Pursuing Travel Therapy in 2019

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC


Are you thinking about starting travel therapy in 2019? You’re not alone!

The start of a new year is a popular time to be thinking about pursuing travel therapy. New grads who wrapped up in December or those looking forward to graduation in May are considering travel therapy. Experienced clinicians looking for a change in career path are considering it too. Maybe you’ve been thinking about it for a while, but now’s the time to finally jump in!

New year… new you… new job… new travels!

If you’re considering starting a travel therapy career in 2019, here are a few tips to help you get started:

1. Contact a few travel therapy companies & recruiters.

  • You need to talk with a few to find out who you like best and who you want to work with. You should do some research online and ask around, but it’s most important that you talk with the recruiters yourself and find out who fits best with you! Ask about the company benefits, in what areas they have jobs, and what a typical pay package looks like!
  • You’ll want to work with 2-3 usually at the same time to give you the best options for jobs. Remember, “working with” or “talking to” several companies does not lock you into being an employee of that company. You’re only committed to them when you take a contract with them!
  • If you would like our recommendations for travel therapy companies and recruiters we know and trust, send us a message!

2. Start researching states where you want to work.

  • It’s important to look at the job market and see where you are likely to find the best job for you. Some states tend to have more jobs than others, and some states will have more jobs in a particular setting than others.
  • You need to find out about the licensing process for each state and get started on licensing for where you want to go!

3. Do your homework on pay packages and tax laws.

  • You want to be an informed traveler and make sure you’re not being taken advantage of when it comes to pay. You also need to understand your own personal tax situation, as your recruiter may not be the best person to give you advice on this.
  • To learn more about how pay works as a travel therapist, check out this comprehensive guide to pay as a traveler.
  • We also recommend you read up on tax laws pertaining to working as a travel healthcare professional at TravelTax.com.

4. Start thinking about the logistics!

  • There’s a lot that goes into being a travel therapist. Where will you live while on assignment? Do you understand what a tax home is and have yours all set? What will you bring with you? When is your anticipated start date, and how much time will that give you to get from A to B? Are you traveling alone, or with pets, or with a significant other?
  • This is an exciting, stressful, fun, and crazy time! There’s a huge learning curve when you first get started, but once you get the hang of it and embrace the lifestyle it’s an amazing journey!

Do you have questions about getting started on your travel therapy journey? If you would like to learn more, check out our Ultimate Guide to Getting Started as a Travel Therapist.

If you have any questions about travel therapy or need advice on getting started, please feel free to reach out to us! We are happy to help!

Wishing you the best of luck in your travel therapy adventures in 2019!

~Travel Therapy Mentors Whitney & Jared

 

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How to Find Travel Therapy Jobs

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Getting Started as a Travel Therapist

For those who are just getting started and looking into becoming a travel therapist, they often wonder how to find travel therapy jobs. The process can be pretty straightforward and easy sometimes. But, depending on your preferences, the process might look a little different and might be a little more challenging. Here I’ll outline how the process works and some routes you can take to best find the travel jobs that are right for you.

Working with Travel Therapy Agencies

The easiest way to find travel therapy jobs is by working with a travel therapy agency/company. There are hundreds of companies out there, and most of them will have access to many of the same jobs. However, each company may have individual connections with certain facilities or in certain areas of the country, allowing them to have some jobs that are different from other companies. Many jobs are offered through a “Vendor Management System” or VMS, which is a central database that lists jobs in a standardized format. Some larger companies may get “first dibs” to these jobs, then if they are not filled within a certain time frame, the jobs will be opened up to other companies.

It’s generally best to work with two to three different travel therapy companies at a time so that you can keep your options open for the best choices of job listings. You will find a lot of overlap in the jobs available, but sometimes there will be outliers. In addition, each company may be able to offer you a different pay package for the same job, based on the amount of overhead and other costs that the company must incur. You can better understand these pay differences by reading about how pay works as a travel therapist and what a travel therapy contract bill rate is.

By “working with” a few companies, this just means you are in communication with a few recruiters at different companies, and you’re having the recruiters search for jobs for you. They will probably have you fill out some paperwork for them so that they can build a traveler profile for you in order to submit you for jobs. By doing this with a few companies, you have not committed yourself to be an employee of that company. You are only an employee of that company once you have accepted a travel position with them and have signed a contract to work at a facility. Otherwise, you can be in communication with as many companies as you want and have profiles with all of them, but not be committed. While you can work with an endless number of companies, we feel about 2-3 is usually enough since more than 3 can start to become a headache when trying to communicate with each recruiter, and you likely won’t get much additional benefit from working with more than 3.

The Process of Finding Jobs with Travel Agencies

Once you’re in communication with one or a few travel companies, you need to make some decisions regarding your preferences. You have to decide about where you’d like to work, in what setting(s)when you can start, and how much money you’re looking to earn.

Based on your preferences, when working with a travel agency, the recruiter will notify you of jobs they have available. Sometimes they will be able to provide you a lot of details about a job upfront, sometimes not, depending what information is available to them. If they present you with a job, and you like it, they can “submit” your application/profile to that job for consideration.

Here are the things you need to consider when communicating with a recruiter and being considered for job submissions:

Location: Are you most concerned with the state you’re in, the region of the country, or a certain city? You usually need to already be licensed in a particular state before you are submitted for any jobs there, so you need to plan ahead. However, sometimes job listings will be posted far enough in advance to have time to get licensed in a particular state, if it is a short licensing process. Work with your recruiter and the state’s licensing agency to better understand how long licenses usually take for each state. This can be a tricky game of limbo, and in general we recommend being licensed in a state before allowing travel companies to submit your application for jobs there. Often, therapists will choose to be licensed in more than one state to allow them more flexibility with job options. For physical therapists, a “compact licensure” is in the works and has recently been enacted for certain states. If you are a PT and your home state is part of the “PT Compact” then you are in luck regarding your job options. Other disciplines may have the state compact licensure option in the future but not currently.

Setting: You need to let your recruiter know what your preferred setting(s) are, which ones you would consider, and which ones are a definite “no” for you. For example, you’d prefer inpatient acute, would consider SNF, but definitely could not do outpatient. Depending on your other preferences, including location, start date, and desired pay, you may have to be more flexible on setting. But for some therapists, setting is the most important, and the other factors are more flexible.

Start Date: You need to have a start date in mind and let your recruiter(s) know. Usually jobs are posted with “ASAP” start dates, which generally gives you up to about 4 weeks depending if the facility can wait and if another clinician interviews and could start earlier. Sometimes jobs will be posted with a specific start date in mind, usually no more than 2-6 weeks out. Rarely, you’ll see jobs that they know will be available 2-6 months in advance (for example if there is a planned maternity leave). But for the most part, when you’re about 4-6 weeks out from your desired start date is when you’ll start seeing jobs posted for that time frame.

Pay: You need to have an idea of your desired weekly pay. For example, many physical therapists will look for jobs somewhere around $1500-1700/week “take home pay.” This can vary highly across different regions, settings, and disciplines. You also need to take into account the weekly pay amount vs. the cost of living in a certain area. $1500/week is going to mean a lot more money in your pocket in rural Virginia vs. coastal California. Usually letting your recruiter know what a “minimum” pay would be for you will help them narrow down job options and avoid submitting you to jobs that are very low paying. However, some therapists will recommend you don’t give the recruiter a minimum pay number, because hopefully the recruiters will offer you the highest pay available for each position based on the bill rate, and not “low ball” you based on knowing you’ll accept a lower number. Again, this part can be a bit tricky and why it’s vital to have a recruiter that you get along well with and trust to not take advantage of you.

Once you’ve let the recruiter(s) know about your preferences, they will start the job search for you. They will notify you of a potential position, and ask if you would like to be submitted. You should avoid giving permission for the recruiters to “blind submit” you to any jobs. They should ask your approval first, to ensure that it is truly a job you’re interested in, so as not to waste your time, their time, or the facility’s time. In addition, you want to avoid being “double submitted,” or submitted to the same job by two different companies. If two companies present the same job to you, you can decide who you would like to submit you based on the pay package each company presents and the benefits they’re able to offer. If you do end up accidentally getting double submitted, it’s not the end of the world, and normally the facility will give you the choice of which company you’d like to take a contract through if offered the position, but it’s best to avoid if possible.

In addition to the recruiters searching for jobs for you, you may also be able to monitor their websites or search online for jobs, then ask the recruiter about those jobs. But generally speaking, the job listings on the travel company websites are usually not the most up to date, and the recruiter can let you know about the most up to date listings a lot quicker.

Finding Jobs on Your Own as an Independent Contractor

For most therapists, working with a travel company is going to be the easiest for finding travel therapy jobs and setting up contracts and benefits. However, some therapists choose to search for jobs on their own and set up their own contracts.

The perks to this may be that you can make more money by “cutting out the middle man” and you may be able to find some jobs that are not open to the travel therapy agencies. But do keep in mind that you will also lose out on company benefits such as health insurance, which will usually be a lot cheaper since the company gets a group rate. By opting for your own health insurance, you may have higher out of pocket costs, which should be accounted for in your bottom line. You also wouldn’t be able to contribute to a company 401k plan, although you may choose to set up your own solo 401k as an independent contractor, but there will undoubtedly be more work involved.

If you are able to find your own position by searching job listings online or by “cold calling” facilities, you may be able to negotiate a higher rate and negotiate your own contract terms. Sometimes this may be in the form of a 1099 contract employee or as a direct hire employee of the facility, but with a mutual understanding you may only be there a short time. Travis and his fiancee have done this recently for a contract, so if you would like more information on this route, please contact us here.

Conclusion

Generally the easiest way to find travel therapy jobs is by working with one or more (preferably 2-3) travel therapy companies and having them search for jobs for you. Be sure to work with highly regarded recruiters/companies in order to avoid falling prey to being low-balled with pay offers. Determine which aspects of travel jobs are most important to you between pay, location, and setting. You can occasionally get a great job that has your preference for all three, but usually you’ll have to settle on 1-2 of these so it’s important to determine what is most important ahead of time. You may also be able to find jobs on your own by doing online searches and cold calling facilities.

I hope that this information has helped you to better understand the process of finding travel therapy contracts. If you have more questions or would like our recommendations for which travel companies we work with, please reach out to us!

Beginner Contract Mistakes and Self Advocacy as a Travel Therapist

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT and Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

When therapists are beginning to look into travel therapy, it can be hard to understand both a travel therapy contract and what the expectations are for you while working as a contracted travel therapist at a facility. For many, it’s difficult to learn how to appropriately advocate for themselves both during the negotiating period and while on contract. Unfortunately for us as travelers, not all companies, recruiters, facilities, and contracts are the same. We’d like to think that companies and recruiters have our best interest at heart, but sadly that is not always the case. Healthcare, including travel therapy, is a business. And as such, there are many factors at play, from the facilities we work for, to the travel companies we contract with, to our recruiters and the other staff members at the travel company. This is one reason it’s important to “interview” several travel companies and recruiters in order to find the best recruiter to have in your corner. And, it’s important to thoroughly “interview” the facility during your phone interview.

In our field, many therapists, bloggers, and companies are working towards making the industry more transparent to help new and prospective travelers better navigate the world of travel therapy, without having to worry so much about “looking out for themselves.” We hope that websites such as ours can help therapists to be more aware of the business side of things and instill confidence in their negotiating abilities and advocating for themselves as employees.

For those of you who may be just starting out, we want to share with you some “rookie contract mistakes,” as remembered from us as experienced travelers, as well as how you can avoid these same mistakes. Do bear in mind that each traveler may have different priorities, among which pay may not always be the highest. So while negotiating pay is a big part of this, there are also many other factors to consider in building a contract that suits you and advocating for yourself while on contract.

1. Overtime Pay Rate:

Everything is negotiable in your travel contract, including your overtime rate. We almost all made the mistake of not negotiating for a higher overtime rate in our first contract, but you can learn from our mistakes. While in general you will hear that most facilities don’t want you working overtime as a traveler, we have seen for ourselves that many facilities either don’t mind or will allow overtime when it’s really necessary. For example, if the facility is very busy and they don’t have any other full time or PRN staff, such as in rural areas, they would rather have their patients seen and pay you overtime than not have the patients seen. Jared worked over 400 hours of overtime in less than three years when starting out as a travel therapist so overtime opportunities are definitely out there! Also, as we will cover later, as hourly employees when you work past 40 hours, you should be getting paid overtime and not working off the clock. And we know for a fact that many if not most travelers work over 40 hours.

In my (Travis) and my fiancee Julia’s first contract, we had an hourly rate of $20 and overtime rate of $30 (time-and-a-half of the hourly rate). We ended up working a lot of overtime in that contract, and at $30 per hour, which isn’t even a normal hourly rate for many permanent physical therapists, it was not worth it to be working overtime. Personally, I really don’t want to work overtime. I am happy with my weekly pay. Money is not the number one motivator for me, and Julia is significantly less motivated by money than I am. But for some, having extra pay in the form of working overtime might help them reach their financial goals. But because it wasn’t important to us, in our second contract, we said no overtime at all. This also didn’t work out perfectly, and I don’t recommend it. Strike two. We will cover the problems with this strategy later. The third time is a charm, right? For our third contract, we decided that if we were potentially going to work overtime, we were going to make it worth the hours we put in. We negotiated an overtime rate of $70 per hour in our third contract. This is how we suggest you approach overtime rates in your own contracts to make the extra hours worth your while.

Where did I get this number?  I talked to a permanent PT at the facility and found out that their hourly rate was $46.50, which would turn into nearly $70 in overtime. We probably could have gotten even more at this particular contract, but we were happy with the rate we negotiated.

2. Never work off the clock!

While not directly related to contract negotiation, we feel that it’s important to cover this topic here to make sure that other travelers and healthcare professionals in general are advocating for themselves. Not only is working off the clock unethical, but it is also illegal! Working off the clock can get you and the company in a lot of trouble legally. You need to be compensated for your time. If you are being pressured to work off the clock, you have to stand up for yourself, talk to your recruiter, and flat out refuse. This is where our second contract overtime strategy mentioned above failed us. The facility would not approve overtime, which caused Julia to feel pressured to work off the clock to get her notes completed. Don’t do this. If you are working, you need to charge the company for every hour you put in. Anything less is allowing yourself to be taken advantage of and disrespecting your personal time.

We have all seen so many travelers and permanent employees clock out and continue to work or do notes, or take notes home. While this may seem like it’s just “part of the job,” it’s not. If you are a traveler working as an hourly employee, you are paid for the number of hours you work. Of course, do not take advantage of this, and make sure that you are working as diligently as possible. But if the productivity expectations are unreasonable and you are not able to complete all work, including documentation, during your contracted hours, you should be compensated for the hours that you work beyond 40. If the facility is unable to compensate you for overtime worked, then your caseload or schedule needs to be adjusted accordingly so you can complete all required work during the 40 hours.

3. Productivity standards:

This is also an important point to cover when considering working as a travel therapist. Unfortunately, productivity standards are part of being a healthcare professional, and they certainly still apply as a travel therapist. Some report that productivity expectations have been more strict on a traveler, others more lenient, or others just equal to the permanent employees. When considering a travel position, you want to get an idea of the productivity expectations before signing a contract. This may be something you want to wait until toward the end of the interview to discuss. You never want to sound like you are not qualified to handle a caseload, but you also need to be realistic with yourself and the facility. Sometimes productivity is something that will actually be written into the contract and you will be held to, otherwise your contract could be terminated. Whenever possible, we don’t recommend you accept these terms. Most of the time, the productivity will be more of a verbal agreement and expectation.

If it’s a SNF asking for 90% or greater productivity for an evaluating therapist (PT, OT, SLP), consider if and how that will be manageable. Is there a therapy aid to help with transporting patients or other appropriate tasks, or are you going to be transporting patients, cleaning your work area, etc in addition to patient care? Is there a set schedule for patients to receive therapy, or will you have to find the patients yourself and deal with patient refusals, interrupting other staff duties, etc? Is a laptop or tablet provided to allow for point of service documentation, or are there only computers and wifi in the therapy room? If the facility operations are not conducive to your success and productivity, then a 90% expectation is undoubtedly unrealistic as an evaluating therapist.

Similar cases can be made in other settings including home health, hospitals, and outpatient clinics. It’s important that you understand what is a realistic productivity expectation for you and the setting. You should also get an idea of whether there is leniency on the productivity during extenuating circumstances. For example, one week your caseload may be higher than another week. Is the manager understanding that your productivity may fluctuate based on the clinic flow? It’s important that you discuss this with the facility prior to accepting a position. Many travel therapists will get themselves into a bad situation with unrealistic productivity expectations because they are afraid to speak up, which results in many therapists feeling pressured to work off the clock. Don’t make that mistake!

4. The difference between guaranteed hours and weekly pay:

On your contract, you may have a “guaranteed hours” line which may be 32 hours, 35 hours, 40 hours, etc. Realize that your quoted pay from your recruiter will be for 40 hours. If the facility and/or travel company is only able to “guarantee” 32 hours, you are better off to calculate your numbers based on the guaranteed hours so you can budget more effectively.

For example, if you’re expecting to make $1600/weekly after taxes if you work 40 hours, but you are only guaranteed 32 hours, you may only be getting a paycheck of $1280 some weeks if you only work 32 hours. Ask your recruiter for more specifics on how they calculate your paycheck if you only work the 32 hours. For example, do they deduct your full hourly pay and stipend pay, or just the hourly pay?

On the other hand, if your company guarantees a full 40 hours, make sure you understand how this works. Normally, this means that if you are unable to work the full 40 hours due to low census or the facility calling you off, then you will still get your full paycheck. However, if you do not work 40 hours because of illness or asking off for an appointment, going out of town, etc, then you do not get paid 40 hours if the time off is not the facility’s responsibility. Likewise, some companies don’t pay the full 40 hour guarantee if the facility is closed for a holiday or inclement weather, but some do. It’s important to ask your recruiter these questions so that everyone is on the same page!

5. Understand that per diem (stipend) rates can be based on hours.

We alluded to this above, that stipends can be based on the hours that you work. This is a subject that seems a little sketchy because these rates are supposed to be for your housing and meals, but a lot of companies will tie these reimbursements to the number of hours you work. This means they can decrease your per diems (stipend money) if you work less than the required hours stated on your contract. A lot of travelers get angry about this, and we see their point, but at the same time the travel company only gets paid if you work. Make sure to discuss this with your recruiter and read the fine print in your contract to understand how many hours you are expected to work each week.

6. Get time off requests written into the contract in advance.

Travis and Julia have taken time off in the middle of every contract so far. Some reasons they took off were to go to the APTA NEXT conference and to hang out at Universal Studios. Others may need to request time off for a wedding, a family vacation, or for holidays. It’s important that you clear these requests with your recruiter and especially with the facility before you sign your contract. You want to make sure the dates off are agreed upon in advance and written in black and white. Sometimes the facility may not be able to approve your request, but it’s much better to know that up front. If you have a wedding to attend, and the facility needs you to work those days, you may have to pass on that contract altogether.

What if something comes up and you need time off once you’ve signed the contract? Things happen, and most facilities understand this. For example, you may be sick, or a family emergency could arise, or you may need to schedule a routine medical appointment during your contract but don’t know the date in advance. If you know that you’re going to have something like a routine medical visit during your contract, but don’t know the exact date, try to discuss this with the facility at the beginning of your contract. Let them know you need one or two days off during the contract, but will have to let them know the date later on. Usually they are going to be understanding and allow you to take the day off, unpaid of course. Or, depending on the facility hours, they might be able to let you shift some hours during the week to make up for that time off. For example, work a weekend shift and take a day off during the week. But it all depends on the facility and is not guaranteed.

In the case of illness or family emergency, neither you nor the facility have much choice in this matter. Hopefully the facility will be understanding, and the travel company can just deduct or adjust your pay accordingly. Sadly, there have been cases where the facility was not accommodating, and in rare and serious cases, some travelers have terminated their contracts due to a family emergency. Do know that these are circumstances where it may be completely reasonable for you to end a contract. On the other hand, if you have personal matters that cause you to miss too much work that was not previously agreed upon, the facility does also have the right to terminate your contract in that case.

 

These are a few key points that we wanted to cover about contract negotiation and self advocacy as a travel therapist, from our personal experiences as travelers as well as the problems that other therapists that we have talked to have encountered. If you have questions about a contract, the negotiating process, or self advocacy as a travel therapist, please feel free to reach out to us and we can offer advice based on our experiences!

Understanding a Travel Therapy Contract

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT — Jared Casazza, PT, DPT — Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Important Aspects of a Travel Therapy Contract

If you’re like us, and most people we know, you rarely read an online contract or terms of service; just blindly hit the accept button online and assume all the legal rambling for your credit card and other contracts is just the normal stuff. However, you’ll want to get in the habit of making sure you analyze a travel therapy contract since it is much more important. Your contract is your protection, so you want to make sure it says what you want it to say. This is always the document to fall back on if any problems arise with either your travel company or the facility at which you’re working. Luckily, in our experience, these contracts are pretty short (only a page or two) aren’t filled with tons of legal nonsense and we can help you to understand exactly what everything means.

Here are the most important aspects:

  1. Start and end dates: Seems straight forward, but always make sure to double check that it’s the contract length you agreed on and the dates that you desire. Then make sure to mark your calendar accordingly. We’ve seen a traveler and the facility have different assumptions regarding start/end dates which led to significant confusion, and ultimately the traveler being cut out of work mid-week without a plan.
  2. Pay: Make sure your hourly pay and stipends are what you agreed upon with your recruiter. We have caught errors before, and it’s doubtful that that the recruiter/company had any malicious intent. Things happen, mistakes get made, and you want to find those mistakes before you sign a contract and are stuck with something other than what you thought you were agreeing to. Also, you want to check your pay breakdown according to IRS and GSA guidelines. Check out this post on pay to better understand how pay packages work and details on how to calculate exactly what your take home pay should be after taxes.
  3. Required time off (if applicable): We often build vacations and long weekends into our contracts in advance, so it’s agreed upon by us, the travel company, and the facility. This also applies to holidays or special occasions for which you plan to return home (weddings, graduations, birthdays, etc.).
  4. Cancellation policy: This is the policy that allows you, or the facility, to terminate the contract. Generally it’s going to be either two weeks or 30 days notice. This provides you security in case the facility cancels your contract, so you can make arrangements regarding living situation and finances. Ideally we recommend to always push for 30 days notice on any contract so that if the facility needs to end your contract early for any reason you’ll have time to find another assignment before the 30 days is up.
  5. Guaranteed hours: We all have always had guaranteed hours in our contracts, and we love that security. If your facility gets slow or has low census and needs to cut hours, you have the security of a guaranteed salary, so your pay is never in question. Sometimes the facility will guarantee 40 hours, sometimes only 32, but either way, that gives you a guaranteed base salary to budget with. A 40 hour guarantee is the ideal situation and should be pushed for in most cases. 40 hour guarantees on every contract for Jared has led to thousands of dollars of free money due to being paid for hours that weren’t actually worked for things like low census, holidays, and inclement weather!
  6. Overtime Pay: This is one that we all learned the hard way. With your decreased taxable hourly rate as a traveler also comes a decreased standard overtime rate. You can, and we recommend you do, negotiate a higher overtime rate that makes overtime worth your while. Personally, as a PT, we ask for a minimum of $45/hour but have often been able to get rates of up to $70/hour. Either way, make sure you at least get a rate that makes it worth your time. Most of the time, the facility won’t want you getting overtime as a traveler anyway, but Jared has worked over 400 hours of overtime in less than three years, so it definitely isn’t unheard of and can mean a lot of extra money when available. The bottom line with overtime is that if you agree to work overtime, you want to be compensated accordingly and negotiating a higher rate makes that possible.
  7. Reduced Hours Fee: You shouldn’t need to worry about this if you have 40 hours guaranteed, but if you don’t have guaranteed hours, or the guarantee is less than 40 hours, this statement says that the travel company can decrease your housing and per diem pay. You want to watch out for this if you don’t have guaranteed hours and be aware when making a budget that your pay could be lower if census drops at some point.

We hope this helps you better understand a travel contract and gives you some insight on things to watch out for so that you don’t make some of the mistakes that we did when starting out.

Is there anything we are missing? Feel free to send us a message or comment below letting us know! Also, if you want help understanding your travel contract, send us a message here and we will gladly take a look for free and see if we can offer some advice!

Do Travel Therapists Receive Benefits? The Comprehensive Guide to Travel Therapy Benefits Packages

Written by: Travis Kemper, PT, DPT – Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Do Travelers Receive Benefits?

Many prospective travel therapists are under the impression that travelers do not receive corporate benefits, such as health insurance, 401k, dental insurance, etc., or that they are much worse than average. This is a misconception, and all the companies we work with (and most others) offer benefits packages that are very similar to a hospital or clinic position, and in our experience better than most small businesses due to having more employees and benefiting from economies of scale.

You also have the option to opt out of these benefits if you choose to enroll in your own health insurance, or if you are covered by a parent or spouse’s insurance, and/or if you want to forego the other benefit options.

There are some important differences to highlight between benefits offered for travel therapy contracts and more traditional full-time permanent jobs. Keep reading to find out more about the benefits offered by travel therapy companies!

When Are You Covered?

The sometimes tricky part about benefits when working with travel companies is that, generally speaking, you are only covered while you are on contract. Most companies will continue to cover you for a certain period between contracts (usually 15-30 days), as long as you resume work with that company for your next contract within the specified time period. This allows for a few days to a couple weeks off between contracts if desired. However, if you terminate employment with a certain company and take your next contract with a new company, you will not be covered during the interim. Similarly, you will not be covered if you take extended time off between contracts over the allowed period mentioned above. Of course, for health insurance, you can always sign up for COBRA coverage as needed if you plan to take longer off between contracts or are switching between companies. This is certainly a viable option for those of us that enjoy the flexible schedule with a career as a travel therapist, which involves reaping the benefits of an alternative lifestyle!

Because of the potential lapse in health coverage, and because switching retirement accounts may be a hassle, it is typically more desirable from a benefits perspective to stay with the same travel company continuously. However, many travelers will choose to switch companies based on the jobs available, or if they realize they like a different company/recruiter better. You just have to take into consideration what this will mean for you in terms of benefits (especially insurance coverage and potential 401k matching). This is one reason that some travelers might choose to maintain their own health insurance and retirement accounts independent of the company benefits. We certainly universally endorse the idea of having an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) outside of the travel company sponsored 401k plan (if available), but whether or not to have your own health insurance plan outside of the company sponsored option is a more individual decision to be made with regard to a variety of variables.

You also have to take into account when benefits coverage begins for each company. Some companies will offer benefits enrollment and health insurance coverage on day 1 of your contract. But for others, your coverage may not start until day 30 of your contract or perhaps the first of the next month, which could leave you without health insurance for a period of time. It’s important to look at each company’s benefits package closely and ask these questions to fully understand the coverage you will receive and to determine the best course of action for yourself.

Health Insurance

Every company has different plans and options, but in general most companies offer a high deductible health plan and/or a PPO option. Some will also offer a third option that is the minimum allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and is basically just “preventative” in nature. For all of us mentors, the high deductible plan with 100% coverage after meeting the deductible is perfect because we are young, healthy, and very rarely in need of medical coverage. This type of plan still covers us in case of a major injury while skiing or hiking, or something like an emergency appendectomy, all of which would be completely unforeseen. The lower premium is the real benefit of the higher deductible plans, since this means more money in our pockets at the end of the week. These plans also allow us to utilize a Health Savings Account (HSA) to save for future healthcare expenses. Since a lot of the travelers that we mentor are younger and generally in good health, meaning they are unlikely to meet their deductible in either scenario, a high deductible plan can make the most sense, but that is certainly not universally the case. There are lots of other options based on your, or your family’s, individual needs. It’s important to remember that premiums and deductibles are always a balancing act, at least in terms of finances, in any health insurance plan and to consider all options before choosing. For more information on the difference between plans if you’re having difficulty choosing, here’s a good article on the topic!

Dental/ Vision

Again, this is going to be different with every company. But these benefits are almost always available in the benefits packages, and they usually only cost a few dollars per week. Similar to the health insurance option differences discussed above, you will often have more than one option with varying levels of coverage and therefore varying premium amounts. If you only plan to be on contract with a company for part of the year and don’t need those benefits during that period, you can even opt out of them completely which will save you from paying for the premium out of each paycheck for a benefit you won’t utilize.

Employer Sponsored Retirement Accounts (401k)

This is often overlooked, especially with new grads and people in their 20’s and 30’s who may just be focusing on paying down debt rather than investing. However, it’s great to take advantage of a 401k early in your career to maximize the benefit of capital gains as they money grows over the years. This applies as well even when done in conjunction with paying down debt, since a combination of the two (paying down debt and investing) will usually lead to the best outcomes over the long run. Taking advantage of investing in a 401k is especially important if your employer offers a match.

Most travel companies do offer 401k, but it just depends on how long you work for them as to when you are eligible. Some companies make you eligible to start contributing immediately, while others make you wait 30 days, or a full contract. Also, many companies offer an employer match, which varies but could be something like 50% of your contributions, up to a contribution of 6% of your taxable income (meaning they would match up to 3% of your taxable income if you contribute 6% or more). However, sometimes there is a vesting period where you are not able to keep the money they match until you have worked with them for a certain number of contract hours. Some will have a tiered vesting period. For example, if you work with them for one full year, you get to keep 25% of the match; two years 50%; and three years 100%. Others might have an all or nothing vesting period (also known as a “cliff”), where you have to work with them the equivalent of three full working years (sometimes more or less, but this seems to be the most common) until you keep their match. It’s important to read the fine print and talk to your recruiter or benefits team to understand the 401k plan for a travel company you plan to work with if you want to utilize this benefit. Even if the company you work for either doesn’t offer a match at all, or you don’t plan to stay with them long enough to be able to keep the match, the importance of taking advantage of a 401k account early in your career for the tax benefits offered cannot be overstated! Since this is an important benefit for us, 401k plans are available through all of the companies we recommend.

Life Insurance

Usually a small policy (around $50,000) is standard in each benefits package, with increased policy amounts available at increased premiums. We would recommend buying life insurance privately if you want increased policy limits, if you plan to switch between travel companies often, or if you take extended time off between contracts, so that you would have life insurance coverage continuously. But whenever this benefit is available through your employer at no additional cost, we would definitely recommend opting in since there’s no additional cost involved and there’s at least a small amount of coverage!

Other Benefits

Some companies may offer some other benefits including: vacation pay (PTO); sick time; short term and long term disability insurance; CEU reimbursements or access to online CEUs for free; or even a free vacation! These additional benefits are by no means standard and vary greatly between travel companies.

Something to be conscious of is that benefits like PTO, sick time, disability insurance, and 401k will be based on your hourly rate, which as a traveler is generally $18-25/hour for example for a PT, OT or SLP, since you are also receiving additional money in the form of stipends. Since the hourly rate as a traveler is lower than that of a permanent employee, this will decrease the amount you would receive for PTO, disability pay (whether short or long term), or 401k matching compared to a permanent job. Just be aware of this, because it is often a cause of confusion among travelers. It’s also important to note that since taxable pay is lower as a traveler, meaning less money paid in taxes, there is also less money being paid into Social Security and Medicare in the form of FICA taxes, which could potentially mean a lower payout at retirement age. The good news is the extra income you receive more than allows you to make up for the differences plus some! To learn more, read our comprehensive guide to pay as a traveler versus a permanent employee.

Final Note on Traveler Benefits

Travel companies are usually able to offer the same, or better, benefits to their travelers as other employers would at a permanent job. Sometimes these benefits may look a little different based on your hourly pay, and sometimes your coverage could be a bit of a hassle if you are taking extended time off or switching between companies. It’s important to consider the benefits offered when choosing a travel company. Quite often, travel companies have a lot of the same jobs, but their benefits packages might just make the difference in your choice between companies!

Please feel free to contact us if you have more questions about travel therapy benefits, or if you would like our list of recommended recruiters and companies with benefits that we love!

How to Find a Travel Therapy Company and Recruiter

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT

The Importance of a Good Recruiter and Company

Your position is only as good as your company, and your company is only as good as your recruiter. We never want to fight over money, we want at least acceptable benefits, and we want a company that stands behind their travelers. At the end of the day, we are the talent, and they should want to keep us on their team by treating us right.

Don’t Make the Same Mistake

The biggest mistake my fiancée and I made early in the process was requesting more information from Allied Travel Career’s website. The calls, texts, and emails still haven’t stopped years later. When we did find recruiters that we liked and trusted, they disappeared (sometimes mysteriously), got promoted, or changed companies. Recruiters are in the sales business, and sales is a field with very high turnover. You are going to want recruiters that are in it for the long haul, are honest, and actually listen to your wishes.

The company is important as well.  Preferably they take care of your recruiter and you throughout your career as a traveler. Glassdoor.com and indeed.com are good places to start that can provide you employee reviews on just about any company you can think of.

A Few Considerations in Choosing A Recruiter

  • How long have they been with the company?
  • How many travelers are on their caseload?
  • Do they respond quickly to your calls, texts, emails?
  • Does the recruiter seem honest and transparent with you, or are they being shady and withholding information?

A Few Considerations in Choosing a Company

  • Look at their benefits package and make sure it meets your needs
    • Are you eligible for 401k, and if so when? Do they offer a company match?  What is the vesting schedule?
    • When does insurance coverage start, day 1 or day 30?
  • See if they offer any bonuses such as travel reimbursements, referral bonuses, overtime bonuses, contract extension bonuses, etc.
  • Do they offer 40 hour guarantees for contracts?
  • Do they cover costs of licensing, credentialing, and continuing education?

Picking the Right Company and Recruiter for You

There is a lot to take into account when choosing the best travel therapy company and recruiter. We definitely recommend working with 2-3 companies at a time to give yourself the most options when searching for a travel contract.

If you don’t want to go through the process of combing through the hundreds of companies and thousands of recruiters yourself, send us a message and we will send you to our most trusted recruiters!

Travel Therapy: What is a “Tax Home”?

Authors: Travis Kemper, PT, DPT; Jared Casazza, PT, DPT; Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

What is a Tax Home?

If you are just starting out in travel therapy you may not be familiar with the concept of a “tax home.”  Basically, a tax home is your primary residence, where you live and/or work. When you’re working as a travel therapist, having a tax home allows you to take housing and per diem stipends provided by travel therapy companies without having to pay taxes on them due to the stipends being a reimbursement for costs incurred at the travel assignment location.

This is a major benefit for you and greatly increases your potential total compensation, if housing costs are kept at a reasonable amount, when compared to a permanent job, where all your income is taxed. This is the main reason why “take-home” pay (otherwise known as your after-tax pay, the money that actually goes into your bank account) as a traveler is higher than pay in permanent jobs.

But, maintaining a proper tax home is a little more complicated than just saying you “have” a permanent residence.

The Basics of Maintaining a Tax Home

To be allowed to take the untaxed stipends, per IRS guidelines, you need to be able to demonstrate at least two of the following three criteria:

  1. You must maintain a place of permanent residence and pay expenses there (i.e. rent, own/mortgage, pay bills, pay taxes, etc.) while ALSO paying expenses at your travel location. This is called “duplicating expenses.”
  2. You must not abandon your tax home. Generally speaking, you should return there at least 30 days per year but these days don’t have to be consecutive.
  3. You must still conduct business in the area of your tax home. For example, you have a PRN job there or maintain some type of other business there.

The third criteria is a little vague, as some interpret “conducting business” as having bank accounts and credit cards, car registration and insurance, and voter registration associated with the tax home, not specifically working in the area.

Without meeting at least 2/3 of these requirements, you would be considered an “itinerant worker,” and all of your income will be taxed.

There is nothing wrong with having all of your income taxed, and you may still come out ahead this way as compared with a regular, permanent job. But, we like to keep as much of our money as possible, so qualifying for the tax free stipends is ideal provided that maintaining your tax home isn’t so expensive that it negates the benefit.

To find out more about tax homes and all things about travel taxes, we recommend you check out the website TravelTax.com/traveler.html. (Specifically, scroll down to the section “how to keep a tax home”). This is a wonderful website where we have all learned a significant amount over the years.

What Are Some Strategies to Keeping a Tax Home?

Of course if you already own a home/have a mortgage, or rent an apartment, these can be maintained as your tax home. But this method can be more costly and also more complicated since you may not have someone to look after your place while you’re away. You may be thinking you could rent out your house while you are gone, but this is not advisable unless you specifically state in the lease agreement that you would maintain at least one room in the house as your own and you stay in that room while in the area (at least 30 days per year as mentioned above).

Perhaps a better option is renting a room out from your parents or a friend, which in our opinion is great way to maintain your tax home. Go on Craigslist, see what a comparable room rents for, and pay your family/friend to rent the room in their house. It’s also recommended that you have a contract written and signed. They will have to claim it as income on their tax returns, but they can keep the extra income to help around the home. That is the simplest way, and that is what we have been doing since starting to travel. As mentioned by Joseph Smith at Travel Tax, you ideally would also want to work in this new area for a while before traveling in order to solidify this new area as your tax home.

A more unique strategy that Julia and I are considering doing next year is house hacking for our tax home. House hacking is simply performed by purchasing a multi-unit home (duplex, triplex, quadplex), and renting out the other units, while you live in one unit.  Your tenants can effectively pay your rent and pay down your mortgage at the same time, enabling you to live for free or dramatically reducing your housing costs. You can find more information on house hacking here.

Do you have a different creative way of keeping a tax home? Do you have questions about tax homes? Send us a message and we can chat!