The Single Biggest Advantage of Travel Therapy

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT


In the past I’ve written several articles on the financial advantages of being a travel therapist and how those advantages have allowed Whitney and me to embark on an alternative lifestyle full of international travel. In fact, I’ve always made it known that the financial aspects of being a travel therapist are the biggest reasons I was so dead set on going down the path of travel therapy even two years prior to graduation. However, there is one even bigger advantage that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately that is even more important to me than making more money… and that is flexibility.

The Many Faces of Flexibility

Flexibility as a travel therapist comes in many forms. There’s the flexibility to take extended periods of time off.

  • I’m currently writing this after last working over 6 months ago.

There’s the flexibility to try out different settings for a three month stint to see if you have any interest in that area.

  • I’ve now worked in outpatient ortho, acute care, home health, skilled nursing, and wound care while traveling.

There’s the flexibility to choose to invest money instead of paying down student debt.

  • This is primarily due to travel therapists having lower taxable income meaning a lower monthly income based payment due each month. And this is the path I’ve chosen for my own finances.

There’s even the flexibility to decide if pay or travel location is more important to you for the next three months and to change your mind about that decision after each assignment.

  • Occasionally these two coincide, but generally higher paying contracts are in less desirable areas.

Flexible Time Off

Starting out traveling as a new grad, I was most concerned about making as much money as possible to offset my student loan debt (and in my case, start investing heavily early in my career). For that reason, pay was the primary consideration for me, but I’ve recently found that the flexibility to take time off is even more important. These things go hand in hand to some degree, because without making so much more money as a traveler, it would be difficult to take extended time off of work, but the flexibility goes beyond that.

If I had taken a permanent job out of school, there’s little doubt it my mind that I also would have saved a large percentage of my income despite the lower total pay at a permanent job. After a couple of years, I would have likely had enough saved to take an extended trip out of the country, but because of the nature of a permanent position this would have been impossible. After all, it’s difficult to find a permanent employer in healthcare that is willing to let an employee take two consecutive weeks off, much less 5 months! So to me, the flexibility in time off allowed by travel therapy is huge.

Flexibility to Try New Settings

The flexibility to try out different settings is something that I didn’t know at first would be a benefit of traveling. I was always most interested in outpatient ortho as a student and undoubtedly would have taken a permanent job in this area had I not decided to travel. Whitney with her Athletic Training background was 100% in agreement with me in this area. To my surprise, after taking a couple of contracts in other areas, I found that I actually really enjoy home health and even wound care!

As a student, wound care was something that I was terrified of, and I would have never willingly taken a job with that requirement if it wasn’t for knowing it was only for three months. Home health is an area that I started to become interested in, but I most likely wouldn’t have taken the leap into trying it out at a permanent job due to fear of the unknown. As a traveler, it is much easier to get over that fear when you have a predetermined end date that you know will be there pretty quickly if it turns out you really don’t like the job (this was skilled nursing for me).

Flexibility to Invest Instead of Paying Down Debt

I’m not sure if investing instead of paying off my debt is something that I would have done if I had taken a permanent job, but there’s no doubt that it’s more feasible as a travel therapist. The biggest reason is that with a lower taxable pay as a travel therapist comes a lower income based student loan payment. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but when using the REPAYE income based repayment plan, this becomes more important.

The reason is that under REPAYE, half of the accumulated interest each month is subsidized, which ends up being a massive benefit for travel therapists who choose an income driven repayment plan. For me, this is the difference between having an effective interest rate of 6% on my loans versus an effective interest rate of 3.2%. Or, to put this in different terms, it’s the difference between my student debt growing at $500/month versus growing at $266/month.

If you take into account that the stock market returns on average 7-10%, then you can see why investing your money to get that return instead of paying off low interest debt at 3% would make sense. Having the interest accumulate much more slowly makes investing instead of paying down my student debt a no-brainer in my current situation.

Flexibility to Choose Between Pay and Location

Since the primary motivator of travel therapy for Whitney and me was pay, to this point we’ve always chosen to take higher paying travel contracts in rural areas. In addition to the higher pay, we like the slower pace, caring people, and lower cost of living that goes along with traveling to rural areas. Although rural areas are great for us, they lack the excitement of being closer to bigger cities and more desirable areas.

In the future, as money becomes less and less of a motivating factor for us as we approach financial independence, location is likely going to become more important. For example, we’ll likely sacrifice pay and low cost of living at some point to take travel assignments in Hawaii and southern California, which is something that we would never have done three years ago when starting out.

Take Home Points

It’s inevitable that priorities change throughout one’s life. The many different forms of flexibility offered by travel therapy have made pursuing these changes in desires and priorities much more feasible for Whitney and me. Starting out, we never would have guessed that some day we would value being able to take 5 months off to travel around the world, being able to experiment with different settings, or being able to try out the city life without committing to it long term. Travel therapy has given us the ability to do all of the above due to the flexibility, and that has been priceless!

 

jared doctor of physical therapy

Author: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Traveling Doctor of Physical Therapy – Aggressively seeking Financial Independence early in his career

Can You Make a Career Out of Travel Therapy?

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Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Different Types of Travel Therapists

The majority of therapists choose to pursue travel therapy for somewhere between 1-2 years. There are a variety of reasons for why this is the case, but for many it is due to either (1) wanting to break up the monotony that is usually a part of permanent positions, or (2) to make extra money to pay down debt more quickly. It’s also sometimes a combination of both of these things that causes a therapist to become interested in traveling.

There are some exceptions to this though. Some therapists choose to be “career travelers,” and never truly “settle down” into a permanent job. It’s possible to make a full time, or part time, career out of only working travel jobs. That could mean traveling continuously around the country to various locations, year round, taking about four 13-week contracts per year with minimal time off between contracts, or taking a more laid back approach with 2-3 contracts per year and more time off.

We here at Travel Therapy Mentor definitely consider ourselves Career Travelers. Let me tell you a little more about my and Whitney’s career path as travelers.

Our Plan

We were originally interested in travel therapy for both of the reasons mentioned above (higher pay to pay down student loans, and avoiding the monotony of a permanent job). We initially planned to travel for 4-5 years to not only pay off debt, but to save enough money to have a decent nest egg of investments. After the 4-5 years, we planned to settle down and work a permanent job in either our favorite travel location or possibly back in our hometown.

Right before graduation and beginning to travel is when I developed a strong interest in personal finance and investing, and I discovered that investing instead of paying down our student debt (opting for income driven repayment of student loans) was actually the better choice for me, and Whitney agreed with my analysis. Since our student loan payments are extremely low while traveling and on the REPAYE income based repayment plan, we had a lot of extra money to put toward investment and retirement accounts.

After a couple years of saving and getting good investment returns, it became clear that if we just traveled full time for a few years, we could then easily live off of 1-2 travel assignments per year combined with investment returns, rather than settling down to a permanent, full time job after we “finished” traveling. So, that became our new plan, at least for the forseeable future! In later years, we may still choose to “settle down” somewhere, and take part time/PRN jobs in one location. But for now, we’re loving the 1-2 travel contracts per year!

Our “Semi-Retirement”

Only working 1-2 travel assignments per year (which we are now currently doing) allows us a ton of flexibility to travel internationally and also enjoy more time with family, which were two things at the top of our list of priorities. We consider this a “semi-retirement” since we have 6-9 months per year free to do whatever we want each year!

As a traveler, it is actually possible in many cases to make about the same amount as a full time permanent therapist when only working two contracts per year due to the higher pay and lower taxable pay. So even with all of the free time, we are still able to make plenty of money to support ourselves, and our adventures!

With this in mind, I think making a career out of being a travel therapist is a great lifestyle choice that would work for many adventurous people that aren’t excited about settling down somewhere ‘permanently.’

Career Travelers

Another advantage of working only a couple of travel contracts per year is that we are able to be more picky with the assignments that we do take. When we were working back to back contracts for the first three years while saving and investing heavily, we did our best to minimize the amount of down time we had between contracts. This was great for us financially, but got exhausting after a few years and led to us settling on a couple of assignments that didn’t really fit us very well during that time.

Now that we’re settling in to a much slower travel pace as “career travelers,” we don’t feel the need to rush and accept sub-par jobs, because we know that we’ll make plenty of money in the couple of contracts that we work each year to cover the downtime, and we also have our investments growing in the background.

Most travel therapists choose a more laid back approach to traveling from the beginning, choosing to take time off between each assignment to relax and unwind. This is a great idea and more balanced overall than how we started out. But, even so, working 45-48 weeks per year is common for many career travelers who do it this way, and when considering that some of that time off between contracts is looking for new jobs and moving, it doesn’t leave much time to relax or take long trips for leisure. After a few years of working at that pace while paying down debt or saving/investing, as long as you’re in a good place financially, is a great time to transition into a slower paced schedule focused on working less and relaxing more.

“Not Everyone Can Travel Forever”

Of course, we know that the travel lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and it may not be feasible for everyone to do this their entire careers.

What about having a family?” –you’re thinking.

Travel therapists have families. Babies and young kids; cats and dogs; aging parents and grandparents; nieces, nephews, and other family and friends they want to be near!

In many cases, you can make travel therapy suit your lifestyle. Some choose to travel and bring their kids and spouse along. Some choose to leave home for one or two assignments, leaving family behind, then have a PRN job at home for the times they’re at home (or just not work during the time at home). Some choose to take travel assignments in different parts of the country where they do have family they can visit.

There are lots of options. And again, we know it’s not for everyone. But it is a great lifestyle for a lot of us!

Is Being a Career Traveler Right for You?

Travel therapy offers the unique benefit of being able to choose how long you want to take off of work after a contract as long as you can afford to do so, and the higher pay while working the contract makes that possible. This is why I think being a career traveler is a great option. Being a travel therapist doesn’t have to just be a 1-2 year thing to adventure and save money, it can be a permanent thing with great pay, more time off, and a life full of adventure!

Are you interested in just traveling for a couple of years or is this something that you would consider doing long term? Let us know in the comments! Contact us if we can help you get started on the journey!

jared doctor of physical therapy 

Written by Jared Casazza, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Traveling Physical Therapist of 3 years. Jared travels with his girlfriend, fellow travel PT and fellow Travel Therapy Mentor, Whitney.

Pursuing Travel Therapy in 2019

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC


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

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

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

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

1. Contact a few travel therapy companies & recruiters.

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

2. Start researching states where you want to work.

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

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

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

4. Start thinking about the logistics!

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

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

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

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

~Travel Therapy Mentors Whitney, Jared, and Travis

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

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

What Makes Travel Therapy Different?

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

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

What is a 401k?

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

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

401k Employer Match

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

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

Traditional Individual Retirement Account

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

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

Utilizing a 401k and an IRA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are your options:

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

401k Rollover to Traditional IRA

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Understanding a Travel Therapy Contract Bill Rate

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

All travel therapists want to get the most money possible out of their contracts. In fact, the increased pay associated with travel therapy is the #1 reason that most people that we talk to choose to travel in the first place, so not getting as much money as possible would be no good. While there can often be room to negotiate when presented with an initial offer from a recruiter, there is, of course, a limit to how much they can actually pay a traveler for each contract. The big limiting factor in the equation of pay for any travel contract is the “bill rate.”

What is a Bill Rate?

A “bill rate” is the amount of money that the facility (hospital, clinic, nursing home, etc.) pays the travel company for each hour that a traveling therapist works. As travelers, this is a number that we rarely ever find out about, since it is negotiated between the travel company and the facility usually before they ever even list the job or present it to travelers. Most recruiters do not wish to share this number with travelers either, but you really can’t blame them for that. The bill rate is much higher than the hourly rate that the traveler receives, but that is because it has to account for all overhead costs and company profits as well, so sharing the bill rate could make the traveler feel like they’re being taken advantage of, even when that’s not the case. BluePipes wrote a great article on other reasons why travel companies don’t divulge bill rates as well, which you can find here.

How Much is an Average Bill Rate?

Bill rates vary drastically depending on setting and area of the country (just like traveler pay), but I’ve heard of ones as low as $60/hour and as high as $80/hour, which shows why there can be such variation in traveler pay across the board, since it’s all based on the bill rate. In some situations, the bill rate can even be higher if the facility is in urgent need of a traveler and is willing to pay more to get someone there quickly. In general, the facility is going to pay the travel company as little as possible, while ensuring that their opening will be filled, so how desperate they are can have a big impact on the bill rate.

So if a company is receiving around $70/hour ($70 x 40 = $2,800/week) from the facility, while the traveler is only getting a take home pay of about $1,600/week, where is that extra money going?!

Costs that have to be Subtracted from the Bill Rate

Overhead costs of running a travel company can be pretty high. The company has to pay staff (recruiters, managers, payroll department, benefits department, etc.), for rent and utilities on their offices, for marketing, for taxes, and they also have to make a profit in order to stay in business. This all usually adds up to about 20-25% of the total bill rate, depending on how big the company is and how much their overhead costs in total. That means that after overhead costs are subtracted out, that $2,800/week turns into about $2,100/week.

From there, we have to consider that the company pays for part of the traveler’s health insurance (assuming the traveler chooses one of the company sponsored plans); maintenance fees on 401k plan; CEUs (if offered by the company); FICA taxes on the traveler’s hourly pay (7.65%); and credentialing costs for the traveler for each assignment such as: license reimbursement, travel reimbursement, drug tests, TB tests, and backgrounds checks.

They also usually have to keep a small percentage to account for contract cancellations, since when a traveler’s contract is cancelled early, not only does the traveler lose out on money, but so does the travel company. I think of this as like an “emergency fund” for the travel company for when unexpected events occur.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the “take home pay” amounts that we usually use to discuss travel contracts is after the traveler’s taxes are subtracted out, which means that the travel company actually pays you more than that amount, but that’s the amount you see on your paycheck after federal, state and FICA taxes are subtracted. So “take home pay” refers to after-tax, or net pay, not gross pay.

For example, a $1,600/week “take home pay” usually means that the travel company actually pays out $1,800/week in gross pay to the traveler. It’s easy to see how the $2,100/week devoted to the traveler’s pay can quickly be reduced to much closer to that $1,800/week figure paid out to the traveler each week, once all of the above costs are factored in.

Getting the Highest Pay Possible

In most cases, honest recruiters are doing their best to offer the highest pay possible to the traveler, within the bounds of the bill rate that they have to work with. Many travelers hear about how high some bill rates can be and quickly assume that recruiters are trying to take advantage of them, without first considering all of the costs incurred by the company, taxes they have to pay, and also also the benefits offered to the traveler that aren’t seen in the weekly take home pay number. Don’t forget to consider these factors before jumping to conclusions! But, it doesn’t hurt to push for more money when you feel it’s warranted, have considered all the “extras” already included in your pay package, and have considered the type of job, location, and cost of living!

The bill rate is also the reason that it is important for travelers to push for higher pay for overtime hours worked. Overhead costs don’t need to be factored into overtime hours worked, due to them already being accounts for in the initial 40 hours. With overtime, the company will get the same bill rate (sometimes 1.5x the bill rate even), while the traveler only receives 1.5x their taxable pay rate in most cases. This is a great situation for the travel company, but a terrible situation for the traveler. So understanding how the bill rate works and how your pay is broken down is a key factor here in advocating for yourself with a higher overtime rate!

Conclusion

It’s very important to have an understanding of the bill rate and all the costs that must come out of that hourly pay amount the travel company receives from the facility, in order to understand how your weekly take home pay is determined as a travel therapist. The more you understand, the better you can advocate for yourself and get the highest pay possible.

I hope you have a little better insight into how the weekly take home pay amount is calculated now with a basic understanding of bill rates!

Thanks for reading and feel free to ask any questions you may have on bill rates or anything else travel therapy related in the comments below or contact us directly. If you need some recruiter/travel company recommendations that we trust to not take advantage of you as a traveler, then send us a message here and we’ll help you out!

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

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

The Benefits of Extending a Contract

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

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

Understanding “Extension Bonuses”

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

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

Negotiating Extension Bonuses with Your Recruiter

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

 

Navigating the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace as a Travel Therapist

Written by: Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

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

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

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

 

Background on the Different ACA Marketplace Plans

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

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

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

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An Example Scenario

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

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

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

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

Another Scenario – With 401k Contributions

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing Some Conclusions From These Scenarios

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

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

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

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

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

Our Plan for 2019

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

Running Your Own Scenarios

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

Take-Home Points

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

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

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