How to Make More Money As a CNA

The other day a co-worker told me about her salary journey as a CNA. After completing her CNA classes she immediately started to look for a job and was a little shocked to see that the pay rates were surprisingly low. But she was confident and decided that she wanted to be a CNA not primarily because of the salary, but in order to help others and hoped that with more experience her salary would go up. Now it is five years later and her CNA salary has indeed increased, however, not as much she’d have liked. In my opinion, it really is a huge problem for many CNA who put their heart and time into this demanding job and the income doesn’t increase much with time. Therefore, here are four options to help you maximize the money you can make as CNA.

Location, Location, Location

Do you know that the starting pay of a CNA varies widely between different states? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics CNA earn an average annual salary of $24,190 or $11.63 per hour (2011 data). However, depending on the state you work in the actual salary could be $23,500 (in Iowa) or $32,000 (in New York) or anywhere in-between. Therefore, if you are mobile and want to travel you stand a good chance to increase your salary as a CNA simply by moving to a different state.

Unfortunately, there is a catch. The cost of living in or near New York is notably higher than the cost of living in Iowa. Thus, although your income can be 35% higher in New York, you might end up having less in the bank after rent, taxes and food. However, though they may be an expensive states to live in – who wouldn’t desire to move to New York City or Hawaii?

Consider that if you move to another state, you also have to transfer your CNA license. To do so visit the website of the state’s Nurse’s Aide Registry and find out how you can transfer your license to this state. Alternatively, in case you are still thinking of becoming a CNA and want to explore the United States, You can also move to your preferred state after your initial training and obtain the CNA license there directly. It saves time and money.

Not All Work Settings Are Equal

With a CNA license you can find work in numerous settings. You could start in nursing facilities, community care facilities, hospitals, or possibly even as a home health aide. Depending on the place you go the salary can be quite different.

Nursing Homes

Many certified nursing assistants have told me that the salary in long term care facilities is typically not as high as that in hospitals. The difference is not excessive, but it is there. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider working in a nursing home. It is a great place to start your career. In addition, there are other opportunities to raise your income even without a change in your pay rate. There is for example a weekend differential and time and a half for call-in and usually 2x the regular rate for shifts on major holidays. Because many nursing facilities are tight with staffing you may as well have the opportunity snatch up extra hours, which can substantially improve your salary as a CNA.

Community Care Facilities

Community Care Facilities are like long term care facilities, but depending on their license status often house patients with less need for personal care than nursing home patients. It is therefore a good option if you’re looking to dedicate most of your energy towards the individual patient, but it also has a pay that is about $1 per hour lower than that in long term care facilities.


To many the hospital is the most exciting place to be as a CNA. It opens a range of opportunities as a result of the large variety of work settings. For example, it is possible to work in the maternity unit, the medical/surgical floor or emergency room. But hospital work is not just exciting, it is also rewarding money-wise. Generally hospitals pay the highest CNA salary. As an added bonus you can also gain a lot of experience within a short time period, which can help greatly to negotiate a salary increase in your next job.

Home Health Aide

You know, there’s misconception around that a CNA can earn up to $20 hourly by working for private-paying clients. This is certainly true in some lucky cases, but not for the majority. The reason is that this amount of money typically is only paid for supervised home health, which means there must be a registered nurse that takes care of the patient and supervises your work. In this case the agency makes the $20 per hour of which she pays $11, something to the nurse and keeps the rest.

You may still work directly with the client, but only if your care is “unskilled”, meaning that you aren’t caring so much for the patient’s health, but the household. The going rate for this particular position is typically less than $20 per hours and needs no certification ($18 per hours is high). It’s also work difficult to find.

Instead you can arrange to work as a CNA through a home health agency. It will be relatively easy to actually find work because your CNA license requires more training than that of a home health aide. Your education provides an edge. Pay rates tend to be below those in hospitals, but they can come with the advantage that you care for just one patient at a time instead of many. So when you really want to take care of your patients this is a great way to start.

And you could even be able to do something regarding your income. Some agencies cover the cost of the gas needed to drive to your client. This increases your pay and is also tax-free. For instance, if you make $100 per month on gas payment then your corresponding salary value is roughly $125 since you don’t pay taxes. Agencies also pay 1.5x for over time and may be open to pay more when a case needs to be filled urgently.


Experience certainly helps. When a friend of mine started to work her salary was really low, however the contract she had with her employer guaranteed a raise each year due to her increased experience. When she finally left her job to search for another one her salary had gone up by $2 hourly because she already had several years of experience in multiple work settings.

For this reason it pays to work in various settings in your work place (e.g. hospital) or accept a diverse mix of cases when you’re in home health. Also ask your employer if they pay for continuing education courses – something that will most certainly look nice on your resume.


Lastly, don’t forget to consider the perks. I stated earlier how getting money for gas can get you a great 5% – 10% salary increase. But there are more options such as matching 401k (the employer contributes to your 401k the same amount of money you put in), insurance options, over time pay and paid vacation. Thus, when you search for your very first job right after you completed your CNA training it will help to interview with several potential employers and have a closer look at the offer they provide you with. There can be perks in the details that significantly improve your income.

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