Setting Your Fees for Massage

One of the common questions I get is ‘How much should I charge for a massage”? The question really should be ‘How much do I need to make each week/each session to run a profitable business.

I was talking to a friend of mine who asked me if I knew any cheap massage therapists. She had been going to someone who was charging about $40-$50 an hour. That person apparently went out of business and had to go back into the corporate world to make a living. So was charging less than the national average of $60 a wise thing to do?

Many think that charging less will get them more clients. They start out charging less for their services because they think that they are right out of massage school and not very good so they need to charge less and attract more clients. While they may not be as experienced the value of massage is really relative to each clients perspective and may not have anything to do with how good of a massage therapist you are.

Charging less in the beginning may be a good incentive for people to come in. I recommend that as soon as your schedule is full to start charging more. Yes you may loose clients but the bottom line is that you need to be making enough to support yourself and your family. As you get busier you can be choosier about who you work on taking clients who pay you more.

Some areas of the country where the cost of living is less may have lower fees for massage therapy services.

I have outlined some things to consider when setting your fees:

  • You will only be able to do a certain number of massages a day/week physically, mentally and emotionally. Most massage therapists do about 20 hours of massage a week. Some are able to do more. Since you are only able to do so many massages, you need to charge more to make a decent living.
  • What is the value of a massage? What does it mean to people to be able to come in and get relief for their pain or problem? What is the value of providing regular weekly massage to someone and helping them heal their attachment, security and self-esteem issues?
  • What amount do you need to charge so that you do not feel resentful of the massage client? I have heard many stories of massage therapists feeling resentful and yes even to the extent that the person wanted to apply more pressure to the massage client than they could stand. While this is not a usual thing for a massage therapist it may arise when you feel resentful.
  • Charge enough so that you are not expecting a tip. Some people will tip, some won’t. Depending on tips for income is not very helpful financially. If someone does tip think of it as a bonus not an essential part of your income.

Nina McIntosh in her book The The Educated Heart: Professional Boundaries for Massage Therapists, Bodyworkers, and Movement Teachers (LWW In Touch Series) says this about setting fees:

Your rates affect what both clients and colleges will think of you. If you charge more than the norm, some clients may be put off, while others may think you must be offering something special for the extra charge. If you charge less than the going rate, some clients will be attracted to the bargain but may not value the work as much….

The amount you charge also affects how you feel about your work. Make sure that your fees are fair to you and that they take into account all of your expenses. Charge enough so that you won’t resent your clients. Also, make sure you don’t feel as if you are overcharging. If you are not comfortable with your fees, clients will sense it and feel uncomfortable too.

Setting Your Massage Fees when Billing Insurance

Setting your fees for when you bill an insurance company is a whole other ballgame. Many massage therapists charge more when they bill an insurance company saying things like – they have to wait longer to get paid and they have to do more work to get paid. There is a big discrepancy over this issue that I have only just recently found a legal answer for. When I went to a workshop put on by two local Seattle area attorneys they made it really clear that those extra things that go into insurance billing are just a part of doing business and they can not be charged extra for. You can charge the extra amount that you pay or would pay a billing person to submit each bill and for the work you/they have to do to get paid. Otherwise charging more to an insurance company than you do your cash clients for the same service is considered insurance fraud and that can be punishable by a $5000 fine and 5 years in prison.

What about the fact that you are doing medical massage? I for one do not do anything different when someone comes in for a regular massage and pay cash for it compared to someone who I am able to bill their insurance company for the services. If you could prove in a court of law that you do treat the client differently and that you use different skills and knowledge than you may be OK.

There is also something called the Usual and customary fee schedule for insurance companies that set rates for insurance companies. I think the last time I checked for Seattle area it was about $132 a hour. The thing is that we don’t really know how they are getting that number. If you bill for auto accidents, those insurance companies will usually pay whatever you charge so if massage therapists (or others) are charging more than their regular cash clients to insurance companies and that is the number being used to determine the UCR – is that really factual, ethical and legal?

This actually is one of the things that I think our massage associations should be doing more work on for us -figuring out for each state what are the legal implications of setting different fees for massage therapy sessions.

The other thing to know is that professionally you can ask others what they make but if you ‘collude with others in setting your fees’ it could be seen as price fixing.  ( I am not of course a lawyer but that is what I was told by the workshop I mentioned above.)

Setting fees that support you and your business is just good self care and it is just business.  It does not mean you care less about others who can not afford your services.  When you are making what you need to make, you are able to give more money or use your money to set up services for disadvantaged people to get affordable massage or even free massages.

So what do you need to charge so that you will be a successful massage therapist?