Understanding travel nurse pay packages, how to determine fair pay, and your travel nurse housing stipend are hard things to grasp as a new traveler. Now, with COVID crisis rates being advertised and job market fluctuations, it can be even more confusing to figure out how to know if you are making enough money to cover housing for the area you will be living in.
There is not a one size fits all solution to determining if your pay package is fair or not, but you can use a few different tools to help you gauge each offer you receive and decide if it is going to work for you.
An important piece of advice to remember is that recruiters ultimately do not control how much the hospital is willing to offer to pay their travel nurses. Sometimes, the pay package does not match the cost of living for the area and facilities are banking on inexperienced travelers getting more excited about location than anything else. This does not have to be you! Stay educated, do your research, and don’t be afraid to say no if you simply can’t afford what is offered.
Pay Package Structure
There could be a whole separate article written about pay packages and travel nurse housing stipends, but I will just hit the high points.
The hourly taxable rate is what you will claim at the end of the year for your income. This usually starts at around $20 per hour and could go up or down depending on location and average pay in the area. Ultimately you do not want to take a super low taxable rate, because this could flag the IRS that you were not being paid appropriately, leading to you getting audited (no fun at all!). This is why most travelers will only take hourly rates of $20 or more.
The rest of your income comes from tax-free travel nurse housing stipends and per diems. These are meant to cover the cost of living away from home, and the increased cost of food and essentials while on assignment.
You need to be able to prove that you were paying for short term housing wherever you stay. This means you cannot simply stay at a hotel for three days a week but collect seven days’ worth of stipends. You can, however, pocket any additional stipend leftover once you have paid for housing. This is how a lot of travelers take home the most money. For in-depth information on the tax laws surrounding travel nurse pay, be sure to check out TravelTax.com.
Decide What You Want
The most important part of figuring out how much you need to spend on housing is knowing what you want in your space. Do you want to live alone? Does the unit need to be pet friendly? Do you have room to bring small items like kitchen basics or linens? Property owners do their research before pricing their space, so they know how to competitively price their rental based on what you get.
Obviously, private units will be more expensive than renting a room in someone’s home. In addition, pet-friendly rentals are usually a bit more expensive. They will either charge a monthly pet rent or require fees to cover any sort of deep cleaning or flea treatments they will want to do when a tenant moves out.
Make a list of your housing must-haves and deal-breakers before you start looking at pricing. This will help you narrow down your search and give you a more realistic idea of what your ideal space will cost. Each bonus amenity will add up, so knowing what you really, really want is key to saving money where you can.
How to Research Rental Prices
The cost of living will vary hugely from one area of the country to another. I have paid as little as $400 per month for a one-bedroom furnished space in rural Missouri and as much as $2200 per month for roughly the same sized apartment in Seattle. It is absolutely impossible to estimate the average cost of a short-term lease, so for each location, you will need to do a little research.
One easy way to do this is to check out the Travel Nurse Housing Stats page over on Furnished Finder. You can search any city and it will bring up the breakdown of what the majority of private versus shared spaces cost in the area.
Another way to get an idea of what you will need to pay for housing is to browse the Travel Nurse Housing Group and see what landlords are charging in the area. These are not all the same landlords who list on Furnished Finder, so it gives you additional information to play with.
Using This Information
Once you have an idea of what you want in your short-term rental and you know what that kind of space will cost, you can take a look at your pay package offer and travel nurse housing stipend and determine if that is going to work for your budget or not.
If you are not quite sure how to set up your budget as a travel nurse, take a look at this article on how to make a budget with fluctuating income. Taking the time to write out your budget and plan what you can afford to spend will save you a lot of money and heartache in the long run.
If you are having trouble balancing your budget with the cost of short-term housing on a regular basis, it might be worth seeing if you can cut down on your expenses back home. This might include finding a roommate to split expenses with, downsizing your space, or renting a room or two in your house if you own a home.
However, if you have a low cost of living back home and you have been reasonable with your short-term rental choices and you still can’t make your budget work with the pay package offered, then it is probably not a good fit for you.
How to Communicate with Your Recruiter
As with any relationship, the best thing to do is be open and honest with your travel nurse recruiter. When they give you a quote for a specific area, tell them you will do a little research and let them know if you are willing to submit to that job. As a general rule, it is not best practice to submit to jobs you would not be willing to take if you receive an offer. This means you need to research the affordability of the pay package before deciding to submit.
Also, keep in mind that the travel nurse job market moves quickly. You will need to be able to quickly research the cost of living in the area and check through your budget ideally the same day the offer is presented. Most travel nurse jobs open and close within 24-48 hours, so if you take too long you will lose the opportunity to submit.
This is why having a written budget and several tools to check pricing is important. Once you get the hang of this process, all of this research can be done in less than an hour, and you can text or call your recruiter to let them know whether or not you want to be submitted for the job.
If the numbers aren’t working for you, simply tell your recruiter that. Something along the lines of “I would love this job, but I just can’t make my budget work with this pay package and travel nurse housing stipend” is simple and straight to the point. Hopefully, you have done your research and are working with a trustworthy recruiter who is giving you the best package up front. If this is the case, they will likely respond that they understand and will keep looking for you.
What About Destination Locations?
Some locations are known in the travel nurse world as destination locations. These are places like Hawaii, San Diego, or Florida in the winter. In general, these locations may not pay a very high wage in respect to the cost of living in the area because they know they will be able to attract travelers with all of the things to do in the area.
If you want to travel to one of these places–great! Just be prepared to use it as more of a working vacation. You will get to live in a fun and beautiful place, but you may not do more than break even over the course of thirteen weeks. In some instances, you might even spend more money than you earn if you travel a lot on off days. This is okay, but you just need to come to terms with that fact before you take the assignment.
Learning how to navigate different stipends and costs of living across the country can be tricky, but with all of the resources available in this day and age, it is easier than it used to be. Be sure to research your area, and don’t be nervous to say no to a stipend package that won’t meet your needs. Every traveler has a unique monetary situation, so no one should make you feel guilty for saying that you simply cannot make a pay package work for you.
Alex McCoy, BSN, RN Alex is a pediatric travel nurse and the content manager of Furnished Finder. After traveling for four years with her husband, a physical therapist they recently welcomed a daughter, Jade, into their crazy travel family. Read more articles from Alex on Furnished Finder or Travel Nurse Housing, or read about her previous travels here. Have an idea you would love to share with fellow travel nurses or landlords? Be sure to email her at [email protected]