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.