One of the biggest benefits of travel nursing is being able to move around freely and explore the country, often making significantly more money than you would as a staff nurse. Travel nursing pay is often based on demand for nurses, and travel nurses need to decide if you are willing to be flexible with pay if your heart is set on specific locations.
You seek out the highest rates by browsing jobs on Vivian and sorting by pay, and by letting the recruiters know that you’re willing to travel wherever pay is best. Be adaptable and be realistic about where you are willing to accept a job.
Breakdown of Travel Nursing Pay
Travel nursing pay is often reported as a ‘blended rate’. This means that part of your wages are taxed, and part of your pay is in the form of tax-free stipends for housing and meals/incidentals.
Travel nursing taxes can be confusing. In order to be eligible for the tax-free stipends you must claim a permanent tax home. Claiming a permanent tax home means that you are telling the IRS that you have duplicate expenses. A travel nurse can only receive tax-free stipends if they are responsible for costs while traveling, and are also contributing a ‘fare market value’ towards cost of living in their home state.
If you cannot claim a permanent tax home, your pay rate will still be higher than that of the average staff nurse, but you must pay taxes on the whole rate. Or, risk being audited and having to pay back the government for the tax-free stipends, along with other fees.
How to Calculate Your Travel Nurse Pay
If you are NOT claiming a permanent tax home, you will be taxed as you were a staff nurse. For example, if your travel nursing pay is $60 per hour and fully taxed- you can deduct 20-25% of the rate for taxes (varies based on your annual income, dependents, and state of employment). This means, you will take home $45-$48 per hour on the example $60/hour rate. You would multiply the hourly rate after taxes by the number of hours worked each week to figure out your NET income as a travel nurse.
If you ARE claiming a permanent tax home, only a very small portion is taxed, and the rest will be in the form of tax-free stipends. For example, in this scenario if your rate is $60 per hour, you will most likely only be taxed on $17-$23 per hour, depending on the state and facility. The rest of your wages will be reported as tax-free stipends for housing and meals/incidentals.
If you opt to take agency provided housing you will NOT get any sort of housing stipend, and still have a very low taxable hourly wage. It is more beneficial for the travel nurse in most locations to find their own housing.
Travel Nurse Pay Example with Tax-Free Stipends
36 hours per week, “Base Rate” (taxable wages) $22/hour, Weekly stipends $1368
Yes, the $22 an hour seems low for nursing pay, but that’s ok for a travel nurse. If you divide $1368 (stipends) by 36 (the number of hours you are working), the result is $38 per hour worked.
This means your TOTAL pay rate is $60 per hour. ($22+$38= $60).
So your GROSS (before taxes) weekly pay will be $2160 per week.
But, what will a travel nurse take home for pay?
Again- you will only be taxed on the $22/hour “base rate”.
This means you would only be taxed on $792 per week ($22 x 36 hours). If you use the 25% tax rate, that means $198 will be deducted from your base pay. You would take home $594 of your taxable income, in addition to the $1368 per week in stipends.
Your total NET (take home) travel nurse pay each week would be $1962.
Travel Nursing Pay and Negotiation
Be ready to negotiate pay and have a hard limit for what you are willing to accept and not accept. Set a goal rate and decide how important location and shift are for you. There may not be a pay differential between shifts, but many hospitals only have night shifts available.
Research salaries in your cities of interest with Vivian in order to have realistic and accurate facts when comparing pay with your recruiter.
More Travel Nurse Pay Considerations
Overtime is not always common as a travel nurse, but you should know in advance what the rate is for extra hours.
If you are taking tax-free allowances, your OT rate may only be 1.5x your hourly taxable rate (that low number you saw above that makes all first time travel nurses cringe- until they understand the stipend system).
Verify this in advance and negotiate for more if you feel it is appropriate for the assignment. You can always ask if there are opportunities for overtime in your interview with the facility and try to negotiate the OT rate before signing.
Who Pays the Travel Nurse?
Agencies have some flexibility in how the money you receive is distributed, but travel nursing pay is often compared to a cake or pie. If you increase the size of one piece, by default you are decreasing the size of another. For example, if you want more money allocated for travel or licensure reimbursement, they may offer a lower weekly meals and incidentals rate. Always try to take the majority of your money as tax-free stipends.
The money isn’t unlimited, but you should advocate for what you deserve!
It takes some shuffling of pay rates and numerous negotiations, but I am confident you will settle on the travel nurse pay package that is right for you.
Browse travel healthcare jobs at Vivian and use our salary comparison tool if you are trying to decide what is fair!