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12 Ways to Make Money Online

Woman brainstorms legitimate ways to make money online.

Are you looking for legitimate ways to make extra money online? The internet is full of side hustle ideas and supposed business opportunities for really making money from home. But many of these are proven scams. Others might be legal, but still may not be worth the time and effort.

Work-at-Home Scams

There are honest ways to make money online — you just have to know what to look for. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has detailed information on how to spot scams. Get the answer to these questions before signing up for any work-at-home opportunity:

  • What is the total cost of membership fees, supplies, software, etc.?
  • What exactly am I expected to do? By when?
  • How do I make money (commission, hourly, salary)?
  • How and when will I get paid?

Calculate how many hours you must work to pay off the cost of start-up supplies. Many scams make money off of charging new sellers membership fees and other starting costs.

Also do a gut-check about your potential clientele. You might be able to get your friends and family to buy a few things, but will they continue to buy from you month after month? Scammers might promise you an exclusive customer list or your own sales territory, but these may not materialize.

Never give away your financial information, such as your bank account details. Beware if they say they’re going to wire you money or a big check and all you have to is send them back a portion of it. This is a common scam — once you’ve wired them your money, their check will bounce or the promised deposit into your account won’t happen.

Do an internet search for the company and “scam” or “complaints.” Just because you don’t find anything doesn’t mean the company is clean. The FTC warns that some companies change their names and locations to avoid negative reviews.

Measure Opportunity Cost

Before taking any work-from-home opportunity, ask yourself if it’s worth the payoff. For example, how many hours do you have to work to turn a profit? Even honest ways to make money from home might not be worth the time. The idea of opportunity cost is “if I can do A, then I cannot do B.” So, if you spend your time and energy on one thing, you no longer have it available to put toward something else.

Be realistic about what you can expect. If something sounds too easy, then it probably isn’t legitimate. However, if you are willing to do your research and build small amounts of income slowly, then you can make honest money from home.

Surveys and User Testing

No special skills required. All you need is your computer and your opinion. The downside is that it’s time consuming and the pay is very low. Some sites limit the number of surveys you can take per month. Do a search for “paid survey sites” or “paid user testing.” Read reviews and check for complaints.

Multilevel Marketing (MLM)

Multilevel marketing is when you sell a company’s products (such as cleaning supplies, essential oils, makeup, hair products, etc.) to your own network of friends and acquaintances in exchange for a commission. However, if the company makes most of its money off recruiting new sellers instead of from product sales, then it’s a pyramid scheme, which is illegal.

Online Games

Some online games reward players with gift cards and cryptocurrency. This could be a way to make money, but if you’re spending lots of time mastering a game that pays pennies per hour, is that really a useful exchange of effort for the payoff? It might be enjoyable, but if you really need extra income, gaming is not likely a quick fix.

Man works to make money online from his home.

Secret Shopping

You earn points or rewards for visiting and reporting back on certain businesses. This could be a nice add-on if you would visit the place anyway. But if you’re making special trips, consider the gas, time and effort it takes to get there, plus the money you spend once you’re there.

Sharing Your Consumer Habits

You can sign up to provide consumer feedback to retailers through programs such as the Nielsen Consumer Panel, where you earn points toward products and gift cards. This can only be counted as income if you would have been buying those things anyway. If the rewards you get qualify as “wants” instead of “needs” then you haven’t really come out ahead — in fact, you could be wasting time that might be used more profitably.

Clerical Work and Bookkeeping

There are reputable companies that will pay you to do light administrative tasks such as online data processing. These jobs tend to be relatively easy, just time-consuming and monotonous. The harder the task, the higher the pay.

Typing out audio transcripts (such as the closed captioning on videos) can be a good side gig if you’re a fast typist and a good listener. If you’re organized and comfortable with numbers, you could earn extra cash doing online project management and bookkeeping for small businesses. Always research the company first and confirm how and when you’ll be paid.

Side Gigs

A number of apps and websites let you offer real-life services, such as dog-walking, light manual labor, ride-share driving and renting out your home or vehicle. Just keep asking if the side effects of your side gig are worth it. For example, will there be wear-and-tear to your property? Are you physically up for it? Might you want to increase your insurance coverage? Will you need to pay your own taxes? How much does the company take out of your profits?

Currency Trading

Currency trading is an extremely volatile and high-risk way to make money, but it can be profitable. Make sure you do lots of practicing before you put any real cash on the line. Learn as much as you can and never risk more than you can afford to lose.

Man works on side hustle from home.

Coupons and Cashback

There are many apps to find discounts and rebates on your purchases, but this only helps your finances if you would have purchased those things anyway. If you use a coupon to save or get a cashback reward of $5, but then you spend that $5 on something else you didn’t need, then you haven’t increased your income at all. On the other hand, if you transfer the $5 to an account that earns interest, or you use it to pay off debt, then it is increasing your income in the long term.

Online Investing

Investing isn’t a short cut to making a fortune online, but it is a way to earn money sustainably over time. It requires you to learn about different investments and determine what is the best deal. The key to investing is to keep your costs as low as possible and to choose the investments that give you the highest returns with a reasonable amount of risk.


Finally, there’s always the old-fashioned way of starting your own business. Why depend on someone else to make your opportunity for you? If you’ve been itching to sell a product or service, take advantage of free resources from the Small Business Association (SBA) to find local classes and coaching near you. There are many grants and helpful programs for first-time entrepreneurs.

Take SAM’s free My Earning Plan course to further explore ways of increasing your income and attaining your own sustainable wage.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]

See this article in Spanish: 12 maneras de ganar dinero por Internet