A travel stipend puts you in charge of how your money is spent. After all, you know yourself (and your needs) best.

The best part of earning a travel stipend is that the money is untaxed. This means that if you’re a savvy spender, you get to keep the leftover cash. It’s totally up to you how you spend it.

Definition of Stipend
A travel stipend is a weekly, untaxed sum of money to pay for travel expenses while on assignment. Travel expenses include lodging, meals, transportation, and incidental expenses.

If you’re new to the world of travel nursing, you might be under the impression that stipends are intended to cover the entire cost of traveling to and from your assignment. However, that isn’t the case. A travel stipend is just one part of the entire compensation package.

Your hourly rate, which is taxable, is separate from your weekly stipend amount. For example, if your hourly rate as a CNA is $20/hr, and you work 40 hours per week, your weekly earnings are $800 (again, these are taxed). In addition, you’d also receive a weekly untaxed stipend, probably somewhere in the ballpark of $1,300-$1,800 depending on the location of your contract.

How Are Stipends Calculated?
The United States General Sales Assembly (GSA) recognizes that expenses vary with the cost of living across the country. Therefore, the GSA publishes different rates for different locations throughout the United States.

The GSA website is a helpful tool to find out more about allowable tax-free stipend amounts per county, city, and state. Stipends vary by location and can change seasonally, especially if you’re on assignment in a touristy area during peak season.

This website breaks down per diem (daily) stipend rates. There are two separate categories: lodging, and “M&IE” which stands for meals and incidental expenses.

It's important to note that your weekly stipend does not change based on the number of hours that you work. Whether you’re working 40 hours of 65 hours (get that overtime!), your untaxed weekly stipend remains the same.

Let’s say you’ve taken a travel nursing assignment in Portland, Oregon and your start date is June 1. According to the GSA website, your per diem housing stipend is $182. You’d then multiply that times seven, for a weekly lodging stipend of $1,274.

Remember, GSA calculates a separate stipend for meals and incidental expenses. The M&IE per diem stipend for Portland, Oregon is $74. Multiply that by seven and your M&IE total is $518.

The cumulative, untaxed weekly stipend would be $1,274 + $518, which adds up to $1,792.

Now, if you’re a nurse whose hourly pay is $35/hr, and you work 40 hours, your taxable earnings would be $1,400/week.

Sometimes, recruiters will advertise what’s called a blended rate. A blended rate is exactly what it sounds like – it is a combination of hourly taxed wages and your untaxed per diem (lodging, meals, and incidentals). So in the example above, we would combine $1,792 and $1,400 to give you a weekly blended rate of $3,192.

Who Qualifies for a Travel Stipend?
Because a housing stipend for travel nurses is a tax-free allowance, the IRS sets some requirements that must be met by travel nurses to qualify for the stipend. In short, a traveler must prove that they are duplicating expenses while on an assignment. This means that they are paying a mortgage or rent at their primary residence, and also paying for separate lodging while on assignment.

How Does My Stipend Affect My Taxes?
As a recruiting firm, we are not permitted to give tax advice to travelers. We ask that you speak with a professional to get advice on how to best file your yearly taxes.

Do I Need to Keep My Receipts?
As a traveler, it’s important that you keep track of your expenses, to serve as proof that you are maintaining a permanent home and duplicating living expenses. Be sure to keep receipts for the following:

  • Mortgage or rent payments
  • Receipts for rental cars, flights, or public transportation to/from assignments
  • Mileage logs to and from your assignments
  • Copies of all your signed contracts

To help simplify the documentation process, we recommend using an app like Genius Scan which allows you to scan and store documents right from your phone. Here are three ways to get the most out of your weekly stipends:

1. Consider booking an extended-stay hotel.

Here, you can stay for a week or two, or even several months. Extended stay hotels offer more affordable prices (some are $50/night) as well as a full kitchen inside your room. Don’t forget to take advantage of their complimentary services, like hot breakfast, evening snacks and free Wi-Fi.

Sometimes, we hear that travel nurses book the first two weeks of their assignment in an extended-stay hotel, and then search for a cheaper option once they’re settled in.

You can extend your stay if you decide to extend your contract, or you can leave without the commitment of a lease.  

If you choose to take a more traditional route for your lodging (like Airbnb or Westgate Resorts), we recommend checking out these special discounts from Incredible Health.

Another great way for travelers to find furnished, temporary housing is through Furnished Finder.

2. Create a budget for meals
Eating out can be tough on your wallet and your waistline. We recommend creating a daily (or weekly) budget for meals and snacks. An even better way to get the most bang for your buck is to use a credit card where you earn double or triple points on groceries.

For a single person, if you are planning to buy most of your groceries and cook in your room, you can estimate to spend $20-25/day on meals. This includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and any supporting drinks like coffee or soda. That’s a total of $175/week.

3. Search for Discounts on Car Rentals
Did you know? Many rental companies offer discounts to healthcare workers! For example, CarRentalSavers.com offers discount codes for nurses.

Additionally, AAA members get discounts, up to 20 percent, through rental companies like Hertz.

If you’d like to be even more frugal, you could always consider taking advantage of public transportation.

The Bottom Line
The great thing about earning a travel nursing stipend is that you are in total control of how you spend and how much you spend. With a bit of research and planning, you can really stretch your dollar to ultimately earn more in the long run.

We know that stipends and blended rates can be confusing. If you find yourself having more questions than answers, we recommend that you seek out the help of professional tax advisors to gain a clearer understanding, as each traveler’s circumstances are unique.

Ready for your next adventure? Whether you’re a traveler looking for contracts in acute care or long-term care settings, we’ve got options. Please visit our Job Board to see a full list of open positions.



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LeaderStat specializes in direct care staff, interim leadership, executive recruitment, travel nursing and consulting for healthcare organizations nationwide.