One of the most confusing parts of a travel nurse pay package is the housing stipend. This portion of the package is for nurses who prefer to find their own housing through sites like Furnished Finder rather than taking housing provided by their agency.
A majority of travel nurses much prefer to take their housing money and find housing themselves rather than allow the company to choose for them. Generally speaking, this is due to the fact that if you can stay under the amount given, any excess goes into the pocket of a travel nurse. Here are a few key things to note about travel nurse housing stipends.
You must have a tax home in a different location to collect your stipends tax-free on assignment.
- There are a handful of travel nurses who will sell their homes, put everything in storage, and travel without a “home” where they pay rent or a mortgage. In this instance, any money collected for housing will be taxed at a normal rate.
- If you do have a tax home established wherever you are from (for more on tax homes, be sure to check out Travel Tax), then you can collect any money provided for housing without paying taxes on it. This can make a considerable amount of difference in your take-home pay, especially if you find low-cost housing wherever you are going.
Do your research on the cost of living for each city.
By using the Furnished Finder Housing Stipend Calculator, you can get a big picture idea of what you will expect to pay for housing at each assignment. Hospitals don’t necessarily look at things like short term rental prices when they set a bill rate, so be sure to do your own research before deciding that a stipend package will be enough to cover housing.
Housing stipends may vary slightly between recruiters.
- Every recruiter has a preferred way to “break down” a pay package. This means they divide up a pay rate offered by a facility into two pools: taxable and non-taxed. The formula for these portions is generally similar, but each recruiter may have a preferred method of doing this.
- If you are comparing two jobs and the stipend to taxable ratio is different, ask questions. Explain to your recruiter what your other offer looks like, and remember that they may not be trying to pull a fast one–they may just be working off their experience and what works best in the long run for both parties.
Look at the entire pay package, not just the housing stipend.
- Most recruiters will structure their pay packages to maximize pay while also being within certain taxable ranges to help their travelers avoid audits. This means that the housing stipend may look great, but you could also be taking home a lower hourly (think $25 an hour).
- The majority of travel nurses could not afford to pay their full expenses at home and while on an assignment if they spend their entire stipend on housing and only take home the $25 after taxes and insurance. Therefore, you need to look at the pay package as a whole when determining if it will fit your budget or not.
Know that it is okay to say no if the numbers don’t work out.
- Determining the housing stipend for each assignment’s pay package is not black and white. And unfortunately, recruiters have zero say over what the hospital is willing to pay as a whole for their travelers. While they may be able to shift money between taxable vs. non-taxed, at the end of the day, they can only make an offer as good as what the hospital is willing to pay.
- Sometimes this means you will have to pass on a job that you really thought you wanted. Travel nursing requires a lot of balancing and being smart while also seeking the experiences you want. It just might not be the right time for that particular experience.
Even if you are a couple of contracts in to travel nursing, understanding housing stipends can seem a bit overwhelming or intimidating. The more you know, the more power you have to ask questions and negotiate what doesn’t feel right, and the more successful you will be in your travel nursing career.