I'm a new CNA. How do I get paid a fair rate?

By Clare Absher RN, BSN  
Updated: 06/20/2019  

CNA Calculating Starting Pay and Benefits Photo by Wavebreak Media Ltd on Bigstock

Seeking help!

I recently earned my CNA license but when I looked for jobs in my area the starting pay is awful! I have seen listings for private hire CNAs with much better pay but don’t want to get scammed. I have also heard that bigger cities have more opportunities, also with better pay. I just want to get started working - I think I am good at my job and I would like to go to Nursing School at some point. For now I just really need to gain experience (and earn a paycheck). I thought getting started would be easier!

- Sarah

This is one of my favorite questions, as it is a persistent predicament faced by many in the home care field. Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution but there are a variety of great options for those just starting out in the home care field. First, let me just say that as with many other professions such as teaching and first responders, we are never really paid the full monetary value of our services. It’s very difficult to put a price tag on nursing somebody through an illness, attending to somebody’s personal care, or even accompanying a client to their favorite daily activity they would otherwise have to give up. You likely entered the nursing and home care field with altruistic goals rather than financial goals. That said - we do want to be compensated fairly for our work and not feel like we are being taken advantage of.


Take all prior job experience into account when negotiating pay.

Most standard jobs in the home care field whether it is an agency, nursing home, or a government job will have a pay scale that they adhere to. The pay scales take into consideration one’s level of expertise, certifications, qualifications, and years of experience. While government jobs especially adhere to a specific pay scale, many places are a bit more flexible and negotiable on their pay scale. For example, although this may be Sarah’s first year with a CNA license she wouldn’t necessarily start out on the bottom of the scale. Instead, her starting pay relates to years of experience as she may have 5 years of experience working as a home care aide prior to receiving her certification. Don’t sell yourself short on any of your qualifications, from caring for family members to staffing the first-aid station at summer camp employment, make certain to take all prior job experience into account when applying for a job and negotiating pay.

Consider any added benefits that increase your job satisfaction.

Searching for and applying for jobs is time consuming and a job in itself sometimes. Prior to this make an honest assessment of what your work and financial goals are. Yes, jobs through an agency are typically lower paying than those contracted privately but home care agencies also have their own benefits such as health insurance, vacation time, and steady hours. If you choose to work on your own there are 2 typical scenarios, as a private hire by a family or as an independent contractor. As an independent contractor you will get to set your own pay rate but are also responsible for paying your own taxes and insurance. If you choose to be hired privately, as a household employee, the family that hires you (that you choose to work for) undertakes the role of employer.

There are benefits and drawbacks of both agency work and freelancing so I would recommend figuring out which job type suits you best first to help narrow down the employment search.

Look into government jobs.

If you are certain that home care and nursing is your passion and career path I would recommend looking into government jobs. Although sometimes government jobs can be lower paying than private hire and even in some cases lower paying than agency employment, the benefits can be worth the potential lower wage.  Whether through the state, county, or even federal opportunities-government jobs typically offer great insurance and retirement plans, vacation time, and may even offer career advancement including free schooling and training. Earning additional certifications or even a nursing degree for free, in addition to advancing up the pay scale, can be well worth it if you are in it for the long haul and can commit to a particular job/agency.

Search for higher paying, privately posted jobs online.

Other home care workers enjoy the flexibility their skills and certifications afford them and prefer to sort out job opportunities for themselves. These days many turn to the internet to search for jobs and/or post their resume. In this case due diligence is necessary to protect your personal information and privacy. Websites such as Craig's List are notoriously filled with scams, although scams can infiltrate even the most reputable of sites. If undertaking an independent contractor or private hire situation you must have the ultimate goal of safety in mind, then employment.


Know the facts to back up your negotiations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for nursing assistants was $28,540 ($13.72 hourly) in May 2018. While the lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,290, the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,560 which averages out to approximately $19 hourly.1 Expect to negotiate pay corresponding with your experience and qualifications.

Keep in mind, pay can be affected by certain factors such as: the type of care needed, the duration of visit requested, and the time of day visits are scheduled for. Generally, home care services are more expensive in the evening, on weekends, and on holidays. Where in the country you are located is also a huge determining factor of wages. The Genworth Cost of Care Survey gives a rough estimate of what compensation is typical across the US. Good luck in your job hunt! Remember to be safe and negotiate!



  1. "Nursing Assistants and Orderlies." Bureau of Labor Statistics www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nursing-assistants.htm. Accessed 25 May 2019.
Clare Absher RN BSN

About the Author

Clare Absher is a Registered Nurse with 43 years of experience. Most of her experience is in home health serving as a caregiver, educator, patient advocate, and liaison between families and community resources. She has also worked in acute care, assisted living, and retirement settings. She is passionate about helping families care for their elderly loved ones at home.

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