Full Guide to Travel Nurse Stipends
Nurses are adept at going where they’re most needed — whenever that may be — and being a travel nurse is a great opportunity for people who love to travel to get to experience life somewhere new. From big cities to small towns, there are many opportunities for travel nurses to find available positions, and those positions often include a stipend.
The concept of the stipend isn’t new, but it can be confusing. To help you better understand it and how it works, here is our complete guide to travel nurse stipends for traveling nurses and their employers.
How Do Travel Nurse Stipends Work?
When traveling for work, it’s standard for nurses to receive stipends from their staffing agency, unless their employer pays for their housing directly. Often, nurses are given a choice between the two.
Stipends include funds to cover the costs of housing, and sometimes meals and incidentals, too. (Some staffing agencies pay for meals and incidentals upfront, while others will reimburse those costs later.)
Depending on the agency, housing costs are paid weekly, biweekly or monthly — but always in one lump sum. And, as part of the total travel nurse salary compensation package, stipends are treated as non-taxable income if the nurse maintains a “tax home” elsewhere. A “tax home” may be the city where the nurse’s primary residence or place of employment is located.
Many agencies offer nurses the option to choose a higher stipend and a lower taxable wage or a higher taxable wage and a smaller stipend. The tax obligations for travel nurses will be lower if they opt for the lower wage and larger stipend.
An agency’s bottom line can benefit by paying less in taxable wages as well, but all salaries paid must follow the IRS regulations regarding reasonable wages. As long as IRS guidelines are followed, this can be a win-win for both the agency and the nurse.
What is the Travel Nurse Stipend for 2023?
The travel nurse housing stipend varies based on city and state, so there is no one standard amount. Staffing agencies determine for themselves how much the stipend should be, usually based on:
- The bill rate that the hospital agrees to pay
- IRS guidelines
- GSA rates established by the General Services Administration
The bill rate includes all of the expenses the agency incurs to employ a travel nurse. This consists of the salary, stipends, employee payroll taxes, employee benefits, and credentialing costs as needed for a traveling nurse assignment. It also includes the agency’s profit.
GSA per diem rates are set by the federal government and reflect the “reasonable” amount of money that it costs for lodging in a particular area. Rates are based on cost of living, current housing costs, and other factors, and are subject to change every year.
Here’s a snapshot of how allowable housing expenses vary based on region, with amounts listed on a per-night basis:
- New York, New York: $220
- Los Angeles, California: $182
- Richmond, Virginia: $145
- Orlando, Florida: $129
- Bismarck, North Dakota: $98
Despite these guidelines, most agency stipends pay less than the maximum amount allowed by GSA rates.
Which is Better: A Housing Stipend or Agency-Provided Housing?
For nurses, there are many benefits to choosing a housing stipend over the option to live in agency-provided housing.
First, nurses must spend their stipend amount on housing, but they don’t have to spend every penny of it. When renting short-term housing, such as an extended-stay hotel, many nurses spend less and save or use the difference to cover other living expenses. This is only possible if the agency has no caveats about doing so.
Another benefit to the stipend is that nurses can choose their own housing options and decide where to live. This offers more options for privacy, as they won’t have to live with coworkers if they don’t want to.
Agencies can benefit both from offering stipends and by providing paid-for housing.
For agencies, one benefit of the stipend is that nurses enjoy having the opportunity to live where they want to live. It also eliminates the need for the agency to arrange housing.
Another benefit of the stipend is that if the contract gets canceled with cause by the nurse, the nurse will be on the hook for paying any lease they signed or agreed to pay for with their stipend. In this scenario, the agency will not be responsible.
The biggest benefit of offering agency-provided housing is that the agency might be able to spend less per week than the stipend amount per week allows for. This can increase the agency’s bottom line and is a key reason some staffing firms prefer this option.
Do Travel Nurse Stipends Cover Housing on the Days Nurses Don’t Work?
The short answer is: yes! (…Usually.)
When a nursing position includes a stipend, it’s for the housing costs incurred for every day of the contract, regardless of whether or not the nurse has days off or takes a weekend off to travel home or elsewhere.
Keep in mind that nurses who miss or cancel shifts might not receive their stipend for days when they are unpaid. Agencies break stipends down to an hourly rate, and that portion of the nurse’s pay comes out of the bill rate.
How Travel Nurses, Employers and Agencies Can Use Hotel Engine to Save
Whether you’re a travel nurse, healthcare employer or staffing agency, you can save on lodging by booking short-term and long-term stays through Hotel Engine.
Hotel Engine is an online booking platform where you can book single-night, multi-night, and extended stays at a variety of hotel brands and properties around the world. Hotel Engine is free to use, and can save you up to 60% per night on rooms over public rates — plus, if you’re booking an extended stay or group trip, you’ll get complimentary white-glove service finding and booking the right property.
In addition, you’ll get Hotel Engine Rewards on every booking through the platform, and you can even double-up on hotel rewards when you book rooms eligible for points from your choice of 15+ top hotel loyalty programs. Redeem the points for discounted stays or free nights, for more work trips or for personal travel.
And if you’re an employer, you can sign up for Direct Bill for hassle-free billing. Rather than paying for each individual booking (and future bookings if you need to extend stays) you can consolidate bookings for all your travelers into one simple invoice.
Set maximum nightly rates and let your nurses book for themselves, or hand off the hassle of group travel and long-term stays to Hotel Engine.
When it’s time to embark on your next travel assignment or house nurses in an out-of-town location, rely on Hotel Engine for all your lodging needs.
Sign up for your free account to get started today!
Audrey Fairbrother is the Content and SEO Manager at Hotel Engine. She spends her days writing about all things business travel, researching topics that are important to Hotel Engine’s audience and cultivating the company’s brand voice. When she’s not working, Audrey enjoys spending time with her family, and hiking in the nearby Rockies with her dog, Albie.