We want you to make money and if you can make money doing online surveys in your spare time, that’s a win all around. Online surveys are often hailed as a great side hustle, but to be honest, my first experience with them was a bit of a nightmare.
After filling out a comprehensive profile and taking one survey, I made $2 in two hours. Can you relate?
To avoid wasting your time as I did, I digged into paid online surveys to see if there is any money to be made, and how to maximize your earnings. I talked to real people who swear by this as an extra revenue stream to see how they are able to be so successful. And I tried a few of the apps myself. Can you actually make money taking online surveys? Let’s find out.
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Can You Actually Make Money Taking Online Surveys?
This question has the answer we all hate: yes and no.
To get to the bottom of paid surveys, I turned to some serious side hustlers in a personal finance forum to try to get a true sample of people with experience in this area. Their input was insightful and varied, but one thing remained true among them: You can make money, but it’s not an income stream you can count on like clockwork and it’s certainly not passive.
Tana Williams, who runs Debt Free Forties says that the money she has earned isn’t consistent enough to be a side hustle. “It’s something you do while you watch TV at night, or when you’re at your kid’s basketball practice, and you can’t muster talking to another adult,” she shared.
“It is not what I would consider an income,” Joan Berntson, a Business Development Specialist who has been doing paid online surveys for about nine months told us. “It is a tiny bit of fun money, but you can’t count on it or plan it into any kind of budget.”
The average earnings from surveys was all over the map for the sources who spoke to me about survey side hustling. It ranged from $3 for five hours of work to $20 to $50 for about 15 minutes online. I even found the mythological $100 plus survey opportunities do exist, just don’t expect to come across them that often. With gaps like these, the way surveys work and how payouts are determined should be understood prior to diving in to paid surveys.
The Nuts And Bolts Of Online Surveys
Survey companies exist to collect data from you. They want to know all about who you are, but also what you think about products, services, advertising campaigns, etc. The survey companies can then take this data and sell it to whoever needs the feedback.
In a nutshell, the survey companies pay you for your opinion, then they sell the opinions to researchers or businesses.
How you get paid from surveys
With most sites you either make points that turn into cash or you earn straight up cash. The cash is typically distributed in the form of a deposit to PayPal or a check sent by snail mail.
Point systems are by far the most frustrating part of the paid online survey world because they give a false sense that you are earning a lot.
For example, Swagbucks, a very popular survey website, pays in the form of points. It’s estimated that each Swagbucks point is worth about one cent, but a bit more if you cash out for gift cards. So if a survey pays 15 points, you earn $0.15 when it’s complete. Once you have earned enough points (2,200-2,500), you can redeem them for gift cards or cash back into a PayPal account.
When scrolling through point surveys like these, you have to remember that 50 points is only 50 cents. Swagbucks does earn a few more points in my book though. This is for the fact that they let you know ahead of time the point value of a survey and clearly explain how much the points are worth.
Other survey sites I have tried weren’t ever clear about the value of points, and point values often fluctuate depending on what you are redeeming them for.
Money Making Survey Tip: Look for survey companies that are clear about their point systems. Both in their value to you and how many points you can earn per survey.
Expect to get disqualified from some surveys
One of the major complaints with all those who venture into the paid online survey world are the disqualifications. The survey company itself collects a ton of personal information about you. But, before you even take certain surveys, they will ask for even more information. This helps them determine if your opinion is the one they are after. It’s a survey screener.
The survey screeners take time, and if you’re disqualified for the survey it feels like a real waste. Terri Bennett, an adjunct professor and financial coach, had a frustrating experience with this aspect of survey taking on the site InstaGC. “It was very common that, despite being ‘matched’ with particular surveys, that I would get through five or ten minutes worth of questions, only to find that I was disqualified,” she shared. “Typically there is a time estimate for how long the survey will take, but these are often very wrong. For instance, a survey may claim that you will get $4 after completing a 20 minute survey, but it actually takes 40 minutes to complete.”
The survey screeners can be a good way to determine if the survey site is worth it or not. “I quickly learned which companies were a waste of time and which were worth a bit of effort,” Williams shared. “If the qualification time took too long, and I kept getting turned down, then I would opt out of those. The two companies I stuck with the longest were Swagbucks and Springboard America. [On those sites] I can see how long the survey is and what the payout is before I take the survey.”
Berntson says not being chosen is just a part of the process. “Sometimes you fill out the pre-survey with no reward and not knowing if you will be chosen,” she shared. You can expect this to happen on any survey site.
There are theories that the algorithms on the site will kick you out if you answer too quickly, as it’s a sign of dishonesty. Of course, it could just be that your profile doesn’t match up with what the survey company is looking for.
Money Making Survey Tip: Look for the surveys you’re notified about via e-mail as you’re most likely to be matched with them and be qualified. This isn’t a guarantee of course. And, always be honest!
The Key To Making The Most Money With Online Surveys
Paid online surveys are plentiful, but the ones that really pay well require a little more than iPhone access and an e-mail address.
You have to be willing to shop around for ones that will pay. Bennett tried several of the more popular survey sites only to conclude: “Almost any other activity would provide higher and more stable earnings.” She doesn’t recommend it.
Regina Moore of the The Frugal Pharmacist has similar feelings about the more popular survey sites. “The traditional suggestions are pretty useless. Most of the fruitful ones I do I have learned about through others, and typically they are professionally focused,” she shared.
You can skip the popular sites altogether and set an earning criteria. This is exactly what Melody Johnson, a financial coach and branding strategist at Her Designed Life did. “I shopped around quite a bit for different surveys and considered the surveys that would get me the most amount of money. I found that it wasn’t worth my time to go for surveys that only paid a dollar or $20,” she shared. “I found my favorite online survey as 2020 Research Panel.” The payout on this panel is $75 to $200 in gift cards for each survey.
Money Making Survey Tip: Have an idea of what you want the payout to be and base your shopping around on this. Don’t forget that none of these paid online surveys are a way to get rich quick and they will probably take more time than you think.
Where To Start With Online Surveys That Actually Pay
Below are some survey companies where you can actually make money that were recommended by thorough reviews and in a few personal finance forums.
Not all promise to make you tons of money, but that is why you should decide how much time you have and how much you want to make before signing up.
The quick surveys that pay a little (and help kill time)
This survey site was a common favorite among side hustlers. The easy access, quick surveys and quick pay out were all mentioned as perks. Plus, you can take surveys and earn cash even if you are under 18.
The major downside is that the payout isn’t going to be sky high. Swagbucks says: “Expect to earn about 40 to 200 SB points per survey (100 SB = $1), with occasional opportunities with much higher earning potential.”
Williams uses Swagbucks throughout the year to earn points and knock out the super quick surveys. “I like to keep [the points] for cashing out in November for extra Christmas money.”
Survey Junkie is one site I explored myself. The clear and direct point system was a major plus for me. One point equals one cent. The downside is that you need to collect 1,000 points before you can cash out for $10.
The surveys were longer than the ones I explored on Swagbucks, but it could have just been the day I was using the site. On the day I was using the site, surveys were typically five to six minutes. I earned a few points, but definitely not enough to cash out. That said, Survey Junkie gives the option for direct deposit, PayPal, or a gift card for pay out.
They sent me a few emails before I unsubscribed and I was qualifying for one to four surveys a week. I probably could have made enough to pay for my latte on Friday if I had kept going.
This is another popular survey site, and one that ranks well among individuals looking to fill some extra time while watching Netflix.
InboxDollars offers an initial $5 sign up bonus for typing in your information. InboxDollars says that most surveys pay “$0.50 to $5.00 and take three minutes to 25 minutes to complete.” Occasionally they have surveys that pay $10 to $20, but they didn’t make it sound like that would happen very often.
The big plus is their transparency about pricing. Every survey has the exact dollar (or more likely cent) amount that it’s worth clearly listed.
You need to earn $30 to cash out with InboxDollars. This high threshold will take quite a bit of time to reach even with the $5 incentive given. But, if you have time to kill on the couch, then give it a shot.
mTurk stands for Amazon Mechanical Turk. It’s a crowdsourcing marketplace for businesses to outsource different tasks, including gathering data in the form of surveys. You can become an mTurk worker and pick up tasks or take surveys. Pay is given in the form of a bank transfer or an Amazon gift card.
According to Moore, mTurk has plenty of surveys that are typically college or university research based. This means expect questions that are a bit more in depth or thought provoking than traditional market research surveys.
Moore says the pay is pretty terrible, but they do pay. “Sometimes I do a few for $1 to $3 when I have my computer out and I’m bored, but there’s not usually more than a couple of those per week that pay even that much,” she says.
This survey site works on a point system like the others, but offers much higher payouts. One point equals 10 cents. You can cash out when you have 100 points for PayPal or 50 points for an Amazon gift card. You will do a survey screener before every survey. Opinion Outpost says that each survey takes about 10 minutes, but they have a variety to offer survey takers.
The only red flag here are some recent reviews that complain about technical difficulties such as getting dropped from a survey halfway through. If you are dropped, you lose the money. This is something to be aware of if you head into this survey site.
6. Springboard America
Springboard America is a survey site that Williams keeps coming back to. “I can see how long the survey is and what the payout is before I take the survey,” she says. This kind of clarity is always appreciated from quick online market research companies. They also have a straightforward sign up process and payout in gift cards or with PayPal. Most surveys pay between $0.50 and $5.
Williams continues: “I only participate in these surveys when I have an extra couple of minutes while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office or want to zone out. It’s an easy way to supplement my budget during the holidays or to snag a gift card for a date night.”
More time = more money for these survey sites
This survey company is one where you can start to make some real money. It’s also much different than a quick online survey or app. You will invest some real time, too. This company hosts consumer research studies and focus groups. They are both online and in-person.
Respondent says each interview is about 30 minutes, but you may need to participate in more than one for a complete study. The average pay is $140 per hour. Respondent does collect a 5% fulfillment fee on paid incentive and the rest is deposited to your PayPal account. Berntson, who averaged $60 a month from the surveys she took with them last year said you can expect a face-to-face call for some of them.
2. 2020 Research Panel
Johnson says the 2020 Research Panel is her favorite survey site for making real money. “This is my go to online survey site because it’s very easy to complete their surveys and there is high earning potential.”
Johnson says she easily made $100 or more per survey. Here is a run down of the process, per the site:
“Once you sign up for the 2020 Research Panel, you’ll need to fill out your profile. It’s important that you fill out as much detail as possible, to customize the types of surveys you’ll receive. After you sign up, you’ll receive notifications of different survey opportunities which you can apply for to get paid. If you are selected, you’ll receive a call and email from a representative of the market research group and will be required to complete online forum based questions based on your opinion on the topic.”
Of note, the payout with this one is with gift cards, but you can always choose popular stores like Target or Amazon.
Johnson notes that it’s important to complete questionnaires as soon as possible. “Since I have to apply for every paid survey, I often find that the sooner I complete the survey questionnaire, the more likely I’ll be chosen to complete the paid survey,” she says. “2020 Research Panel gives you a detailed description of the type of survey it is that you’ll be taking (political, food/beverage, retail, technology, entertainment, etc.) and provides you with the payout amount ($75 to $200 Visa gift cards) of what you are eligible to receive if you complete their surveys.”
3. Plaza Research
Plaza Research is a network of focus group facilities. So again, it is a different structure than a quick online survey. You will need to complete a Survey Monkey so they can collect some initial data on you. Then you can expect to get a phone call to go over a few more details. After you’re set in their system, you wait for the survey opportunities.
Berntson, who uses Plaza Research, hasn’t always gotten chosen for surveys, but when she did, it paid. For instance, she took an appliance survey that took several days to complete it. They paid her $275 and she estimated she put in about five hours of work. The check came by mail when it was all done.
This survey site is unique in that it has nothing to do with clicking through any questions. MindSwarms asks for participants to give honest feedback via video. It could be a “Show and Tell” for a product or an in store retail reaction.
Mindswarms pays $50 per video. Videos should be about 10 minutes long. Payment is made quickly and into your PayPal account.
The major complaint is the lack of opportunity for surveys. It could be that not many companies have turned to this sort of feedback yet. MindSwarms is convinced it’s a more accurate collection system and the future for surveys. So, if you sign up, when the notification for a survey pops into your inbox, you have to be ready to snap it up right away.
If you’re already a pro at recording your live Insta stories, this could be the perfect money making opportunity for you that steers away from mind numbing multiple choice questions.
Bennett doesn’t recommend any of the quick survey sites, but brought our attention to HiveMind. “I have done a couple focus groups that pay out a fair rate,” she shared. “For instance I did one through HiveMind that paid $150 for answering questions about using apps for two hours… That was actually worth it.”
HiveMind is a market research site that says they are always looking for a diverse group for feedback. Last year they conducted over 300 studies. Bennett did say that the survey she took was done on-site and not online. However, their website does say they have live video interviews, product tests, as well as online testing opportunities.
6. Professional Focus Groups
Moore suggests that the best place to find high paying surveys is through your own professional network. As a PharmD she can focus on medical surveys. “I do a [mirco] survey less than once a month, so it’s not a big moneymaker. But, I am typically making $20 to $50 for 10 to 20 minutes of time,” she shared. Moore gets a text alert for these short surveys that are professionally specific.
“The other more fruitful option is webcam interviews, so not surveys per say, and more like focus groups,” she says. “I’ve made about $400 off these,” Moore explains. Even if you’re not a medical professional like Moore, reaching out to your own professional network may be a great place to find surveys that are specifically looking for your expertise and feedback.
Finding these professional focus groups outside of the bigger market research groups means you might be able to make more money.
“A few times I came across surveys from academics who must have outsourced the act of finding informants, and the legal information required,” Bennett says. “This allowed me to see that the academic researcher was compensating the surveys at a rate much higher than the survey sites were compensating informants, like $10 to $25 less.” The companies pocket the difference for putting the survey together and finding the respondents, but you could sniff some out for yourself by being proactive.
Money Making Survey Tip: Focus groups and research panels have a much higher payout than short and quick market research sites. If you have the time for more intense surveys, focusing on these could be a more lucrative way to make money.
Deciding If It’s “Worth It” Is All In The Time Vs. Value Ratio
The good news is you can make money by taking online surveys. Sometimes you can make a little and sometimes you can make a lot. But the key component in the value of online survey taking lies in how much your time is worth.
Bailey Rapert shared her experience with Swagbucks and ultimately decided it wasn’t enough money for the time. “I looked for survey sites that allowed people under the age of 18 to participate, as I was 15 at the time I started. This severely limited my options. The appeal of Swagbucks was that I could redeem my points for various gift cards. I made a grand total of $3 in a week…My time is worth much more than $3 for every 10 hours. I haven’t tried more since I’ve become a legal adult. In hindsight, I should’ve picked a different side hustle then because it just wasn’t worth my time.”
Bennett agrese with this sentiment saying that the quick survey sites aren’t usually worth it. “The ROI was so low I would have been better off clipping coupons,” Bennett explains.
If you’re just chilling and want to fill the time, then the paid online surveys like Swagbucks or InboxDollars might be a perfect fit. Earn a few bucks and eventually cash out. The flip side is that these surveys probably aren’t worth it if you’re looking to bring in a chunk of change each month or if you are short on time.
Getting into the heavier focus groups and research studies will take time, but you’ll also make more money. We encourage you to calculate what the approximate hourly rate might be for these kinds of surveys.
Let’s use an earlier example for Plaza Research which paid survey participants $275 for about five hours of work plus a phone call according to Berntson. That works out to be about $55 per hour. Not a bad rate if you can score it.
Johnson says that these kinds of groups are definitely worth it. “It’s relatively easy to complete if you have access to WiFi and are able to respond to survey questions by the expected deadlines. It can be a time commitment, but it’s fairly easy to do and doesn’t require any advanced knowledge. It’s a great way to earn extra spending cash.”
If you’re not eligible for the focus groups or continually get disqualified from surveys, you may be in a demographic that’s already giving plenty of their opinions. In this case, search for other ways to make money online.
Money Making Survey Tip: Your time is valuable. If you don’t have time to kill, then skip the quickie market research surveys and find a new way to bring in some extra income.
How To Protect Yourself When Taking Online Surveys
Survey websites ask for tons of personal information. They will also ask about your age, where you live, where you’re employed, your household income, etc. It’s important that you protect yourself and your money when taking online surveys.
Stay organized for who you’re actually taking surveys with. There will be an onslaught of emails into your inbox after signing up, and it is important you don’t accidently click any spam emails that slip through.
Never ever pay the survey company first. This is always a scam and they will take your money and run.
Lastly, never ever give away your social security number or full bank account number. Most of these companies will pay you via PayPal or check. The occasional direct deposit may happen, but be sure it’s a secure site before setting this up.
More Ways To Make Money Online
Doing paid online surveys is a great way to bring in a little bit of side income. Multiple streams of income are some of our favorite topics around The Money Manual, so don’t stop at surveys.
Check out this list of 68 side hustles to make money in your spare time or read this story on how side hustling helped someone pay off $68,000 of debt to get started making more money online and increasing your streams of income.
Bethany McCamish is a personal finance writer and the founder of His & Her Fi.
Feature Illustration: Laura Caseley For The Money Manual