hourly wage, it may actually be more advantageous to ask for that compensation as higher hourly pay or a non-taxable reimbursement.

Vendor and agency fees

When a healthcare facility hires a travel nurse through a staffing agency like RNnetwork, part of the money the facility pays goes to cover vendor and agency fees, while the rest goes to pay the nurse. These fees are a non-negotiable expense associated with getting a job through an agency. They help pay for things like:

  • Paying your salary during orientation (a non-billable expense)
  • Your benefits, such as health insurance, dental insurance, etc.
  • Your onboarding costs, including background check, drug screening,
    and required licenses
  • Payroll taxes, malpractice insurance, and workers compensation
  • The salary and wages of your recruiter and others who are working to
    support you
  • The cost of the staffing vendor that connected the healthcare organization’s
    job to the agency representing you
  • The day-to-day costs of doing business, such as paper, copy machines,
    software, etc.
Additional resources
Have questions about your personal situation? Give us call for help customizing a pay package that’s perfect for you!
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