Is Travel Therapy a Good Option for New Grads During COVID-19?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had dozens of new grad and soon-to-be new grad therapists reach out to us asking if now is a good time to start traveling as a new grad. This happens every year during May when the bulk of therapists graduate, but with all the uncertainty currently and full time therapy work being difficult to come by in some locations, there’s been much more interest in travel therapy than normal this year. Unfortunately, when there is uncertainty in healthcare, it is rarely a good thing for the travel therapy market, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different.

While travel therapy has historically been a good career choice over the last decade for many therapists, including new grad therapists, things have really been shaken up recently. Let’s dive in to why travel therapy has been affected and whether or not it’s a good time for new grads to be trying travel therapy.

Travel Therapy During the Pandemic

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a widespread impact on our world, including US healthcare jobs. “Uncertainty” is the buzz word as we all wait and see what will happen as the situation continues to evolve worldwide.

A big reason why uncertainty impacts the travel therapy job market to such a large degree has to do with the cost of hiring travel therapists incurred by facilities. Travel therapists can be significantly more expensive than full time and PRN staff, so in a situation where caseloads could suddenly decrease, many facilities don’t want to risk spending money on a traveler that they may end up not needing. Instead, they’ll make do with current staff while supplementing with PRN or offering overtime to full time therapists if needed, and wait out the uncertainty.

In the past two months we’ve seen hundreds of travel contracts ended early or cancelled before they even started due to fluctuations in caseloads in all settings. There has been a significant decrease in the number of new travel job openings due to facilities not hiring. With that being said, settings have certainly not all been affected evenly. Outpatient and school contracts have been the hardest hit by contract cancellations and job cuts, with home health, acute care, and SNF jobs impacted to a lesser degree. Even in the lesser impacted settings, COVID has still caused problems. This is primarily due to the fact that elective surgeries have been limited or cancelled altogether for almost two months now. Fewer elective surgeries means fewer patients across the board.

Flooding the Market

Less patients means less demand for therapists and subsequent layoffs across the board, not only in the form of travel therapy job cancellations but also for permanent full time staff. Some of the laid off permanent therapists are unable to find work in their area right now and are turning to travel therapy for some respite during tremulous times. This is bad news for current and prospective new grad travel therapists.

The combination of previously permanent therapists, new grads, and current travelers whose contracts have come to an end or were ended prematurely all looking for travel contracts at the same time, has caused the travel therapy market to get flooded with therapists searching for jobs. This flood of job seekers, combined with a reduction in overall jobs, has led to significant over-saturation of the travel therapy job market.

The impact is evident in the number of open travel contracts available and the declining pay rates offered on those contracts. The recruiters and companies that we work closely with are all reporting about 10 times less travel therapy jobs currently for PTs and OTs when compared to earlier this year before the pandemic. When comparing to the travel market at this time last year, the numbers look even more grim.

The travel jobs that are available are getting many more applicants submitted than normal and are closing very quickly. In some cases jobs will get to the maximum number of applicant submissions in a matter of a couple hours. With facilities getting so many submissions for their available travel contracts, a natural consequence is reductions in the bill rates offered, meaning lower pay for travel therapists. In nominal terms, this manifests as a reduction of about $100-$200/week on average for many of the open jobs.

What Does This Mean for New Grads?

Due to a minimal number of travel therapy jobs open at any given time currently, higher competition for those few jobs, along with lower pay, we can definitely say that now certainly isn’t the best time for new grads to begin travel therapy careers.

If at all possible, our recommendation right now would be for new grads to consider finding a full time or PRN position for a few months to a year to save some money and get some experience until things improve.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to consider travel jobs as an option and be on the lookout for travel job opportunities, but we encourage you to keep your options open and consider all job opportunities available to you, including perm and PRN locally.

Actions to Take for Those Dedicated to Pursuing Travel Therapy as a New Grad Currently

If you’re set on starting out as a new grad travel therapist despite the current environment, there are a few things you can do to have the best chance of finding a contract.

  1. Be willing to accept lower pay now than during normal times.
    • We’re always advocates of being informed and understanding how travel therapy pay works prior to jumping in, in order to avoid inadvertently taking low ball offers from non-reputable companies and recruiters. However, in this situation, you should expect for pay to be lower due to the declining bill rates mentioned above. Unfortunately, even though we normally recommend avoiding any pay rates less than $1,500/wk after taxes, there are some contracts paying travel PTs in the $1,300/week range right now that are still getting tons of submissions.
  2. Work with at least a few different good companies and recruiters.
    • This is more vital than ever right now. Having a few recruiters from different companies helping you search for jobs leads to more options and a better chance of finding a travel contract that will work for you. If you need help finding reputable companies and recruiters, fill out our recruiter request form, and we’ll match you with some that should work well for you.
  3. Be more flexible on travel assignment setting and location.
    • In the past, Whitney and I have been able to find consistent contracts close to each other in the states and settings that we prefer. Currently that just isn’t possible. To have a chance of finding a travel contract in the coming weeks (possibly months) as a new grad, it is important to be lenient on location and setting as much as possible. In the future when the travel therapy market picks up again, you can go back to being more selective with regards to setting and location. And even better, by that time you will have experience under your belt and will be more competitive when applying to the setting and location of your choice.

The Future of Travel Therapy

With states beginning to open back up and elective surgeries beginning to commence again across the country, the need for therapists will undoubtedly pick back up, and with that, we anticipate the travel therapy job market will improve. In addition to patients undergoing elective surgeries, patients that have become deconditioned due to COVID will require skilled therapy to a larger degree than before in SNFs, home health, outpatient, and inpatient rehab facilities. It’s hard to say exactly how long it will be before the travel therapy job market gets back to normal completely, but in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen things starting to trend upward, which is a good sign. Once demand picks back up and travel jobs are more prevalent, increases in travel pay back to normal levels should follow.

We are optimistic that demand will increase in the coming months and travel therapy will once again be a great option for new grads, like it was for us back when we started traveling as PTs after graduation in 2015!

If you have any questions or need help getting started, feel free to contact us. We’ve helped well over 1,000 new and current travel therapists to be better informed over the past few years! Best of luck & stay safe!

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and travels with his girlfriend and fellow travel PT, Whitney. Together they mentor other current and aspiring travel therapists.

Travel Therapy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Information as of April 1, 2020Unfortunately not an April Fools joke

This is a difficult time for the entire world amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. Unfortunately, the world of travel therapy is also affected as a result of this global pandemic. This hits at an unfortunate time for PT’s, OT’s, SLP’s, PTA’s and COTA’s, because our job market has already been reduced the last 6 months or so due to recent Medicare changes (PDPM & PDGM).

Many of you who are current US travel therapists or who are considering starting travel therapy may be wondering what’s going on with travel therapy and what you should do in response. Here we will provide some information and insight on what we’ve been seeing in the travel therapy job market, as well as some recommendations on how to proceed during these tenuous times.

The Big Picture

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re undoubtedly aware of the increasing numbers of cases of the COVID-19 virus in the US, as well as the nationwide response resulting in many “shelter in place” or “stay at home” orders. This has had a big impact on our economy and overall job market, with millions of Americans applying for unemployment in the last couple of weeks. While the need for certain healthcare providers (such as ICU and ER nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, lab techs, etc) during this pandemic is soaring, other healthcare providers are dealing with layoffs and facing unemployment themselves.

Why is this? We have to consider the big picture of what a “stay at home” order does to our other healthcare settings. For example, many “non-life saving” medical offices have had to close or stop seeing patients, including primary care physicians, dentists, and even outpatient therapy offices. In addition, elective surgeries have been put on hold to help clear out hospitals, which has “downstream” effects on therapy with less post-op patients being seen in the hospitals, SNFs, and outpatient therapy departments. For those offices that are still open, there are less clients due to the public staying at home, which leads to a reduction in caseload, and reduction in staffing needs. Also, with schools closing, there is a decrease in job openings for school therapists. All of this has led to less overall job availability for both permanent and traveling PT’s, OT’s, SLP’s, PTA’s, and COTA’s.

Who’s Been Most Affected?

As alluded to above, outpatient therapy and school therapy jobs have been most affected, for both perm and travel positions. Some school positions have been saved by the ability to do teletherapy, and some outpatient positions are trying to utilize teletherapy as well where able. Overall this has meant a lot of cancelled contracts for traveling therapists in outpatient and schools, and layoffs for perm therapists in these settings. It also means we’re not seeing hardly any new job openings in those settings, which is a big hit for those therapists who primarily take jobs in these settings.

Of the therapy disciplines, PT, OT and assistants have been the most affected, with the SLP job market still staying fairly strong.

So far, SNF, home health, and hospital jobs have been the least affected. In some cases, we’ve seen that hospital-based outpatient has been spared, because the hospitals are able to keep this staff and float them to other departments where they can still assist and stay employed. However, for travelers, this can actually backfire where the hospitals are trying to keep their perm staff employed, so they cancel travelers in both the outpatient and the inpatient side to be able to use their outpatient perm staff in other departments.

Cancellation Clauses & Honoring Contracts

Unfortunately during this difficult time, we have seen that many travel therapy contracts are not being fully honored. Many facilities are terminating travelers on the spot or with less than a week’s notice. Many are not honoring their 14 or 30 day cancellation clauses, meaning they are not allowing them to work out the notice period or providing additional pay after the termination date. In addition, many facilities are not honoring minimum guaranteed hours that are written into contracts, and they are cutting therapists’ hours without providing compensation. This is putting both travel therapy staffing agencies and travelers in terrible positions financially. The travel agencies are trying to assist the travelers however they can, and in some cases are able to provide compensation to make up for the guaranteed hours or early contract cancellation. But, some of them are not able to provide any compensation due to massive lost revenue from so many cancelled contracts.

Why not? Don’t we have any protection? The reason for this is that the facilities themselves are not paying for the hours, so the staffing agency isn’t receiving money to pay the traveler, and therefore they would have to pay for this out of funds that they just don’t have. This is cause for significant frustration among travelers, but unfortunately the facilities and staffing agencies could go out of business if they have to pay out every employee when there is no money coming in from clients. This can be very difficult for travelers to swallow, and we understand the frustration. Unfortunately there is generally an “Act of God” rule written or understood in the industry, and a global pandemic does fall under this category where the contract is basically void. To understand this further, we recommend you read this article about bill rates to learn how the travel agency gets paid in order for the therapist to get paid.

Travel Therapy Job Outlook

Because of how the overall therapy job market has been hit as outlined above, we now have an over-saturation of therapists looking for jobs, including: perm therapists who’ve been laid off, travel therapists who’ve had contracts cancelled, not to mention travel therapists coming off of a normal contract looking for their next one, therapists who were planning to jump into travel therapy this Spring/Summer, and recently graduated therapists. This all leads to a problem with supply and demand. There’s a low supply of jobs as we discussed, and a high demand for those jobs due to all the therapists currently out of work and searching!

To give you some further insight about how badly the therapy job availability has been hit, here are some stats/rough estimates for total travel therapy jobs open now.

  • Currently, we are hearing from staffing companies that there are between 20-40 Travel PT jobs; 15-25 Travel OT jobs; 200-250 Travel SLP jobs; and less than 10 Travel PTA/COTA jobs open at any given time in the entire country.
  • To compare, this time last year we would’ve been seeing 300-500 open travel jobs across the country for PT’s, OT’s and SLP’s (each!) and a little lower for assistants but much higher than the single digits! This means there’s been a massive reduction in available jobs.

In regards to pay, we have seen pay rates remaining relatively stagnant, but in some cases pay rates going down for therapy jobs. This is a natural occurrence due to supply and demand in any market. Many therapists were hoping we would see “crisis” job rates, such as those we have seen for nursing and respiratory therapy. However, we unfortunately are not seeing these crisis rates for PT/OT/SLP because our disciplines are not in demand as much as nursing and respiratory therapy right now due to the nature of the virus.

Are States Waiving Licensure Requirements?

There has been a lot of talk of states putting out emergency statements that they will waive licensure requirements for “healthcare workers” who are crossing state lines to “respond to the COVID-19 crisis.” Therapists have been hoping that these rules will apply to them, in order to make it easier for therapists to quickly pounce on travel jobs as they tend to come and go very quickly, and they could be in states where the therapists don’t currently hold a license. However, at this time, it’s very unclear whether these waivers apply to PT/OT/SLP or assistants. The statements put out by the states are generally vague and don’t specify which healthcare professionals qualify, and what positions qualify as “responding to the crisis.”

We have seen at least one state, Connecticut, with a specific statement issued to include PT, but not OT or SLP, among their list of healthcare professionals who qualify like nurses, physicians, etc. We’ve also seen at least one job posting for a position in Maryland which stated that Maryland state license was not needed, however we have not seen an official statement from Maryland to state that the licensure requirement was waived.

Overall, what we are hearing from recruiters is that most jobs are still requesting active state licensure for PT/OT/SLP jobs. This may be due to the fact the state hasn’t put out a clear guideline, or also that the hospital/facility has its own specific rules and compliance guidelines.

In general, at this time it seems working without an active state license is not really an option for travel therapists. While there are some vague statements out there, in practice it seems that the job listings are asking for licenses, and even if there was an opportunity where they would consider waiving licenses, it’s more likely that there will be a candidate who is already licensed who they would choose for the job rather than the unlicensed candidate, due to the high competition for jobs right now. So the bottom line is that we would not bank on being able to work across state lines without proper licensure at this time.

Our Recommendations

So, what now? The job market is terrible, the world is ending, and we should all just give up? No – it’s not that bleak. There are options, we just need to be patient right now and do the best with what we’ve got.

These are our recommendations for travel therapists and those looking into travel therapy during this time:

  • Work with multiple recruiters: This cannot be overstated at a time like this! It’s vital that travel therapists are working with 3-4 different recruiters at different companies so they can have the most the job options available to them. To learn more about how this works, check out this article. If you’d like help getting in contact with reputable recruiters to add to your team, please contact us and we’ll help you.
  • Have your profiles ready to go: Along with working with multiple recruiters, we recommend having your profile fully set up and ready to go with your recruiters, so when a job pops up, they can present it to you right away, you can say yes, and they can submit you right away. Otherwise you will miss out on jobs because other applicants beat you to the punch. While job boards such as our hot jobs list are a great way to find out about open positions, the challenge in a market like this is that if the job is listed with another company you’re not set up with, it may take too long to get your profile ready to even have a shot at the job once you express your interest.
  • Don’t be picky: Unfortunately now is not a time to be picky about job options. In order to line up a travel therapy job, you need to be as flexible as possible on setting, location, pay, hours, reimbursements, start date, and all the other nuances that go into a contract. This is not a time to play hardball on negotiating for pay and extra incentives. If you’re presented with a job offer, you need to accept or decline right away, no waiting around a few days to weigh your options, because the facility will move on to another qualified candidate very quickly. Some of these jobs are getting 50+ submissions right now which means a lot of competition!
  • Apply for another license: It’s important to be licensed in a few states to have the most job options. For those who normally rely on applying for a job then getting a license later, there isn’t time for that right now. As we discussed above, the jobs will likely get taken by another candidate who’s already licensed. The few jobs that are open are getting a ton of submissions, so it’s unlikely that these jobs are going to wait on you to get licensed. Go ahead and start working on a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th license so you’ll have it in hand to be able to submit to other jobs in other states.
    • However do keep in mind that licensing times could take longer than usual in some cases due to decreased staff available at the licensing agency, the school for transcripts, the government department for background checks, and if there’s a test required- well the testing sites could be closed completely!
  • Advice for travel pairs: Sadly this time is even more challenging for pairs. It’s very difficult to find jobs right now, period, much less two jobs together. We feel your struggle, as we’ve traveled together as a pair for many years and know how hard it is sometimes to find two jobs together. We normally don’t recommend submitting for only one job, but in times like these, that’s all you can do unfortunately. So right now we do recommend you just go for one good position, then if you can get one, try to look for something else in the area (including travel jobs or PRN jobs). Even if you can’t find a second job, at least one of you will be working, which is better than neither of you working. If you are a friend pair, or a couple that would be willing to do so, consider splitting up locations if two different jobs present themselves in different locations, although this would mean you would have to live apart for a contract.
  • Extend your contract: If you’re currently on a travel contract, have not been cancelled, and have the opportunity to extend your contract, we would highly recommend it right now. The job market is very uncertain, and trying to line up a new contract could result in frustration and possibly cancellation. So if you are in a decent contract, we’d try to stay longer if possible until things improve.
  • Consider local/perm/PRN options: With times being uncertain, it may be better to consider more local job options. There is a big gamble right now with applying for a job on the other side of the country. There is a higher risk for cancellation, which would be made even worse if you’ve moved all the way across the country, paid for housing, etc. Consider travel jobs in your home state (or where ever you currently are) or nearby states so there would be less distance at least if you got cancelled, and you’d be closer to family/friends during tough times. If travel jobs just don’t seem viable for you right now, look into who’s hiring for perm or PRN positions in your area. There’s no shame in taking a more local job for a while and returning to travel when the job market improves.
  • Look into teletherapy options: Teletherapy is a great option for therapists and patients, allowing for social distancing while still being able to provide services. While teletherapy may not be the most readily available option or the most intuitive career move, if you have the ability to do teletherapy through an employer or look into options for learning to do it on your own, we highly encourage it.
  • Apply for unemployment: As a last resort, applying for unemployment is an option. We’ve been getting a lot of questions on this, and while we have not done it ourselves, lots of other travelers have. You should still qualify even if you’ve been working as a traveler. You can apply in the state where you’ve worked the most in the past year. It doesn’t hurt to apply and try to receive some money rather than no money while you’re unable to find work.
  • If you haven’t started traveling yet: This is not the best time to jump into travel therapy if you’re thinking about leaving a perm position. We would recommend staying put if possible until things improve. If you’re finishing school soon, it’s too soon to tell for those getting licensed in May-July. It’s possible things could improve by then. When the time comes, you can consider applying for travel positions and permanent positions and see what seems like the best move at the time. You don’t have to decide right now.

The Future of Travel Therapy

As you can see, it is definitely a very trying time for travel and permanent therapists right now. The travel therapy industry has taken a huge hit, and it’s not an easy time to find travel therapy jobs. On the bright side, we all anticipate that the job market will pick back up in the future when everything calms down from the pandemic and facilities are able to resume normal operations. There may even be an increased need for therapists for patients who have become debilitated from COVID-19 and other illnesses that have gone untreated by therapy during this time. Now we just have to wait and see how long it will take for the dust to settle, whether it’s weeks or months.

So, if you have to go on unemployment right now, or consider local job options, at least you know it doesn’t have to be permanent. Hopefully once everything picks back up, there will be a surge in the travel therapy market, and we can all go out and have all the travel therapy jobs!

Until then, hang in there everybody. It’s a tough time not only for therapists but for the whole world. We’re all in this together!

Stay safe and healthy, and reach out to us if you have questions.

 

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT

Whitney Eakin headshot

Whitney is a Doctor of Physical Therapy who has been a traveling therapist since 2015. She travels with her boyfriend and fellow DPT, Jared. Together, they mentor current and aspiring travel therapists via this website, Travel Therapy Mentor.

To Extend, or Not To Extend a Travel Therapy Contract?

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT

Should I stay or should I go now?

How do you know when to extend a contract or when to move on? There is no definitive answer to this.

My fiancée Julia and I have extended contracts anywhere from 2 weeks in order to better accommodate our travel plans, to a full thirteen weeks at one contract. In general, we have found that we are usually ready to move on at the thirteen week point whether we extended or not. In all cases of extensions, we have been persuaded to stay partially by the facility having a desperate need for PT coverage.

In the future, we will only extend if it is in our best interest, and we will always ask for an increase in pay with an extension. Thus far we have gotten up to $200 net per week bonus pay with an extension.

Know Your Preferences

An extension is always a personal decision, and you need to know yourself. Many times a facility will approach you very early in the contract for an extension, so you need to understand your own preferences.

If you are like us, you may get an itch to leave starting about 10-12 weeks in. Extending causes that itch continue for the entire extension period.

However, many travelers, such as Jared and Whitney,  find they would rather do 4-6 month contracts, or even up to 1 year so they can get comfortable with the position and location before they move on, as well as earn guaranteed money and not have to deal with the hassle of moving. If that is you, extending can be a great way to earn some more money and have a little more stability in your life.

Signs That The Facility May Want an Extension

Sometimes you can get a feel during the interview if the facility is the type to want a traveler to extend or not. You can also sometimes get a feel for whether they are likely to keep you for the duration of your contract or if there’s a possibility your contract could get cut short.

If you can find out the reason why they need a traveler in the first place, that will give you a good idea. For example, maybe it’s a rural area and they have been using travelers back to back for a year or more. In that case, there’s a good chance you could stay there longer if you wanted to. Or maybe it’s not a rural area, and they’re still using travelers back to back and can’t find a permanent employee. Maybe then you should be hunting for reasons why they can’t keep permanent staff.

On the other hand, if someone just quit and they are rapidly trying to find a permanent employee and conducting permanent interviews, there’s a chance they might cut your contract the first chance they get when someone permanent is hired. This also might not be an ideal situation for you, especially if you are traveling a long way to take the job.

It’s a good idea to feel out these things early on, as it can definitely give you a good indication of what type of situation you’re getting into as a traveler. But, don’t always fear the rotating-traveler, begging for you to extend facilities. They’re not all bad, and you could have a great experience there and want to extend.

Do you have questions about contract extensions? Send us a message and we can chat! Want to tell us about an experience you had with a contract extension? Leave a comment below!

Opportunity Cost: Passing on a Travel Job and Having Unplanned Time Off

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT

What is Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost is an important economic term that most of us rarely think about. An opportunity cost is quite simply a lost benefit from choosing one option instead of another.

Opportunity Cost and Travel Therapy

Why is this important and what does it have to do with travel therapy? We’ve seen a number of travelers post about a potential job opportunity that they were passing on due to the pay being too low for them by $100 or $200 per week. They say if the pay was higher they would take the position because everything else sounded great!

So let’s analyze the opportunity cost of passing on a position without a replacement position readily available:

  • John is a new grad traveler and receives an offer of $1500 per week that starts 10/1.  John turns down the position, stating that his minimum acceptable pay is $1650 per week because he wants to pay down his loans as fast as possible.  Good news, John finds a position paying $1650 per week that starts just 2 weeks later on 10/15, and he takes this position.
  • Sally also is traveling with the goal of paying down her loans quickly.  Sally takes the position for $1500 per week and starts 10/1.

Who makes out better financially?

  • Sally makes $1500 x 13 weeks= $19,500 net pay, 13 weeks after 10/1
  • John took 2 weeks off waiting for that bigger paycheck. 13 weeks after 13/1, John earns $1650 X 11= $18,150.

The opportunity cost for John is $19,500 – $18,150 = $1,350 in lost income, due to waiting for the higher paying position.

Conclusion

The moral of the story is that higher pay isn’t always higher pay if you have to wait to start. This is a very simplistic example, but as you can see, continually passing on “low pay” will hurt you financially in the long term if you take extra, unplanned time off.

We recommend you take the right job instead. Pay is important, but sometimes the highest paying positions can also be the least desirable positions.

If you have questions about a travel therapy position, pay packages, or need help in your travel therapy journey, please shoot us a message and we would be happy to help!

Why Choose Travel Therapy?

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT

My “Why” For Travel Therapy

Everyone’s “why” will be very personal and may be very different. My fiancée Julia and I are traveling for the freedom it provides. We enjoy not being tied down to one geographic location and not being obligated to work 50 weeks per year. There are too many things we want to do with our lives to settle down in a permanent position.

We want to travel, not for 2 weeks each year, but long enough to immerse ourselves in the culture of a new place. We would someday like to do international mission trips as well where we can use our skills and training to help others that have tougher challenges and decreased access to appropriate healthcare.

What’s Your “Why”?

You don’t have to want the same things I want, but you should know your why. Maybe it’s to travel, maybe it’s to pay student loans off, maybe it’s for financial independence. It could be that you completed 3-4 internships and have no idea what setting you want to practice in because your profession has too many awesome options (I can relate to this)! Maybe you’re burnt out in your current position and need a change of scenery.

Whatever your why is, you hopefully take it into consideration before embarking on a traveling or permanent career decision.  Your why can, and hopefully will, change as you grow as a person, but your why can always provide you with direction in your career and life.

So, what is your “why” for considering travel therapy? Shoot us a message or leave a comment below. We’d be happy to help you get started on your journey to pursuing travel therapy today.

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!

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started as a Travel Therapist

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Starting Your Travel Therapy Journey

If you are an experienced therapist, you’ve decided to take the leap from a permanent job to a travel job. If you’re a student or a new grad, you’ve determined if travel therapy is the right move for you. Now what?

READ OUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO GETTING STARTED AS A TRAVEL THERAPIST:

Step 1: Research and find a great recruiter and travel company.

  • Read reviews online and ask around.
  • Reach out to us for our recruiter recommendations!
  • “Interview” a few recruiters, ask them these questions, and find out which ones you like.
  • Find out about the basics of the companies including benefits, reimbursements, and pay packages.
  • Work with 2-3 companies at a time to give yourself the most options for the best jobs.
  • Don’t be afraid to fill out necessary paperwork for a few companies once you’ve decided you like them. This does NOT lock you in to taking a contract with that company. They need this information to be able to submit you quickly to jobs when the time comes (which you definitely want them to be able to do)!

Step 2: Make sure you understand tax homes and have yours squared away.

  • Read our post on tax homes.
  • Don’t skimp on staying within legal guidelines, should you get audited by the IRS!
  • Check out Traveltax.com for the best tax info from tax professionals.

Step 3: Consider in what areas of the country and what settings you would like to work.

  • In many cases, you’ll have a lot of options, and should narrow down your search to a specific state or region, or narrow down by what setting you’d like to work in, or both.
  • Sometimes, you may not have as many options if you’re picky on both setting AND geographical region.
  • For some disciplines during certain times (currently, COTA’s and PTA’s), you may not have as many options across the US, so you’ll have to be less picky to have the best chances of finding a job.

Step 4: Think about how you’re going to tackle housing in each travel location.

Step 5: Consider how you’re going to handle insurance/benefits.

  • Do you need the company provided benefits?
  • Will you get personal insurance through the marketplace?
  • Do you already have benefits from a spouse?

Step 6: Figure out when you can start working.

  • Have an estimated start date in mind.
  • You’ll want to start contacting travel companies/recruiters at least 8 weeks in advance to get the process started with necessary paperwork, and then they can start your job search.

Step 7: Consider getting licensed up front in a couple states.

  • When it’s time to look for jobs, most positions will be “ASAP” start dates from the time you interview. So that normally means 4 weeks or less, which means under most circumstances you’re better off to have license in hand already.
  • Most often, there’s no time to wait for licensing; you’ll lose the job to someone already licensed.
  • Some jobs won’t even accept you for an interview if you’re not licensed in the state.
  • You’re better off to risk eating the cost of an extra license or two to go ahead and have them and make it easier when you’re on the hunt for a job than to risk missing a week or more of work from a delayed license. Your travel company should reimburse you for the cost of your license when you take a contract in that state. Then, you can try to use the other license(s) at a later time.

Step 8: Let your recruiter know about your preferences and start date, and have them start the search for your travel job!

  • Once you’ve done all the aforementioned preparations, it’s time to have them be on the hunt for the right job for you!
  • Keep in mind, many companies may have the same jobs. So it’s best to have them tell you about the potential job and ask you before they submit your profile for consideration. It’s best not to let more than one company submit you for the same job.
  • Weigh your options if you’re presented with a bunch of jobs, because once you’re submitted for a job, things move quickly. If they proceed with an interview, then they’ll want a decision within usually 24-48 hours. This means that you generally won’t have time to tell them to wait while you consider a different job. Choose wisely!

Step 9: Once your recruiter(s) have presented you with some good potential job options:

  • Do some research about the facility and the area.
  • Have a phone interview with the facility.
  • Get an idea of whether you’ll be able to find housing in the area.
  • If they offer you a job, look at the contract offered and consider the pay package, cancellation policy, start and end dates, reimbursements specified, and time off requests.
    • You’re welcome to contact us and we’ll review potential pay packages for you and look for red flags for free!
  • Decide whether to accept the job!

Step 10: Begin your travel therapy journey!

  • Once you have a signed contract, it’s time to start making plans to pack up, move to your assignment location, set up housing, and get ready to start your travel job!

Still have more questions about the process to becoming a traveling therapist? Send us a message and we’d be happy to help you!