Credit Cards: Friend or Foe?

Despite the advice of nearly everyone in my personal life, I applied and was approved for my first credit card on the day after my 18th birthday. The reason I ignored what everyone told me was not because I was young and irresponsible, but because I had done my research on the subject and knew both the pitfalls and the benefits very well. The people in my life that were telling me that credit cards were awful were the ones that had fallen into the trap of carrying a balance on their cards and paying astronomical interest rates. Luckily for me, I knew that this was not the only way, and that if credit cards are used correctly, you can avoid the traps while reaping the benefits. The key is to always pay your statement balance in full each month. If you do this, there are no fees or interest that can be charged. I first began reading and learning about credit card points, cash back, and sign up bonuses, mostly from personal finance forums and blogs, when I was 16 (I guess I was somewhat of an odd kid, right?). From my time spent reading, I knew what most people in the mainstream seem to not understand or are unable to exploit due to their own poor personal finance skills. When credit cards are used properly they are a very powerful ally in wealth accumulation and they also offer several other benefits.

Whether or not credit cards are good or bad depends completely on the mindset and understanding of the person using them. Since turning 18, I have been approved for well over 50 credit cards. At this point you are probably thinking that I’m the one that doesn’t understand and that I have probably lost a lot of money in interest and fees over the years, but that is not the case at all. In fact, I have never paid even one penny of interest or fees to any credit card I have ever had. Instead, I have earned approximately $15,000 between cashback, points, airline miles, and free hotel stays. Some of these are from the sign up bonuses offered by the cards, but a lot was just from my everyday spending over the past nine years. The reason that is an approximate estimate is that the number can change drastically based on how you redeem the “points” for each program (i.e. cashing them in for money vs. gift cards vs. airline tickets, etc.), but that number is definitely a conservative estimate at this point.

If you are an individual that has, or has had, running credit card debt currently or in the past, then credit cards are not for you. Before you think about earning cashback on anything make sure that you are able to pay your balance in full each month, because that is by far the most important part of the whole process. Earning 2% cashback while paying 18% in interest each month is ludicrous. Credit card debt is utterly awful and makes student loan interest look like child’s play. Paying fees and interest on credit cards is not at all what I am proposing and is not the path that you should take. Get your financial house in order and look at credit card rewards later when you are more responsible with your money.

Since I started applying for credit cards, almost ten years ago now, my thoughts on what is most important when choosing a new card have changed. At 18, I didn’t realize how lucrative sign up bonuses could be and cared much more about getting cashback on my everyday purchases. For this reason, my first four or five cards were all cash back cards that offered at least 1% back on all purchases and usually an increased amount in a certain category. As I mentioned earlier, I had done my homework and looked at all the available cards before I turned 18 and knew exactly which cashback card would be best for me. I analyzed my budget and determined where most of my spending was going, and it turned out at that time, it was restaurants and gas. I got a card that offered 3% cash back at gas stations (a card from Chase, I can’t remember the actual name) and then later that week was approved for another that offered 5 points/dollar at restaurants (Citi Forward). In addition, both of these cards offered 1% cashback on any other purchase that I made. A year or so later, I was lucky enough to be approved for a card that offered 2% cashback on any purchase before it was discontinued (Barclay Priceline). It wasn’t until I was in my senior year of undergrad that I really began to understand how huge some of the sign up bonuses for credit cards can be. For example, a card that I was approved for in August of 2015 offered 50,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first three months of having the card (AMEX Premier Rewards Gold). The value of the points are debatable, but at a minimum, they are worth $500 when redeeming for gift cards, but can be worth much more than that when transferring the points to airline or hotel partners (some claim to get 2-3 cents/point in value when transferring). This card is only one of over a dozen that I have used to my advantage in the past year alone. The processes for redeeming points and meeting minimum spending requirements can be topics of future posts if there is interest in them.

So what does all this mean? Since I turned 18, every purchase that I have made, no matter how large or small, was made with a cashback or points earning card (if the merchant accepted cards of course). For the majority of my adult life, I have earned a minimum of 2% back on every purchase that I have made and, depending on the category of the purchase, up to 5%. Is this a huge amount? That depends on your perspective, but I consider it substantial and one of the factors that will ultimately help me achieve financial independence just a little bit sooner.

Hopefully at this point I have convinced you that, if nothing else, credit cards may not be as terrible as you have always heard; but if not, there’s more. Many cards offer such benefits as: free credit score monitoring, enhanced fraud protection, roadside assistance, rental car insurance, price protection, and emergency travel assistance along with many more depending on the card. I can discuss these benefits more in a future post if they are of interest. Luckily, most of these things have not been of much use to me (except credit score monitoring), but I have no idea what life may have in store for me in the future.

In summary, if you are responsible with your finances, including paying your statement balances in full each month, credit card sign up bonuses and rewards can be an amazingly valuable tool and have served me very well over the years. If you are not responsible with your finances, then don’t even consider it. What are you thoughts and opinion on the subject? A few of the cards that I mentioned in this post are no longer available. Would you like a post with my current credit card recommendations? Thanks for reading!

Seek Forgiveness or Pay off Your Student Loans Early?

Disclaimer: From discussions that I have had on this subject in the past, I realize that this is a controversial topic. I have never been one to shy away from discussion on touchy subjects whether ethical or financial in nature. This post will be about the financial side of the decision that I have made, but I can always write about the ethical side in the future if there is interest.

This is a subject that I have spent a very long time learning about, pondering, and crunching numbers on. No matter how many times I revisit the topic, I come to the same logical conclusion. For my situation, it is financially in my best interest to seek student loan forgiveness. As much as the thought of watching the balance of my student loans grow over the next twenty years sickens me, I know that it is in my best interest based on the calculations that I have performed. You may be wondering, how will the balance grow if you are making payments on the loans each month? The answer is that my minimum payment, based on the Pay As You Earn plan (that I have determined is the best choice for me), is not enough to cover the interest that is accruing each month. Although this is the path that I am choosing, there are a number of factors to consider in your own situation about what is the best option. Some of these include:

  • Is working at a nonprofit an option for you in order to seek Public Service Loan Forgiveness*? (The best option for most if this is plausible)
  • Are you able to be responsible with money that you have left over from choosing to have a lower student loan payment? (If you spend the extra money, from choosing an income based repayment plan, on unimportant things, then it is probably better to go with standard repayment)
  • What will be your estimated adjusted gross income? (this is important to determine what your income based payment amount would be)
  • Do you believe that your income will increase significantly over the next 20 years? (As your income increases, so does your income based payment)
  • What are the interest rates on your loans? (With low interest rates, you may be better off investing the extra money than paying off the loan early)
  • What will the balance on your loans be at the end of 20 years? (Based on the current tax laws, the amount forgiven at the end of the 20 year period will count as “unearned income” and lead to a significant tax bill)
  • Which income based repayment plan would be best for you if you choose to go that route? (Check out the student aid website if you have no idea about this)

* Public Service Loan Forgiveness does not require taxes to be paid on the forgiven loan amount, in addition to having the loan forgiven 10 years earlier. Obviously a very good option if possible.

As a travel PT, I consider my situation to be somewhat unique in the loan repayment regard. Since part of my pay is untaxed, for living expenses while away at an assignment, my adjusted gross income (AGI) is less. I have also been contributing a significant amount to my 401k which further reduces my AGI. Both of these things combined, give me a somewhat low AGI. This makes my student loan payment low while also allowing me to save a significant amount of money. So I was then faced with the decision to either pay the minimum and invest the rest, or pay extra on my loans and pay them off as soon as possible. This is where the calculations came into play and helped me make the decision. Of course all of the numbers I used are estimates because there is no way to know what my exact pay will be in the future.

To give a little context without going too in depth, I currently owe just below $100,000 after accumulated interest while in school. My average weighted interest rate is a little over 6%. I had no debt from undergrad and lived at home during PT school in order to save on living expenses. For the most part, I lived as cheaply as I could, so the figure above is mostly from tuition, books, and food.  Based on my estimates, if I put all of the money that I possibly could into paying off my loans quickly, I would be able to achieve that goal in around two years if everything went according to plan. This would lead to total payments of about $103,000. On the other hand, I could make minimum, income based, payments on the loans for 20 years, and then have the balance of the loans forgiven. The forgiven balance will count as “unearned income” and will be taxed. This means a big tax bill at the end of the 20 year period. For my calculations, I assume a 30% tax rate on the amount forgiven. The actual rate is unable to be determined because tax rates will be different at that time, and I am unsure of exactly what my income will be then, but I believe that 30% is a conservative estimate.

Using the repayment estimator, it is estimated that over the 20 year period, making the minimum payments on the Pay As You Earn plan, I will pay about $88,000 and be left with a balance of about $126,000 to be forgiven. At first this seems like a much worse option but keep in mind that this is 20 years in the future. Based on an average 3%/year inflation rate, $103,000 is worth more today than $126,000 will be 18 years from today. Let’s look at the calculations to determine the total paid in this scenario.

$126,000 * 30% = $37,800 owed in taxes for forgiven debt

$37,800 (tax bill from $126,000 forgiven) + $88,000 (amount paid in minimum payments over a 20 year period) = $125,800 paid in total at the end of 20 years

This means that I could pay about $103,000 over two years’ time, or I could pay a total of $125,800 over a 20 year period. In the 18 year period between the two estimates, it would only take an approximate 1.1% annualized interest rate to grow $103,000 to $125,500. If I am able to earn anything above a 1.1% interest rate on my money in that 18 year period through investments, then it is in my best interest to wait the 20 years and pay the tax bill at the end while making minimum payments along the way. I am confident that, with the asset allocation that I have chosen, I will earn a much better return than 1.1% over an 18 year period and therefore will be better off investing my money instead of paying off my loans early.

For the sake of comparison, if I were to choose the standard 10 year repayment plan, I would pay a total of $129,000 over a 10 year period. This is clearly worse than both of the options discussed above.

Now let’s consider another factor. Imagine that two years from today I pass away due to some unfortunate event. In the first scenario, I have my student loans paid off in full, but nothing to leave to my family. In the second scenario, I have paid very little toward my loans, but have somewhere around $100,000 in retirement and investment accounts. Since student loans are discharged upon death, I will leave my family with $100,000 and the loans won’t matter anymore. In this way, the second scenario can be viewed as a life insurance policy of sorts. Although the chance of death is much lower for younger people, you never know what may happen in life and the second scenario is clearly better in this regard.

But wait, there’s more. There is also a tax deduction based on the amount of interest you pay on your student loans up to $2,500 per year, even if you don’t itemize your return. This deduction is phased out if your AGI is above $80,000, but I don’t think that will ever happen for me based on 401k contributions reducing my AGI. You do not receive that full $2,500 back on your taxes, but will receive some percentage of it based on your income, likely somewhere in the neighborhood of 20%-25%. That means somewhere around $600 being returned to you each year on your taxes. $600 x 20 years = $12,000. In addition to the deduction, there has been legislation proposed to no longer have the forgiven loan balance count as unearned income, which would make loan forgiveness a much better option. There is no way to know if this will ever go through, but I would imagine there is at least a small chance over the next 20 years.

Remember that all of the numbers above are approximate and are meant to illustrate my point. This can all be very confusing which is the reason that I have performed these calculations several times over the past year to make sure that I’m not overlooking anything. It is all further confounded by the fact that the future is so uncertain. Based on all the information available and my best estimates, I’m choosing income based repayment and hoping for the best. Keep in mind, this plan would completely fall apart if I wasn’t positive that I will be financially responsible with the extra money each month. If you are spending the difference instead of investing it then this option will turn out badly for you. What is your plan? Is there anything that I am missing? I would appreciate any feedback or discussion on the topic. Thanks for reading!

What Financial Independence Means to Me

About a year ago, I became fascinated with the idea of early retirement. There is a small group of people that I discovered through blogs and podcasts from whom I learned a great deal. Most people in the mainstream have never even considered early retirement an option and neither had I. It seems the norm to spend almost all of what you make while only saving a very small amount for retirement, or financial independence, as I prefer to call it and will refer to it from this point forward. The reason that financial independence is a more fitting term is because I don’t plan to “retire” once I reach financial independence, but I do plan to be financially able to pursue whatever I may choose. My personal financial plan leads me to this ultimate goal in approximately 5 years. It could be more, it could be less depending on what life has in store, but overall I am confident that I am heading in the right direction.

I believe truly learning yourself and what makes you happy is a never ending process. I am still very early in this process, but it is already readily evident to me that what I am interested in today is likely not what I will be interested in ten years from now. This may not be the case for everyone, but for me I know this to be true. Although I love physical therapy at this point in my life, I want the freedom to go back to school or change careers in the future if that’s what I choose to do, without the fear of not being able to pay my bills. Also, I plan to have kids within the next five to ten years, and I want to be able to spend as much time as I choose with them. Even if you love what you do and you can’t imagine not doing that thing for the rest of your life, wouldn’t the freedom to take off when you needed to for life circumstances (family vacations, illness or death in the family, or whatever else life may have in store) be invaluable? So you’re thinking, yeah that sounds great, of course everyone wants that freedom, but how is that possible?

Financial independence comes down to one factor, and that is living below your means. It will never be possible to be financially independent before retirement age if you only save a small amount of your income. You could be the world’s best investor, but it is difficult to invest without capital. There are only two ways to live below your means: make more or spend less. For me, this was a big factor, but not the only factor, in choosing travel physical therapy. I am able to make more money than I would if I were to take a full time job somewhere. In addition to earning more, I also focus on spending less. Whitney and I split all of our expenses; we both have budgets and we do our best to stick to them. We strive to save as much of our income as possible.

Trying to save as much as possible while also still enjoying life can be a delicate balancing act, but we do a very good job of balancing each other out. I’m all for saving as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to sacrifice my happiness in the present in exchange for gaining early financial independence. I have always been a natural saver, but Whitney does a good job of keeping me in check and keeping me from being too frugal. We are lucky enough to be able to save a substantial amount without having to sacrifice much, if anything, that we want. We have had a number of exciting experiences thus far in our first year out of school, while still saving at least 75% of our paychecks each month. I understand that this isn’t feasible for everyone, but by choosing the paths that we did, this is possible for us. Regardless of your specific circumstances, there are definitely ways for everyone to take a look at your budget and begin saving more than you spend, while still having great experiences and enjoying the present.

One example of how we made sacrifices to be in our present situation is that we saved for 6 months right out of school in order to pay cash for both our camper and our truck, instead of going with costly financing. This meant that we had to sacrifice and find alternative housing for our first two contracts (living in an over the garage apartment at someone’s house we found on Craigslist), rather than jumping right into our plan of living on our own in the camper.  This decision definitely paid off, and now we are living out our dream plan.

To some, living in a camper itself may seem like quite a sacrifice, but we don’t see it that way at all. The camper allows us to avoid having to pack and move every time we finish a contract. Which is not only a hassle, but also a waste of time, which ultimately means a waste of money. The old saying “time is money” is true throughout life, but especially so when there is no such thing as paid time off. In addition, the camper gives us some consistency when moving. We may have to adjust to a new geographical location, new people, and a new work environment, but no matter where we go, our living area will be the same.

Other ways that we “sacrifice” to save money include eating in and cooking most nights of the week, packing lunch everyday, and making coffee at home. We still enjoy eating out once or twice per week, and if there’s some special treat we really want, yeah we can go ahead and buy it. It’s really not that big of a sacrifice if you just make it part of your lifestyle. I like to think of every dollar I spend on something in terms of how long I have to work to pay for that thing. For example, if you buy coffee every day before work at an average of $3 per coffee, times 5 days per week, times 52 weeks a year, over a 30 year career, you could have saved $23,400 in cash. If that same amount was being invested (i.e. in your 401k or IRA) at an average return of 7% per year (reasonable based on previous market returns) you would end up with just below $80,000 saved over a 30 year career. Based on the average individual income of approximately $30,000 per year gross income, that would mean an approximate additional three years of work to fund this daily habit after taking income taxes into account. Everyone has their own priorities, but to me this just doesn’t seem reasonable. You can take this same example and apply it to bigger purchases too, such as eating out daily, or even choosing a  more expensive car or house.

The point of this is that life is about perspective. What seems like a sacrifice to one individual is not at all to another. Make a list of the things in your life that are truly important to you, and then make a list of the top places in which you allocate your money. Do the things at the top of the lists match up? If not then that is an ideal place for reflection. Now look at the bottom of the list of things that are important to you. Could you allocate fewer resources to those “unimportant” things in order to reach “freedom” sooner? Again, time is money, and the more money you spend today the further you push financial freedom into your future and take the focus away from the things that are truly important to you. Is a new car and house what truly makes you happy, or is it a status symbol? Do you use all of the space in your house or apartment, or could you get a smaller space that is still accommodating while paying less? Is coffee at Starbucks and eating lunch out every day worth an extra few years working at the end of your career when you are ready to pursue other interests or spend more time with family?

Every day is a gift and there is always the possibility that there will be no tomorrow. But, if you are able to live a full life today and allocate your resources to the things that truly matter to you, while also saving a substantial amount for the future, then why not? To me this seems like common sense, but I know that it isn’t because I have met many people that can’t understand why I wouldn’t just buy things because I can afford them.

Financial independence to me means freedom. Freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want. I may go back to school at that time; I may begin a new career; I may travel the world (frugally of course); or, I may continue working as a physical therapist, whether full-time, part-time, or PRN. But the point is, I will have that choice because of financial independence. I won’t be locked in to a 40+ hour work week. Whatever I choose to do when I reach financial independence, it will undoubtedly include: family, reading, learning, developing new skills, and making the world a better place to the best of my ability. This is a top priority in my life and I imagine that it will be for the foreseeable future. Thanks for reading. What are your thoughts on the subject?

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be specific financial advice, just illustration of the concepts that I choose to apply to my own life.

Thinking about Travel PT as a new grad? – Part 2

After one or more of your interviews are completed and a facility wants to hire you, you should receive an offer from your recruiter. They will tell you a dollar amount that will be your “weekly take home pay” on your paycheck, after taxes. This is the amount that you can expect between your untaxed stipend (housing, food, and incidentals) as well as your taxable hourly pay. In our experience so far, an average weekly take-home pay is between $1400-$1600 as a new grad, but we have heard of some offers as high as $1800/week. This is a very exciting time, but it is also dangerous if you don’t know what to watch out for. This is where having a good recruiter will help tremendously. It is in your company’s (travel company) best interest to give you the lowest taxable pay possible while giving you a higher not taxable pay. The reason for this is that they pay taxes on the taxable amount that you earn just like you do. At first this may seem like a good thing for you because more untaxed pay means a higher “take home pay,” but not so fast.

I know how frustrating it can be to stare at six figures of student load debt at the completion of your degree. However, accepting a taxable rate that is too low can be considered “wage recharacterization” if you are ever audited by the IRS. Basically this means that you are taking a taxable rate that is lower than you deserve for your education and skill set in order to get more untaxed money. In order to avoid this, you must only accept a taxable hourly rate that is “reasonable” for your occupation. Since there is no definite number here, this can be a tricky situation and up to interpretation, but I would recommend not taking anything below $20/hr taxable pay because that is probably asking for trouble. In addition to paying attention to your hourly taxable pay, there are also stipulations to consider regarding eligibility for an untaxed stipend. This is a rather lengthy subject, so I will cover this topic in a later post, but just be aware that you aren’t automatically eligible for untaxed money and there is some grey area.

Now, hopefully you have accepted an offer in your ideal setting and in a location that you are comfortable with. You’re probably wondering how you go about finding housing, and you’ve probably also heard that the travel company will do this for you. This is true, the travel company will find housing for you, but in most cases you would be foolish to go about finding housing in this manner. The travel company will take your housing stipend and place you somewhere within driving distance to the clinic. Usually this will be some sort of corporate housing or extended stay motel. The problem with this is that your housing stipend may be quite a bit higher than the actual cost of the accommodation. I ran the numbers on my first contract and found that by allowing the company to find housing for me, I would basically be paying over $2000/month for an extended stay motel. I could go to this same extended stay motel and pay $1,200/month if I did it on my own. Financially, finding your own housing is by far the better choice, and I would highly recommend it in most cases. I would love to lie and say that this is an easy process and it’s no problem finding somewhere to live, but that is not the case. Whitney and I scoured Craiglist and called every apartment complex (about 40-50) within driving distance of our first assignments and found absolutely nothing after 12 hours of non-stop calling. Very few apartment complexes want to rent short term and usually if they do, it is corporate housing and insanely expensive.

We eventually found a place to live on Craigslist but it was a furnished room in someones home. It was an overall positive experience, but adapting to someone else’s rules and schedule can be difficult as an adult and not something that I wish to do long term. Finding an apartment in a complex comes with its own set of problems. Setting up and disconnecting utilities and internet can be a hassle, and having to move your own furniture or rent furniture is no fun. There is also an opportunity cost associated with the amount of time it takes to move. It may take you a week to pack all of your belongings, drive to the new location, and then unpack. As a travel PT, there is very little, if any, paid vacation time, so any down time means lost wages and this was unacceptable for Whitney and me. If I’m going to take time off of work, I want it to be vacation time, not packing and moving time. This is the point that we decided that traveling in a camper was by far the best option for us. We can come home from work on Friday at the end of a contract, hook up the fifth wheel and be on the road to the next location that same night if we wish to do it that way. However, we understand that traveling by RV may not be the best option for everyone. We know other travelers who have either rented furnished places, rented or bought Goodwill furniture upon arrival, or pulled a small U-haul type trailer with a few pieces of furniture with them. There are definitely options, and you can decide which one works best for you. I will post more later on the topic of searching for and buying an RV for those that are interested in that route.

Once you have moved into your new place, hopefully close to the clinic you’re working at, the easy part begins. Go to work, do what you have been learning to do for the past three years, make money, and enjoy local attractions and scenery on the weekends. After a few weeks, you should have an idea about how well you like the clinic and if you would be willing to extend your contract for another few months when it ends or if you will be ready to leave ASAP. Be aware, some companies will have an option in the first 1-2 weeks to cancel your contract if it’s not working out. After that, once you are full swing into the contract, there is typically a policy that you, or the clinic, can end the contract early by giving a 30 day notice (i.e. if they hire a full timer and want to end your contract early, or you find a new place you want to go sooner). Make sure this is written into your contract, so they can’t end your contract without notice (or very short notice). If you are lucky enough to want to stay for an additional period of time (and the clinic needs you for longer), as has happened with my assignments so far, that is great news! You don’t have to go through the whole process of finding a new job and a new place to live, and you get to avoid that opportunity cost that is associated with moving that I talked about earlier. We are hoping to stay in each place we go for at least 6 months if possible, in order to avoid the moving process so often.

In the first 30 days of your contract, you need to be sure to sign up for benefits including medical, dental, and vision. Your recruiter should be able to help you with this if you have questions. Depending on the travel company, there are various additional benefits including: License cost reimbursement, Travel reimbursement (gas for traveling to a new place), 401k matching, referral bonuses, etc.

There is probably more about the process that I forgot to include but I hope that this is at least a starting point and helpful for some. I will be posting more about our specific experiences in future posts. Send me a message or comment below if you would like the contact information of the recruiters/companies that I would recommend. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!

Thinking about Travel PT as a new grad?

Beginning to read and learn about travel physical therapy can be very scary, especially for a new grad. I am by no means an expert at this point but I have been traveling for almost a year now. When I first started, I was nervous to say the least. The allure of increased pay and traveling all over the country was enticing, but I had so many questions. Where will I live? How will I get there? I hate packing and moving, how can I possibly do it every three months? How do I know which recruiter and company to choose? What if I hate the clinic that I am placed at? What if I don’t know enough, as a new grad, to be effective at treating the patients?

Those are only a few of the questions that I had. I was lucky enough to have met a travel PT in my first clinical and was able to talk to him for a couple of hours and get answers to most of my questions. I want to write this post for current PT students or recently graduated physical therapists that are considering traveling and answer some of those tough questions.

To start off, here is a list of pros and cons to consider:
  • Pros:
    • Better pay
    • Adventure
    • Experience in different settings
    • Meeting new friends and acquaintances
    • Learning new skills
    • Seeing different parts of the country
  •  Cons:
    • Moving often
    • Setting up housing each time
    • Adapting to new job environments
    • No paid time off
    • Possible tax law issues (the topic of a future post)

Even considering the cons list above, I would highly recommend travel PT. The experience has been very rewarding for Whitney and me. The pay is amazing, seeing new areas is thrilling, and interacting with people from backgrounds all over the spectrum is enlightening.

Another consideration when beginning to think about travel PT is if you are confident in your physical therapy skill set as a new grad. If not, it may not be a complete deal breaker for travel, but it could make your first couple of assignments more difficult. Some locations that you may go to will be very accommodating and helpful. This may include an orientation, several days of shadowing, and a light caseload in order to get accustomed to the new documentation system and environment. Other clinics will be the complete opposite and expect you to handle a full caseload your first day and learn everything on the fly. Unfortunately, this was Whitney’s experience with her first contract. She called me crying at the conclusion her first day because she was thrown into a full caseload after only a brief introduction to the manager and some of the staff. In the event that you have to jump right in, being confident in your evaluation and treatment skills is essential. If you feel that you may need more time and would like to have someone to rely on if needed, then let your recruiter know that being placed at a facility with a new grad program is non-negotiable.

This leads to the next step, finding a travel company and a recruiter that will help you and be in your corner. The companies/recruiters that I have taken contracts with have been very helpful, but I believe that you should talk to several and find the ones who you feel the most comfortable with and that you feel like you can trust. For my recommendations, feel free to contact me and I will give you their contact information. Side note, you do not have to have just one company that you work with. When looking for jobs, we are always talking to at least two recruiters from different companies in order to have a better shot at getting a job in the area and setting that we want. Recruiters will act like they are your best friends because they want you to take a job with them, but this can lead you into a false sense of security. Remember that their ultimate goal is for you to take a job with their company, so you still need to be vigilant and not accept any job that isn’t a good fit for you.

Some questions to ask a travel company/recruiter
  • Do they offer referral bonuses?
  • Do they offer license reimbursement?
  • Do they offer travel expense reimbursement?
  • Do they offer 401k enrollment and when are you eligible?
  • What does the benefits package include and when does it start?
  • Do they offer a finder’s fee if you bring the job to them?
  • Are there any opportunities for paid time off?
  • Do they offer any continuing education support?

Now that you have a recruiter, or two, that you can count on, pick a few states where you would be interested in working, and ask your recruiter for a list of jobs in those states. You’ll likely find that some states seem to have a plethora of jobs while some states seem to only have a few. Keep in mind, you have to get licensed in each state where you want to work, and each state has different procedures, fees, and lengths of time to get licensed. Your travel company should be able to assist you with  the licensing process. Next, consider in which settings you’d be willing to work and which ones you are not willing to take (i.e. SNF vs. outpatient vs. acute). You can’t always have your cake and eat it too, so you may have to settle on either the location or the setting. For example, you may be set on only working in acute care to start with, so you may not get the exact geographical location that you desire. Or, if you are set on working in Charlotte, you may have to take a job in a setting that isn’t your first choice. Determine what is most important to you. Is it the location or the setting that is the real deal breaker for you? You may get lucky and get exactly the setting you want in your ideal location, but don’t count on it. Remember that the amount of jobs available is finite. However, it is a lot easier to find jobs you want when you’re traveling as an individual. It’s much more difficult traveling as a pair and trying to find 2 jobs in the same geographical area, and also trying to choose your ideal setting. Whitney and I have had to make some sacrifices on jobs because of that.

Once you and your recruiter have found a few potential jobs, now begins the barrage of phone interviews. The first one is always intimidating, but remember that as much as it is the manager interviewing you, it is also you interviewing them to determine if this clinic will be a good fit. Be prepared with a list of questions that hit all the important areas. Here is an example of important questions to ask:
  • Will there be other PTs in the clinic or are you going to be the only one?
  • How many PTAs?
  • What hours/days of the week will you be working?
  • What is their documentation system?
  • How many patients will you being seeing in a day and how many of those will be evaluations on average? How much time is allotted to each patient?
  • When are they looking for an applicant to start working?
  • What is the primary population, if applicable?
  • Is there a guaranteed 40 hour work week?
  • Is overtime an option or requirement?
  • What is the productivity expectation? (This can be an issue. I will cover this in a future post)

These questions are crucial. Both Whitney and I were adamant on not accepting a job unless there was at least one other PT so that we could ask questions if we needed.

This is just an intro on how to get started with your travel PT journey. I will write more about accepting an offer and the next steps in the process in my next post. Thank you for reading and feel free to ask questions below.

Check out the 2nd part to this post:

Thinking About Travel PT as a New Grad: PART TWO!

About me

First let me start with a disclaimer. I have never considered myself a decent writer. Not even close. I avoided writing at all costs throughout my life, but I’m always up for a challenge and an opportunity to develop new skills. With the help of my beautiful girlfriend as editor, I hope to be able to communicate my ideas effectively. Here goes nothing.

My name is Jared Casazza. I am an enthusiast of all things physical therapy, travel, finance, fitness, nutrition, investing, and real estate. The best single phrase to describe me would be, “Jack of all trades, master of none.”  Although this may seem to have a negative connotation to some, I feel that Jack gets a bad rap. Most of my life in recent years has been based on the Pareto principle (80% of the knowledge about a subject can be achieved in 20% of the time required to learn the subject in its entirety), but I never realized this until recently. I believe that most of the benefits of learning about a new topic come in the period of time in which you become proficient. Past this point, diminishing returns are inevitable. I would rather gain adequate knowledge on a topic as efficiently as possible and then move on to something else that will help me develop in other facets of my life. This blog will be my way of communicating my ideas and accumulated knowledge to others, as well as chronicling my journey with traveling physical therapy. First, let’s start with a little background about myself.

I’m 27 years old and have been finished with school for about a year now. I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia and graduated from Cave Spring High School. My Bachelors degree is in Sports Medicine from Radford University. I received my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Radford Universtiy, as well, in 2015. Since graduation, I have been working as a traveling physical therapist. For those that don’t know what that means, basically I take short term contracts, usually three months, in different places around the country. For the most part, I am able to choose the geographical location where I want to work and the physical therapy setting in which I want to work. Outpatient orthopedics is always my first choice.

My girlfriend, Whitney, is a physical therapist as well, and we travel together. Initially the thought of traveling and starting new jobs several times a year was terrifying, but we decided that it would be worth it. The idea of being paid well while exploring the country was enticing, especially with over $250k in student loan debt between the two of us. We spent our first nine months of contracts in an area a little over an hour from our hometown in Virginia. The reason for this was two-fold. First, we wanted to be close to home in order to travel back easily for weddings over the summer and be close to family in case this travel thing didn’t go exactly as planned. Second, we wanted to go to a rural area to keep our cost of living as low as possible, with the goal of saving money to buy a fifth wheel camper and a truck to haul it so that we could start our “real” travel journey across the country.

At the beginning of 2016, we began living full time in a 2009 Coachmen Chaparral 33-foot fifth wheel camper. Many people that I have spoken with feel that living in a camper would be miserable. I have to admit, at first we were concerned about that as well. However, our experience to this point has been very positive overall, even when taking into account the several mornings of having no running water due to “enjoying” the Virginia winter. It has definitely been a learning experience in many ways, including testing our ability to live together in such a small space, but we wouldn’t be doing this adventure any other way.

It should be evident at this point where the title of this blog originated. I spend 40+ hours a week working as a physical therapist and live full time in a fifth wheel camper, with the goal of reaching financial independence as quickly as possible.

Although physical therapy is how I make a living and one of my main passions, I have several other interests that I pursue in my free time. These include: financial independence, personal finance, bodybuilding/powerlifting, nutrition, supplementation, credit card rewards, travel hacking, investing, hiking, and real estate. Over the past several years, I have spent a significant amount of time reading and learning about each of these areas. I consider myself to have somewhat of an obsessive personality when it comes to my interests. My first two years of grad school I spent an unhealthy amount of time reading research, books, blogs, and articles about nutrition and weight lifting. There became a point in my last year of grad school where my focus shifted and I began learning and reading about personal finance, investing, and credit card rewards. This continues through today and has included countless hours of reading and listening to podcasts. It may seem odd to many, but I love to discuss investing, retirement planning, and asset allocation.

My friends know that when I become interested in something, I will learn everything that I possibly can about the subject. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and my efforts are usually focused on one certain area at any point in time. This has led to many questions from friends over the years about the interests that I listed above. I love to help people in addition to talking about my interests, so naturally I enjoy answering these questions. A blog seems like the perfect place to write about the things that I have learned, as well as some of my ideas, and will eventually be the place that I direct people that are asking for guidance.

The main focus of this blog will be travel physical therapy and our journey, but be aware that the things listed above will inevitably surface as well. I am always open to feedback and discussion regarding anything that I write about. Thank you very much for reading, and I hope that I can teach you something.