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First travel assignment.. not sure if this is right

Good afternoon! I am currently working with several recruiters and agencies to find a travel assignment in NYC and may accept an offer, but from what I have been researching, I shouldn't accept pay less than $20/hr taxable. Agency #1 is offering me $12/hr for 36 hrs/wk.. $160/day for meals and housing and somehow this adds up to $1500/wk according to the recruiter. I asked her to send me an email with this info because I don't understand how those numbers add up. This would be for an assignment in Brooklyn, Tele, nights. Agency #2: Assignment in Manhattan for a pay rate of $20 an hour, $738 a week in tax free housing stipend, $15 per day in tax free Meals per diem. This is so frustrating! I started doing all the tests for the facility for agency #1 but I am glad the recruiter called me back with the estimated breakdown before I proceeded with anything else. Any suggestions on websites to review to calculate pay or advice would be helpful! Thanks !

PanTravelers has a calculator that will help you compare agency offers and figure out what they are really paying.

Some recruiters may quote you what you would have had to gross if it had all been taxable. For example, if your take home pay was $1,500 a week, a regular full time employee would have had to make perhaps $2,300 before taxes. That style of quoting makes it almost impossible to see what you are really earning, and your contract numbers will be very different.

That is not to say that take home pay is not an interesting number to compare, as long as you are eligible for tax free treatment of housing and per diem. The big catch I see here is that housing is not provided. By the time you pay for NY housing, the amount you can put in the bank is going to be rather poor. You can't just count take home pay without considering expenses.

Thanks for your input! I will keep searching around :)

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