How to make money online for free

Pete Zimmerman  |  11/15/2022

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( TL ; DR )

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Read time: 10 minutes

Summary: What would you do with an extra $100-200 a month? Maybe you could build a cushion to keep you above water between paychecks, or treat yourself occasionally without trashing your budget. Whatever you'd choose, you don't have to go get a second job to make it happen. There's now an entire world of online options that you can use right now to make money anywhere, straight from your laptop or smartphone. And there's zero investment needed on your part ... only a little of your spare time. Sound interesting? Here are six simple ways that you can make some extra money online, for free, and with no commitment.

Can you actually make money online for free?

Could you use a few extra bucks so you aren't barely scraping by at the end of the month, clinging on by your fingernails? Got some spare time or time that you know could be better spent?

If not, this post isn't for you and we won't waste time you already don't have. Feel free to hit eject.

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But if so, the good news is that there are creative ways to pad your bank account that don't involve going out and getting another soul-crushing job or panhandling for change on the street corner. You can do these online, without leaving your home... or even your couch. And for free, without any investment whatsoever on your part except a little bit of your time.

Want to know how to make money online for free? There are a few ways to join the “GPT” (get paid to...) movement and start earning a little on the side, and most of them are easy and straightforward enough that you can earn your first dollar before the end of the day.

Most of the advice out there on this topic makes some big assumptions on how much you can and will commit to side gigs like these. You might hear advice like “become a drop-shipper”, or “become an influencer”, “start a blog”, or “create an online course”.

What?! Have they ever tried any of those things?

Those aren't simple ways to earn some money on the side, those are BUSINESSES. They require significant investments of your time and money to even get off the ground, let alone to maintain and grow. If we're just doing make-believe, here's a better one: plant a money tree, harvest, and profit. Sure...

That's not what we're going to talk about.

We'll cover the simple ways that you can make extra dough online today. To be fully transparent, we're not talking about life-changing money here. But maybe enough to cover your grocery bill each month. Or enough to save a couple hundred bucks each month to put towards a personal goal of yours, or to build an emergency fund. And that's nothing to scoff at for most people.

Sound interesting?

Before we get to the ideas, there's some critical things you need to know, so you can look out for yourself. The online world can be like the wild west, and you don't want to be taken advantage of.

  • Beware of frauds. The internet (and the world) is full of loser scammers who have nothing better to do than try to rip people off. If any company you're considering asks for personal information right away, or their offers seem too good to be true (think: $100s of dollars for completing a survey), then walk away. If you're getting asked for bank information before doing any work, walk away. Most of these options pay through Paypal or with gift cards. Use your instincts and don't take any chances just to earn a little side money.

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  • Any income that you earn is going to be taxable. Whether you owe taxes each year is based on your total earnings (including your regular job), and not on what you earn on the side. Failure to report income and pay taxes is fraud. There are penalties and it's not worth messing with. Just report it.

  • Work is going to be sporadic. Sometimes it's seasonal, and sometimes it just ebbs and flows with orders from the people seeking workers. Either way, it's not a full-time job, so don't expect consistency.

  • You may get asked to sign up with third parties to earn additional “points” (meaning money). Usually it's optional. Feel free to do this, but know that you may get bombarded with ads if you do.

  • You may have to qualify to get work in certain areas. That could mean:

    A certain demographic profile (age, sex, income level, or things like that)

    Pass a test or tests

    Have a certain level of formal education (like a Bachelor's degree, for instance)

  • You're going to get out what you put in. What you earn is going to depend on how much time you devote to it, how good you get at, and how experienced you become at picking the “right” tasks and avoiding the low-paying sucker work.

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These options are provided to help get you started. Cashbasic doesn't have any relationship with any of the companies and isn't being paid to include them here.

As always, our recommendations and ideas are geared towards you, and are unbiased.

How to make money online for free

Now that you're prepared, here are six proven ideas that people are already using to make extra money on the side:

  1.  Take surveys
  2.  Do simple tasks online for money
  3.  Online transcription
  4.  Website and app user testing
  5.  Online test scoring
  6.  Freelancing

ideas for earning graphic

1: Take surveys

Surveys used to be something that you'd get with a knock on your door, or with an ambush by an annoying clipboard-carrying person at the mall or in a store. Now surveys have made the leap to the internet. And the good news is that today, you can get paid to take them (instead of just agreeing so the surveyor leaves you alone).

Like the old school versions, most surveys you see online are geared towards customer and market research, and gathering your feedback on potential products. There may be personal questions to help the surveyor put you in a specific demographic, but most of the questions are pretty benign and are just designed to get your opinions on a product or service idea.

The pay for taking surveys can vary.

Generally, the longer a survey takes, the more you will earn. They can take from 2 minutes to about 30 minutes to finish, and will pay between $0.50 and $3 for each one you complete. Most are in the $1 range. Real survey takers have said you can earn from $10 all the way up to about $300 per month if you can get consistent work, which is good money for the minimal amount of effort involved. You'll usually get paid through Paypal or by earning gift cards.

Where to start earning with online surveys

2: Do simple online tasks for money

Lately, simple tasks are handled more by computers than humans. But there is some types of work that are just better suited for people. That could be data entry, analyzing and deciphering data, testing websites, taking surveys, or moderating content. For companies, many of these tasks are so small and infrequent that it doesn't make sense to hire someone to do them as their job, but when you combine them, there's a huge market for these tasks.

This has led to a number of online platforms who connect those who need these small tasks done with people who are willing to spend a little of their time to complete them. That's where you come in. You might also hear this called “crowdsourced” work, but think of it like an online classifieds section for very minor, simple, and quick work.

Here's how it works:

Requestors send in work that they need done, and workers have access to a “marketplace” where these small jobs are posted. You pick what you want to do, do it, and get paid. It's about that simple.

The art is in picking the right tasks, meaning the ones where the pay is reasonable for the work being requested. Also, as a word to the wise, check the rating of a requestor if it's available. It's simple insurance that who you're dealing with is more likely to pay you. They don't always have to, if they contest the quality of your work.

The pay for each task is small, but the work is small too, and the idea is that you can knock out quite a few of these in a short period of time, and they add up. Pay for tasks ranges from $0.01 to about $6 per task on Mechanical Turk, one of the larger platforms (they call these tasks “HITs").

Total pay can be from $4 to $10 per hour, depending on which jobs you choose and how good you are at picking the right ones and ignoring the wrong ones. Clickworker, another large platform, claims you can earn up to $9 an hour total.

Where to start earning with simple tasks

3: Online transcription

Have you ever been in a courtroom, or watched one on TV?

Everyone sees where the action is, with pacing lawyers and Judge Judy dressing down the defendants. But there's also an unassuming person sitting on the side who never says a word but is just as important. That person is the transcriptionist, and they're the one who takes everything said in the courtroom and types it out, as it's happening. Tough job, especially with fast-talkers.

As podcasts and videos have exploded in popularity across the internet, there's also a demand for taking all that virtual dialog and putting it down in a format that can be read. That's transcription.

person typing on typewriter

This is another one of those tasks which is now being done largely by computers. For us humans, that means that much of the work that comes through can have pretty poor audio quality (bad enough that the computer can't understand it), but if you can get good at it, you can earn decent cash doing it.

According to Rev, one of the larger online transcription companies, you can finish about 15 jobs and earn $156 per month doing transcription, which works out to $10.40 per job. Not bad if you are good at it, and you can learn to knock these jobs out quickly and efficiently.

Where to start earning with online transcription

4: Website and app testing

New websites go through a few stages before they're ready for the internet big time. But once a site or app is stable, it's usually set free as a “beta” version, put in front of real users, and tested thoroughly. For many new websites, that process is outsourced. And you can participate by being one of those users, testing these sites, and getting paid for it.

Many website developers are interested in your reactions to their site, and watching live users can tell them a lot about what's working on the site and what isn't. So you're often asked to share your opinions by screencasting and talking through what you're seeing and what you think about it. And also making sure that links work, ensuring that the site flows properly and is easy to follow, and that everything looks professional and ready for the commercial world.

Be aware that some platforms will only pay you if you find actual bugs and issues. But the terms and expectations for each company are usually well-defined so there shouldn't be any surprises.

You can typically make about $5-15 per test and testing can take between 10 and 20 minutes each time you do it. If you can do 5 websites a week, that's $200 per month. Not bad.

Where to start earning with website testing

5: Online test scoring

If you've taken a standardized test recently, like the SAT or an ESL (English as a second language) test, there's a good chance that it wasn't graded by the testing company or proctor.

That's right...

No one's sitting at the front of the room with a red pen anymore. Test scoring is now crowdsourced as well.

standardized test with A+ grade

Those testing companies work with online platforms, who in turn recruit people to grade for compensation, on their own time. If you have the background and qualifications, or if you can qualify based on your own testing and aptitude, you can make money by joining these programs.

Some providers will require you to complete training, and you may have to qualify for each type of test you want to grade, but you'll also have leeway to pick the type of work that you're interested in and will be most efficient at. The opportunities are pretty sporadic, and trend around seasonal exam times, but you can also try to specialize in more than one area to give yourself more options at different times of the year.

Again, there are some opportunities that will require you to have specific qualifications, such as a Bachelor's degree in a particular field, but each company and path is different. Some may require specific training, but it's usually provided free-of-charge.

If you perform well, you'll be more likely to be given more work, and the compensation is good, especially for side work. You can earn $10-20 per hour depending on which company you use, and like all of these online side gigs, you can set your own schedule and hours.

Where to start earning with online test scoring

6: Freelancing

Do you have a personal skill that can be marketed online, like digital art, writing, editing, copywriting, digital assistant skills, or coding and programming?

If you do, freelance work can be one of the best ways to add to your income while keeping total control over how much time you need and want to devote to it. You do the work when and how you want, and only need to agree with the customer on expectations.

And online marketplaces for these services now make it easy for you to get your services out there and find buyers. The platforms will typically take a cut of your earnings as a commission, but it can be worth it when they also provide such a large group of potential buyers for you.

Since you already have the skills for the work, it's easy to get started as a seller. You can open an account, create a profile, outline your services, and start taking orders from buyers in a couple hours.

Earnings can be all over the board, depending on what you're specializing in, how many buyers you can attract, and how much you want to work. Even the pay for gigs covers a huge range. For example, a graphic design gig could be anywhere from $10 to over $1,000, depending on the specifics.

Depending on your field and how competitive it is, you may need to start by charging less, and bend over backwards to attract buyers before you build up a reputation and secure some good reviews.

According to CNBC, the top-ten highest-average paying gigs on Fiverr (one of the largest platforms) are:

  • 10:  CV, cover letter, and resume writing-  $49.60

  • 9:  Book cover artist-  $51.50

  • 8:  Video editor-  $58.40

  • 7:  Web development-  $63.00

  • 6:  3D and 2d modeling-  $65.20

  • 5:  Social media manager-  $93.70

  • 4:  Business consulting-  $98.10

  • 3:  Website design-  $105.70

  • 2:  Website building-  $128.90

  • 1:  Presentation design-  $231.00

But this is just the top ten. There's no limit on what you can sell, as long as it' legal (or you can evade getting caught). If you can find a customer that's looking for what you offer, and they're willing to pay for it, then you have a potential freelance opportunity.

There are also some great guides out there on the best ways to sell on these platforms to maximize what you make, and minimize how much time you waste.

Where to start earning with freelancing

If you're interested in learning more about freelancing, take a look at this article.

Try for yourself, ignore the haters

Up until recently, if you wanted to earn some money on the side, it meant getting a part time job, or going out and doing physical odd jobs for money. Not anymore. There are now some solid ways to earn extra cash without even leaving your home, and now you know how to make money online for free.

Unfortunately there are still haters out there who try to tag these money-making options as "evil" or turn the platforms into some sort of injustice. The internet is full of drama, complainers, and wannabe victims. Who knows why. Take all of it with a giant grain of salt.

Be aware that you'll probably get out of it what you put in. That means how much time you want to devote to it, how good you try to get at it, and how you nail down the “art” of picking the right jobs and passing on the ones you know aren't worth it. Most of that will come with experience.

Give it a try for yourself. Maybe you'll find something that's a great fit. But if you try it and don't like it, at least you know and you can move on. But don't get jaded by others' opinions. Just look out for yourself and make sure it's right and worth it for you.

Video coming soon...
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Pete Zimmerman

I've worked in financial services for more than a decade, and know where all the bodies are buried (and where the motivations are). I'm a Certified Financial Planner® and a licensed real estate broker, and love using what I've learned to simplify financial concepts and bring them to life in the real world, for working-class people like you.

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