Travel nursing is not only a rewarding occupation, but it also has many fringe benefits.
Many travel nursing agencies offer housing stipends as one of those benefits, but you are asking, “What is the average housing stipend for travel nurses?”
The factors that must be considered when answering that question may be overwhelming and leave you wondering whether you’re getting a good deal or not.
A housing stipend can be a huge benefit, but there’s more to know.
In this article, we’ll fill you in on all the details so you can make a well-informed decision.
Table of Contents
- What Is A Travel Nurse Housing Stipend?
- What Are Per Diem Rates?
- How Do Per Diem Rates Apply To Travel Nursing?
- What Are The Qualifications To Receive A Travel Nurse Housing Stipend?
- Travel Nurse Stipend: Will You Receive The GSA’s Maximum?
- What Is The Average Housing Stipend For Travel Nurses?
- 2 Reasons Why There Is No Average Housing Stipend For Travel Nurses
- 3 Benefits To Accepting A Travel Nurse Housing Stipend Vs. Agency Provided Housing
- #1: Travel Nurse Housing Stipends Are Tax-Free
- #2: You Can Choose Where You Want To Live
- #3 Have More Financial Control
What is a Travel Nurse Housing Stipend?
Not only do many travel nurses receive excellent pay and opportunities to visit cities across the world, but they can also take advantage of many other fringe benefits.
Housing provisions are one of the benefits offered by travel nurse agencies that can make the nursing assignment package attractive.
There are generally two housing benefit options available to travel nurses:
- Agency-provided housing
- Tax-free housing stipend
What’s the difference between the two?
Agency-provided housing is simply that — housing that the staffing agency arranges for you.
The agency will look for accommodations with short-term leases or may even find places with long-term leases and rotate nurses in and out. Some housing arrangements may also include utilities and furniture rental.
A travel nurse housing stipend, on the other hand, is simply a sum of money offered by the agency to cover the cost of housing while on a travel nurse assignment.
Trusted Nurse Staffing can help you find the perfect assignment and assist you in your housing choices.
What Are Per Diem Rates?
Though agencies offer different amounts for housing allowance, they must work within limits set by the Government Services Administration (GSA).
The GSA sets the allowance rates for locations within the 48 contiguous United States, and agency reimbursements are determined as per diem rates that may change based on location or time of year.
Understanding how per diem rates and housing stipends are related is key in knowing whether taking a housing stipend will be to your advantage.
Why does the GSA call it per diem, but my agency refers to it as a stipend? Are they the same thing?
Per diem is a Latin term that means “per day”, and the rates set by the GSA are called per diem rates because they are given as daily figures. For example, the current per diem lodging rate for December in Miami, Florida, is $192.
Travel nurse agencies use the term stipend because it more clearly reflects the benefit they are providing — a set sum of money given as a housing allowance.
A stipend is the better term to use for the travel nurse industry because most assignments last between 8 and 13 weeks rather than a matter of days.
Though travel nurse agencies quote housing allowances as a monthly figure, they usually pay them in one of two ways:
How Do Per Diem Rates Apply to Travel Nursing?
You may be wondering why GSA per diem rates even apply to travel nurses since the GSA is a government agency that sets per diem rates for federal employees.
Why would those rates apply to you even if you are not a federal employee?
That’s a good question.
Even though the per diem rate set by the GSA was designed for federal employees, the IRS uses the same rates for employees working in the private sector.
What Are the Qualifications to Receive a Travel Nurse Housing 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.
As with most things related to the IRS, it can be very complicated, but we’ll try to give you a simple explanation here. Of course, you can always consult the IRS website for a more complete explanation.
The most basic thing to understand to know if you qualify for tax-free stipends is it depends on where you are working versus where your tax home is. Knowing how to define “tax home” is crucial to know if you qualify.
The IRS defines your tax home as “your regular place of business or post of duty, regardless of where you maintain your family home. It includes the entire city or general area in which your business or work is located.” It’s important that you can distinguish the difference between a tax home and a family home — you can indeed have both.
To maintain a tax home, travel nurses usually need to meet 2 of the 3 following criteria:
- A minimum of 25% of your income is earned in the tax home area.
- You maintain a permanent residence.
- You do not abandon your tax home.
Remember, you must meet at least two of the above criteria. If you meet only one, you will be disqualified.
Some further tips that may help you maintain your tax home include:
- Keep one bank account in your tax home.
- Maintain one address in your tax home where you will receive all mail and have it forwarded to your assignment address.
- When filing state taxes, file as a non-resident in the state of your assignment.
- Register to vote in your tax home.
- Have your driver’s license registered in your tax home and register your vehicles there as well.
After paying careful attention to maintaining your tax home, to qualify for tax-free stipends, you must work away from your tax home as well as keep your status as a temporary worker.
The IRS defines a temporary worker as one whose “temporary assignment in a single location is one that is realistically expected to last (and does in fact last) for 1 year or less.”
If your assignment is longer than a year, the IRS will consider it indefinite, and you will no longer qualify for the tax-free stipend.
Since travel nurse contracts have a clear beginning and ending dates, proving your status as a temporary worker should be easy and straightforward.
Travel Nurse Stipend: Will You Receive The GSA’s Maximum?
And here’s why — and it makes perfect sense.
- GSA’s rates are maximum rates.
- GSA’s rates are tied to shorter-term stays that typically require staying in a hotel, which is more pricey than finding long-term housing.
For example, in Miami, the GSA’s per diem rate ranges from $115 to $192, which means the monthly lodging per diem would total between $3450 and $5760. This monthly amount far exceeds the average monthly rent of $1702.
Agencies will take the GSA per diem rate and local cost of living into account to determine an appropriate travel nurse housing stipend.
What is the Average Housing Stipend for Travel Nurses?
If you’re asking, “What is an average housing stipend for travel nurses?” you may be disappointed to learn that there is no “real” average.
That’s because there are other factors that need to be considered, which makes it difficult to calculate a true average.
2 Reasons Why There is No Average Housing Stipend for Travel Nurses
The amount you receive for a travel nurse housing stipend depends on two important factors:
- Travel nurse agency
- Location of assignment
Different travel nurse agencies will arrange housing stipends in various ways, and the cost of living varies widely across the United States, both of which make it difficult to determine an average stipend amount across the board.
#1: Your Travel Nurse Agency
Stipend offers can vary from agency to agency, so you need to understand all the details so you can make an informed decision.
Some travel nurse agencies may offer you a choice between a stipend or housing provided by the agency. In this case, you’ll want to compare the cost of rent compared to the stipend offered.
Other travel nurse agencies may offer another type of arrangement. Instead of giving you a straight choice between the stipend or agency housing, they may offer you one of two options:
- A high tax-free housing stipend with a lower taxable wage
- Agency housing with a higher taxable wage
Considering these options, you could save money by paying lower taxes or you could find cheaper housing than the allowance and pocket the remaining cash.
#2: Your Location
Location is a key determiner of housing stipend allowance simply because the cost of living varies so greatly across the United States.
For example, a stipend in Los Angeles will be much more than a stipend in a small town in South Carolina because the cost of living in those two areas is so vastly different.
In addition, different travel nurse agencies may offer different stipend amounts for the same cities. One agency may offer a $2000 stipend for an assignment in Miami while another agency may offer $3000 for the same location.
In reality, it’s more involved than that.
You’ll have to look at the whole benefits package to make an accurate comparison. The agency offering a small stipend may offer greater benefits in another area while the agency offering the higher stipend may offer fewer benefits.
Location isn’t the only factor agencies use to determine stipend amounts. The time of year of your assignment may also affect the amount offered.
For example, if you plan to work in Miami during the summer, the housing stipend will most likely be less than it is in the more desirable winter months.
3 Benefits to Accepting a Travel Nurse Housing Stipend Vs. Agency Provided Housing
Agency-based housing may seem like the easiest way to go since the agency organizes everything for you. They take all the housing details off your plate and make it easy for you.
On the other hand, opting for the travel nurse housing stipend may offer some advantages in both flexibility and profitability.
Taking a close look at some of the benefits may be convincing.
#1: Travel Nurse Housing Stipends Are Tax-Free
No one enjoys paying taxes, and many of us try hard to find ways to reduce our tax payments.
A travel nurse housing stipend is one way to do just that.
Housing stipends are tax-free allowances which means you benefit financially without having to pay taxes on extra wages.
#2: You Can Choose Where You Want To Live
Whether you take an assignment for one month or six months, your new location will be your home away from home for the entire stint of your assignment.
After working long and possibly physically draining nursing shifts, coming home to the place you’ve picked may be just what you need to be refreshed and renewed.
Opting for the housing stipend over agency-provided housing offers flexibility and more options.
When choosing where you want to live, you’ll be free to consider:
- And much more — even if it is only temporarily.
Perhaps you want a place that is more expensive than your housing stipend. All you need to do is pay the difference.
#3 Have More Financial Control
We all want to be in control of our finances — knowing where our dollar is going and being able to stash some away in our pockets when we can.
Taking the housing stipend can be a way to save some money on your housing costs while on an assignment.
Merriam-Webster defines a stipend as “a fixed sum of money paid periodically for services or to defray expenses.” That means you’ll receive the total amount of your stipend no matter what your housing costs actually are.
So, if you find housing that is less expensive than your housing stipend, you can benefit financially from the excess. Add that to the money you save from the tax break, and it’s easy to see how the housing stipend can be a bonus financially.
Which is the better choice?
Agency housing and fewer details to think about?
Or . . .
Choosing a place that will be your home away from home?
The benefits of both are clear, but in the end, you’ll want to treat each assignment individually.
If you need help making a choice, contact Trusted Nurse Staffing today and let one of our staffing professionals walk you through the options to help find the one that’s right for you.