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

Put your learnings to work, find a job you'll love

Search thousands of jobs, from dozens of agencies, posted by vetted recruiters you can trust. 

We also think you'll love

Find the perfect vetted recruiter for your travel goals

We match you with the perfect recruiters who have the locations, benefits, and personality you want!

Empowered travelers are travelers that love to learn and grow! Learn how the industry works and use our free tools to be confident and excited about your journey ahead! 

Additional Reimbursements

Did your offer come with something extra that would cost the staffing agency money? This may include a CEU class, scrubs, or sign on bonuses. Don’t worry if this section is blank, most offers don’t have extra reimbursements.

Travel Reimbursements

This is tax-free money that is paid to you to help you pay for the expense of traveling to your assignment. Many staffing agencies pay for this per mile up to a certain amount. They will usually pay this on your first paycheck or split between your first paycheck and last. If you are traveling a short distance this could be a very small amount.

Also, it’s becoming more popular for an agency to not offer this at all. It’s really not a big deal though. If you don’t get travel reimbursement money you should make a bit more in your weekly pay so many times it all equals out.

Weekly Housing Stipends

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city. This is usually presented to travelers on a weekly or per shift basis.

The government tells the staffing agency the maximum they are allowed to pay travelers based on the cost of living in each zip code.

The staffing company does not usually get to pay us the full amount since they only have the amount the facility is willing to pay for us. That may end up being less than the government’s max, if so, no worries. This is okay as long as the total package is fair.

Weekly Meal Stipends

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city. This is usually presented to travelers on a weekly or per shift basis.

The government tells the staffing agency the maximum they are allowed to pay travelers based on the cost of living in each zip code. The staffing company does not usually get to pay us the full amount since they only have the amount the facility is willing to pay for us. That may end up being less than the government’s max, if so, no worries. This is okay as long as the total package is fair.

Weekly Insurance Costs

Medical insurance can impact your final paycheck a lot since it will deduct pay from your check each week. If you are taking the company health insurance, you are going to want to know up front about how much this will cost you per week.

The average is around $30 a week but some companies charge as much as $100 a week to their travelers and some offer some health insurance options for free. If you are not taking their insurance just set this to zero.

Hours per week

For this calculation, put the hours per week you are expecting to work. And then feel free to run it again with the hours you are guaranteed. Many times contracts have guaranteed hours that are lower than the expected hours.

Guaranteed hours means if the facility doesn’t need you to come in, you will still get paid as long as it was their choice and not yours to not work.

Also, find out if this contract has any “call off shifts” where the hospital can call you off without pay a certain number of times per contract. This is common and not a deal breaker but just good to know!

Length of assignment

In travel nurses and allied health the most common length of a travel assignment is 13 weeks. If you are looking for a contract shorter or longer just ask! Sometimes facilities or hospitals who hire you will be flexible.

Taxable rate per hour

If you have a tax home you can get money in two ways: Your taxable base pay per hour + tax-free stipends that help pay for your housing and meals in your new city.

If you do not have a tax home all of your pay will be taxed and put in this field.

Good to know: Your taxable base pay is the only part of your paycheck that is legally considered income. The average taxable base pay is $20 but you might get offers higher or lower than this. It’s the only part of your paycheck that is taxed

Nomadicare’s purpose is to empower. It’s the lifeblood that flows through every single thing we create. We are here to make sure every traveler has all the transparent knowledge they need to make empowered decisions. We want you to feel confident so you can live your dream!

Nomadicare is partnered with dozens of companies and each of those companies have access to different settings, locations, and exclusive contracts. We know their benefit options and who have jobs in each location. We will match you to the best recruiters for you and your goals. Every single recruiter has been vetted and comes with the Nomadicare guarantee.
You can browse the open jobs from many of our company partners on the Nomadicare’s anti bait and switch job board. When you see one that catches your eye, the goal is to apply asap. Jobs are closing faster than ever with all the craziness this year so speed is our best friend. When you request an interview, we’ll instantly match you with the vetted recruiter who posted that job.
Typically 0-3 months before you are ready to start your next assignment is best. A short quiz will give us a picture of who you are, and what you are looking for. After the quiz we’ll have everything we need to match you with the perfect recruirer for your travel goals
If you know where you want to go and you’re ready to travel, Instant Matching is perfect for you. You can browse the open jobs from many of our company partners on the Nomadicare’s anti bait-and-switch job board. When you see one that catches your eye, the goal is to apply asap. Jobs are closing faster than ever with all the craziness this year so speed is our best friend.
We highly recommended being ready! Having all of your documents and being super responsive are key. Speed is the biggest factor in getting the job you want. We recommend using a free service like Kamana, which you can share your online resume, credentials, and licenses with a single link to any of our vetted recruiters when requesting an interview.
Graph Café, Chiang Mai, Thailand 🥇