Housing is a super important part of the travel healthcare industry. We as travel therapists (Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Speech-Language Pathologists) have to find short-term housing for all of our travel assignments (unless we’re living the RV life of course). And finding housing arrangements as a travel therapist can be challenging. Sometimes we can’t find the housing options or lease agreements that we need or that we can afford. This is where our three choices come into play: take agency-provided housing, take the housing stipend and do the housing search ourselves, or purchase an RV and commit to the full-fledged traveler life!
And let’s be honest… words like “stipend” and “per diem rates” can cause some confusion. Questions come up like… “Why do some people in this industry call a housing stipend a per diem? Why do some people (like you guys at Nomadicare) just call it a housing stipend?” Well, let’s clear it up and chat about travel therapy housing stipends and per diem rates!
What are per diem rates and who sets them?
The GSA (U.S General Services Administration) sets the per diem rates. But what are per diem rates? They’re the daily amounts that represent how much someone could get for lodging, incidentals, etc. And that sounds like the housing stipend, right? Well yes, it is! The reason why you’ll hear us call it a “stipend” is for clarity purposes. “Per Diem” is a Latin term that actually means per day and those rates can change. A “stipend” is a set amount that is paid to someone as an allowance. Those two definitions matter because staffing agencies pay the housing costs (to you) in lump sums – which sounds more like… you got it – a stipend! We also have another definition for “per diem” in this industry. It’s an on-call type job where you work as needed. We can avoid any confusion between the two different meanings, by referring to those per diems as stipends in the travel healthcare industry.
You can always go to GSA.gov to check what the per diem rates are based on location. You’ll want to click “Travel” and immediately the per diem rate search box will come right up. You’ll choose a location and a date and then search! It will tell you the lodging rates by month (and they exclude taxes), it will also tell you the breakdown for meals and incidentals. The best part is – you can rely on this information always. It’s straight from the government and recruiters rely on it also!
Can I get the maximum that’s stated on the GSA.gov website?
The GSA has a maximum housing stipend amount and of course, it would be awesome if we were always getting that full amount! However, it’s a common misconception that we should expect the maximum every single time. Agencies are not required to max out your stipends for housing – and sometimes they can’t anyway depending on the bill rate.
Typically, travel companies are going to max out the stipends as much as they can, but only if the bill rate is high enough to allow for it. You can feel empowered to look over your pay package and look at GSA.gov to see if the stipends were maxed out, if not, you can ask your recruiter and say, “Hey (recruiter name)! I know the rates are really good in the industry right now. Is this bill rate lower or is there a different reason we can’t max out the stipends?”
Most bill-rates max out the stipends these days (depending on location) anyways. Just keep in mind, the bill rate won’t always allow for it. Recruiters and staffing agencies must consider these top three factors when determining your housing stipend: the bill rate, the GSA rates, and IRS guidelines. Why does the IRS play a part? Well because they always play a part when it comes to taxes, especially when it comes to tax-free money!
How will tax-free stipends be broken down in my contract?
Your stipends aka tax-free money will typically be listed as per hour, per day, or per week in your travel contracts. It could be a couple of dollars for meals and incidentals or it could say that you earn $50 per day for meals and incidentals. It’s all the same no matter how it’s broken up, but it won’t exceed the daily allowance (the rates) listed on the GSA.gov website – that would be breaking the law (yikes)!
Pop quiz! Where does the housing stipend money come from again? Not the government (it’s set by the government) but the money comes from the bill rate – as does everything! The staffing agency always uses a portion of the bill rate to pay your housing stipend, hourly rate, etc.
If you need a refresher on whether or not you even qualify for tax-free money in this industry, check out this blog here!
Cheers to understanding your pay more and more!