It’s no secret that travel therapy pay packages can be confusing, especially for new and prospective travelers.
I’ve often gotten messages and comments from therapists not familiar with travel therapy pay saying that there’s no point in traveling when you can make just as much money at a permanent job. This is almost always just a misunderstanding in how the compensation is quoted, which is understandable because it is confusing. They look at a take home pay number for a travel job, and compare that to the gross pay they’re making at permanent job, and assume those two numbers are talking about the same thing, but this is incorrect. Even comparing pay between two travelers can be difficult due to all of the variables involved.
Travel Therapy Pay is Unique
While almost everyone in the regular working world discusses pay uses either an hourly pay number, or a gross yearly salary, those numbers don’t really make sense to use when talking about travel therapy jobs.
There are too many variables to determine a “typical travel therapy salary” on an annual basis. The biggest variable is how many weeks the therapist works each year, since flexibility to take long periods of time off and even semi-retire is a huge perk of travel therapy.
An hourly rate doesn’t make sense without knowing the stipend amounts and the number of hours expected or guaranteed.
As a remedy to this, in the travel therapy world, pay is almost always quoted in a weekly “take home” amount, otherwise known as the total weekly net or after-tax pay. This is the amount you can expect to see deposited into your bank account each week when working a contract. This amount typically includes both the hourly rate (minus taxes) plus the non-taxed stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals.
If you’re completely unfamiliar with how travel therapy pay packages are set up, I suggest reading this article or this article to gain a better understanding of this topic.
Unfortunately, while the standard is to quote a weekly after tax total, or “weekly take home pay,” there are also issues with this method.
Drawbacks of Quoting Take Home Travel Therapy Pay
If you’ve only ever looked at travel therapy pay packages, it may come as a surprise to learn that therapy is the only area of travel healthcare that commonly discusses compensation in terms of take home pay aka after-tax pay. Travel nursing and other travel healthcare disciplines almost always discuss compensation is a weekly gross (before tax) amount.
Why is that? It’s because take home pay numbers can also be confusing and hard for recruiters to determine accurately.
Think about it, for a recruiter to quote accurate take home pay for a job, they have to know details about your life to try to determine what your tax rate will be. They also have to know what benefits you’re going to choose that come out of your paycheck before taxes.
Here are some things that can cause take home pay to be different for one traveler compared to another:
- Are you single or married?
- Do you have dependents?
- What is the state income tax rate in your tax home state?
- Which health insurance plan are you going to choose?
- Are you going to opt for life insurance or disability insurance offered by the company?
- Are you going to contribute to a 401k plan if offered by the company?
- Do you have any side hustles/other jobs that will impact the amount of tax withholdings on your paycheck?
Difficulty for Recruiters
Now, put yourself in a recruiter’s situation. What if you quote a traveler take home pay for a job assuming they’re single with no dependents, have a tax home in a state with no income tax, carry their own health insurance, and aren’t going to contribute to the company 401k plan, and then all of those assumptions are wrong. The actual take home pay the traveler receives could be much higher or lower than the quoted amount, but it wasn’t the recruiter’s fault. The traveler may feel like they were lied to, when in reality that wasn’t the intention of the recruiter at all. Even the highest paying travel therapy companies can run into issues with this.
You may think, “Oh well they should just ask those things before quoting a pay amount,” and that’s true, but some travel therapists don’t want to give all of that information to a recruiter who they may not even take the job with. Also for situations like with our hot job list or other publicly posted pay packages, the recruiters have no contact with the traveler before determining the pay package posted, so they just have make assumptions that of course may lead to inaccuracies for the individual traveler.
What About Gross Pay?
With all of the assumptions that go into determining a take home pay quote in travel therapy, you may think that quoting gross pay would be better. Well, yes and no. It certainly leads to less confusion since recruiters aren’t having to guess on your tax rate and the benefits you’ll choose, but there are issues as well. The main problem with quoting a weekly gross pay amount is that there’s no way to know how much of that pay is taxable and how much of it are tax free stipends.
For example, let’s say a recruiter quotes you $2,500/week gross pay for a travel contract. That sounds pretty good, but the amount you actually receive each week can vary a lot depending on if the taxable hourly rate is high or low. If the job is $20/hour taxable pay with $1,700/week in tax free stipends, then your weekly paycheck will be much higher than if it’s $40/hour taxable pay with $900/week in tax free stipends. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you’re trying to decide between two jobs based on pay, then a difference between $100-$200/week in take home pay could really sway your choice.
What’s the Best Way to Discuss Travel Therapy Pay?
Unfortunately there’s no perfect answer here. Hourly rates and annual salary are inadequate, and weekly take home pay and weekly gross pay both have drawbacks.
Take home pay quotes lead to unavoidable inaccuracies, and sometimes even hard feelings between travel therapists and recruiters. Gross pay quotes lead to less information being communicated, which can make choosing between jobs based on pay hard for the traveler. Gross pay also means a little more work on the part of the traveler to determine their own expected tax rate and calculate their own approximate net weekly pay.
Overall, gross pay is probably a little better to quote than take home pay, since many more variables are eliminated. But for whatever reason, that has never been the standard in the travel therapy world, and it’s hard to change what people expect.
I’ve seen some people in various Facebook groups claim that any recruiter that is quoting gross pay is intentionally trying to mislead or take advantage of travel therapists. This is almost never the truth. Usually recruiters will quote gross pay in order to avoid the inherent confusion that comes with trying to guess someone’s tax and benefits situation. Certain companies even have policies that do not allow their recruiters to quote the net pay due to inaccuracies and miscommunications this has led to in the past. You certainly shouldn’t be choosing to work with a recruiter or not based solely on how they communicate pay information. There are many much more important variables when picking great recruiters.
Ensuring Your Travel Therapy Pay Package Quote is Accurate
Whether you work with a recruiter who quotes you weekly take home pay or weekly gross pay, it isn’t a big deal if you’re a smart travel therapist that understands the limitations of each, and understands how to calculate your own pay package. Just make sure that you are clear on which way they are quoting the pay to avoid further confusion. If you have one recruiter quoting net and the other quoting gross, you will be sorely disappointed when you realize that the reason the gross weekly pay package was so much higher was that it was before taxes! So just have clear communication with the recruiter if they quote you a weekly amount: be sure to ask is this weekly net or weekly gross.
If your recruiter quotes you a weekly net take home pay number for a potential contract, you need to understand that this is just an estimate based on the average travelers’ situation and could be a little more or less for you based on your personal taxes and benefit elections. No big deal. The recruiter is probably doing their best to be accurate, but it’s never going to be perfect. Quoting approximate net pay can give you a good idea of a rough estimate of your weekly take home pay, which will make it easier for you to quickly compare jobs side by side. Once you’ve been quoted the approximate weekly take home pay, you can do the leg work to figure out a more precise weekly take home number for yourself before accepting the contract.
If your recruiter quotes you a gross pay number, no problem. It’s easy to get a rough estimate of the take home pay amount yourself.
Whether you’re quoted the net weekly take home or the gross weekly amount, you just need to find out how the pay package is broken down to run the calculations for yourself. Ask the recruiter what the hourly taxable rate is, and what the stipend amount is.
To get a rough estimate for my own taxes, I take the hourly rate and multiply by 40 hours, and then subtract 20% of that to account for estimated taxes. I then add in the tax free stipends and have a pretty good guess of what I’ll receive on my weekly paycheck. If I want to be even more accurate, then I’ll use a pay check calculator as discussed in this article. The calculators at Paycheck City are great for this. I’ll then subtract whatever I estimate that the pretax benefits I choose will cost (such as insurance premiums and 401k contributions).
So in summary, as long as you have a good understanding of how pay packages are broken down, you can get a good estimate of what your own weekly pay will be no matter whether the recruiter quotes it as net or gross. It’s very important to know that recruiters are not “good” or “bad” for quoting it one way or the other, this usually has to do with their company standard. A savvy traveler will not be fazed by it being quoted one way or the other. In fact, smart travelers will prefer to see the pay package breakdown and run the calculations themselves.
Being an Informed and Savvy Traveler
Something that helps significantly with getting accurate, as well as the highest possible, pay quotes is working with high quality and reliable recruiters at good travel companies. If you need help getting connected with some that will work well for your situation, be sure to fill out our recruiter recommendation form. We’ve spent years interviewing recruiters and companies to find the best ones for all sorts of different situations.
If you’re brand new to travel therapy and want to learn more information that will help you to be successful and avoid mistakes, start with our free Travel Therapy 101 series. If you want to take your learning to the next level and use travel therapy to become financially independent, then our comprehensive travel therapy course “Becoming a Financially Successful Travel Therapist” is for you.
Best of luck in your travel therapy journey!
- How Much Money Do Travel Therapists Make? The Comprehensive Guide to Travel Therapy Pay
- How Much of the Pay Does the Travel Therapy Company Keep on a Travel Contract?
- Negotiating Pay on a Travel Therapy Contract
Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015. He has become an expert in the field of travel healthcare through his experience, research, and networking over nearly a decade.