How Travel Nurses Can Save for Retirement Even Without a 401k

Health Carousel Travel Nursing
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As a travel nurse, you are offered many benefits including more money, flexibility, and freedom. However, retirement is not usually one of them. Although retirement may not be top of mind for many travel nurses it is important to educate yourself on the topic and plan for it. Think about what you are doing to save for your future during your travel nursing career. The small changes you make today can make a big difference later.

Retirement Options Travel Nurses Can Consider


Depending on the travel nursing agency you choose, you may be offered a 401(k) as part of your benefits package. Did you know we offer a 401k? Learn more about our travel nurse benefits. A 401(k) is a retirement savings account that you can contribute to and may include employer contributions. The money that is saved in this account is invested in the stock market and grows every year. 

A 401(k) offers some flexibility in that you decide how much of your income to contribute. Your employer may match these contributions depending on their requirements. The IRS sets limits on how much you can contribute, which changes annually. Upon opening your 401(k), you set what percentage of your income you’d like to contribute. You can change this amount at any time or even decide to stop contributing. When choosing a travel nursing agency, ensure they offer a 401(k) and employer match on the contributions. Health Carousel Travel Nursing (HCTN)  matches 50% of your contributions up to the first 6% of your compensation. You can also decide to rollover funds from any previous 401(k) into a Health Carousel 401(k). 

For some travel nurses, a 401(k) may not be an option. But don’t worry, there are other retirement savings options you can consider as a travel nurse. Read on for how you can save for retirement without a 401(k). 

Individual Retirement Account (IRA) 

An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a personal savings account that comes with tax advantages. There are two types you should be familiar with, a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA. Before opening an account, make sure you understand the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of both. 

Traditional IRA 

With a traditional IRA, you may contribute pre-tax or after-tax dollars which allows you to benefit if your contributions are tax deductible.  

Advantages of a Traditional IRA: 

  • Contributions grow tax-deferred
  • Immediate tax-benefits 
  • No income limitations

Disadvantages of a Traditional IRA: 

  • Taxed as current income after the age of 59 1/2 
  • Mandatory distribution after the age of 72

Roth IRA

A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account to which you contribute after-tax dollars. 

Advantages of a Roth IRA : 

  • Contributions grow tax-free
  • No contribution age restrictions
  • No mandatory withdrawals 
  • If you pass on your Roth IRA to an heir, their withdrawal also becomes tax-free 

Disadvantages of a Roth IRA: 

  • Eligibility and contribution amounts are determined by your income
  • Does not provide current year tax benefits 
  • Penalties for withdrawals if within certain timeframes

If you decide a Roth IRA is for you, you’ll want to understand its limitations and rules so that you can avoid any unnecessary taxes and fees. 

Roth IRA Contribution Limits

Your income level determines whether you can contribute to a Roth IRA. Travel nurses who file taxes as a single person must have a modified adjusted gross income under $140,000 for the 2021 tax year and $144,000 for the 2022 tax year. If you are married and file jointly, your modified adjusted gross income must be under $208,000 for the 2021 tax year and under $214,000 for the 2022 tax year. 

Roth IRA Withdrawal Rules

Keep in mind that a Roth IRA comes with specific rules around withdrawals and there is the potential for a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you take either of the actions below: 

  • Withdrawing before the age of 591/2 
  • Withdrawing before the five-year holding period

There may be times when you can avoid these penalties if the withdrawals are used to cover expenses for specific situations such as: 

  • To pay for a first-time home (up to the $10,000-lifetime maximum) 
  • Education
  • Birth or adoption
  • To pay for unreimbursed medical expenses or health insurance
  • If you become disabled or pass away

It is important to remember the penalty fee may be waived, but you are still subject to payment of taxes for withdrawals under these circumstances. 

Keep in mind that if you ever decide to transfer your IRA, whether it is a Roth IRA or Traditional IRA, you have 60 days from receiving access to a new IRA to deposit the funds into another IRA and avoid any taxes or penalties

So how do you know which IRA is right for you? The deciding factor is whether it makes more sense for you to make tax-free withdrawals in the future with a Roth IRA, or to enjoy the immediate tax benefits of a traditional IRA. When thinking about your future financial goals, where do you expect to be? 

A traditional IRA is best if you expect to be in the same or lower tax bracket when you start making withdrawals. A Roth IRA is the better option if you plan to be in a higher tax bracket when you start making withdrawals. Keep in mind however that Roth IRAs come with income requirements, so this may not be a feasible option for everyone. 


Set up a retirement savings plan and follow through

How do you know what is best for your financial future? Don’t know where to start?  Reading through the steps below is a good place to start. 

  • Assess how much money you will need. Discuss your future financial plans and your current options with a financial advisor.
  • Once you’ve identified how much money you need, create a plan. How are you going to get there? What changes do you need to make to the way you manage your money? 
  • Decide on which retirement savings option is for you. Again, this is something a financial advisor can help with if you aren’t sure what is best. 
  • Review your plan twice a year and have alternatives if your portfolio isn’t growing as expected. 

What if your retirement savings don’t look as expected or you are just getting started? How can you make up the difference to maximize your retirement benefits?

As a travel nurse, there are several solutions

  • You can decide to contribute more to your 401(k). Take a look at how much more you can contribute and whether that impacts you and your finances in the short term. If it doesn’t impact your current financial situation, it may make sense to put more towards your retirement savings. If you are just getting started with saving for retirement, you may want to check with your travel nursing agency to see if they allow make-up contributions.  
  • Open more than one account. You can open a traditional IRA in addition to your 401(k) and make annual contributions.
  • Eliminate your debt. Create a budget and look for ways to reduce and eliminate your debt. This will leave you with more to put towards retirement. 
  • Plan to work longer than anticipated. Adding one or two more years in the workforce can benefit you in the long run. 

The main takeaway is that you should be proactive about your retirement and start investing in your future now. Do your research and ask about retirement benefits as you choose a travel nursing agency. 

AT HCTN, we are all about your career, not contracts. We offer our nurses a 401(k) option to help them meet their financial goals. Not only do we want you to succeed financially, we also want to provide you with the opportunity to live and work the way you want. HCTN empowers nurses and allied professionals to not only work in their dream location but to also love the work they do all while advancing their careers. HCTN partners with the top facilities in the U.S. to place you in the perfect location! Get the best travel nurse benefits and top travel nursing job offers faster when you travel with us

There are many options out there, and while nurses across the country can always contact another recruiter to see who’s paying a little more, what really matters is the experience you have overall, and the pursuit of a career that is as fulfilling as what you do for patients at the bedside every day. Help us understand what’s important to you and we’ll deliver an experience that puts you in the driver’s seat.

Author Bio

Lizzette Cruz, MS, RN 

Lizzette is a freelance nurse writer specializing in health and wellness content with 8+ years of experience in the Cardiovascular Research field. Her background includes a BS in Physiology and MS in Nursing.


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Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.


Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.

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