3 min read

The truth about travel nurse completion bonuses

Hey Laura, I've got this awesome job for you and I can even offer you $1000 bonus for completing the 13 weeks! Ah, these words were really exciting for me to hear when I was just getting started. $1000 extra dollars? Yes, please. But the thing I did not understand is in order for the company to pay me $1000 at the end of the contract, they would simply be taking $1000 from my pay package and moving it to the end. This was used as a marketing strategy.

For marketing, it’s excellent. Newbie travelers are scrolling through jobs and see one that comes with a $1000 bonus! Oooo. It got our attention.  But two things are happening with this:  

  1. Now we have to wait till the end to get the $1000
  2. And now that $1000 is taxed instead of it going in our tax-free stipends

Moving money around in travel nurse pay packages

Moving money around in our pay packages is common as a call light flashing on. Recruiters, account managers, and marketing teams want us to look at a pay package and say yes to take the assignment through their company. Most travelers don't look at a full pay package and add it all up to compare to other offers. So the shiny objects (like a completion bonus) can really move some newer travelers to say yes. However, if they did take the time to look at the complete pay package it might not be that great. Use this fair pay calculator to better understand what a full pay package looks like and how to compare pay the right way.

10 dimes for candy

Let's say you have 10 dimes you were supposed to give to a kid you are babysitting when you go to the store. But you know this kid is likely to have a tantrum in the candy aisle. The marketer in you might think two things. First, this kid doesn't know how many dimes are "his". Second, if you tell the kid he will get an extra dime when you get to the car as long as he does not meltdown in the store, you will have a happier trip. So you take a dime that really was already his and only give him 90 cents to spend in the store. Then after a happy trip, he gets that extra dime in the car. Win/Win right?

Well, it is a win for you as the babysitter. However, the kid didn't have the full dollar to spend in the store where it was useful. And we also have to pretend the last dime got taxed a lot higher than the dimes in the store did.

For travel nurses, it is a bit like that. Many don't realize that a completion bonus was already part of our pot of money and it's just being held until the end. Now the risk is higher for us and lower for the agency (The agency will have not paid any of that money to us if we have too many sick days, if we get canceled, or if we cancel our contract). That money at the end is also entitled to be taxed at a very high rate. If they had instead spread it out in our pay package, it could have gone into our tax-free reimbursements (as long as they were not already maxed out).

What to do if offered a completion bonus

Simply ask for that money in a different form.

Ask if it is possible to put that bonus money back into tax-free money somewhere. If our meals and incidentals + housing stipends are not maxed out, then they should be able to put more money in our tax-free stipends. Note: GSA.gov tells us all the max we are allowed to receive legally based on zip code. The recruiter does not decide this, the government does.

If it is maxed out- lucky you- sounds like a great bill rate and pay package. See if they can reimburse for scrubs, or extra travel, or a CEU. Each of those can also be tax-free reimbursement.

What not to do if offered a completion bonus

Don't get mad at your recruiter. It's not up to them what the marketing team offers. Just simply ask for the money to be moved in a nice way. Explain to them you want to max out what you can make tax-free before considering a risky taxed bonus.

The exception

Sometimes the bonus is offered directly from the hospital or facility. In this scenario, the hospital told the recruitment company, “We will pay a traveler xxx dollars after completing xxx hours.” In this case, the money is not coming from your bill rate or pay package. The recruitment company would not have access to that money until you finish those hours. So you can’t move that money to another spot and in that case, you would just say yes to the offer from the facility.

Completion bonuses that are coming from the bill rate and are created from the agency are usually the case. If the hospital is offering the bonus, I would ask a lot of questions in the interview and make sure it's an okay place to work for 13 weeks. Sometimes completion bonuses directly from the hospital make me wonder why they have such an incentive for a nurse to finish the contract!

Cheers to transparency in pay,

xo Laura
   

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