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7 Salary Mistakes That Cost Travel Nurses

Travel nursing is a uniquely rewarding profession — you know you’re uniquely qualified to do it. Your pay and benefits should reflect that. By avoiding common salary mistakes, you can make sure you’re getting all you deserve.

To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the 7 biggest salary mistakes to watch out for.

Not doing your research.

Whether you’re brand new to travel nursing or an old pro on the road, research your value — regularly. You might be surprised to learn skills you’ve had for years are back in hot demand. The market for nursing can and does change, and your certifications and experience level matter. Research your worth, and go out and get paid accordingly!

Also, take time to look into how pay rates work. Factors like location and patient need affect what ranges you can expect. This handy real-time travel nurse pay scale can help you explore going rates for your skills and experience level. Also, Glassdoor’s salary section is a well-known resource to look up information about a hospital’s typical pay ranges.

Not having a long-term career plan.

Think strategically about the skills you want to develop, certificates you want to pursue, and specialties you’re interested in. Not only will you be on track to earn more money — you’ll also experience the fulfillment that comes with setting and achieving goals.

To develop your career plan, take some time to reflect on your strengths and what you enjoy in your career. Doing so will help you define clear goals. A handy acronym for planning goals is SMART. SMART goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

For example, a SMART goal for a travel nurse might be earning a certificate as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, online, within 18 months.

Lack of negotiation.

Negotiation can be an intimidating skill to learn, but it’s an important one. With successful negotiation, you’ll earn more for your current job — and the ones down the road. In fact, negotiation can earn you up to a million dollars more in earnings over the course of your career.

The range of pay you can get for a job is likely already set by the hospital you want to work and by your agency. Your job as a negotiator is to stretch it to the highest level. Be tactful, friendly, and polite. Wait for the discussion to turn to pay, and be ready to talk about figures with knowledge and confidence. For more, see our post on 10 tips for negotiating a higher travel nursing salary.

Ignoring details.

When an offer comes in, it’s essential to look at the total picture of what’s on the table. Is your contract for 36, 40, or 48 hours a week? How does the pay break down by hour? Determine the offer’s blended pay rate — the full package that involves medical benefits, housing, incidental expenditures, and more.

It’s not always easy to get everything in line and see it clearly. Make a chart or excel document to visualize everything in front of you. And never hesitate to ask your recruiter clarifying questions if any of those details are unclear.

Not planning for tax time.

Here comes the tax man — yikes! Anyone can break into a sweat knowing April 15 is around the corner. That’s especially true for professionals who earn income at variable rates, like travel nurses.

A good accountant can be worth their weight in gold. Ask your recruiter if they have any names they can recommend, or check out TravelTax. Make sure you select a certified public accountant. CPAs have passed a rigorous nationally standardized test.

If you’re comfortable doing your taxes on your own, use a reputable and easy-to-manage software, such as TurboTax.

One important tip for planning is to research state income tax in the states where you work. You might be surprised by the wide range of tax rates. Don’t let a high rate catch you off guard.

Tax-free income is a big part of what makes travel nursing so alluring. Your stipends can go a long way in improving your life. To avoid getting hit by unexpected tax bills, it’s essential to make sure you’re eligible for these tax-free perks. Nurses who exclusively travel for a living need to make sure they maintain a tax home and temporary worker status.

One last key to successful tax filing: keep those receipts! You’ll need them to claim your expenses and in the case of a (dreaded!) audit. Either store them in a folder or scan them to your phone. Here are some apps to help you out:

Failing to maximize your stipends and benefits.

Stipends aren’t cash in the bank, but they’re a very real part of your compensation. Give yourself a bump by being smart when you use them.

Trim lodging costs by evaluating your needs carefully. Think about which amenities are essential and how much space you really need. Could you share a space with a roommate? Stay with a family member or friend? You’ll make more out of your money and be glad you did. See our blog for more ideas on how to make your stipend go even further.

As far as your travel stipend goes, be watchful of what you spend while you’re on the road. It can be tempting to let go of budget considerations while you’re traveling.

If earning more money is your primary goal, you can maximize it by being flexible with your hours. Holiday, overtime, and on-call and call-back shifts will greatly increase what you take home.

Focusing on salary alone.

Treating your salary as the end-all goal is indeed a real, common salary mistake. To remain on track with your goals and invested in your career, you need to keep yourself happy, too. This, by the way, might help you earn more money in the long run!

Always consider your personal priorities when considering salary. You may value being in a certain location — being close to family or friends or in a location you really enjoy might outweigh a few more dollars an hour.

Or, you may want to gain experience in a specialized field or work at a specific hospital. The highest number on the paycheck doesn’t automatically mean the best opportunity.

Want more information about salaries? See our travel nursing salary guide for in-depth info on overtime pay, housing credits, and more.

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