Questions to Ask a Travel Therapy Company and Recruiter

Written by: Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC


So if you’re looking into travel therapy, by now you may have figured out that you need to contact travel companies and decide who you want to work with. In general, we recommend therapists work with at least two to three companies, in order to give themselves the most job options. It’s a great idea to talk to a few different ones at first to get an idea of which recruiters you like and which companies you like. Once you’ve found a few good ones, you’ll have them as your main contacts when it’s time to look for jobs.

Just to clarify, having two to three you’re working with doesn’t mean you’re an employee or locked in yet! You’re only locked in once you take a job with one company, and then you’re just locked in for that assignment. After that, you’re back to being a free agent and can mix and mingle with all your recruiters for the next job search.

But what should you be looking for in these companies and recruiters? What questions do you need to ask them to find out if they’re any good? Are there red flags to watch out for with recruiters? These are questions we hear from many therapists who are just getting started looking into the travel world. So let’s dive in and cover some of the things you should consider and some questions you should ask!

Recruiters

*Ok some of these aren’t actually “questions to ask” more just things to consider!

  • Do you like them?
    • Yep, this is important, you should like them and get along well, because you’ll be talking to them a lot and depending on them to help you.
  • Are they responsive?
    • Getting back to you quickly via calls, texts, and/or emails is important, especially when it’s crunch time and you’re searching for a job!
  • Can you reach them after hours/on weekends?
    • We have to respect the recruiters’ personal lives and encourage them to have a work-life balance, but sometimes things come up outside of business hours (since, of course, we work during business hours too) and on weekends. It’s nice to know whether you can reach them by cell phone in case of an urgent situation.
  • Are they trustworthy?
    • You have to feel this one out a little over time, gauge whether they’re being open and honest with you, or whether they’re holding back information and being shady.
  • How much experience do they have?
    • Ask how long they’ve been a recruiter and how long they’ve been with that company. This may or may not be a huge deal breaker, because they’ve all got to start somewhere. But gauge how long they’ve been in the business, and if they’re newer, how much training they got and who trained them.
  • How many travelers do they work with at one time?
    • This can vary from 15 to 50 or more. Ask them how many they usually work with, and what happens if they feel like their desk is getting too busy and they have too many travelers.
  • Do they work with a team?
    • Some companies work as a team of recruiters, but most work independently. But figuring out who else is in the office and who covers for your recruiter if he/she is out is a good thing to know. Also building a relationship with the recruiter’s manager might not be a bad idea in case your recruiter is ever out.

Companies

  • What states/areas do they cover?
    • Find out what states and areas they staff, and if there are certain areas where they tend to have more jobs. Most agencies staff nationwide, but sometimes they’ll have more connections in a particular area.
  • Do they work with only therapists or other healthcare professionals too?
    • Some companies do only therapy, while others staff everything from nursing to imaging technicians. Typically, they will have different departments for different professions, such as have a separate nursing division that isn’t involved with the therapy division. Just something good to know and understand who your company and especially your recruiter specializes in working with.
  • Are they considered a “small,” “medium,” or “large” company?
    • This just helps you understand what their overhead is like and how that might affect pay, as well as how their company runs and their job availability. For example, a bigger company may have more jobs but lower pay; a smaller company may have less jobs but higher pay. But it varies greatly!
  • What are their benefits like?
    • You’ll want to compare the benefits packages for each company. Here are some key things to look for:
      • Insurance: When does it start? Does it carry over between contracts? What company is it with? Do they have different tiers of coverage? How much is taken out weekly from your paycheck?
      • 401k: Do they offer it? Do they offer a match? When can you start contributing? When does the match start? When is the match “fully vested”? (meaning, if you leave the company after 1 or 2 contracts, do you keep the match, or do they take it back?)
      • PTO: Is there any opportunity to build PTO?
      • Others: Do they offer any additional perks, such as life insurance, disability, etc.
  • Do they offer reimbursements?
    • Some companies offer reimbursements for things like state licensing, CEUs, and travel to/from facilities. However, some companies have this just come directly out of your pay package for that particular contract, so you really end up with the exact same amount of money, just divided up differently. Whereas some companies have a different department and budget allocated for these reimbursements, so while it probably affects the company’s overall pay to all travelers, it does not directly affect your paycheck on an individual assignment. So if they say yes they will reimburse, ask where it’s coming from.
  • Do they offer CEU access?
    • Some companies instead of reimbursing you for CEU’s will give you online access to CEUs via a website where they have a subscription, so you can earn CEUs online for free while on contract with them.
  • What does an average pay package look like?
    • It’s important to find out what a normal range is that they see for your discipline. For example, they might say anywhere from $1500-1800/week. You might want to see how they break this pay down as well, including what numbers they use for hourly taxable pay (Ex: $20/hr) and how they break down your stipend/per diem money (Ex: hourly, or weekly). This is all a little more advanced, but you’ll learn as you go along and work with a few different recruiters and see how they break things down.
  • Do they offer a 40 hour guarantee?
    • This may depend on the company itself or the client they’re working with (the facility). Find out if they can secure a 40 hour guarantee for your contract, and if so, what does it cover? Does it include only if census is low, or does it also cover holidays and clinic closures due to inclement weather?
  • Where do their jobs come from?
    • Do they have a lot of direct clients, or do they mostly rely on Vendor Management Systems (VMS)? This is also a little advanced, but it’s good to understand where their jobs are coming from. All companies will have access to the jobs on the VMS systems usually, so companies that rely heavily on that will tend to have most of the same jobs.
  • Do they “cold call” if they’re having trouble finding jobs for you?
    • This is an important thing for them to be willing to do for you if they’re unable to find jobs in the particular area you’re looking for. “Cold calling” means they’re willing to call around to facilities in the area or ones they’ve worked with in the past, regardless of whether they have any job openings listed at that time. This puts them, and you, ahead of the game and can dig up some good job options that may not be posted yet.

These are some of the key things we feel it’s important to consider and ask when looking into travel companies and recruiters. Many companies will be similar in terms of jobs they offer and benefits, so sometimes your recruiter will make a big difference for you. You want to find a couple of recruiters you really like and trust, and build a good relationship with them. This will help you to have a great travel experience!

If you’d like to know the companies and recruiters we recommend, please reach out to us and we’d be happy to help you!


Whitney

Author: Whitney Eakin, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Certified Athletic Trainer, and Travel Physical Therapist since 2015

Travel Therapy: The Path to Financial Freedom (Guest Post)

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

I recently wrote an article that was featured on the Covalent Careers (New Grad Physical Therapy) website, which provides resources for PT, OT, and SLP. The title of my article is “Travel PT: The Path to Financial Freedom,” and I discuss how I have used Travel PT as a means to improve my financial future.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

With tuition prices continuing to increase each year, it’s no surprise that the amount of student debt that therapists are graduating with continues to rise as well. I talk to students and new grads every day through my site that are upset about the logistics involved with paying off six-figure student loan debt, while also doing their best to build a life after grad school. Some services, such as Fitbux, offer assistance with determining a plan to handle this debt as a new grad. Fitbux is a wonderful resource for developing the most optimal plan for getting to the zero debt finish line, and having a plan is a vital part of the process. But besides having a sound financial plan, another vital aspect is optimizing income. There are many ways to increase your income when coming out of school, including working multiple jobs or opening your own cash-based practice, but in my opinion, the easiest (and most fun) path to financial freedom is pursuing travel therapy contracts. …

You can check out the full article at: 

https://covalentcareers.com/resources/travel-pt-path-financial-freedom/

A big thanks to Covalent Careers for featuring me on their site!

If you have questions about getting started on your career in travel therapy, please send us a message and we will be happy to help you along the way!

Happy Holidays from Travel Therapy Mentor!

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC


Having time off during the holiday season to spend with friends and family can be difficult for healthcare professionals since healthcare is an essential business that must go on despite what day it is. Hospitals and nursing homes don’t close for holidays, and the patients that we care for at those facilities still need us.

As traveling healthcare professionals, we may sometimes be able to have more control over our schedules and be able to plan for time off, but that isn’t always the case. And, whether we have to work or not, it may also be difficult to see family and friends depending what part of the country we’re in.

We here at Travel Therapy Mentor wanted to let you know what the holiday season looks like for us this year and in years past, as many of you can probably relate!


Travis and Julia

Travis and Julia recently on their trip to Hawaii

Travel therapy mentor Travis and his fiancee Julia, both physical therapists, will be spending this Christmas with Julia’s family in Arizona. They are fortunate to both have Christmas day off this year, with Julia working in outpatient and Travis at a Skilled Nursing Facility. However, they both had work on Christmas Eve (Monday) and will have to work the rest of the week after Christmas.

This Winter, they chose to arrange contracts independently (not through a travel company) near Phoenix, AZ which is where they currently call home and plan to return PRN to these locations in the future. So they are not on what we might call a “traditional” travel assignment currently.  But, this arrangement worked well for them for the next several months, and it also allowed them to be near Julia’s family this holiday season while still continuing to work. They will not however get to see Travis’s parents who will be in Alabama this Christmas.

In years past, the two have not always spent the holidays with family due to traveling for work. Last year, they spent Christmas together in South Carolina and made their own holiday dinner in their camper. They have been fortunate to never have to work (so far) on Christmas Day.

Travis and Julia are embracing the travel healthcare life, even if it means ever changing holiday traditions.

Travis and Julia’s Christmas Tree at their apartment in Phoenix – with a tree skirt made by grandma!

Whitney and Jared

Jared and Whitney in Hong Kong last week

Jared and I have had quite the unusual year and a very non-traditional schedule! We worked a travel physical therapy contract from January-July 2018, then we took off around the world for 5 months! We just returned to the U.S. on December 17th! We planned to continue to be off work until after the New Year so we could spend quality time with both of our families in Virginia for the holidays.

We are very fortunate to have a job that allows such flexibility, as long as you plan and save wisely. The only downside to our plan is that we have found it challenging to find jobs that start just after the New Year. Many travel therapists have similar plans, to finish up a contract before the holidays in order to be with family, then resume work after January 1st. In addition, many facilities have already secured therapists to work through the holidays and into January. This combination of factors has made jobs for January scarce. So as of now, we are unemployed indefinitely until we can find contracts to begin sometime in January. But we are fortunate that we have saved a significant amount, so a few extra weeks off work (on top of already 5 months off!) won’t bother us.

In years past, we have secured jobs in December that carried over through the new year, while asking for time off for the holidays as able. We have worked on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve before, but we’ve always managed to make it home to Virginia for Christmas Day, whether we asked off or the facility was closed. So far we’ve always been working in Virginia or North Carolina within driving distance of home during the holidays, and that has worked out well for us.

Jared and Whitney’s families in Virginia on Christmas Eve
Whitney with her sister and mom celebrating with extended family in NC

Being a travel therapist around the holidays can sometimes make it easier to be able to see family, but it can sometimes make it more challenging!

Our hearts go out to those of you working the holidays this year, those spending the holidays geographically far away family, and to the patients who would love to be home with family as well!

Happy Holidays from us here at Travel Therapy Mentor!

What Kind of Travel Therapist Will You Be?

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC


The world of travel therapy is an exciting one. There are so many options and possibilities as a travel therapist. We as U.S. healthcare professionals are fortunate to have this as an avenue to travel down, so to speak, not only professionally but personally.

There are so many different types of travelers out there, from new grads, to those with a few years experience, those in the middle of their careers, or those close to retirement.

There are “career” travelers who do it forever and ever, amen, and never plan on settling down. There are “just testing it out” travelers who take a contract or two. There are ones who take travel contracts part of the year and work at home part of the year. There are “I just want to travel to places where my kids and grandkids live and make a little money along the way” travelers. And everywhere in between.

What kind of travel therapist will you be?

Let’s talk about some of the key reasons that many therapists choose to travel, what motivates and drives them… (but, of course, most of us are driven by a combination of all these factors!) …and see where you can relate!

In it for the Money

Yes, yes, this is often the big one. Income. Paychecks. Most therapists hear that travel therapy can afford them higher income than a permanent position, and for many different circumstances this is enticing.

For those who need to pay down a high amount of student debt, more money can be the key to becoming debt free. For those with families, more money can mean a better lifestyle, or less time spent working and more time spent with family, or that one spouse may not have to work at all. And for just about anyone, more money means more options.

Lots of therapists travel solely for the purpose of making more money, and they will chase the highest paying contracts no matter what. For most, it’s some combination of money and other factors that drives them to choose travel therapy.

You can check out this article to better understand how travel therapy pay works and how you can earn more money as a travel therapist.

Are you planning to travel just for higher pay?

All about Schedule Flexibility

When you work as a travel therapist, you are a “contract” worker, and therefore you are only employed while on contract. This means you can be in control of when you work and when you take time off. Gone are the days of only having two weeks of vacation time or PTO!

For many, this allows a lot of flexibility to be able to spend more time with family for special events and holidays, or to take time off to travel for leisure. In addition, since most travelers make more money than they would at a traditional position, they can in most cases afford to take additional time off, while still making enough money to support their lifestyles.

For some, such as me and my boyfriend Jared, this could mean working part of the year and traveling internationally the other part of the year. We just finished a 5 month trip around the world, are taking additional time off for the holidays with family, and plan to take a new travel PT contract next month.

The possibilities for how you want your schedule and your life to look are endless as a travel therapist.

Do you plan to use travel therapy to take extended periods of time off?

Adventure Junkies

For many, the excitement of traveling around the country and having adventures in new places is what draws them to travel therapy.

Who else gets to go live in a new city, state, region for +/- 3 months, instead of just visiting for a few days or a week?

It’s amazing the experiences you can have when you’re living in a new area. Even the normal, mundane, day to day activities are exciting. New grocery store, new weekend farmer’s market, new gym, new local coffee shop, new dog park.

Not to mention hiking all the trails, exploring all the beaches, skiing all the slopes, hitting up the local events, trying out new breweries and wineries, and catching local bands. Plus so, so much more!

Adventure is just around the corner for travel therapists, and more therapists are discovering it all the time.

Are you dreaming of the adventures you can have as a travel therapist?

The Social Butterfly

Want to meet new people? Looking for friendships across the states? Looking to find love? Why not travel for work and open up your circle!

Becoming a travel therapist can give you lots of opportunities to meet new people. Whether it’s co-workers, new friends at the gym, a new church community, a volunteer group, or local “meet-ups” — the possibilities are endless if you’re willing to put yourself out there!

Of course, I’d be remiss to say that traveling always helps you make new friends. Some travelers can feel quite lonely in a new place. Sometimes building strong friendships in such a short time can be challenging, and sometimes locals are not willing to open their circle to a newcomer, especially someone so transient.

But, that’s not always the case, and quite often travel therapists can make amazing connections in each place they go! This can mean having a whole new “family” across the country, or even finding a group of people you love so much, you want to stay!

Are you searching for new connections?

The New Setting Hopper

Some therapists choose to use travel therapy to broaden their skill sets. As a traveler, you have the opportunity to hop from one setting to another and gain a wealth of experience.

Many therapists will choose to stick with one or a couple of their favorite settings, but many want to expand their resume and skill set. Travel therapy is the perfect opportunity for this. As long as the facility understands you may need some additional training if you do not have a lot of experience in that setting, and you feel confident and competent enough to work there, you can dip your foot into new settings to see what you think!

Travel therapy affords a rare opportunity to hop from one setting to another, an opportunity that most therapists would never get.

Do you want to try out new settings, without the commitment of a permanent position?

What Kind of Travel Therapist Will You Be?

Do any of the above reasons resonate with you? What do you see your travel life looking like? There are so many possibilities, and no two travel therapists are alike.

If you’re ready to get started in your travel therapy career and would like guidance and recommendations, please reach out to us! We would be happy to help mentor you on your travel journey!

Is Contributing to a Company 401k Worth it as a Travel Therapist?

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

What Makes Travel Therapy Different?

Travel therapists are in a unique position with respect to 401k accounts. When working with most travel healthcare companies, therapists will be eligible to contribute to the company sponsored 401k plan. The 401k benefit eligibility will vary company to company, but most companies provide it in some form. However, since many travelers switch between travel companies pretty frequently, it is a common concern whether contributing to the company 401k plan makes sense for them, or if it would just be additional hassle. Unsurprisingly, since most of my articles on FifthWheelPT are finance related, this is definitely one of the top five most common questions I get asked by current and prospective travelers. In addition to wanting to know if using the 401k plan is worth the hassle if switching between companies, I often hear that there is concern about what happens with account once the individual leaves the company or stops contributing to the account.

I hope to shed some light on my thoughts about 401k plans for travelers in this post, but I do not intend this to be specific advice for any of you. This is just what I’ve done and what works for me, but everyone’s situation is different, so be sure to do your own research on the topic as well.

What is a 401k?

First let’s cover the basics of what a traditional 401k plan is and why one would choose to contribute to it in the first place. Most travel companies don’t offer a Roth 401k option, so we can skip over that for now, but if you’re interested in my thoughts on Roth vs. Traditional accounts, you can check that out here.

A traditional 401k is a retirement account that is offered by an employer and allows the employee to contribute pre-tax money to the account from each pay check. The amount contributed is up to the employee, but it is usually based on a percentage of the employee’s taxable income. Since the money isn’t taxed when it’s contributed, it’s able to grow in the account tax free for however long it remains in the account. When withdrawals are made (usually in retirement), the money withdrawn each year is then taxed along with any other earnings (social security, investment income, rental income, etc.). The big benefit of this account is that it allows you to contribute money while working and earning a lot, therefore in a higher tax bracket, and instead paying taxes on the money in retirement while (hopefully) in a lower tax bracket. The money also grows more quickly in a 401k than in a regular investment (brokerage) account since the amount that would have been taxed is compounded. The maximum that an individual is able to contribute to a 401k in 2018 is $18,500, and for 2019 it will be $19,000. Taking advantage of the tax benefits of a traditional 401k (and additionally, a traditional IRA) is a huge part of what has allowed me to semi-retire and travel around this world this year after only three years of full time work as a travel therapist.

401k Employer Match

A 401k sometimes has the added benefit of employer matching. The amount that is matched, if any at all, is determined by the employer and will usually be somewhere between 3%-6% of the employee’s taxable income. The employer can also include a contingency that it is only matched if the employee contributes a certain amount as well. This is the employer’s way of helping the employee have a more secure retirement by contributing to their retirement account. In many companies, the employer match took the place of a pension that used to be standard but has now disappeared in most public sector jobs. An employer match is in no way equal to a pension since the benefit is comparatively small, but any extra money toward retirement is a great thing!

The employer match is great if the company offers one, but for the majority of travelers this will be a moot point. Most travel companies offer a 401k with some sort of employer match, BUT they have a vesting schedule. The vesting schedule determines how much of the employer match you get to keep if you leave the company early, which makes this an incentive for the employee to stay with that employer. Many of the companies require that you have to work between 3-5 years with the company to keep all of the employer match. Some plans will have a tiered vesting schedule: something along the lines of at one year you keep 20% of the matched amount, at two years you keep 40%, etc. However others have a “cliff” vesting schedule: something like if you work three years or more you keep all of the matched amount, but if you leave before three years you don’t keep any of the amount that has been matched. Basically, the 401k employer match is great, but unfortunately it won’t apply to travelers that switch between companies often or that don’t plan to work three years or more as a traveler. In that case, an individual retirement account could make more sense and involve less hassle for the traveler.

Traditional Individual Retirement Account

A traditional IRA (Individual Retirement Account) is another option which has the same benefits as a traditional 401k, and doesn’t require an employer to utilize, and one other big difference, the contribution maximum. A traditional IRA allows a maximum contribution of only $5,500 for 2018 and $6,000 for 2019. If you’re a big saver like me and plan to reach financial independence as quickly as possible and maybe even retire early, then that’s a relatively small maximum each year.

If you plan to switch companies often, and therefore won’t benefit from the employer match, and don’t plan on putting $6,000 or more toward your retirement account each year, then foregoing the 401k and choosing an IRA instead could be the best choice. An IRA does have the added benefit of more flexibility between investment choices. With a 401k, the investment choices are usually limited to 10-20 options chosen by the company, whereas with an IRA the investment options are essentially limitless.

Utilizing a 401k and an IRA

For those, like me, that plan to put more than $6,000 toward retirement each year, then contributing to a 401k account in addition to an IRA will likely be necessary even if the individual won’t benefit from the employer match.

Luckily, having a 401k and an IRA is pretty easy, even if you switch travel companies often. (Keep reading below to learn more about that process if switching companies.) I’ve switched between companies on a few different occasions and have always taken advantage of a 401k account if offered, while also contributing the maximum amount to both the 401k and an IRA.

There are income limits where the benefit of an IRA (the tax savings) starts to diminish if the individual is also contributing to a 401k, but the limit is higher than most traveler therapists will make at $63,000 of adjusted gross income (tax free stipends are not factored into this number).

In my opinion, if you plan to save more than $6,000 toward retirement each year, then it makes the most sense to me to contribute the maximum to an IRA, and then any additional money you wish to save would be invested in the 401k. This is assuming that you wouldn’t benefit from the employer match, but if you would, then it would be foolish to pass up that match.

Here is the general order of operations that I have used and that I think makes the most sense:

  1. 401k contributions up to the amount to get the full employer match (if applicable)
  2. IRA contributions up to the maximum ($6,000 for 2019)
  3. 401k contributions up to the maximum ($19,000 for 2019)
  4. After tax investments (brokerage account, real estate, etc.)

If your company doesn’t offer an employer match on the 401k or if you won’t be able to benefit from it due to the vesting schedule of the company, then skip #1.

What Happens to the Money and 401k Account When Switching Companies?

Let’s say that you follow the order of operations above and stay with the same company for your first year as a travel therapist, but then get a better offer from a different company and decide to switch. You knew that you would probably be changing companies eventually, either for a better paying job or a job that your company may not have, so you assumed you wouldn’t benefit from the employer match. You maxed out your traditional IRA and contributed an extra $10,000 to your 401k. Great job!

Now, since the IRA isn’t associated with the employer, it isn’t affected at all by switching companies. That account belongs to you only. But the 401k is affected by switching companies, so you’ve got a decision to make.

Here are your options:

  1. You can have the money paid out to you.
    • This is almost never a good idea since you will not only pay taxes on the money, but also penalties!
  2. You can keep the money in the 401k account of the employer
    • This will occasionally involve additional fees since you no longer work for them.
  3. You can roll the 401k over from your previous employer’s 401k account to your new employer’s 401k account.
    • This could also be a hassle if you don’t plan to stay with the next company very long.
  4. You can roll over the 401k into your already existing traditional IRA account.
    • In most cases, and what I’ve always chosen to do. It makes sense to roll the 401k balance over into your traditional IRA. This gives you the increased flexibility with investment options mentioned above, which usually means lower fees on the investments as well which is a wonderful thing. The account is also yours and not associated with any employer, so you don’t have to worry about moving it around again at a later time. And the accounts work the same way with taxes, and you won’t have to pay penalties.

401k Rollover to Traditional IRA

By rolling the money over into your traditional IRA account, you have essentially contributed the full $16,000 (investment in the IRA to the maximum plus the investment in the prior 401k plan that is now rolled over) to your traditional IRA. This is an easy way to effectively contribute more than the maximum amount to an IRA when switching companies. This simplifies your finances (less accounts to keep track of) and gives you more investment options which are both great things. The rollover process is very simple and can be repeated every time you leave an employer and have a 401k balance with them. I have rolled my 401k balance into a traditional IRA several times and it has never taken more than 30 minutes.

For those travel therapists that are saving a significant amount toward retirement each year, I think that this is the best option with all things considered. I max out my IRA, contribute as much as possible to my 401k, and then roll the 401k into the IRA each time I leave a travel company to give myself the most investment options and to keep my financial life as simple as possible, while still contributing over $20,000/year to the accounts that wouldn’t be possible with a traditional IRA alone.

If you do this as well then you’ll want to make sure that it is a direct rollover. More information on the different types of rollover can be found here.

Conclusion

I know that for those of you that aren’t very familiar with saving and investing, this can all sound intimidating, but it really isn’t very difficult and takes minimal time to figure out and implement.

For those travel therapists that don’t plan to save more than $6,000 toward retirement each year, then just foregoing the 401k and choosing an IRA instead is the most simple option. For those that want to save more than $6,000 per year and also switch companies often, it’s worth the extra effort to contribute to the company’s 401k plan once you’ve maxed out your IRA for the year and roll that 401k over each time you leave a company. Once you’ve done it once it’s a piece of cake and will take you no time.

Above all else, make sure that you’re saving for retirement in some capacity no matter what account(s) you choose to utilize!

Remember to do your own due diligence before implementing anything that I talk about, since this is not intended to be specific advice for you. Thanks for reading and I hope that this post helped to clarify things for you.

If you have any questions about this post or anything else travel therapy related then contact us and we’ll do our best to help you out. If you need assistance finding a good travel therapy company or recruiter then reach out to us and we can help you there as well.

How do you currently handle your retirement accounts as a travel therapist? Let us know in the comments!

 

Should You Get a Contract Extension Bonus as a Travel Therapist?

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

The Benefits of Extending a Contract

If you are a prospective or current traveler whose primary goal with travel therapy is to earn as much money as possible (likely to pay off student debt), then extending contracts when possible is a great idea. Whitney and I always try to extend contracts in places that we enjoy, and I actually extended my very first contract as a new grad twice for a total of nine months there. Extending a contract means less, or hopefully no, downtime between contracts since you don’t have to move to a new location. Most travelers choose to take at least a week off between contracts to move to their new assignment location. but that missed work means less money earned. Mitigating time off is a primary way to earn more throughout the year. Additionally, extending a contract is also easier because you’re already accustomed to the facility, staff, and patients.

Another big benefit of extending a contract is that you can almost always earn more money on the extension than you did on the original contract, either in the form of a bonus or an increase in taxable hourly pay. We usually try to get about $1-$2/hour extra when extending a contract, which ends up being $40-$80 more per week or $500-$1,000 more over the course of a 13 week contract! A dollar or two extra per hour may not sound like much, but it really adds up over time. Another option is to have the travel company reimburse travel expenses incurred while traveling back to your tax home if you plan to do that at any time during the contract. A reimbursement is almost always better than increase in taxable pay, if possible, because reimbursements aren’t taxed and therefore will mean more money in your pocket.

Understanding “Extension Bonuses”

Some travelers believe that getting an extension bonus means that the recruiter was keeping more money than they needed to be on the original contract, and now they’re somehow able to offer you more money the second go round, but that is not the case. So where does the extra money come from? Let’s investigate the answer to this question!

When you start a new contract as a travel therapist, the travel company has some upfront costs that they have to cover in order for you to start. These costs include things like: travel reimbursement for you to get to the new place, license reimbursement if applicable, background check, drug test, and TB test. All of those costs added together can end up being a significant amount of money that the company pays out in the beginning before you ever start working at the new place. These costs have to be accounted for by the company of course, so they reduce the amount that you make each week so that these costs can be recovered throughout the course of the contract. This reduction in the traveler’s pay is to be expected since all of our pay, reimbursements, and the travel company’s overhead costs, as well as their profits, come out of the “bill rate” that the facility pays the company. In other words, all the money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is what the facility pays the travel company. Under normal circumstances where the traveler moves to a new facility after every contract with no extensions, the company has to incur these costs again before each new contract. On an extension however, these costs aren’t incurred again, which means that there is extra money that can be added to your pay!

Negotiating Extension Bonuses with Your Recruiter

Most experienced recruiters understand that by the traveler extending in a location, there will be extra money to allocate to the traveler on the extension. But I’ve worked with recruiters in the past that say that an extension bonus isn’t possible since the bill rate is the same for the extension, and the facility “isn’t offering any additional money.” Unfortunately, they were overlooking these costs that the company would be saving on the extension. After explaining how they would be saving money on the things I mentioned above for my extension, I’ve always been able to negotiate some amount of extra pay or bonus for the extension.

It’s important to discuss this with your recruiter and make sure you are on the same page. You are your own biggest advocate and need to be an informed and educated traveler.

Bottom Line

Less missed work and higher pay on an extension make it a no-brainer if you’re at a facility and location that you enjoy AND the facility needs continued help. Always be sure to ask for more money on an extension if the recruiter doesn’t automatically give it to you, and be sure to mention the costs that they would save by you extending instead of taking a new contract to back up your request.

If you have questions on this topic or would like recommendations from us on a contract, extension, or working with travel recruiters/companies, please reach out to us and we will be happy to help!

 

Navigating the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace as a Travel Therapist

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

As I mentioned in my last post regarding the various health insurance options for travel therapists, Whitney and I have consistently chosen to take the company sponsored health insurance over our past few years as travel physical therapists. However, this is no longer going to be a viable option for us moving forward since we took six months off in 2018 and will likely be taking nine months off in 2019. Taking the company sponsored insurance and then using COBRA once we finish our assignment would be much too costly for that long period of time between contracts, so starting in 2019 we are planning to sign up for an ACA marketplace plan.

I’ve done a lot of reading and researching about the marketplace plans as well as the subsidies offered, and I hope to shine some light on them for you based on what I’ve learned. Keep in mind that health insurance costs can vary greatly depending on location and that some states have more or less options than others. The information in this article is going to be based on my own information for my home state of Virginia. It’s possible that your own state will be different, but I imagine that much of the information will apply to some degree for every state.

Disclaimer: this is not meant to be personal advice for your individual situation, as I am not an insurance expert or financial advisor. This is information that I’ve learned from reading and researching, and that I plan to implement in my own situation. Everyone’s situation is different, and this information could change at any time. If you’re interested in doing anything similar, then do your own research or reach out to a licensed professional for help, as this post is meant for illustration purposes only!

 

Background on the Different ACA Marketplace Plans

The plans offered through the marketplace have various premiums, deductibles, and out of pocket maximums, as well as other distinguishing features. These plans are tiered into levels called Bronze, Silver, or Gold based on cost and how good the plan is in general. You can usually expect a Bronze level plan to have a lower premium cost, but a higher deductible and out of pocket maximum, while a Gold level plan will likely have a higher premium but better coverage. It’s always important to look at the plans closely to find the one that fits your needs the best since even plans in the same tier can differ significantly at times.

Another factor to consider is that as travelers, we move from state to state often, and since health insurance is purchased through your home state, coverage and providers could be limited in some places that you may travel to. It is a good idea to consider this when choosing a plan. You can check out the website of the insurer that the plan will be through to see if they cover providers in a variety of places nationwide, or just in and around your own home state. For marketplace plans, there is a section (shown below) where you can go to the website of the insurer to see where providers are located.

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Depending on your situation (mostly your Modified Adjusted Gross Income), it’s possible that you will be eligible for subsidies (the ACA marketplace refers to these as premium tax credits) that can make a health insurance plan bought through the marketplace even cheaper than the company sponsored plans available to you. These subsidies are available to anyone that makes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level. The 400% level actually ends up being a pretty generous amount of income to still qualify and will include the majority of travel therapists. The reason that many travel therapists will qualify is because of a generally lower AGI, due to part of our income being untaxed. Oddly enough, with an income less than 100% of the federal poverty level, you wouldn’t be eligible for any of the premium tax credits since it is assumed that you would qualify for Medicaid in that scenario. Below are the income levels that would qualify you for premium tax credits (subsidies) for 2018 courtesy of ehealthinsurance.com.

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An Example Scenario

For a traveler working 48 weeks per year, making a taxable income of $21/hour, he would have a Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) of approximately $21 x 40hrs x 48 weeks = $40,320. The traveler would still qualify for a partial credit at that point, which would help to make the health insurance more affordable.

Let’s assume this traveler is a single, 30 year old, at an income level of $40,320 with his tax home in VA (which would be a scenario for me if I was working 48 weeks per year). In this scenario, he would be eligible for a subsidy of $222/month as shown below in a quote from the healthcare.gov website.

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With this premium tax credit accounted for, his cheapest option through the marketplace would be a Bronze level plan, for a monthly premium cost of $168.40. He could also get a Gold level plan for $283 that has a much lower deductible and out of pocket maximum. But if it were me, I’d opt for the lower cost plan since I likely wouldn’t meet the deductible either way.

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$168.40 isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely more than I’d like to spend. Luckily with some smart planning, the traveler in this scenario can bring this cost down significantly! An easy way to reduce his MAGI is through 401k contributions. Not only will these contributions save him money on taxes, reduce his student loan payment (only on an income driven repayment plan), and set him up for a better financial situation in the future, they will also save him money on his health insurance premium cost by giving him a higher premium tax credit amount!

Another Scenario – With 401k Contributions

Let’s consider the same situation as above with the traveler that is working 48 weeks per year, but now let’s assume that he maxes out his 401k, which is $19,000 for the 2019 tax year. That would bring his MAGI down from $40,320 to $21,320. Now we can see what he would be eligible for with a MAGI of that level.

With the same variables as above (30 y/o male in VA) the lower MAGI now makes him eligible for a premium tax credit of $458/month!

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With a premium tax credit of that amount, a Bronze level plan would be $0/month (even HSA eligible!), and a very good Silver level plan would only be $48! Both of these options are shown below.

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Basically, by contributing $19,000 to a 401k, the traveler in this example would save $168.40/month ($2,020/year) in health insurance premiums, while also saving about $4,000 in taxes (between VA state and federal taxes). That’s a pretty awesome return on that investment.

It should also be noted that the reason the deductible and out of pocket maximum on the Silver tier plan in the above scenario are significantly lower, in addition to it being in a higher tier than the Bronze plan, is due to Cost-Sharing subsidies. These are an additional layer of subsidies on top of the premium tax credit that are put in place to specifically reduce the deductible, co-pays and out of pocket maximum for low income individuals/families. These cost-sharing subsidies only apply to the Silver level plans and aren’t available for the Bronze and Gold plans at all. The closer an individual is to the 100% of poverty level (without going below that level as noted above due to Medicaid territory), the lower not only the monthly premium gets for the Silver level plans, but also the lower the deductible, co-pays, and out of pocket maximum gets as well.

Drawing Some Conclusions From These Scenarios

At an income level of $12,500, one would be able to qualify for a Silver level plan with a $3/month premium, a $250 deductible, and a $700 out of pocket maximum! Healthcare plans don’t get any better than that these days.

Even with this being the case, I don’t think it’s worth it to go below the $19,000 MAGI level, at least in my case, since I don’t use my health insurance often anyway and would rather have a plan that is eligible for an HSA. None of the Silver tier plans that I have seen qualify for an HSA.

Another downside of a MAGI near the poverty level would be limited benefit from the Saver’s Credit since it’s nonrefundable (more on that in this article). On the other hand, for someone with higher medical costs each year, having a much lower deductible and out of pocket maximum could be worth much more than the value of having an HSA and the Saver’s credit so this is definitely something to consider depending on each individual situation.

If contributing $19,000 to a 401k is too much for you, don’t worry there’s still hope. Even at an MAGI of $27,000, which would be a 401k contribution of about $13,000, the monthly premium for a Bronze level plan would still only be $2.60/month. The premium steadily increases from that point as MAGI continues to increase.

Even though I don’t need any extra incentive to max out my 401k each year, I’m happy to accept a reduction in health insurance premiums for doing so! In this case, the more you contribute to your future retirement the more you save on health insurance now. So, even if you can’t contribute a large amount, it’s definitely to your benefit to contribute as much as possible. It’s also important to point out here that even though traditional IRA contributions reduce your AGI, they don’t reduce your MAGI since they are added back in to calculate your MAGI. For this reason, the only real meaningful ways to reduce your MAGI would be with a 401k or health savings account.

Our Plan for 2019

For Whitney and I, we plan to contribute enough to our 401k and HSA to get our MAGI down to around $18,809. At that level, not only will we have the option of a free Bronze level health insurance plan through the marketplace, but we will also pay $0 in federal taxes and have a $0 income driven student loan payment! How can you beat that?

Running Your Own Scenarios

If you’re interested in getting quick quotes for your own situation and don’t want to enter your information on the healthcare.gov website, I’ve found that this subsidy calculator works well and is really quick and easy to use. The downside is that, at least for my state, it doesn’t show the actual cost of the plans available, just the amount of subsidy that I would receive. The healthcare.gov website is definitely the most comprehensive way to compare different scenarios, and I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the site and see what you’d be eligible for based on your situation.

Take-Home Points

  • For a travel therapist that wishes to take significant amounts of time off between contracts or switch between different travel companies often (especially those that often meet their health insurance deductible), travel company sponsored health insurance probably doesn’t make sense. Luckily as travel therapists, most of us will qualify for premium tax credits for health insurance plans through the ACA marketplace.
  • With some planning ahead and saving for the future, it’s possible to actually get a Bronze level plan for free, provided that you reduce your MAGI enough through 401k and health savings account contributions. The amount required to achieve this for you will vary, but for me as a 30 year old male living in VA, anything below a MAGI of $26,500 will mean a free Bronze level plan due to the subsidies offered at that income level.
  • Contributing to your 401k is already a great idea, but the premium tax credits make it that much sweeter! If you’re a big saver like me and planning to transition to less travel assignments each year or part time work in the future, the combination of tax savings and health insurance premium savings from investing in your future with 401k contributions can be massive! If you aren’t currently a big saver, then maybe the savings on your health insurance premiums will encourage you to start!

What do you do for your health insurance as a travel therapist? Let us know in the comments below. If you have any questions about this or anything else travel therapy related, feel free to reach out to us. But do keep in mind that I’m not an expert in this area, and all of this information is based on reading and researching for my own situation.

If you are new to travel therapy and would like help getting started or  recruiter/travel company recommendations, then we can help with that as well! Thanks for reading!