Do Travel Therapists Work Overtime and Is It Worth It?

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

“Travel Therapists Don’t Work Overtime”

When Whitney and I started traveling, we were told by most recruiters and other travel therapists that overtime in the travel therapy world is rare. We heard that facilities don’t want to pay extra to have a traveler working overtime, and they won’t allow them to get overtime. In general, that does seem to be the case for the majority of travelers, but it has definitely not been the case for me. In fact, in almost all of my contracts I’ve worked some overtime and in a couple of them I worked A LOT of overtime. I’m not exactly sure why this has been the case for me, but it is probably the combination of two factors:

  1. I was very eager to work all that I possibly could in order to save as much as possible for my first few years as a traveler. I went out of my way to offer to see extra patients or stay late at each of my contracts if needed. I also always asked about the potential for overtime in my phone interview with the facility, and in some cases their answer would sway my decision of which facility to choose if there was more than one that I liked.
  2. We worked primarily in small rural areas where they didn’t have PRN help. If it got busy, they were fine with me working extra hours in order to make sure all of the patients were seen. Whereas most clinics in more populated areas have PRN therapists they can call for help when things get busy, many rural facilities do not, so that means overtime for the regular staff, even if that happens to be a traveler.

It’s true that most facilities do everything possible to avoid having travelers work overtime. The big reason for that, of course, is money. Bill rates for travelers can be huge, and often the facility is obligated to pay 1.5x the bill rate for any hours worked over 40. That could mean that a facility is paying $100/hour or more for each hour of overtime that we work in some cases! Meanwhile, 1.5x the hourly rate for a permanent employee is likely in the $50-$60/hour range, which is much more palatable for them. Even though this is the case, I’ve found that often the permanent staff isn’t willing to work overtime, so with no PRN help and me being eager to work all the hours I can, they just approve it. Or, in some cases, I’ve been the only PT on staff, with no permanent PTs or PRN PTs. So in that case, if patients need to be seen outside of 40 hours of work, then I’m the only option and thus get asked to work overtime.

My Experience

In my first two years as a new grad travel therapist, I worked a total of over 400 hours of overtime! That’s an average of about 4 hours per week, but that wasn’t distributed evenly. Most weeks I worked only 40 hours (even less in some cases), but then other weeks I worked as many as 65 hours when a facility was really desperate to have patients seen. That meant some really long weeks sometimes, but I was very happy with the extra money!

Facilities/managers will often approve a couple of hours of overtime per week for a traveler, but there are rare cases where they will approve as much overtime as is needed. When those times came around, I took advantage!

Is Working Overtime Worth it as a Travel Therapist?

Whether or not it’s worth it to work overtime as a travel therapist depends on a couple of factors:

  1. How much you’re earning for each hour of overtime that you work based on your contract.
  2. How eager you are to make extra money.

A mistake that I made early on as a travel therapist was not negotiating a higher overtime rate, or even realizing that it was negotiable. As I mentioned above, the travel company can often make $100/hour or more when a traveler works overtime, because the facility pays out 1.5x the full bill rate, but that doesn’t mean that the extra money goes to the traveler automatically. In fact, in most cases the traveler will make only 1.5x their taxable pay rate, which often means overtime pay in the $30-$35/hour range. This means the amount they’re making for overtime hours is actually less than the amount they make during normal hours. How does that work exactly? Because during normal hours, we get paid our hourly taxable pay + our stipend pay. Whereas, if we’re only making 1.5x the hourly taxable rate with no additional stipends for the overtime hours, the overtime pay is actually less than the normal pay. In this case, the extra money is made mostly by the travel company, not the traveler, because the facility is still paying the travel company 1.5x the full bill rate.

This happened to me in the beginning, but I quickly wised up and you should too if you’re planning to work overtime. I recommend that you negotiate at least 2x (ideally 3x or more) your normal taxable pay for working overtime hours. Keep in mind that stipends can’t be increased when working overtime, because there is a max amount of stipends you’re legally allowed to earn each week regardless of working over 40 hours, but a multiple of the hourly rate should be possible. Another option that some companies do instead of writing in a certain hourly rate for the overtime hours is they’ll arrange for you to receive an additional bonus at the end of the contract for any overtime hours worked, which equals out to the extra money you should be receiving on an hourly basis for each hour worked. This has been the case with one company we’ve worked with. However, if a company tells me overtime rates are not negotiable period, then that’s a deal breaker for me in terms of working with that travel company.

Many travel therapists have no desire to work overtime. Since we already make a lot more money than at permanent positions in most cases, these travelers don’t see the need to work extra hours. This is especially the case in desirable areas where working longer hours takes away from time that could be spent exploring! This is completely understandable, and if you value your free time more than you value the extra money that you’d make while working overtime, then feel free to decline the hours. A facility can’t require that you work hours that aren’t in your contract, so you’re in the drivers seat in this situation.

Conclusion

If you look for opportunities to work overtime as a travel therapist, you can usually get some extra hours depending on the facility and location. Whether or not the extra hours are worth it depends on you and your priorities.

If there is at all any potential for you to work overtime based on what you hear during the phone interview, make sure to negotiate a higher rate for those hours than the standard 1.5x hourly taxable rate. Don’t get taken advantage of by the travel company earning a lot of extra money for your overtime hours like I did when starting out! If the travel company/recruiter that you’re working with isn’t willing to work with you to find a fair amount for your overtime work, then there are plenty of other fish in the sea!

If you’d like some recommendations for recruiters/companies that we’ve had success working with, then reach out to us here and tell us about your main priorities as a travel therapist, and we’ll match you with a good fit. If you have any other questions about travel therapy or overtime pay, contact us!

 

Intangible Benefits to Consider When Choosing a Travel Company

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

The biggest concerns for most therapists when considering starting out as travelers include pay and benefits. Whitney and I were no exception here. I wanted to make as much as I possibly could while also getting decent health, dental, and vision insurance.

However, over the past several years as travel therapists, we’ve learned that there are other important factors to consider when deciding between travel companies which we call the “intangible benefits” of the companies. The reason these things are intangible is because they don’t show up directly on your weekly paycheck or in your health insurance package, but they can make a big difference in some cases.

Day One Insurance

Depending on your situation, not having to wait 14-30 days before your health insurance benefits take effect can be really important. For Whitney and I, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker when working with a particular company since we rarely use our health insurance anyway, but it is important to consider. We prefer to work with companies that offer health insurance benefits starting on the very first day of the contract and encourage you to ask this question when interviewing potential recruiters as well.

401k Contributions and 401k Matching

I’m a big proponent of contributing to tax deferred retirement accounts. Not only does contributing to these accounts lower your income taxes, but also your income based student loan payment as well, so working with a company that doesn’t offer a 401k is not something that I’d do very often except in some sort of extenuating circumstance. A 401k match is also a perk that isn’t always offered and may have limited usefulness to travelers in some cases, but should be considered when deciding which travel company to work with.

CEU Reimbursements

Not all companies will offer CEU reimbursement, instead putting that extra money directly into your weekly pay. Depending on your weekly pay and your other reimbursements for a contract, this may or may not be a big deal to you. For us, if we are offered jobs by two different companies with similar pay but one offers a certain amount of CEU reimbursement per contract, that can sway us toward that company. Others may offer access to MedBridge or other online CEUs while on contract with them, at no additional cost to you, which can be a nice perk.

Free Gifts and Trips

Some travel companies will reward their therapists with free gifts such as: shirts, cups, mugs, bags, food, or even all-inclusive trips! These things are always exciting and can be a huge benefit in some cases. Usually we’d prefer to just make more money each week instead of that money going toward gifts and trips, but if two companies offer similar pay, but one offers a free trip each year in addition to the pay, then that company would be hard to pass up! Depending on the traveler’s personality, even small surprise gifts can turn a bad week into a good one, which can make a big impact over the long run.

40 Hour Guarantee

40 hour guarantees (sometimes also called guaranteed work weeks “GWW”) have been huge for me and Whitney! In fact, in almost 4 years of traveling, we’ve never accepted a contract that didn’t have a 40 hour guarantee included. If we take contracts, we want to be sure that we will always be getting full pay even if the facility suddenly starts having fewer patients for some reason and tries to decrease our hours. The security of knowing we’ll be getting paid our full amount no matter what is vital for us.

Most companies offer 40 hour guarantees on some or most contracts, but this varies from company to company. Also, as we’ve found out over the years, all 40 hour guarantees are not created equal. Some companies will only pay you for the full 40 hours if the census is low at the facility, but not if there’s a holiday or inclement weather that causes the facility to be closed. In most situations, we go with companies that pay the full 40 hours no matter what, with all other things being equal. Getting paid even on days when the facility is closed has meant I’ve made thousands of extra dollars over the course of my traveling career. This is one of the biggest intangible benefits for me.

Number of Available Jobs

I’ve talked in the past about smaller companies being able to pay higher weekly amounts with a given bill rate due to lower overhead, but this doesn’t always mean that smaller companies are the optimal choice. Bigger companies often have more available jobs, including exclusive contracts, which means more options for the traveler and potentially less down time between contracts. An extra $100/week can easily be offset by a few weeks of unintended time off due to not finding a contract that fits the traveler well, which could sometimes happen with smaller companies with less job options.

Job availability is even more important when traveling as a pair like Whitney and I, or Travis and his wife, Julia. Having one person in the pair accept a job while hoping to find something for the other person before the job starts can lead to a lot of unpaid time off. Whitney and I have had very good luck with finding two jobs that started exactly when we needed them to over the years (except a couple cases), and we attribute most of that to working with several different companies (most of them bigger) that have the most job options.

Conclusion

Having a high weekly pay rate is certainly important as a travel therapist and the most important thing to me, but it’s important not to forget about the intangible benefits that can directly or indirectly lead to more or less money in your pocket over the course of your traveling career. Make sure that you’re informed and consider all of the variables when deciding which travel companies to work with and which travel assignments to take to ensure that your travel career is a success!

If you would like some suggestions for companies/recruiters that we’ve found to have the best offerings in terms of pay and intangible benefits over the years, then reach out to us here! If you have any questions about travel therapy or these intangible benefits then feel free to contact us!

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!

 

Travel Therapy: Pros and Cons of Home Health

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT

As travel therapists, there are a lot of opportunities to work in home health across the nation. And, the pay is usually pretty high which makes it an attractive option. It might be even more attractive for someone who is getting started as a new grad and looking at a large amount of debt to pay off. Recruiters often offer to submit new grad therapists to home health positions; but, as with everything, there are some positive and negatives to consider with home health therapy that should be taken into account before being submitted.

Here’s my take on working in home health after doing my first two travel physical therapy contracts in the setting. I will expand further on each bullet point below to give you a more comprehensive view of my thoughts, but here is an overview of the basics:

PROS:

  1. Even as a new grad, you have will the opportunity to dramatically improve the quality of care that patients are receiving in this setting.
  2. You can create closer relationships with patients than in most settings, and potentially make a larger impact on their personal lives than in other settings.
  3. You can make your own schedule, or at least have a significant amount of flexibility in your schedule.
  4. The pay is much higher than other areas of practice, although of course pay also depends on location.

CONS:

  1. On the flip side of #1 from the “pro” list, the con in this situation is that your colleagues may not be the best and your patients may not be receiving the best care across the board.
  2. There may be the potential for less growth as a clinician in this setting.
  3. Sometimes there are higher productivity requirements.
  4. There is more time spent in front of a computer than in other areas, and way more time being sedentary. The paperwork is much more intense than any other setting where I have worked.

 

Let’s take a closer look at the positive aspects of working in home health:

1. As a clinician, and even as a new grad, you can dramatically improve the quality of care that patients are receiving: This is in some ways a pro and a con.  The pro is obvious: you can literally be a rock-star clinician in home health on day one. I was told on numerous occasions, by numerous people, that I was the best home health provider that has ever come to see the patient. That’s awesome, and very rewarding for you as a clinician, but also incredibly sad. Check out the cons list below to see the flip side of this.

 

2. Potential for increased quality of relationships: I have patients/caregivers that still contact me from across the country to tell me how much they appreciate the work I did for them. There is a great potential to make a larger impact in your patients’ lives than in other settings. There is nothing in healthcare that can prepare you to see how a patient moves in his/her home environment. Sometimes you must get creative to make their homes work for them. I routinely helped patients redesign their living rooms to make them safer, and I also removed two bathroom doors because the patients’ assistive device would not fit through the door and the patients could not safely access the commode without a device.

 

3. More flexibility in your schedule: Because you can design how your day looks with visiting each patient, it allows things like making stops to the post office or other businesses that have daytime only hours much easier to manage. It also makes it easier to design a schedule that works for you as an individual, within reason.

 

4. Higher pay than other settings: This depends on the location, but home health is almost always one of the highest paying settings. This is a huge pro for choosing to work in this setting. More money, more options in life.

 

Let’s take a closer look at the negative aspects of working in home health:

1. Other clinicians in this setting may be sub-par: As I mentioned above, sometimes you can really stand out in home health as an amazing clinician, because unfortunately sometimes the patients are receiving sub-optimal care from other clinicians. Sometimes, depending on the team you are working with, you may have to perform tasks or communication for the patient that is more appropriate for another discipline, such as nursing, social work, or another therapist, or else the patient will not get the care they deserve. For example, at one point I worked with an OT who would perform an evaluation, make goals, and on the next visit perform a discharge stating all goals were met, when the patient had not received or been trained on half of the recommended equipment. This happened with several patients. Unfortunately, when providers are paid for quantity, as is the case with most home health companies (presumably because that is how insurance pays the company), quality of care will decrease from most providers. This caused me a lot of stress because I care about my patients, and I get incredibly frustrated when I see sub-par care.

Here’s a quote that I feel is appropriate to my experience in this situation: “People that aren’t used to quality always chase quantity.”- unknown

 

2. Potential for less growth as a clinician: When it comes to growth as a clinician, I believe you grow by seeing and interacting with other therapists as well as performing personal research, going to conferences, and earning CEUs. In home health, although you often work with a team, you are by yourself almost all the time. I truly feel that as a physical therapist, I did not grow nearly as much in this setting as in other settings where I have worked.

 

3. High productivity standards are standard: This has obvious downsides. I have only taken hourly positions in home health, but the company will still try to enforce productivity standards on you. This is the toughest thing, especially with the cons listed about your potential coworkers and why you can be a “rock-star” as a new grad, which requires extra work from you if you want you to provide the best care. This combined with last con on the list (see below) are the reasons that, unfortunately, I probably won’t be doing home health anymore.

 

4. Lastly, the paperwork is brutal! People have tried to tell me that it is no worse than other settings, but I have worked in just about every setting between clinicals and paid positions, and it is by far the worst in my opinion. Every day I would spend half my day documenting, and that was with doing as much as possible in the home with the patient.  Combine documentation time with drive time, and you have landed a sedentary profession. I chose a career with physical in the title. I don’t want to sit, and I hate computers!

Conclusion

Overall, I think home health can be a great place for the right person. If you’re very organized and don’t mind increased paperwork, you can make a huge impact in this setting right away and really feel you’ve provided a lot of value to your patients. But, there are definitely some cons to consider, and you want to make sure to ask all the right questions before going into a contract in home health.

I hope this helps you! Please feel free to reach out with any questions about home health here. I will happily look at your contract, set up a phone call to chat about home health, or provide any other assistance I can.

Stay tuned for a future post about specific questions I recommend asking during a home health interview!

Paying $0 in Federal Taxes and $0 in Student Loans Payments as a Travel Therapist

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Managing student loans as a new grad therapist, or even as a seasoned clinician, is one of the most common concerns that I’ve heard over the last few years. In addition, paying down student loans is also the most common reason that I’ve encountered for why new travelers choose to take travel contracts. Some of my most popular articles of all time on FifthWheelPT have to do with how I’ve chosen to manage my student loans, and this was also the topic of a recent post on this site, Travel Therapy: Paying Off Student Debt… or Not?

Today I want to talk about how it’s possible to pay $0 in federal taxes while also having a $0/month student loan payment while on an income driven repayment plan as a travel therapist. I will ignore state taxes, since this will differ for each individual based on the state in which they work and the state in which they have their tax home. I will also ignore FICA taxes since they are owed every dollar of income earned regardless of income level.

Some of the terminology and ideas in this post may get complex, so if you’re confused, check out the post linked above on Student Loans, as well as some of the links contained in that post for more background info.

Before I start, I do want to say that this is not meant to be personal advice for your individual situation, as I am not a financial advisor or accountant and have no formal training on these topics. This is information that I’ve learned from reading and researching over the past few years and implemented in my own situation, but everyone’s situation is different and tax laws change regularly. 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 and entertainment purposes only!

Alright, now with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at how I would plan to keep my federal taxes and student loan payments both at $0 for the foreseeable future as a full time travel therapist!

Example Situation Information

Let’s say that I’m a 26 year old new grad traveler, single tax filer, without any kids or dependents. I’m a DPT who’s home state and tax home is in Virginia. My primary goal as a travel therapist is to earn and save as much money as possible in order to increase my net worth as quickly as possible, to get to a point where I can transition into either part time work in a single location or taking fewer travel contracts each year to have more free time for family, other hobbies, or leisure travel. To do this, I invest heavily in tax deferred retirement accounts to decrease my tax burden and my student loan payment, which both allow me to save even more for the future. I have student loans of $100,000 with an average interest rate of 6%. After reading more about the various income driven repayment plans, I’ve decided that REPAYE will make the most sense for me financially, and that I plan to eventually qualify for student loan forgiveness. I also understand that half of my accumulated interest is subsidized each month while on the REPAYE plan, so the lower my monthly payment (ideally $0), the lower my effective interest rate will be!

Income, Taxes, and Student Loan Payment

As a traveler, I work about 48 weeks per year while spending a month at home each year as a vacation and to spend time with family and friends. My taxable pay on contract is $21/hour, with tax free stipends received for lodging, meals, and incidentals while on assignment traveling. In this situation, assuming I work 40 hours each week, my yearly taxable pay would equal $40,320. (21 x 40 x 48 = 40,320) The 40 hours a week is a safe assumption since I always make sure to have a 40 hour guarantee in my travel contracts (as we recommend that other travelers do)!

If I were to not try to optimize this situation at all, I would have a federal tax bill of approximately $3,208 for the tax year of 2018. I would also have a monthly student loan payment of $184, which is equal to $2,208 for the year. That’s definitely not bad but I want to do better. I’d rather keep that $5,416 in my own retirement accounts to grow and improve my net worth! Below are pictures of both the taxes and the student loan payment for this scenario. The student loan table was generated using the federal student loan website’s repayment estimator and the tax chart was generated using SmartAsset.com.

student loan repayment initial.png

income taxes initial.png

Optimized Scenario

The key to paying less in taxes and having a lower monthly income driven student loan payments lies in reducing your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). One of the easiest ways to do this is to contribute to tax deferred accounts such as a traditional 401k, a traditional IRA, or a Health Savings Account (HSA). These accounts are very advantageous because not only do they reduce your tax liability, they also benefit you in the future through the money growing in the accounts over time (provided the money is invested wisely). For my purposes, I want my AGI to be low enough that I don’t owe anything in federal taxes and I have a student loan payment of $0. However, the two numbers to achieve these goals are unlikely to be the same, so this takes some research on my part.

In 2018, the standard deduction is $12,000, which means that any income up to that amount is taxed at 0%. but you can actually go higher than this amount before owing any money in federal taxes. In my situation in this optimized scenario, by contributing to retirement accounts, I also qualify for the saver’s credit. This means that as long as I contribute at least $2,000 to a retirement account and have an AGI below $19,250. I get a $1,000 tax credit that will completely wipe out any federal taxes owed at that income level. As far as federal taxes for a single traveler without kids who contributes at least $2,000 to retirement accounts are concerned, $19,250 is the sweet spot to owe nothing. This is assuming that no other deductions or credits are available to be claimed, which in the scenario above would be true.

To have a student loan payment of $0, $19,250 is a little too high and will still lead to me having a $10/month payment. That definitely isn’t bad at all, but I can do better while only contributing a little more to the tax deferred accounts mentioned above. After playing around with the repayment estimator, I find that to have a $0 student loan payment on the REPAYE plan, the highest AGI that I can have is $18,809.

student loan repayment $0

This means that if I’m able to reduce my AGI from $40,320 down to exactly $18,809, I will achieve my goal of paying $0 in federal income taxes while also having a $0 student loan payment!

Implementation

Reducing your AGI by almost $22,000 may sound difficult, or even crazy. For most people who make only $40,000/year, that would probably be the case. However, travelers are different.

Since we receive tax free stipends which usually cover most, if not all, of our living expenses, living on a taxable income of $18,809/year isn’t nearly as hard. In fact, my girlfriend Whitney and I have each lived on much less than this each year since we began traveling, and we have met and mentored dozens if not hundreds of others that do as well. If you live an expensive lifestyle in a high cost of living area, then this might not be possible for you. But if your primary goal is to keep as much of your money as possible, while saving and investing for the future by living a modest lifestyle to achieve financial independence as quickly as possible, then this is 100% doable!

Implementing this strategy is fairly straight forward. Utilizing the tax deferred accounts mentioned above, I would need to contribute $21,511 to reach the $18,809 AGI amount talked about above. Here’s the course of action that I would take:

Since an HSA is an extremely valuable account to save for future medical expenses, or even to use as an extra retirement account, that is the first account that I would want to contribute to. I choose to utilize a high deductible health insurance plan through my travel company specifically to have access to this amazing account! The contribution limit for a HSA for a single individual is $3,450 for 2018. So I would contribute the full $3,450. ($21,511 – $3,450 = $18,061 still to contribute).

The next $5,500 (the contribution limit for IRAs in 2018) would go into a traditional IRA account. I prefer maxing out an IRA before a 401k due to the increased number of investment options available in the IRA compared to a 401k. Having more options for where to put the money will ultimately mean lower fees paid and more money in retirement. ($18,061 – $5,500 = $12,561 still to contribute).

At this point, I would have $12,561 left that I would put into the 401k plan offered by my travel company. I refuse to work with any travel company that doesn’t offer a 401k because of how valuable I find being able to contribute to these tax deferred accounts to be. A 401k has the largest limit of the accounts talked about above at $18,500 for 2018. I wouldn’t even need to max out the 401k completely since contributing just the $12,561 would get me to my goal, but if my income happened to be higher for some reason (possibly working overtime on a contract, or having other sources of income) then there would still be some wiggle room to contribute more and still achieve the magic AGI amount of $18,809.

Conclusion

As a traveler, it’s possible to have both a $0 federal tax bill and simultaneously have a $0 income driven student loan payment. Subsequently, this will allow the traveler to utilize the money saved to invest for the future and possibly achieve financial independence more quickly.

The key to achieving this is the traveler reducing his/her AGI by contributing to tax deferred accounts (401, traditional IRA, HSA). The magic AGI needed in the scenario above to reach this goal is $18,809, with anything below that amount being unnecessary. In the scenario above, using this strategy and putting the $21,511 needed into the tax deferred accounts would save the individual $5,416 between federal taxes and student loan payments, which is a 25% savings on the amount put into the accounts in the year contributed! Instead of that money being paid to the federal government and the student loan servicer, it would be invested and subsequently compounding tax-deferred over the years.

Being able to do this is relatively unique to travelers, since many of our expenses are reimbursed tax free while traveling, making living on the much lower AGI completely feasible; whereas, someone without the tax free stipends may struggle. Whitney, Travis, and I here at Travel Therapy Mentor have all taken advantage of tax deferred accounts to reduce our tax burdens while traveling, which we believe is a smart way to not only save money on taxes but also to set yourself up for a financially comfortable future!

Thanks for reading and making it through all of that! Do you take advantage of tax deferred accounts to reduce your income taxes and student loan payment while traveling? Let us know in the comments below! Reach out to us with any questions or for clarification on anything mentioned above. If you’re getting started with travel therapy and you need help finding a good recruiter/travel company, then send us a message to get our recommendations!

How Much Money Do Travel Therapists Make? The Comprehensive Guide to Travel Therapy Pay

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Often the reason that people choose to pursue a career as a travel therapist, or even just decide to work a few travel therapy contracts, is to make more money. For people coming out of school with massive student loan debt, finding a way to deal with that debt is a primary concern, and travel therapy is a great way to make more money especially when starting out as a new grad. This leads to the most common question people have when first researching the pros and cons of travel therapy: How much money do travel therapists make?

Understanding Pay Differences for Travelers

Travel therapist pay is a little different from that of permanent full time positions, and therefore it commonly leads to some confusion for those first looking into pay differences between travel and permanent positions. Travel therapists’ compensation is made up of a combination of taxable pay and untaxed money (stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals) assuming that you meet the requirements for receiving the untaxed stipends. Since part of the money is untaxed, this leads to significantly higher net pay for a travel therapist. This is best illustrated through examples of each scenario.

Permanent Job Pay

First, let’s break down what a traditional pay package would look like at a permanent physical therapist job. This scenario would be comparable for an OT or SLP job as well. For PTA and COTA, the values would be lower, but the principle is the same.

Many new grads PTs accept a job with hourly pay in the $30-$35/hour range, but of course this can vary depending on the setting and the area of the country as well as your negotiating skills. I’ve talked to physical therapists that have taken a permanent job as a new grad making as low as $20/hour and others that have negotiated $40/hour, so the true range is massive, but around $30-$35 seems to be the average. We’ll take the top of that average range and find the gross yearly pay for someone working a permanent full time job making $35/hour:

  • $35/hour X 40 hours per week X 52 weeks per year = $72,800 annual salary

Gross pay is pretty straight forward and simple to understand, but determining how much of that gross pay you actually get to keep (i.e. net pay) is harder to understand and often overlooked when therapists talk about their hourly compensation or salary. Let’s look at how much of that money is yours after Uncle Sam takes his cut. The total percentage will depend on where you live, but on average across the country, a person making $75k is going to have about 25% taken out for taxes.  Click here for more information on tax rates in major cities across the country.  Here’s a look at the permanent physical therapist’s net pay after taxes based on the average 25% tax rate:

  • $72,800 X .75= $54,600 annual salary
  • $54,600/52= $1,050/week (if divided out into weekly pay in order to better compare to travel jobs )

This is an approximate bring home pay per week based on a $35 per hour job working 40 hours per week.  If you have offers for higher salary positions than that, feel free to use the calculations above to estimate your pay.  Note that all 401k (traditional), HSA contributions as well as all medical, dental, life, disability costs will come out of the gross salary.

For a more specific example we’ll use Virginia’s state tax rate. Not only is this where Whitney and I live and maintain our tax home, but it’s also near the middle of the range as far as state income taxes go, which makes it closer to the average for everyone. Pay Check City has a great tool to use for your specific scenario and is the site I’ll use to calculate the take home pay below.

paycheckcity example.png

$1,024/week would be the weekly take home pay for a permanent physical therapist in the above scenario who lives in Virginia, which is pretty close to the $1,050/week using the 25% rule of thumb above. For quick calculations, multiplying your salary or hourly rate by .75 is a good way to get an estimate of how much of your gross pay you actually keep.

Travel Job Pay

Now let’s take a look at how travel therapist pay differs. Travel pay consists of a few different parts:

  1. Hourly Rate (taxable)
  2. Housing allowance (not taxed)
  3. Meal and incidental allowance (not taxed)

Travel pay will generally be presented in a total gross or net weekly amount. If a gross weekly pay number is presented, then that would include the hourly taxable rate x 40 hours, then adding in the housing, meals, and incidentals stipends. If the net pay number is given, then that is usually calculated using the 25% tax rule of thumb above, which as we saw with the specific example isn’t always accurate, but it’s a good estimate of what the traveler’s tax rate might be. This would be gross pay x .75 then adding in the housing, meals, and incidentals stipends. If you know that your tax rate is different, for example if you have a family, then when a recruiter presents you with a gross and/or net weekly pay number, you need to be sure to run the numbers based on your tax rate.

Here are examples of two potential travel PT pay packages that Travis recently received to further help illustrate how travel therapist pay actually works:

Position 1:

  • Hourly rate: $20/hour (taxed)
  • Housing allowance: $630/week (not taxed)
  • Meals and Incidentals allowance: $230/week (not taxed)

Total take home pay (net pay using 25% rule of thumb above for the hourly wage) per week before deductions for benefits: $1,460 per week

Position 2:

  • Hourly rate: $20/hour (taxed)
  • Housing allowance: $730/week (not taxed)
  • Meals and Incidentals allowance: $330/week (not taxed)

Total take home pay (net pay using 25% rule of thumb above for the hourly wage) per week before deductions for benefits: $1,660 per week

How are Hourly Rates and Stipend Amounts Determined?

You may be looking at the travel pay package examples above and thinking, “If the stipends aren’t taxed, then why not make them as high as possible with a lower hourly wage to maximize net pay?” That’s a great question and something that I wondered when first starting out, which led to me doing a lot of research on the topic. There are a couple of reasons why this is illegal based on IRS tax laws.

The taxable hourly rate should be a reasonable amount for the job position in order to avoid “wage recharacterization.” To read the IRS definition of wage recharacterization, check out this link, but basically it means avoiding taxes by changing compensation from a taxable hourly wage to a nontaxed stipend. There is debate about what a reasonable wage is for various therapist positions, and it’s always best to consult a tax expert if you’re in doubt, but us here at Travel Therapy Mentor (all of whom are travel physical therapists) choose to keep our taxable wages at $20/hour or above to be safe and not take any risks as far as wage recharacterization is concerned for a physical therapist. This number may be different based on your profession and comfort level with the IRS law interpretation.

The other reason it isn’t possible to have massive stipends and a very low taxable wage is due to the GSA guidelines. The GSA determines the maximum allowable stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals in different areas throughout the country, and it applies to anyone traveling for work, including travel therapists. These numbers vary drastically depending on the area of the country you’ll be working in due to variance in the cost of living in each location. Keep in mind that these are the maximum amounts and not necessarily how much you will receive in stipends for that area. Depending on how much the facility that you’ll be working at as a traveler is able to pay for the position, you may receive significantly less than the maximum amounts. We always consult the GSA website before accepting a job offer to make sure that the stipends we will be receiving are not above the maximum amounts for that particular area.

These guidelines exist to keep people honest and not allow people to take advantage of the tax code, which is a good thing even though it’s a bummer that we can’t increase our pay more by paying even less in taxes as travel therapists. This leads to the next topic: what offers can you expect to receive as far as pay is concerned as a travel therapist?

Average Pay for Travel Therapists

Just as with permanent positions, travel pay can vary significantly depending on setting and location. I’ve talked to other physical therapists that make as low as $1,200/week take home pay and others that make as much as $2,200/week take home. That’s quite the range! And again, this will vary based on your specialty (PT, OT, SLP, PTA, COTA).

In general, the highest paying contracts are seen with home health and lowest paying are skilled nursing facilities, in our experience. Also in general, jobs on the west coast pay more than the east coast, and jobs in rural areas pay more than cities and urban areas. These observations were a surprise to us when starting out, since this is often different than the factors affecting pay in permanent positions. Taking the above into account, it’s easy to see why someone working a home health job in a rural location in California would make a lot more than someone working a skilled nursing job in Richmond, VA. Another factor that affects pay significantly is how desperate the facility is to fill the position quickly. Whitney and I once found contracts on the east coast at a wonderful outpatient facility in a great location that paid us very well because they needed the positions filled very quickly and we were ready to go!

With the above factors in mind, an average pay range for a traveling physical therapist is between $1,600-$1,800/week after taxes in our experience based on the US as a whole and all settings considered. Whitney and I have personally averaged around $1,650/week after taxes over the past three years while taking contracts exclusively on the east coast and almost always in outpatient facilities. The range has been between $1,500/week to $1,900/week.

We don’t recommend any traveling PT’s, OT’s and SLP’s, even new grads, take pay packages less than $1,500/week after taxes in any area. Some companies and recruiters will do their best to take advantage of new travelers, new grads especially, by offering them very low pay, knowing that they don’t really have a baseline of what pay should be yet as a traveler. This is why having a mentor in your corner as a new traveler is vital to keep from getting taken advantage of when starting out! Reach out to us with questions and for recruiter/company recommendations and we will be happy to help you!

How to Accurately Compare Pay for Travel Jobs to Permanent Positions

When comparing pay from a travel job to a permanent job, I often find that people get confused by the weekly take home amounts quoted for travel contracts. An individual that has never taken a travel contract will see $1,650/week take home, multiply that by 52 (weeks in a year) and then compare that to their permanent job gross salary and determine that travel isn’t worth it.

As we figured out above, that is no where near an accurate comparison. You have to either convert the gross permanent pay into a weekly take home amount (using the 25% rule of thumb above or the PayCheckCity site) as we did above, or convert the weekly take home pay of a travel therapist into an equivalent amount if it was a permanent position. The second is a more difficult calculation with no easy rule of thumb since tax rates increase significantly as pay gets higher, but luckily PayCheckCity makes it much easier using their “Gross Up” calculator. Let’s see what gross pay you’d have to make at a permanent job to equal the $1,650/week after taxes that Whitney and I have averaged while traveling.

Paycheckcity example2

We would have to make a staggering gross pay of $2,390/week at a permanent job to bring home the same $1,650/week take home pay that we have while traveling! That’s the equivalent of $60/hour or a salary of well over $120,000/year at a permanent job! When expressed in these terms, it’s easy to see how much more lucrative travel therapy is over a permanent job and how I was able to save over $100,000 in 1.5 years as a new grad travel therapist.

Based on our experiences and the hundreds of others travel therapists that we have talked to and mentored, it’s not unrealistic for a new grad travel therapist to make 1.5-2 times as much as they would if they took a full time permanent job right out of school.

The Bottom Line on Perm vs. Travel Jobs

It is important to remember that despite the significantly higher pay, there are some trade offs to traveling, which Whitney did a great job of outlining in her pros and cons article mentioned above. The big downsides to remember in terms of pay are that travel therapists don’t get paid time off for vacations like permanent therapists do, and it can be difficult to move from place to place in only a weekend, meaning that sometimes unwanted time off between contracts is inevitable. These factors eat into the pay of travelers, but even so, it is still significantly higher with all things considered.

I hope this helps clarify the differences in pay for permanent vs travel jobs. Please contact us or ask questions in the comments below if we can help you further understand pay, or if you have suggestions for travel topics for us to cover in the future.

What has your experience been as far as pay for permanent jobs or travel jobs? Do the numbers in the article match what you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments!