Financial benefit of being a Travel/Agency Nurse?

  1. During my time at a busy ER on the East Coast, I was blessed with the oppurtunity to meet many great and awesome RNs who worked hard and had passion behind what they do. This is the reason I went back to school and I am graduating this May. I got a position in the ER I work at and will be for two years and then traveling.

    I got into a discussion with a good friend and she cannot comprehend making great money as a Travel nurse. She does nto believe the fact that a Travel nurse can make more than 100k a year. I explained the tax-free home stipend and how you can manipulate this with your hourly and OT to take more home that is tax-free but I am now interested in the math. I am not asking how much you make but rather the math on how a traveler makes good money, including the home stipend (with or without housing), hourly rate, and other compensation like benefits.

    I think I may be turning into a number nerd. Any input would be appreciated. Thank You!
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  2. Visit ImKosher profile page

    About ImKosher

    Joined: Feb '12; Posts: 379; Likes: 223
    Nursing Student; from US

    40 Comments

  3. by   NedRN
    It is really difficult to compare staff pay with travel pay and it often depends on where you are staff for whether you can really make a financial case for it. In terms of total compensation per hour, most contract pay between $40 and $50 an hour which is 80 to 100K per year for minimum weekly hours. But this doesn't tell the whole story as it doesn't include tax benefits which can increase your bankable pay substantially beyond staff pay of a similar gross amount. However, the benefits of being staff with good insurance, vacations, holiday pay, education and sick pay does add 20 to 30 percent to staff pay (at least from HR's perspective). If you are in fact making between $40 and $50 an hour as staff, then you may have a difficult time doing the math on paper. For nurses from the south (where most travelers come from), it is easy.

    Some travelers working rapid response jobs working 48 hours plus can actually make over $200,000 a year, but this is far from the norm and usually requires a lot of hard work at crappy hospitals. I think of most travelers working normal contracts and not taking time between assignments as making on average 80 to 100K gross, but more take home with tax benefits. Some new travelers do much worse as they spend as if they are on vacation. To do better in savings, you have to be disciplined, especially with housing. Lots of no cost or low cost ways to enjoy new locations. I do a lot of exploring by bicycle myself.

    Things are really different going from staff to travel. For myself, I went from 3 years as staff in Baltimore to travel and there was no comparison. In 3 years, I just saved enough to buy a good used car ($2,000 in 1995) and started traveling broke. And I am super thrifty but housing ate up too much. My first several assignments paid within a couple dollars an hour of my staff job, but with housing and per diem I started saving 80 percent of what I made. Some 18 years later, I've paid for a house cash and have enough banked to retire modestly.

    There are tons of individual variables, specialty, ability to adapt, people skills, family, health, and desire. The last is the most important. Basically if you do anything just for the money, you are not going to be happy. If you have wanderlust, or truly want to improve or maintain professionally and not get in a rut, these are the best reasons to travel. Don't do it for the money, if you have a good staff job with a decent pay to housing cost, you may well do better financially to stay put.

    Too much thought about number crunching and you will never do it. You will have to try it to see if it works for you personally, professionally, and financially.
  4. by   Barbara H.
    From what I hear it's a thing of the past making the big bugs with traveling...and be aware, I increasingly see nurses' contracts cancelled in the middle of an assignment. Important to have a good financial cushion...if the unexpected happens 3000 miles away from home. Don't get me wrong, travel is great thing, just go in there with open eyes!!
  5. by   ImKosher
    NedRN,
    Thanks for your advice. After reading your comment, I've come to realize that it may be a lost cause trying to explain the numbers behind the financial success with a Travel RN. Your absolutely right that crunching the numbers should not be a factor in deciding what specialty of nursing I want to go in. I will have to tell the girl that she may need to discover this field on her own if she wants to know more.

    I am really excited to start Nursing and have a plan to specifically to travel. The wife is the one waiting to travel and is excited to go on this adventure. I know that travel nursing has it's pros and cons but I truly believe that if it's something your passionate about, work hard, and work smart, the money will follow. I was wrong to try to convince someone about the benefits of travel nursing solely on the money. Thanks again NedRN!
  6. by   ImKosher
    NedRn,
    I also want to add that like yourself I am traveling to save so I can buy a house in cash at the end. Want to live debt-free baby! My goal is by the time I'm 30 (now 25), to buy a house in cash and settle somewhere and then take the next step in my career.
  7. by   NedRN
    Hmm, that's a good goal, but perhaps a bit out of reach on the east coast depending on your tastes. Midwest or south, it is possible to save enough in five years to buy a house. And those would be good places to base yourself for a travel career.

    I don't find it difficult to save 30K a year, but really, most Americans are not capable of that at almost any income level. I believe it is probably easier as a traveler in good health than as a staffer, but you have to like the lifestyle for any long-range plan to be sustainable.
  8. by   jodyangel
    NedRN,
    so How do I mange to find a place to live without breaking the bank. I was just told that I would bring home around $1400/ week. But that includes all stipends...so if I pay $500/ week to live somewhere...I'll be making less than staff?
  9. by   NedRN
    I don't think you will be making less than staff in net pay, they also have to have housing after all. I've never paid anywhere near $2,300 a month for housing (I think the most I've paid is $1,200 and it usually under $1,000) but I'm big on shared housing and often find other kinds of bargains by posting needs on Craigslist. Lots of stuff pops up that is not advertised. Lots of other ways to look for housing as well.

    But let's say your paycheck is only $900 net after housing. That is $45,000 cash annually with two weeks off and housing paid. That is a lot! I suspect you do not net that much from your staff job. I'm not going to guess at your food and transportation budget, or loans/rent at home you may have, but I'd be surprised if you can't be heavy into 6 digit annual savings without too much pain. Even easier if you spend only $1,000 a month on housing. That would be another $12,000 bankable cash per year.

    Do most travelers manage that? No. Nor do average people that have $150,000 a year in income. Human nature.

    It just occurred to me, perhaps you are mixing up gross and net pay?
    Last edit by NedRN on Mar 11, '14
  10. by   jodyangel
    No..I clear about $2100/2weeks at staff job. I own my home and have a car payment. So I have to pay all that out of my paycheck. My husband is disabled but receives no income. $45000? I couldn't live on that!!
  11. by   OnOn2NICU
    This may be a thread in and of itself, so I am sorry if I hijack yiur thread... But how exactly does travel nursing work? Are you on the road constantly? On,y in a certain region? His long are assignments? Etc.
  12. by   NedRN
    Quote from jodyangel
    No..I clear about $2100/2weeks at staff job. I own my home and have a car payment. So I have to pay all that out of my paycheck. My husband is disabled but receives no income. $45000? I couldn't live on that!!
    Then you probably shouldn't be a traveler.
  13. by   NedRN
    Quote from keylimesqueez
    This may be a thread in and of itself, so I am sorry if I hijack yiur thread... But how exactly does travel nursing work? Are you on the road constantly? On,y in a certain region? His long are assignments? Etc.
    About a thousand agency sites and others (try PanTravelers or Healthcare Traveler) will explain the basics. If you are a nurse, most of the folks you work with will be able to tell you as well.
  14. by   OnOn2NICU
    Oh, my typing on the iPad is horrendous. Let me try again .... This may be a thread in and of itself, so I am sorry if I hijack your thread... But how exactly does travel nursing work? Are you on the road constantly? Only in a certain region? How long are assignments? Etc.

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