Completing online surveys for money sounds like a decent idea. At least it did to me before I spent time taking paid surveys.
In theory, it provides a flexible way to make money online with no boss, no set hours and no office. However, after spending more than a full-time work week reviewing some of the biggest online survey sites, I came to much different conclusions.
In this article, I’ll tell you how much money I made taking paid surveys, give you my opinion on whether it’s worth doing and compare some of the largest companies in the online survey business.
I spent 50 hours taking paid online surveys and earned $65.73. So I made $1.31 per hour taking online surveys for money.
I tested four different survey sites and read reviews on more than a dozen others. My results seem typical of anyone trying to make money online by filling out paid surveys.
My pay ranged from $0.81 to $2.02 per hour depending on the company. For reference, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
I can answer only for myself. And for me, filling out online surveys for $2 an hour (at most) isn’t worth the constant frustration.
If my only goal were to find a self-directed, online, task-oriented job, I’d pick a microtask site instead. For example, I made $4.16 per hour when I tested Clickworker.
However, there are more lucrative, less tedious ways to earn money online. In fact, you can probably make more money per hour pursuing passive income options than answering surveys for money or completing microtasks.
I suppose paid surveys may make sense as a hobby if you enjoy answering questions and you have frequent, relatively small pockets of time to fill.
At least the best survey sites are free. You can determine your own schedule and access these sites anytime, anywhere.
Survey sites rely almost entirely on gift cards as a method of payment.
You can usually jump through a handful of hoops to get your money through PayPal or a prepaid Visa card. The biggest survey sites tend to offer PayPal, Visa and dozens of gift card options.
In my experience with survey rewards, getting gift cards requires more follow-up than PayPal. They usually require a processing period, several confirmation emails and a confirmation code.
Americans hold $15 billion in unused gift cards, according to Bankrate.
I haven’t worked for a survey company. But surely these companies realize that a percentage of people won’t ever redeem their in-house points for a gift card. Another percentage of people won’t go through the necessary steps to get a spendable gift card. Of the subset that does go through to process, some won’t ever spend their gift card.
It’s nice to have options. Most sites offer gift cards from well-known brands that sell food, electronics, entertainment, clothes and shoes. But the propensity to exchange points (which can be confusing) for gift cards is just one reason why completing surveys for money can’t be considered a job replacement.
You know those e-commerce sites that seem overly optimized? The ones with constant “sales,” a countdown clock for when the current deal will expire, aggressive email campaigns and loyalty schemes? Swagbucks reminded me of those sites on a daily basis.
I describe it as a gamified, arbitraged affiliate program even though surveys are the most prominent element on the Swagbucks website.
With a browser extension, a large-scale savings and shopping rewards program plus partnerships with meal delivery kits, fintech companies and smartphone games, Swagbucks is well diversified in terms of its revenue sources.
Its point system was the least confusing, as one SB point equals one cent. And it offers nearly 600 rewards options.
The site is interesting because it’s so full of offers and random ways to earn SB points. But it’s also overwhelming and distracting.
InboxDollars offers a “scratch and win” widget similar to a gas station lottery ticket. The more times you attempt surveys or take other actions on the site, the “higher value” your scratch-off opportunity becomes.
It’s a nice emotional respite from the usual “Here’s two cents to compensate you for failing another survey” approach, although the compensation level isn’t much better.
I also appreciated the $5 sign-up bonus I received and the fact that InboxDollars ditches a points system in favor of dollars and cents.
However, its $15 minimum cash-out is 15 times more than Swagbucks. I imagine a healthy portion of people who try InboxDollars give up before reaching the minimum.
Also, InboxDollars probably was the worst offender in terms of sending spam emails and browser popup notifications.
In my experience, MyPoints featured the most confusing points system, hands down.
Most commonly, one MyPoints point is the equivalent of six-tenths of one cent. However, that varies by reward based on “discounts” MyPoints may be offering at the time. For example, the $10 rewards range from 1,460 to 1,590 points.
I found that MyPoints often grossly underestimated the time it took to complete its surveys. Out of the Prodege brands, which dominate the online survey landscape, I feel that MyPoints offers the worst user experience and site design.
I qualified for just 23% of the MyPoints surveys I attempted, a full 15% less than my Opinion Outpost results. I also netted just $0.81 per hour, easily my lowest pay rate.
The simplest brand I reviewed, Opinion Outpost is about surveys, surveys and more surveys. Considering that I made the most money on these sites taking surveys, I found the narrow focus to be refreshing.
And I made more money per hour, more money per survey that I attempted and experienced fewer disqualifications with Opinion Outpost than any survey site I tested.
Opinion Outpost offered the most unpaid, self-directed information-gathering surveys. Based on my results, it seems that filling out those “get to know you” questionnaires helped match me with relevant surveys and limited my disqualifications.
If I were going to pick a single go-to survey site, I’d choose Opinion Outpost.
If your heart is set on taking surveys for money, there are some things you can do to optimize your earnings and limit your angst.
Hopefully I can save you some painful trial and error with these tips.
Your age, gender, martial status, income and city affect which surveys you get.
You can’t control all those variables. But you can be honest and thorough in providing your demographic details and interests.
Often these sites require you to take an initial survey to gather some of that information. Usually, you can go into much greater detail in optional, self-directed surveys.
Those usually pay little or nothing. But filling them out completely will go a long way toward ensuring you’re offered with surveys that are relevant to you. Doing this will help your failure rate go down and your earnings per hour go up. It will also make for a less frustrating experience.
When you answer surveys, answer the questions honestly and consistently. These sites monitor your answers and give you a survey score based on the quality of your responses. If your score is low, the survey site can limit your surveys or even ban you.
It may be a good idea to create a separate email address before you sign up for a survey site. That way your personal email inbox won’t get bombarded with spam.
However, keep in mind that if you intend to get paid through PayPal, you’ll need to use the email address associated with your PayPal account to sign up for the survey site.
I found it helpful to attempt the highest-paying surveys first. The major survey sites tell you ahead of time how many points you’ll earn by completing a particular survey.
Surveys are available for a limited time. And there can be large differences between how much the surveys pay.
Even if you’ve earned enough points to exchange for rewards, don’t depend on these sites for income you need for your basic needs.
Aside from the fact that your earnings per hour will be tiny, it can take days or weeks for points you’ve earned to settle in your survey account or for your request for a reward to process.
Perhaps you have more patience than I do. But I found it to be a good idea to avoid marathon survey-answering sessions.
The quality of available surveys seemed to decline the longer I extended my sessions. My disqualification frequency also tended to rise once I attempted double-digit surveys in a single sitting. My frustration levels increased the longer my sessions lasted as well.
Most major survey sites offer additional ways to make and save money.
A company called Prodege owns and operates many of the biggest paid survey sites. All of the Prodege sites offer shopping discounts and alternative ways to earn points.
I prefer pure survey sites that don’t add extra bells and whistles. With the Prodege sites, I felt a need to test and explore all the additional features only to find out they were even less financially beneficial.
Opinion Outpost, which focuses solely on surveys, paid me the most per hour.
Theory is one thing, but experiencing something firsthand is another.
Whether you want to find out some of the ways that paid surveys actually work or are just seeking a bit of schadenfreude, I’ve got plenty of stories.
Here are the five most frustrating things I experienced while reviewing the biggest survey sites.
Opinion Outpost brought it to my attention that if I completed certain tasks, I could move up to higher tiers within its rewards system.
This system was a clear attempt to increase user activity on the site. Some of the tasks I needed to complete included a certain number of surveys attempted.
However, the site never explained what benefits I’d get, if any, by moving up to higher tiers. I dug through the FAQs and the terms and conditions attempting to find answers, but I never did.
I got a $5 sign-up bonus for InboxDollars, which was nice. That amount represented nearly four hours of survey work based on my overall average pay.
However, I spent an additional 11 hours filling out InboxDollars surveys and didn’t come close to reaching the $15 minimum necessary to claim a reward.
My final tally: 11 hours worked, $11.94 earned — including the $5 bonus. Without that, I made $0.63 per hour. At that rate, I would’ve needed to work almost five more hours just to be eligible for a $15 reward.
I’m not sure why survey sites seem incapable of realizing when they’ve maxed out their allotted responses. But on almost every site I reviewed, at least once I completed an entire survey, only to get a message that they’d already received all the necessary responses.
Getting disqualified from surveys is frustrating enough. But spending 15 minutes filling out a survey for money, doing so successfully and getting a message that they actually didn’t need my results and wouldn’t pay me was maddening.
I logged into MyPoints one night to attempt a survey. My wife texted me that she was leaving work. MyPoints estimated the survey would take 18 minutes. Perfect, I remember thinking.
As it turned out, the survey took me 76 minutes to complete. It cut into time I was planning to spend with my wife. But once I’d spent more than an hour on the survey, I didn’t want to throw it away with zero compensation.
The survey involved a raw edit of a new cooking show judged by celebrities. I started watching, figuring based on the time estimate that they’d show me a single segment. The show itself must have taken 30 minutes to watch.
Swagbucks was the first survey brand I tested.
It’s a Prodege site, so it offers a full array of shopping rewards and ways to earn points. One of those ways is to download a game on your phone.
I downloaded myVEGAS Bingo. Swagbucks stipulated that I needed to reach a certain level within the game in order to secure my points.
At first, I flew through the levels. But I had no way of knowing how much longer it would take the closer I got. Because I was unfamiliar, I also made a mistake within the game related to “powerup boosts” that lengthened the time it took to reach the level I needed.
It took me 14 hours to earn the 2,000 Swagbucks points, or $20. Then I had to wait 10 days before those points hit my Swagbucks account.
The worst part came after I invested 10+ hours into the game. I wanted to quit. But I also didn’t want to waste the 10 hours I’d spent. It was tempting to make an in-game purchase, write it off as a loss and grab the points. But I held off.
I relayed an anecdote about some of these in my top 5 list. But in a more broad sense, here are some recurring issues you’ll run into if you spend significant time trying to make money filling out surveys:
Taking surveys for money is, in my opinion, for the birds. It’s one notch below light torture, and I’m being only a little facetious.
Extracting what little money I made in no way compensated for the amount of time I spent willing myself not to curse at my computer. If you want to make money online, there are better ways — in terms of pay and enjoyability.
Completing paid surveys is unlikely to pay you even $3 per hour.
Completing online surveys for money sounds like a decent idea. At least it did to me before I spent time taking paid surveys.