Tackling Debt as a Travel Nurse

People have various reasons for becoming a travel nurse. For one, there’s the flexibility of time off between contracts. Then, there’s the opportunity to travel. But, with the average nursing student graduating with anywhere between $40,000 and $54,900 in debt, the pay difference compared to being a staff nurse, is reason enough to choose this lifestyle. 

However, as a travel nurse, tackling your student loan debt, in addition to your traveling debt can seem quite the challenge. Don’t despair, the fact that you’re currently working as a travel nurse will help you tremendously to tackle your loans and become debt-free.

Understand Your Debt

To tackle your debt efficiently, you must understand how each one works. For example, most student loans have fluctuating interest rates and high fees. On the other hand, credit card debts tend to have high-interest rates too. But then, you have something like a mortgage, which hopefully has a fixed rate. 

Most people assume tackling their most significant debt first should be their strategy. However, most financial experts agree that handling your debts with the highest interest rates, fluctuating rates, or high fees, should be your priority. 

For example, the average student loan carries an interest rate of 4.53% to 7.08%. But, the average interest rate on credit cards is 15.09%. So, following the one-debt-at-a-time technique, you should focus on your credit card payments first, and then, start tackling your student loan. 

Of course, each case will be different. If you’re struggling with multiple debts and loans, consider speaking to a financial expert that can help guide your decision on how to tackle debt. 

Cut Down Expenses Back Home

Once you’re aware of the structure of your debt, it’s time to find ways to save more money. One way to do that? By cutting expenses back home. Check if your house qualifies as a tax home, and if there are some tax deductions, you can benefit from every year. Perhaps you can deduct meals, certain travel expenses, and even professional expenses. 

If you own a home, consider if there’s a possibility to rent out a room while you’re gone. If you live by yourself, maybe listing your place on Airbnb while you’re on assignment can help you bring in additional income. Ask your cable and Internet provider to see if you can pause the service for the months you’ll be on assignment. 

Otherwise, do your best to downside your permanent home and figure out ways to cut down on expenses such as gardening, utilities, and so on. 

Set Up an Assignment Budget

Having a budget will help you get a better idea of where you’re spending money. Working long hours and fluctuating schedules can easily change your perspective on spending. Between transportation expenses, rent, travel arrangments, taxes, and so on, it can be easy to drop large sums of money without realizing it. Thus, ending up with more debt than ever before. 

As you create your budget, set different categories for your recurring expenses, for example:

  • Food and dining
  • Personal products
  • Transporation
  • Rent
  • Entertainment
  • Miscellaneous 

Give yourself some wiggle room in each one of these categories to have some potential money leftover. 

Then, once you can see how much money is left over, you can create a separate budget to allocate a payment towards paying your debts. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan, list your debts by priorities, and highlight how much you will be able to pay each month. 

Control Your Travel Expenses

Even though, as a travel nurse, you spend most of the days working, travel expenses can add up quickly. Make sure you’re using the budget to help you stay on track with your expenses. Analyze where you can cut down:

  • Consider driving towards your assignment city versus flying
  • Think about finding a roommate(s) to divide living expenses
  • Choose smaller towns that have lower living-costs than larger cities
  • Avoid eating out as much as possible
  • Analyze the pros and cons of using public transportation versus renting a vehicle

Overall, being mindful of your expenses will help you work towards minimizing your debt in the long run. If you’re able to stick with your budget, managing your expenses shouldn’t be an issue. 

Keep in mind that life happens, and as a travel nurse, shifts can often be everchanging, making your expenses the last thing on your mind. Consider syncing your bank account and credit cards to a budget app on your smartphone to stay organized. Make sure you have automatic payments set up for your credit cards to avoid late-fees. Set up reminders or auto-pays for your non-high-priority debts, so you can at least pay the minimum balance each month. 

The Benefits of Being a Travel Nurse

Travel nurses earn slightly more than staff nurses, placing you at an advantage to tackle your debt. If you’re able to track your expenses, take advantage of tax deductions for travel nurses, and set up your budget, most likely, you’ll be able to pay off your debt. 

It might be challenging in the beginning, and cut-cutting measurements might take time to become habits, but you can do this. Remember that all of these steps towards a debt-free life are somewhat temporary. Once you’re able to get rid of your most burdening debts, you’ll have to adjust your budget to make sure you remain debt-free going forward. 

If you work with a travel nurse agency, remember to tap into their resources. Most travel agencies can help you with housing and travel expenses by pairing you with partners or other travel nurses. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an agent and discuss your debt situation. While they might not provide financial assistance, they might be able to offer solutions to help you control your expenses. 


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