Agencies structure quotes in a variety of ways that can make them truly difficult to compare on a level playing field. This calculator provides a very powerful tool to compare agency offers and to assist in negotiating and structuring offers. For example, if the calculator aids you in getting one more dollar an hour, that is $2,000 more in annual income. Powerful tool indeed!

This article will help you get the most out of the numbers it generates.  It will also assist you in getting complete quotes from agencies. The financial questions that you will have to ask your agency to use this calculator are questions that you should always ask. (Other questions can be found in the article The Agency Interview, a list of questions to ask a new agency to see if they fit your needs).

One increasingly popular way for agencies to quote pay is "take-home" pay. The agency provided number is designed to be enticing, but it is full of potholes. Insist on a full breakdown of compensation. Getting agency numbers for the first 5 number boxes of the calculator (6 if there is a completion bonus) is all you will need for most assignments.

As a reminder, most travelers will have a permanent home that can be classified as a Tax Home by the IRS. If you do not, you are not eligible for tax advantage plans or even free housing and this calculator was not designed for you. You can still force it to work by only entering numbers in the taxable entry boxes. You will note that your estimated taxes will be much higher and this will directly impact your take home pay. You will be able to use this information to determine if creating a valid tax home with its associated costs will benefit you. See: Itinerant!

The default calculator assignment length of 13 weeks of 36 hours per week is the most common one. Change this if it doesn't fit your proposed assignment.

Left side number boxes:

  1. Hourly pay:  this, along with completion bonuses, are the only taxable items in the base calculator.
  2. Per diem: this is also called M&IE (meals and incidental expenses) by the IRS and is meant to help cover the additional costs of working away from home.
    • Some agencies will cap hourly per diems at some number other than 40. If so, you will have to manually adjust the number you enter into hourly per diems. For example, if your agency pays you $10 an hour per diem but only for 24 hours, multiply the two together - $240 in this case. Now divide it by your weekly scheduled hours; 36 or 40 hours; and enter this number in the hourly per diem box.
  3. Housing:  you may have requested agency supplied housing and so not given a value to put here. Ask your recruiter how much the housing stipend would be in lieu of provided housing even if you don't intend to take that option.
  • Some agencies may combine the per diem and housing into one number. That's fine, just enter the entire number once into either box and select the right time frame (hourly or weekly).

Right side number boxes:

  1. Travel pay:  enter the number for round trip. An agency may for example quote you $300 to the assignment, and another $300 for the trip home (usually in first and last paychecks). For this example, you would enter $600.
  2. Health insurance:  Ask your agency for the COBRA value. This is the actual price of the insurance per month. Enter one month insurance in this box. If they have a payroll deduction for health insurance, estimate that cost per month and subtract it from the monthly insurance cost.
  3. Completion bonuses:  Some agencies will routinely have completion bonuses. If so, put the entire bonus amount in this box. It is usually added to your last paycheck in one lump sum. It is worth reading PanTravelers article on completion bonuses for some valuable advice, especially if your completion bonus is $2,000 or higher.

Zoom down to interpreting results.

Advanced options (mostly for certain California assignments)

For most assignments, you will not need to access these options and that is why they are hidden by default. Most of the boxes are for fine tuning results and will only have a small effect on the results. For example, if you have to pay the agency for an upgrade to say a two bedroom apartment, or for a washer/dryer, you would put that copay (deduction) in the appropriate box. You could also add an insurance premium deduction here instead of subtracting it directly from the insurance value.

The major reason to access this section will be for some California assignments. California has a law requiring overtime to be paid after 8 hours of work a day, even on a 10 or 12 hour shift. There are lots of legal exceptions to this law for both staff and travelers and you can read more here about California overtime rules. Some agencies will specifically volunteer that an assignment will be paying overtime after 8. You can also ask. But if your recruiter says a particular assignment does not pay overtime after 8, or they use a key phrase of "blended" rate, you do not need to use this option. Just enter the rate they give you for hourly in the main section and your results will be correct.

  • "Blended rate" means the agency has already done the math to add your straight time hours and your overtime hours together and determine the average hourly (or blended) rate for your 10 or 12 hour shift. The reason the agency does this is that it makes your pay look better, and compare better to other offers. It does not make a difference to your actual weekly pay.

If the agency quotes you a base rate and says the assignment will pay overtime after eight, the calculator will do the math for you. Make sure you have the correct shift entered on the first line of the basic calculator, and select overtime after eight in this advanced section under overtime status and you are done. You can now close this section if you want. 

Gross pay per hour: represents all money the agency pays you directly or on your behalf (such as employer’s share of payroll taxes). If you entered all your numbers accurately, this will be directly comparable to other agency’s offers.

Now you get the fun of looking at the impressive numbers generated with the calculator! These do not represent your actual compensation. They represent all dollars actually spent by the agency on your behalf. This includes one hidden figure that is usually not considered at all by employees but is important: payroll taxes. Employers have to pay half of FICA (social security) on your behalf which is 7.65 percent of taxable pay. In addition, they also have to pay for workers comp and unemployment taxes in most states. We have estimated them at a total of 10 percent for the purposes of this calculator. Even though just an estimate, because it applies equally to all offers, you will be able to compare offers accurately. This number does affect the amount the agency can offer you – if you change your compensation from taxed non taxed, the amount they can afford to pay you goes up (or they can increase their profit margin).

If you’ve ever wondered why agency offers are lower when you decline or reduce untaxed reimbursements, this is why! Try this example:

Enter $40 an hour in hourly pay and calculate. Now split that $40 between hourly pay and hourly per diem ($20 each). And calculate. You will see your net pay go up $6 (and annual net pay by $13,000) and the agency cost go down $2 an hour. This is a good demonstration of not only how you might raise your actual pay, but also why some agencies like high non-taxed compensation.

Practical uses

So that number for total compensation again represents the total payout on your behalf by the agency. What to do with this number? You can now compare on an equal footing different agency’s offers, something almost impossible before. Pick the compromise between the agency you like, the assignment you prefer, and the money. Now you are set to maximize your pay.

One point to be aware of when comparing offers is that you cannot directly compare offers with different numbers of hours in a week when you are looking at hourly compensation. You must compare apples to apples. If you are concerned only with weekly take home pay regardless of hours worked, then you may compare apples to oranges. This calculator is just a helpful tool and there will be many ways in which personal preferences will override absolute accuracy.

In addition, you will not be able to use this calculator to determine “fair” overtime rates above scheduled hours. This depends in part on hospital bill rates for overtime. Bill rates for overtime vary from flat time to time and a half, and everywhere in between.

Time over scheduled hours should be negotiated separately. Although negotiating overtime is not within the scope of this article, a rule of thumb is to start with double time (of a reasonable hourly pay) and go from there. Full members can read much more about this topic in the Overtime rate negotiation.

If you have more than one offer for the same hospital or city and your preferred agency is not the highest offer, point that out to them and ask for a match of the best offer. Once that point is settled one way or the other, now you can negotiate to structure pay and benefits to your preference.

If you take agency supplied housing, then generally this is not one of your negotiating points. However, it is worth mentioning that a few agencies are reimbursing the difference tax free between what they actually pay for housing and what they would have paid for a stipend.

You don’t want or need insurance? Zap it and apply it to another category. Do the same in every other category until you have it structured the way you want it!

You will see that as you change compensation from taxed to untaxed boxes that your tax burden will go down dramatically. This will change your take home pay by the exact same amount. The goal here is to end up with the same number for total gross pay as the original offer (or as negotiated up). This is the number that the agency has already committed to and you are just restructuring it – not costing them a cent more. So take note of this original gross pay figure (perhaps print out the entire calculator for future reference), and keep it the same as you juggle which benefits you want.

1 year package value: These are fun numbers and show how much small differences in your compensation package really makes in the long term. One dollar an hour is $2,000 a year!

Be aware that gross pay and net pay per year may look significantly higher than your former staff income. This is because there are no paid holidays, vacation, or sick time, and benefits are probably of lower quality as well. So staff income is not directly comparable with travel pay and this should be kept in mind. Personal factors such as costs to maintain a permanent home also come into play.

These estimated taxes also have a hidden assumption. We have used 33 percent as the total taxes applied the taxable portion of your paycheck. The actual rate can vary quite a bit but is fairly typical in most states for the income tax bracket of most travelers. This includes not only federal taxes, but state taxes and Social Security as well. Your bracket will change not only with how you distribute your pay between taxable or non-taxable, but also on personal factors like marital status and state residency and how much you work during the year. But as a rule of thumb, estimated payroll taxes will be helpful in determining take home pay between different offers.  And even though this is just a rough estimate of your taxes, because it applies equally to all offers, you will be able to compare offers accurately.
  • We plan on having an additional calculator integrated with your agency offer in Full member pages that will take into account your personal tax status. You will be able to save this profile in your member preferences for current and future use. This will allow a very accurate estimate of take home pay and tax burden. In fact, accurate enough that you will be able to check your payroll stub on an assignment to make sure they have properly separated taxable and non taxable items. It can be very difficult to decipher some paystub reports. Basic members can accomplish the same thing at Paycheckcity with a bit of manual entry.

The agency will almost certainly have their own spreadsheet (which is basically a sophisticated calculator similar to this one) that they can plug these numbers into. However, their underlying formulas may not be based on correct assumptions and are often based on human factors that they know can allow them a bit more profit from certain changes. By the way, your recruiter will probably not know how their own spreadsheet works, they are only plugging in numbers. As a result, you will not be easily be able to debate the fairness of their results.

Full members will have help in persuading your agency with the help of a special printout of the original offer, and a printout of your restructuring of the offer to demonstrate that it is not costing them anymore. This will be provided in language that the agency bean counter can understand. 

To help you determine legal limits for tax free reimbursements, the Association has provided this streamlined IRS guideline with instructions for permissible per diems and housing stipends for your assignment area (still working on it - use 1542 instead for now). Bear in mind that the agency may have different guidelines that they will not exceed. In addition, they may not use the method listed in the IRS guidelines for maximal benefit. Again, there are usually limits to what the agency is willing to negotiate. But if the agency does not care, go for as much as is legal. (See the article Tax Advantage for a full discussion on the legality). Going for the max not cost the agency anything additional (if total gross remains constant. Look up permissible limits on the GSA Per Diem Rates Look-Up. A copy of the appropriate rate for your assignment sent along with the special printout of the offer will be very helpful in negotiations.

But wait! There is still more. At the very bottom of the calculator page you will see a big NEXT button. If your agency offer is complete and accurate, hitting this button and answering a couple of simple questions will enter your offer into a database for your direct benefit as well as other travelers. Submitting your offer will give you several powerful benefits, even for Basic members. Your offer will be saved and quickly available for review next time you visit. In fact all your submitted offers will be saved and available to only you one by one on a pull down menu which you can now continue to restructure if you want, or just to compare with other offers. This includes a text note you can make and save with each offer.

Thanks for using this tool! We hope that this calculator has proved useful to you.

If you have found this tool useful, stay tuned! We have great things planned to make it even more valuable to your career:
  • You will have the ability to display several offers on one page for a side by side comparison.
  • You will be able to see the average offers received from all travelers for your city, state, or region.
  • We plan to tie your offers into a tax database in My Account. This allows viewing of your actual take home pay (it is estimated presently) in a particular offer, and to verify that your agency is paying you accurately (sometimes they withhold taxes on some items incorrectly).
You will be able to save the underlying calculations and data from your offers as a pdf for emailing to an agency. When you change your compensation package while holding the gross pay constant, the agency bean counters will be able to see that your proposal will not cost them any more money. That would be almost impossible in a traveler to recruiter phone call, or even by printing the calculator page.
  • This feature is analogous to negotiating buying a new car with Consumer Report’s price sheet on that new car! This feature should prove to be immensely valuable to you during negotiations with an agency. You should be able to increase your take home pay, or negotiate the benefits you really want. See the article on How to Negotiate a Travel Contract for additional information.
A note about membership. We have provided this valuable calculator for the benefit of all travelers and have a number (ever expanding) of articles and resources for Basic members. However, we are a member-supported association and many of the links and enhanced benefits mentioned on this page and elsewhere throughout our site are for Full members only.  We would like to encourage you to upgrade to Full membership to support the Association and believe that you will find it valuable just for the access to additional articles, resources, and services. Click on the link to your left for a more complete and expanding list of membership benefits. We would love to have you as a member!
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