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10 Things to Know for Traveling Nurses: Common Misconceptions

10 Things to Know for Traveling Nurses: Common Misconceptions

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Health Carousel Travel Nursing
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On the surface, travel nursing seems basic. Hospitals hire travel nurses on temporary assignments all over the country. However, dig just a little deeper and travel nursing is actually quite complex. The pay packages are different, the employment process is different, the taxes are different and much more. As a result, there are tons of different explanations and justifications which can result in misinterpretations. So in this blog post, we’ll take a look at 10 things to know for traveling nurses and the latest nursing news.

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Changes and Trends of Travel Nursing

In the latest nursing news, there has been a transition to many nursing schools offering hybrid or online nursing degree programs. Online nursing degree programs give students the flexibility to learn and watch lectures on their own time. Thus, making it easier to work while going to school. There has also been a change in nursing licensure, where there are now many compact nursing states. Compact nursing states allow travel nurses to practice if they hold a compact nursing license. Travel nurses don't need to obtain additional state licensure.

Over the past several years, the travel nursing industry has grown along with the travel allied health world. Since there is a healthcare shortage across the United States, many healthcare facilities are looking to hire travel nurses and travel allied health professionals. Many staff nurses are leaving their low paying jobs and switching to travel nursing to earn a higher income. Also, many radiologists, echo technicians, and other healthcare professionals are taking travel allied health opportunities.

Now, let's review travel nursing tips and 10 things to know for traveling nurses.

Myth 1: Travel Nurses Qualify for Tax-free Money If They’re 50 Miles Away From The Job

This statement is commonly referred to as the 50-mile rule. Unfortunately, this and many travel nursing tips aren't true. The IRS allows businesses to pay tax-free reimbursements for lodging and meals & incidental expenditures when the employee needs to sleep or rest to meet the demands of work while away from their tax home. There is no mileage limit and expenses need to be incurred in order to accept reimbursements.

This myth persists because there are several similar rules that get misinterpreted. First, some hospitals hire travel nurses greater than 50 miles away in order to differentiate them from PRN nurses. Second, some agencies maintain their own internal rules. Third, some states require that state legislators live more than 50 miles from the capital in order to qualify for per diem reimbursements. Finally, in order to write-off the costs associated with a permanent move for work, the IRS requires that the new work location be more than 50 miles from your current home.

In rare cases, recruiters will use the 50 mile rule to get candidates to accept travel nursing assignments that are closer to home when the candidate isn’t interested in traveling. In any case, it’s important to remember that there is no such rule.

Myth 2: Travel Nurses Can Work At Home For A Week Or Two Every Year To Continue Receiving Tax-Free Money In The Same Place

#2 myth on our list of travel nursing tips is tax-free money. Another common thing to hear about tax-free money is that you can continue taking travel assignments at the same hospital or in the same general location for as long as you want if you only return home to work a few shifts for a week or two every year. This simply isn’t true. While there is no hard rule on this issue, one general rule of thumb is to never work in one location for more than 12 months in any 24-month period.

Why is this the case? In order to qualify for tax-free reimbursements, you have to be working away from your tax-home. The IRS considers your tax-home to be your main place of business. Various IRS court cases have established that if you spend the lion’s share of your work time in one location, then your tax-home will shift to that location. The bottom line is that frequent moves are required in order to maintain your “temporary status” and ensure your tax-home doesn’t shift.

Many agencies are now paying close attention to this rule. Some agencies are opting to tax the entire travel nurse salary or even decline the extension if they think the traveler is staying in one location for too long. This is because agencies are required to make a reasonable attempt to verify that travelers qualify for tax-free stipends. Of course, if you’re working with the same agency at the same place for more than 1 year, then the agency is culpable as well because allowing this to happen is evidence that they’re not making a reasonable attempt to verify you qualify for tax-free money.

Despite this, many agencies still allow this to happen. You’ll find some that even encourage it. This is because it’s much easier for agencies when travelers extend and there is always a concern that the traveler will leave thee agency if they don’t extend. Nonetheless, it’s important for travelers to know that this runs afoul of IRS regulations and puts them at risk.

Myth 3: Travel Nurses Can Work For $10 Per Hour

#3 myth on our list of travel nursing tips pertains to low hourly rates. You might be wondering why a registered nurse would even consider working low paying jobs for $10 per hour. The reason is that many agencies offer packages with a really low taxable travel nurse salary. This is so they can load more money into the non-taxable benefits. This results in the traveler receiving higher net pay.

It also means that that the agency will avoid paying the employer portion of the payroll taxes on a larger portion of the compensation package. By avoiding this cost, the agency can either provide a higher compensation package to the traveler or pocket the savings for themselves. This gives the agency an advantage over its competitors.

The problem is that paying really low taxable base rates is against IRS regulations. While there isn’t a hard rule as to how much agencies pay their travel nurses, the IRS does require that all employees receiving tax-free stipends be paid a rate they would reasonably expect to make in the regular labor market. The most common taxable travel nurse salary recommended to avoid issues with the IRS is $20 per hour.

You’ll often hear that taking any travel nurse salary of less than $20 per hour will “raise a red flag.” This refers to an increased chance of being audited. While individual travelers have indeed been audited, the biggest risk for an audit falls on the agency. And when the agency is audited, all of its travelers are usually dragged into the audit as well. Either way, it’s highly recommended to avoid really low taxable base rates.

Myth 4: JCAHO Certifies Documentation

#4 myth on our list of travel nursing tips pertains to documentation requirements. It’s no secret that paperwork has become a nightmare in the travel nursing industry. There is paperwork that needs to be completed for each new agency that you want to work with. This paperwork expires so it must be updated periodically. Moreover, there is additional paperwork that needs to be completed for each new assignment. While paperwork exists for permanent nursing jobs, the fact that travelers change jobs so often compounds the problem.

Of course, agencies and recruiters are quick to point out that they must contend with the paperwork as well. In justifying the paperwork, many recruiters point to JCAHO as the culprit. In doing so, many recruiters claim that agencies can only accept paperwork that is “JCAHO certified”, “JCAHO compliant”, or “JCAHO approved.” Below is an example of one such claim clipped from a social media chat.

Myth 5: The Travel Nursing Agency Needs ALL of Your Paperwork Before They Can Work With You

#5 on our list of travel nursing tips is paperwork requirements. As mentioned above, travel nursing paperwork is a nightmare. Many agencies take a hard-line approach and tell travelers that they need to complete ALL of the paperwork before they can hire travel nurses to start working. These agencies have the traveler complete all the tests, employment documents, and other documents before they can even discuss jobs and pay packages.

The truth is that agencies don’t really need anything to talk with travelers about the services they can provide. Travelers shouldn’t have to go through all that trouble just to find out the agency doesn’t have jobs in the locations the traveler wants to go, or doesn’t provide the compensation package that traveler wants.

Then why do some agencies maintain this requirement? Many agencies feel that it’s important for them to get the traveler to demonstrate commitment before investing significant amounts of time with the traveler. They also realize that paperwork is no fun so the traveler will most likely avoid going through the process with other agencies. Finally, some agencies prefer to get the paperwork out of the way to avoid setbacks during the onboarding process.

That said, it’s a good idea for travelers to have their submission paperwork ready to go as early as possible. This is because travel nursing jobs can fill quickly. Hospitals sometimes receive multiple submission profiles within hours of opening a new job.

Moreover, there is one instance in which completing all the paperwork first is a fair requirement. Strikes and rapid response assignments typically have very short turnaround times. So completing the paperwork upfront will be required to land these jobs.

We understand how frustrating it can be for travel nurses to complete even the basic paperwork with travel nursing agencies. That’s why we added travel nursing tips that allow you to create your own travel nursing resumes, applications and skills checklists.  You can send them to any agency you want and it’s all free for travelers.

Myth 6: Travel Nurses MUST Float

Next on our list of travel nursing tips is the myth that travel nurses must be willing to float in order to be travel nurses. While it’s true that some assignments do require travelers to be open to floating, there are also plenty of assignments that don’t require floating. As with many other aspects of travel nursing, there will be more opportunities available if you are able and willing to float.

It’s also important to note that some hospitals require travelers to float in order to qualify for guaranteed hours. If the traveler chooses not to float, then they don’t get guaranteed hours. In any case, floating is always a subject to take up during your travel nursing job interview.

Myth 7: Travel Nurses Only Get Paid 1.5 times The Taxable Base Rate For Overtime

#7 on our list of travel nursing tips is overtime and taxable base rates. One of the big advantages that agencies tout about travel nursing pay packages is that they include a large portion of tax-free money so travelers benefit from higher net pay. Meanwhile, the taxable hourly base rates tend to hover around $20 per hour. Of course, overtime laws require employers to pay 1.5 times the taxable base rate for overtime hours. As a result, many agencies pay their overtime this way and claim that the rules require them to do it this way. This means the traveler receives around $30 per hour for working overtime which is really low.

The truth is that the overtime rules establish minimum requirements. There are methods that agencies can utilize which allow them to pay much more than 1.5 times the base rate. Moreover, agencies are certainly capable of doing this given that the bill rate for the overtime hours is as much as, or more than, the bill rate for regular hours. As a result, you are certainly able to find many agencies that do indeed pay overtime rates that are higher than 1.5 times the taxable base rate.

Myth 8: You’re Getting Ripped Off

As I mentioned at the outset, some of these travel nursing tips and “myths” are debatable and this is one of them. There are certainly cases where travel nurses get the short end of the bargain when it comes to pay packages. The low overtime rates we just discussed are a good example. Moreover, we have tons of articles and travel nursing tips on this blog about travel nursing pay packages and per diem rates.

Recruiters receive at least one call a week from a traveler who thought they were getting ripped off by their current agency. Most likely eight times out of ten the traveler was getting at least a decent deal. There were almost always important details that weren’t being taken into consideration. This is prevalent in online chats. A traveler will post an issue about their pay and recruiters jump on it and say the traveler is getting ripped off despite the fact that there are many unanswered questions that could affect whether or not the traveler is truly receiving a bad deal.

Again, not saying bad pay rates never happen. If you think you're not receiving a good pay rate, then speak with your recruiter. Another approach is to talk to your fellow travelers at the hospital and contact one of their recruiters to run your pay package by them to see how a different agency’s offer compares to your current package. Remember though, it’s imperative always to consider the entire pay package when evaluating and comparing. View our ultimate travel nurse guide for beginner travel nurses.

 9: We’ll Just Find Another Travel Nurse To Take This Job

Next on our list of travel nursing tips is assignments. Recruiters will sometimes tell a travel nurse that the agency will just find someone else to take a job if they aren't isn’t interested for any reason. This usually happens out of frustration when there is some impasse that the recruiter has difficulty working around. Below is an example of a recruiter taking this approach.

In this case, the recruiter tells the traveler that they will, “offer to someone else.” First, agencies don’t make offers, hospitals do. Also, there is a common misconception that each agency submits only one candidate for a job. Instead, agencies submit all of their interested and qualified candidates to an open assignment. Travel nursing agencies do this because it’s not their job to decide which candidate is best. The agency’s job is to determine the qualified and interested candidates, treat them all equally, and present them to the hospital.

Moreover, the more candidates the agency is able to submit for a job, the better the agency’s chance at landing that job over competing agencies. Perhaps most importantly, it’s less common for an agency to have multiple candidates for the same job. Therefore, if a candidate is removed from consideration, then it’s more common that the agency will be left without anyone to submit.

10: Travel Nursing Companies Give Away Free Stuff!

#10 on our list of travel nursing tips is to review your pay package carefully. You’d be hard-pressed to find a travel nursing company that didn’t advertise a free travel nurse housing stipend, free travel, and/or free medical benefits among other things. Travel nursing agencies are almost forced into doing this by virtue of the fact that other agencies do it. Ultimately, it’s an advertising strategy designed for newcomers who aren’t yet familiar with the complexities of the travel nursing pay package.

Nothing is free when it comes to the travel nursing pay package. As evidence, the same companies that offer free housing will also offer a travel nurse housing stipend if you choose to provide your own housing. How is that free? This is why it’s so important to consider every last compensation variable when evaluating and comparing pay packages.

That said, you will certainly come across claims that certain benefits can indeed be free. For example, certain companies offer paid vacation time which they do not factor into their rate calculations. They also won’t pay you any money if you choose not to use or take the paid vacation time.

However, all travel nursing agencies maintain a general goal for their profit margins. Moreover, they typically have a minimum profit margin that they’re willing to accept on a contract. As result, an agency that provides paid time off most likely maintains higher minimum profit margins than an agency that doesn’t offer this benefit. Again, the only way to know for sure is to run accurate pay comparisons.

View more travel nursing tips with our ultimate travel nurse guide blog page. As always, we hope you found these travel nursing tips useful and we’d love to hear about your experiences with these topics. Did we leave something out, or get something wrong? Let us know in the comments section below!

About Health Carousel Travel Nursing

Want to learn more about Health Carousel? Search our job board or read more travel nursing tips on our blog. We've made searching for available assignments easier with our On Demand app. You can track your application and upload nursing documents all at your fingertips.

Besides our market-leading compensation, we also offer many benefits to our travel nurses. Aren't sure how to make your benefits work for you? With our Full Circle of Support, we guide you through your benefits and provide travel nursing tips.

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