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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| March 17, 2020
Coming up with extra cash to pay the bills, cover unexpected expenses, boost savings, or accelerate your flagging 401(k) as we hunker down to ward off the coronavirus isn’t as hard as it seems. Heck, many of you may have been temporarily cut off from your full- or part-time job as the coronavirus forces businesses to scale back or shut down for weeks. To that end we found plenty of legit, and many unique, moneymaking opportunities out there for you to capitalize on at your convenience, with the perk of no long-term commitment and, in most cases, setting your own hours. Plus, you can keep a healthy social distance away from others while you work these gigs.
We found 15 ideas for you to consider, along with resources and pointers to get you started. Some are good for a fast buck, while others could turn into consistent streams of income. Find out which cash-generating ideas could work best for you.
Don’t leave smart phones, tablets, computers or game consoles you’re no longer using in a desk drawer or the back of a closet. You can easily cash in on your unwanted electronics – even damaged items – by selling them online.
Sell used smart phones and Apple products at Gazelle.com and get paid by check, PayPal or an Amazon gift card; you can also use one of ecoATM’s mall kiosks and get instant cash. At uSell, you can sell smart phones, tablets, game consoles, and more. You get paid by check or through PayPal. Shipping with these sites is free.
Federal and state coffers hold billions of dollars’ worth of unclaimed property. Some of it could be yours, but it's up to you to track down the cash.
The feds hang on to tax refunds that are returned to the IRS because of mailing-address errors or that are never claimed by taxpayers because they didn’t file returns. The government also holds on to forgotten savings bonds, government-guaranteed mortgage-insurance refunds and government pensions that were never claimed. There's no central database, so you'll have to check with individual federal agencies about missing funds.
State governments hold onto uncashed dividend checks, returned utility deposits, unclaimed state-tax refunds, uncollected insurance benefits, and stock dividends, among other things. (If a bank or other payer doesn’t have your last known address on file, it will turn over your money to the state in which the institution is incorporated.) You can search for unclaimed property held by states at Unclaimed.org and Missingmoney.com.
Yes, I did this, in 2017. And yes, I found some unclaimed funds, in the coffers of New York state, where I once lived. I followed the procedure and sent a notarized letter to New York and heard back. I received three checks totaling $134.
Market-research firms are hired by big businesses to get inside the heads of consumers. Participation in an in-person focus group led by a moderator, such as those run by Focus Pointe Global, can earn you between $50 and $750. Focus Pointe Global also has opportunities for telephone, app or online surveys as well as clinical trials.
But those in-person events may be put on hold as larger gatherings are canceled or postponed. There are alternatives: In exchange for taking online and phone surveys, firms such as Harris Poll Online and Inspired Opinions by Schlesinger offer rewards points redeemable for gift cards and merchandise from the likes of Visa (debit cards), Amazon.com, Starbucks and iTunes. Beware scams, though. Legitimate firms won’t charge a fee or ask you to cash a check and wire back part of the money.
Lawyers are getting in on the act, too. “Online jurors” can earn cash for giving their opinions on legal cases. EJury.com pays $5 to $10 per case. You’ll need a PayPal account. At OnlineVerdict.com, where fees for “jurors” range from $20 to $60 (the case reviews take from 20 minutes to 60 minutes to complete), payment is made by check.
If you have gold jewelry that isn’t valuable as an antique or a designer piece, consider selling it for scrap. Keep in mind that most gold jewelry isn't pure, say 14-karat or 18-karat, so you’ll need to calculate the melt value to get a better sense of its worth as scrap. The melt value reflects the actual amount of gold in the jewelry; a dealer will offer you a percentage of that value. Quotes will vary widely, so get several.
The same goes for silver. Maybe you inherited a few sterling trays you never use. Assuming the trays hold no particular value to collectors, sell them for scrap rather than trying to sell them at a consignment store or online. Check with several metals dealers, both online and at storefront locations, to get quotes. Expect to receive about 85% to 90% of your silver’s melt value.
If you or your family members have brand-name clothing, accessories or shoes that are in good condition but no longer being used, turn them into quick cash by selling them on consignment.
You can earn up to 80% of the resale value of women’s and kids’ clothing, shoes and handbags at fashion resale site thredUP.com. If you have high-end men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, watches and accessories, try your luck with luxury consignment site The RealReal. You earn up to 85% of the resale value in cash. Another option for designer clothing and accessories: Tradesy, which pays a 19.8% commission of the resale value of items $50 or more. You receive earnings via PayPal, debit card or a bank account. (Note: Several of these sites require that you register before you can enter and explore.)
A new site in this space, Poshmark, takes it all -- clothing for women, men and children, plus handbags, shoes, jewelry and makeup. You keep 80% of the sale, and Poshmark keeps 20%.
Or skip the middle-man and sell your used clothing on eBay, which will require more effort on your part but could result in a bigger return.
It's true used furniture is best sold in person. In the age of coronavirus, we learn to adjust.
For online furniture consignment, try sites such as Chairish, which lets you sell your used or vintage furniture and home decor and earn up to 70% of the resale value, or AptDeco (only available in the New York City area), which helps you sell used home furnishings. AptDeco retains between 19% and 38% of the sale price. Listings for both sites are free.
Perhaps you collected baseball cards (or stamps, coins or Beanie Babies) when you were young, and now they’re just collecting dust. But they might be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. One place to get top dollar for your collectibles and small items of value is eBay. Click on the “register” link in the top left corner of the homepage to create an account. Then visit the site’s “Seller Center” to learn how to sell. (Or check out our slide show with 9 Secrets to Making More Money on Your eBay Auction.) You can list 50 items every month for free, and you’ll pay a 10% fee (lower in some cases) on each item when it sells. Research prices for merchandise similar to what you plan to sell, so that you can price your wares competitively.
For more tips on how and where to sell valuable items, see 6 Things You Should Know About Collectibles
You could be sitting on an untapped source of cash if you haven’t bothered to redeem your credit card rewards points lately. One-third of all rewards -- everything from airline miles to cash back -- worth a total of $16 billion go unredeemed each year, according to a study by marketing research firm Colloquy. Per household, that averages out to $205 worth of rewards a year that aren’t redeemed.
The next-best thing to getting cash for points is a general-purpose gift card, something I stumbled on recently as I was looking at my NASA Federal Credit Union credit card statement online. I’d actually racked up enough rewards points to land a $50 Costco gift card. At American Express, for example, 5,000 Membership Rewards points earn you a $25 AmEx gift card that’s good in more than a million places. You can get more bang for your points by selecting a retailer-specific gift card from AmEx, such as The Cheesecake Factory, for example, where you’ll score a $50 gift card for 5,882 AmEx points.
Stop letting your used books collect dust on a book shelf, and start selling them online. BookScouter.com makes it easy for you to get the best price for your books. Simply type in the ISBN, which you can find on Amazon.com, from your book, and BookScouter.com scans prices from more than 30 book-buying sites to show you which ones are offering the most. For example, the highest price offered recently for a copy of American Dirt (bought new for about $16.79 at Amazon), was $5.27 from sellbackyourbook.com.
BookScouter.com is also a good place to find out who’s doling out the best prices for used college textbooks. For example, we plugged in the ISBN for the textbook International Environmental Law and Policy ($241 new at Amazon) and found sellbackyyourbook.com would buy it for $105.28.
Plenty of media, corporate and nonprofit websites are looking for freelancers to write, edit or design content for an average of $30 to $70 per hour, according to the web site Freelancewriting.com. Freelancewriting.com and Freelance Writing Jobs provide a long list of freelance writing opportunities culled from several top sites, along with advice and tips for freelance writers. Freelancer.com offers a wide variety of freelancing jobs in categories such as design, media and architecture or writing and content. For $14.99 a month, you can join Mediabistro’s MB Unlimited to post your qualifications and get support for your endeavors. Krop is a useful site for developers and designers, but it, too, posts jobs for copywriters and copy editors.
If you fancy yourself a skilled photographer, you can also earn extra cash by selling photos to stock art sites such as iStock by Getty Images and Shutterstock. At both sites, you must apply to be a contributor by submitting samples of your photos, illustrations, videos or audio. If approved, you’ll earn royalties when your files are downloaded by paying clients. iStock royalty rates start at 15% for photos and 20% for videos and illustrations (if you sign as an exclusive contributor to iStock, you can earn between 25% and $45%). Shutterstock pays between $0.25 and $0.38 per still image and $0.81 and $2.85 per on-demand image.
The amount of sold-but-unredeemed -- or “closed loop,” to use retail industry parlance -- gift cards in the U.S. each year totals $1 billion, according to CEB Global. So grab the unwanted cards you have lying around your house, open the loop and turn them into cash by selling them online at sites such as Gift Card Granny and Cardpool. You won't get the full value of your card (up to 92% at best). But if you have no intention of using the card, it's like getting free money.
Consider amending recent years’ tax returns to claim missed deductions. For example, if you have a child in college, did you forget in any year to take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth up to $2,500 per student for each of the first four years of college? See The Most-Overlooked Tax Breaks and Deductions for more breaks that might be worth amending your return to claim in hindsight.
You generally have three years from the date you filed your original return or two years from the date you paid any tax due, whichever is later, to file an amended return if you missed a tax break or need to make other changes. The deadline for amending your 2016 return expires April 15.
If you like to write, or think it would be fun to share your knowledge about a particular subject, start a blog. WordPress.org and Blogger.com offer free blogging platforms. Want to go bigger? Try GoDaddy.com for domain name registration, as well as website building, hosting and security. Turn to Google for Publishers for a free way to display ads on your site to earn money.
If you have a camera and something unique to share, you can cash in on YouTube. A reasonable goal for amateur filmmakers is to score viral fame with a YouTube channel. That means making a series of videos, each of which can run a little longer than three minutes. Highlight a specific skill or theme -- say, cooking, standup comedy, fixing plumbing (which I tap often) or repairing older cars (ditto). Your videos will drive traffic to one another while you perfect your skill and earn “subscribers.” To generate views, reach out to media outlets and bloggers with a link to your videos.
So you teach, maybe full time, maybe part time. You’ve created some dynamic lesson plans and units, task cards, activities, Common Core resources, games, classroom décor and so much more that goes into teaching. How about selling it (or, if you’re looking for a classroom boost, buying classroom material others have created)? This could be especially timely if you have creative lesson plans for online teaching or packets that help parents teach while schools are closed for coronavirus-related reasons. Welcome to Teachers Pay Teachers, a website dedicated to the craft. Since its inception in 2006 by a New York City school teacher, TpT says it has paid out more than $330 million to teachers willing to share. Note there are a host of guidelines, topmost which is you cannot sell on TpT material that is copyrighted to someone else. Original material sold on the site includes learning games teaching reading and math skills, writing tools, flash cards, books and more.
California first grade teacher Chery Akaba-McCumber told the Sacramento Bee newspaper she made $1,500 selling an educational game she created and sold on TpT for $2.25 – that’s 1,781 sales. “As you can see, it really adds up, even for such a relatively inexpensive item,” Akaba-McCumber said.
There are three types of memberships: TpT Membership and Basic Seller accounts, both free to join, and Premium Seller, which costs $60 a year. TpT retains between 20% and 45% of the sale price, plus transaction fees.
Sniffspot, “the Airbnb for dog off-leash areas,” gives pet owners a place to let their charges run free. Essentially, you’re creating a dog park on your property -- and earning yourself some walking-around money in the process.
Sniffspot’s stringent procedures and safeguards include verification of pet vaccinations and flea prevention, screenings for aggressive dogs (they’ll be banned) and insurance against damage to your property (Sniffspot says it’s never had a claim filed).
All types of properties are welcome to be listed. The starting price is $4 an hour per dog, but property owners can set their own rates. Sniffspot collects the funds and keeps 12%, plus a 10% marketing surcharge for hosts who joined the site after July 26, 2018.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, pet owners are responsible for cleaning up dog waste.