Travel Nurse Pay Scale

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What is the travel nurse pay scale? You’ve heard that travel nursing pays more while allowing you to explore a new area. Is travel nursing financially worth it?

Travel nursing can really be a great way to earn more income and hack the nursing pay scale with little relative experience. 

How Much Does a Travel Nurse Make? 

Most travel nurses make $99,202 per year or approximately $48 per hour according to ZipRecruiter. Likely this assumes working a good chunk of overtime as most travel nurses do not work all 52 weeks in a year. 

travel nurse pay by state
Image from ZipRecruiter 2020

In contrast, the average nurses make an average salary of $73,000 per year or $35.24 per hour. Travel nursing pay is the same despite years of experience, so a newer nurse can easily hack the nurse pay scale travel nursing and effectively boost their income by tens of thousands of dollars per year!  

If you’re a nurse pursuing financial independence or “FIRE”, then travel nursing might be a great way to increase your income. 

Nurses who are already retired and financially independent might also take a travel nurse contract in order to keep their skills while earning some extra income. 

How is a Travel Nurse Paid? 

Travel nurse companies often complicate their travel nurse pay scale. They will usually quote you a certain dollar amount per week over the course of a 13 week contract with the option to sometimes extend that contract. 

Each travel contract can pay differently depending on the location and demand, so shop around for the best contract. 

Travel Nurse Pay Jargon 

Getting paid as a travel nurse can seem a little complicated with talk of base pay, tax home, housing stipends, and other non-taxable reimbursements. 

Travel Nurse Tax Home
Tax-Free vs. Taxable Income is often confusing with travel nursing

Tax Home

The IRS Publication 463 considers a “tax home” as your main place of business or work. If you don’t have a specific main place of work such as a travel nurse, your home residence MIGHT be considered your tax home. 

You have to meet at least TWO of the following criteria to consider your home residence your tax home: 

1. You work at least part-time in the area of your home residence while living at your home. 

Most travel nurses CANNOT claim this criteria. 

2. You duplicate living expenses at your home residence while working away from home.  

You have to keep your room, house, or apartment in your home residence. If you rent, you must rent at a market rate even when you’re gone on a travel nurse contract.   

3. You haven’t abandoned the area of your home residence and lodge there when not away.

You have to keep your community contacts, registrations, pay local taxes, and such in your home residence. You also have to regularly visit and show evidence of local ties such as performing your personal business in that area such as dentist appointments and such. 

Having a tax home is somewhat complicated and involves several additional nuances. I highly recommend consulting a travel nurse tax professional before making a decision to accept tax-free money based on a legitimate tax home. 

Base Pay

Your base travel nurse pay is the hourly rate you earn. This is considered the taxable part of your pay package. 

Try to always get guaranteed hours or pay for your contracts. For example, if you get low censused or called off from your shift, you will still get a guaranteed amount of pay. Often travel nurses are the first to get called off when you’re not needed. This can really mess up the amount of money you’re expecting to earn, wasting your time. 

Stipends 

This is the tax-free money your travel company pays or reimburses you to cover mainly housing and food costs. These rates generally follow the regular federal per diem rates

Remember to get the stipend tax-free you must have a tax home and temporarily work away from your tax home. 

Travel Nurse Pay Scale Packages 

Travel Nurse Pay Scale Options 1
Tax-Advantage Pay Package vs. Flat Hourly Rate Pay Package

Tax-Advantage Pay Package

A tax-advantage pay package is probably the most common travel nurse pay scale package offered to a travel nurse. Most travel companies present their weekly or monthly pay rates based on you getting tax-advantaged money. Usually this involved a relatively low taxable, hourly base pay rate around $20-$30 per hour and a weekly several hundred dollar non-taxed stipend for food and housing. 

You MUST make sure you qualify to receive tax-free money. This primarily involves ensuring you have a legitimate Tax Home. Please consult a tax professional familiar with travel nursing for your specific situation. 

Flat Hourly Rate Pay Package

An alternative if you don’t qualify for the tax-free stipend is to have a flat hourly rate travel nurse pay scale package. This is much more straightforward as you pay taxes on all your wages both to the state you work in and the federal government. 

Usually the flat hourly rate pay package involves a significantly higher hourly pay rate because the housing and food stipends are all rolled into your hourly rate. Usually a flat hour pay rate is around $40-$60 per hour. 

Benefits

Many travel nurse companies offer temporary health insurance and the possibility to contribute to a 401k retirement account. These are probably the main benefits offered with lots of minor side perks such as license reimbursement and completion bonuses. 

Consider benefits carefully as the benefits might fit your situation better and make a lower paying contract worth more than a seemingly high dollar contract.

3 Travel Nurse Pay Scale Considerations

  1. Consult a travel nurse tax professional before making a decision to accept tax-free money from a travel nurse company. 
  2. Travel nursing pay often is still worth it even if you just get a flat hourly wage.
  3. Travel nursing is a great way to hack the nurse pay scale while exploring new places.

Don’t waste the financial opportunity like I did when I was a travel nurse. Create a budget, trim expenses, learn to invest, and set financial goals. 

Happy travel nursing!

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