Kyle Taylor - The Penny Hoarder

This is pretty cool.

Do you have a smartphone? We thought so. You’re probably reading this on it right now.

Anyway, this company called Smart Panel and will literally pay you to download its free app.

That’s it.

The app collects anonymous statistics from your phone to help your favorite web sites, apps, tech companies, and mobile carriers give you better services and more features.

The company wants to know how long you're spending on Facebook each week, what YouTube videos you like, and how often you check your email.

It's all run by Verto Analytics, a trusted analytics firm, so you know your info is staying anonymous.

Here's how it works...

  1. You can't download this from the app store. Here's the promo link. It's free to download. 
  2. Once you've qualified and downloaded the app, the company will give you $5.

    If you keep it installed for at least two weeks, you'll earn another $10. Then, for every following month you keep the Smart App installed, you'll get another $5.

    In total, you can earn up to $75 for the 1st year! 
  3. You can redeem your rewards via Paypal or an Amazon.com gift card.

Good luck Penny Hoarders!'

Disclosure: We appreciate you letting us include affiliate links in this post. While we would have recommended this anyway, the affiliate link helps keep the beer fridge stocked in the Penny Hoarder break room. 

Believe it or not, the government will pay you to save.

I’m serious. Check this out.

It’s called the Saver’s Credit, and it’s one of the most valuable tax credits available. But sadly it’s one of the most overlooked.

If you’re a low- or middle-income worker, you can take this tax credit if you contribute to a 401(k), Roth IRA or traditional IRA — up to $1,000!

Not only do a lot of people forget about this credit, but tragically, too many low-income workers take a pass on the benefits of retirement investing because of the financial strain they worry it will have on their tight budgets.

But keep reading, and I’ll show you how to make saving a little easier.

How Do You Qualify for the Saver’s Credit?

For any tax credit, you need to jump through qualification hoops to take advantage of the benefits.

Obviously, you’ll need to file a tax return, and for this credit, you’ll also need to save some money in an IRA or employer-sponsored retirement account, like a 401(k).

The credit is for mid- to low-income earners, and the amount of the credit is determined by your income.

The income limits for 2017 are $62,000 for married filing jointly; $46,500 for head of household; and $31,000 for single filers.

The maximum amount of the credit cannot exceed $2,000 for single filers and $4,000 for joint filers in 2017.

Your income also determines the percentage of your retirement investment that will be credited to your tax bill. The percentage of your retirement contribution you can receive as a credit decreases as your income increases. (See table below.)

For example, a single filer earning $17,000 and investing $2,000 in a Roth IRA would receive a credit for 50% of their contributions, or $1,000. But a single filer earning between $20,001 and $30,000 who contributed $2,000 to a Roth IRA would receive a credit of just 10% of the amount they invested, or $200.

[caption id="attachment_53519" align="aligncenter" width="597"]savers credit via irs.gov[/caption]

How do I claim the credit?

Here’s what you need to do to take advantage of the Saver’s Credit.

  • The first thing you want to do is open a retirement account (my preference is a Roth IRA). You can open this with any brokerage firm, but I’m partial to Lending Club, because it gives me the best interest rate (one year I earned 14%). 
  • Next, make your deposit. This year, the IRS actually gives taxpayers until April 18, 2017, to make contributions to IRA accounts and include those investments on their 2016 taxes. Pretty cool, huh? 
  • Lastly, you need to file a FORM 8880 with the IRS. If you’re using a tax service like TurboTax (federal and state tax preparation is free via TurboTax’s 1040EZ/A Absolute Zero guarantee!), then it’s even easier to file this form.

It’s important to note that this benefit the government offers is not a deduction, but a credit.

On the scale of great tax breaks, tax credits are the most beneficial for taxpayers. While deductions merely lower how much income you report for taxes, a tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of the actual tax bill you pay.

So, if you owed $1,000 in taxes, paid $1,000 out of your paycheck all year and your credit is $1,000, you will get $1,000 back from the IRS for a tax refund.

Another way to take advantage of the credit (besides a hefty refund check) is to use the credit in a way that the government pays up to 50% of your retirement contribution.

If you struggle to come up with the money to open a qualifying retirement account, the Saver’s Credit gives you the opportunity to increase your exemptions on your W-2 and lower the taxes that come out of your paycheck.

It’s like getting a pay raise, because you can reduce the amount that comes out of your paycheck for taxes by the amount of the credit you’d receive.

Just make sure that the “pay raise” is going into your retirement account and not your bank account, or you’ll get a hefty tax bill instead of free money.

How to Make Saving a Little Easier

Now, I know for a lot of us, saving $1,000 or more can be a little tricky.

But consider this: You only need to make an extra $2.74 per day throughout the year to save up $1,000. And if you make less than the limits above, the government will chip in the other $1,000.

The Penny Hoarder has tons of ways to make an extra $2.74 per day.

Maybe try InboxDollars, which will pay you to take surveys, listen to music or watch videos. Or check out our list of companies that are giving away free cash.

Your Turn: Do you qualify for this tax credit?

Disclosure: What would Abe do? Probably pat us on the back for placing affiliate links in this post. Thanks for helping us fill The Penny Hoarder’s beer fridge!

Kyle Taylor is founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder.

Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?

Every year businesses give away thousands of dollars in free money and gift cards as a way of promoting their websites or products.

We've put together a list of 14 of them that will give you a ridiculous $1,834 in free cash right now.

Some of them are as simple as filling out a form. Some of them take a bit more effort, but you can easily knock out all of them in a couple of hours.

Without further ado, here are the 14 companies giving out free money right now....

1. Get $5 From Stash to Start Saving & Investing

shutterstock_7836112

I’m kind of obsessed with Stash (and not just because they give you $5).

Stash is an app available for both Android and Apple smartphones, and it makes it super simple to (finally) take the dive into investing, even if you don’t have a whole lot of spare cash. 

To get the $5 bonus, just enter your email here, download the Stash smartphone app and setup your account with the same email address.

You’ll see the bonus added to your account within two business days.

2. Get a Free $10 Walmart Gift Card 

Have you heard of MyPoints?

It's a cash-back site that lets you earn rewards by shopping online and printing coupons. We use it all the time because it’s instant way to save on everything you buy.

For example, you can get up to 3% cash back on purchases at Target, 5% cash back on some purchase at Amazon, and 5% cash back on purchases at Home Depot.

But, enough about that, here’s how to get a free $10 Walmart gift card:

  1. Sign up for MyPoints here using your email address (it’s free).
  2. Use the MyPoints portal next time you need to shop online (it's connected to thousands of stores).
  3. As long as you spend at least $10 at any of those stores, MyPoints will reward you with 1,750 bonus points, which you can redeem for a free $10 Walmart gift card.

3. Open a Netspend.com Account - FREE $20

$20
Editor's Note (7/28/16): This has worked for more than 10,000 readers so far, but we've also heard from more than 100 folks that they were not credited with their $20 bonus. Furthermore, it looks the Netspend customer service is not very helpful in addressing these issues, so we're no longer 100% confident in this offer.

This is another easy $20 just for requesting a prepaid, reloadable card from Netspend.

I've tested this one and over 200 hundred readers have cashed in on this, so you know it's a good one.

1. Click here and "Open a NetSpend account” for FREE. Use the promotion code "1180516423"

2. You will receive your NetSpend “Visa” Debit card within 10 business days. Mine made it here in four days.

3. Once you receive the card, simply log into NetSpend and activate it.

4. In order to get the free $20, you’ll need to load the card with a minimum of $40 using PayPal, a bank account or one of the other options.

5. Once you load the $40, NetSpend will add $20 to your available balance on the card. I confirmed this myself with my own card.

6. Go to the ATM and withdraw the $60 total from your card or spend the funds at your local store, online, or wherever you can use a credit card. Yes, if you withdraw the money via ATM or cash back, you’ll be hit with the $2 fee for a PIN transaction or a $2.50 ATM Fee (would only be $17.50 – $18 bonus in this case). But, you can avoid the fee by ACH transferring it for free back to your bank

Read more here: "Free $20 Cash for Signing Up at Netspend"

4. Complete a Few Surveys at Swagbucks - FREE $30

Work-From-Home Customer Service Job
There are a number of sites on the web that will pay you to read advertiser’s emails, sign up for offers, and take surveys.

I’ve tried about a million of them, but there are only a few I'd recommend. Swagbucks is one of those companies. The surveys are relatively quick to complete and reward you with points that can later be redeemed for cash or gift cards.

Sign up for this at the beginning of the month and promise yourself you’ll log-in a few times each week. You’ll have no trouble earning an extra $30 this month.

5. Download This App & Get a FREE $39/Year

Millennials in the workplace

If you’re a regular Amazon shopper, you can earn money each month contributing to research to help companies understand what people are buying online.

Download and connect Shoptracker to your Amazon account.

It’ll instantly send you a free $3 Visa gift card, plus another $3 for every month you keep it installed.

6. Sign Up for a Bank Bonus -  FREE $250

Design contest
A number of banks will give you free cash just for opening a new account.

And there's no harm in having multiple bank accounts. In fact, I often find it's helpful to have multiple places to save (I'm less likely to touch the money), so I have savings accounts for my Christmas and vacation fund.

The top bank bonus is $250 right now -- head over to this list to see all of the banks in you area offering free cash.

7. Rent Out Your Extra Baby Stuff With This App -- FREE $20+

[caption id="attachment_49553" align="alignnone" width="1200"]free money Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Traveling with kids can be rewarding, but also very challenging.

The goBaby app aims to make it a little easier on parents -- while giving other parents the chance to make some extra cash.

Packing and hauling baby stuff across airports, planes, trains and automobiles sucks, and it might even cost you extra money.

Through the goBaby app, New York City-based mother of two Natalie Kaminski created a parent-to-parent marketplace where traveling parents could rent baby gear like strollers, car seats and other items from local parents with the same to spare.

This Airbnb-style exchange for baby supplies is available in New York City and will be launching soon in Boston, Miami, San Francisco and Chicago.

If you live in one of these cities, use the app to monetize the baby gear you already own!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Download the app for free here.
  1. Take a photo of the item you want to rent out. Add a brief description, and set your price.
  1. Choose whether you’ll deliver the item or have the renter pick it up.
  1. Give the item to the renter, and get it back within the scheduled dates.
  1. Get paid. Repeat!

8. Do Your Shopping via Ebates - FREE $10

Wedding freebies
The folks over at Ebates are giving away $10 gift cards when you sign-up as a new member.

You can choose either a $10 Target, Walmart, Macy’s or Kohl’s gift card. You need to make a $25 purchase at any of the stores on its shopping list in order to qualify for the free gift card.

I certainly don’t recommend spending $25 just to get a $10 gift card, but if you have plans to buy something online anyway, I'd definitely cash in on this…

Have a gift card from a birthday or Christmas that needs to be spent? Look at this as a way to get a little bit extra back on your purchase.

Some of the cash-back offers I use frequently include 3% back from iTunes, 1% back from the Apple Store, and 3% back from Target purchases. But there are tons of stores to pick from, as well.

Read more about it here: "Get a FREE $10 Target Gift Card from Ebates.com"

9 - 13. Sign Up for a New Credit Card - FREE $1,425

20164
One of the best ways for a Penny Hoarder to make some serious extra cash is to take advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses.

Of course, to get the most benefit, you should have excellent credit, and routinely pay off your card in full each month so you're not paying interest.  (After all, every time you pay interest, you're losing some of the positive effects of the bonuses.)

Just recently I received over $1,300 in credit card bonuses by selectively choosing new cards to apply for and use. All I had to do was put my regular spending on the credit card over the course of a few months. Here's the full list.

For those of you wondering, here's a great article on how to do this without hurting your credit score: How Opening and Closing Credit Cards Affects Your Credit Score

14. Transfer Your Prescription to a New Drug Store - $25

[caption id="attachment_30731" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Clinical trials pimpic/Shutterstock.com[/caption]

If you have a monthly prescription from your doctor, I’ve got an easy way for you to make $25 bucks a month…

Several of the national grocery and drug store chains have been know to run promotions that give you free cash or a gift card when you transfer a prescription to their store.

You can usually find these coupons in your Sunday newspaper circulars or on coupon blogs like DealSeekingMom.com and MoneySavingMom.com.

If you can’t find a coupon for a specific location, ask your store manager if they’ll accept a competitor coupon. Then you can take a Walgreens coupon (or another one that you find) and have your store match it. Lots of stores will do this including Publix and some Walmarts, CVS, and Rite Aid locations.

Read more about this trick here: "Here's a neat trick to make $25/month if you have a prescription..."

There you have it. If you've finished the list, you've just made $1,834 in FREE money.

Feel free to take the weekend off.

Good luck Penny Hoarders!

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.

Blogging is a great way to make some big bucks.

And blogging success stories really aren’t that rare these days.

Some people turn blogging into a hearty side gig or even a full-blown career -- like this mom, who makes $6,000 a month.

Then there’s this student, who paid off $15,000 in student loan debt with his blogging income -- before he even graduated!

Even more impressive, this food blogger reaps a comfortable $150,000 a year.

Heck, The Penny Hoarder is a prime example. When I started this site back in 2010, I was using a free platform and updated the content about once a week.

Now? The Penny Hoarder brought in more than $20 million in revenue last year and sees more than 19 million visitors each month (including you)!

So are you interested in learning the ropes? Let me share with you what I’ve learned about starting a blog and transforming it into a healthy business -- and how you can follow a similar path.

The Logistics: Domains, Hosting, Platform and Theme

If you want to start a blog, you’ll have to decide where it will live, how it will look like and what to call it.

Before you write a post or start tweeting about your new site, you’ll need to choose your blog’s domain, sign up with a host, pick a platform and decide on a theme.

It might sound a bit overwhelming, but I promise it’s not too bad.

Here are some simple definitions to get you started:

What’s a Website Domain?

Your domain is your address on the internet. It’s the name you give to people when you tell them where to find your website, like ThePennyHoarder.com.

Yours can be anything you want, ideally close to your blog’s name or your own name. (You don’t want to buy awesomeshoes.com if you’re planning to blog about food.)

Given how cheap it is to get most domains, you could even buy a few iterations. So if your name is Janice M. Schmidt and you want to start a running blog called Janice Runs Fast, try to buy both janicerunsfast.com and janicemschmidt.com. 

To buy your domain name for only 99 cents, use the promo code CJPENNY at GoDaddy. I told you it was cheap!

What Does Website Hosting Mean?

If your domain is the physical address for your online plot of land, your host is the foundation and bare bones of the house you’re building.

Your hosting company keeps your site on its servers so people can access it over the internet. Without hosting, people will just see an error page when they try to visit janicerunsfast.com.

I like Bluehost for website hosting, and if you use this link, you can get set up with a site for just $2.95/month. (It's usually $7.99/month.)

Which Platform Should You Choose for Your Blog?

You probably don’t want to live in an unfinished house with bare walls, concrete floors and no lights, right?

If you want to furnish your house with paint, carpeting, flooring and appliances, you need a blogging platform.

Once you set it up, you’ll use the back end of your platform to update your blog. When it comes to blogging platforms, you have three main options:

How to start a blog on WordPress.org

WordPress.org

Almost every major blog in the world uses Wordpress.

It’s the most popular and robust DIY platform out there. You have to set up your own domain and hosting, but if you’re looking to get serious with your blog, Wordpress is the way to go.

You have basically unlimited design options, and you can install any number of plugins to manage everything from social sharing to analytics.

There are a few downsides, though: It’s a community-built platform so some plugins can be buggy, you have to be moderately technical to figure out any problems you encounter, and there’s a bit of a learning curve.

That said, the level of difficulty is really up to you.

If you want a simple design with a professional-sounding URL, you can do that on WordPress.org. If you want a New-York-Times-level blog to support thousands of readers every day with high-quality photos and hundreds of comments, you can do that, too.

Want a simpler option to start with? Read on for a few other options that don’t require as much tech-savvy.

WordPress.com

This is the simpler version of WordPress.

It’s the best way to get your blog off the ground as quickly, easily and cheaply as possible -- using WordPress.com means you don’t actually have to worry about buying a domain or hosting -- they’ll take care of it for you.

The downside is your domain will look a little different: You’ll have janicerunsfast.wordpress.com rather than janicerunsfast.com. (You can upgrade through WordPress.com to eliminate “wordpress” in your domain, but it will cost you a few dollars.)

You’ll also see a few ads on your site, you won’t have access to quite as many themes and plugins, and storage is limited (so it’s not a great choice if you want to share tons of high-res photos).

But the big perk is the basic account is free and easy to use.

Because it doesn’t cost you anything, WordPress.com is a good option if you want to start a blog as a school project, to stay in touch with friends and family, or simply to see if you like this whole blogging thing at all before investing in something more substantial.

Squarespace

Squarespace

If you’re keen to blog seriously but you’re not tech-savvy, you might like this happy medium between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. If you want a gorgeous but easy to customize website, Squarespace is your guy.

Unlike either WordPress option, everything in Squarespace is controlled and managed by the platform.

You’ll have 24/7 access to a professional support team and unlimited storage. The downside is you won’t have the huge range of plugin, widget and design options as with WordPress, since many of those are community-designed and maintained.

The other major difference is Squarespace isn’t free. It has a number of different packages, but you should expect to spend just under $100 per year for their cheapest plan, which is probably all you need if you’re just getting started.

What About a Theme for Your Blog?

A theme is a template that enhances the appearance and functionality of a blog without you having to touch any code.

To go back to our house metaphor, using a theme is like hiring an interior designer to pull everything together and make all the rooms flow, without actually having to paint the walls or carry the furniture yourself.

Most of the blogs that look appealing and professional use a theme to pull that off.

No matter which platform you choose, your blog will come with access to at least a few free themes. Squarespace is well-known for having lots of gorgeous themes, so if you value design but aren’t a designer yourself, that’s another point for the platform.

If you prefer, you can also purchase more premium themes from other providers.

If you go with WordPress.org, you have unlimited options, though a few are known for being better than others.

If you're a little more technically inclined or up for getting your hands dirty, you could try these more advanced themes: Genesis, Thesis and X Theme are considered the top Wordpress themes out there, and you can get any of them for less than $100.

Logistics of Starting a Blog: A Quick Recap

We’ve covered a lot so far. Here’s what you need to do to set up your blog:

  1. Purchase your domain
  2. Get a hosting account
  3. Choose a platform
  4. Install a theme, if you want one

Content: It’s Time to Start Writing on Your Blog

So you’ve got your blog all set up. It’s online, looking great and ready for action. Now what?

You might feel ready to hit the ground blogging, but first take a minute to set up these two basic pages.

How to write an about page

Your Blog’s About Page

This is where you talk about you.

Why are you blogging? What do you know about your subject? Why should readers listen to you?

Besides your homepage, your about page will likely be the most visited page on your site, so it’s worth putting time and effort into creating one you’re proud of.

Janice the runner might want to post a photo of her running, along with a couple of paragraphs about how she discovered her love for the sport, her running goals and maybe a bit about her life when she’s not hitting the road.

On my about page, I talk about how I’ve been trying to make extra money for as long as I can remember. I also include a few photos and list recent mentions in the media, like when NBC Miami asked me about my favorite savings apps. This lets people know a little bit about me and my experience, plus establish a few credentials.

Your Blog’s Contact Page

If you want to blog anonymously or don’t want people to contact you, you can leave this out, but otherwise you’ll want to include some information about how people can contact you -- especially if you’re hoping to make money blogging.

After all, if readers love what you have to offer, or a literary agent wants to offer you a book deal, or a hiring manager thinks you’d be perfect for his open job, you want it to be easy for those people to get in touch, right?

You might want to install a contact form (WordPress.org has plugins for this) or just write out your email address on your contact page. If you’re worried about spam, you can write something like “janice AT janicerunsfast DOT com.”

If you want to get fancy or you have a team of people working for you, list different email addresses for different reasons, like advertising requests, media inquiries or clients who want to hire you.

But it’s perfectly fine to just funnel everything into one place if that’s easiest for you.

What to Blog About

It’s finally time to start blogging!

What you’ll blog about depends on your goals. Do you want to share your adventures with your friends back home while you travel around the world for a year? Are you hoping to spread the word about your freelance business? Do you want to share your expertise on a particular topic? Or are you hoping to turn your blog into a business?

While you’re more than welcome to write about your every whim and opinion, blogs that focus on a particular niche often perform better in terms of traffic and money-making potential. So think about your passions, your business, your experience or your goals.

What expertise or advice can you share with the world?

Generally, you want to blog about something where you can bring a fresh perspective.

For example, while a ton of people blog about money, I like to think The Penny Hoarder stands out by focusing on weird ways to earn, save and invest your money.

What to blog about: ways to make money

So while the world might not need another daily fashion blog, you can set your fashion blog apart by focusing on capsule wardrobes, refashioning clothes you have in your closet or limiting yourself to clothes you buy on consignment.

This is where I also want to highlight the most important thing about blogging: No matter what anyone tells you, you can do whatever you want.

Never underestimate your own personal, unique perspective; the most successful blogs have their own personalities and quirks, just like the people behind them.

Sure, there are a million and one food bloggers out there, but there isn’t one with your voice, with your experience, who shares your all-consuming obsession with making the world’s best guacamole.

Experiment, get creative and have fun with your blog! Put yourself out there, start writing and see what happens.

Content Strategy and Inspiration

Before you publish anything, decide if your blog is going to serve as a diary, sharing your experiences and adventures, or focus more on how-tos and information.

If your blog is going to lean more toward diary-style, for example, a photographic journal of your travels, your content will depend on your daily life.

Get out there and start exploring, then write a post about what you did and how others can learn from it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you prefer to focus on the how-tos of travel photography, you’ll need to get more specific.

That’s easier said than done, but here are some easy tricks to get your ideas flowing. Write down whatever comes to mind as a potential post, and then go through your list anytime you need inspiration.

  1. Ask friends, especially those with little knowledge about your topic. If you’re starting a travel photography blog, ask your friends, “What’s one question you’ve always had about photography? What do you wish you knew?”
  2. Skim Cosmo. Bear with me on this one -- it’s worth it! Magazines like Cosmopolitan are filled with fantastic headline ideas, and sometimes it’s easier to start with a headline and write the post from there. If you see an article called “12 Makeup Brushes You Need and Exactly How to Use Them,” you might write about “12 Camera Accessories You Need and Exactly How to Use Them.” The more specific you get in your headline, the easier it will be to write the post later.
  3. Look for trends. Read your favorite travel and photography blogs, skim through Twitter and Instagram hashtags and check the news. What’s hot right now? What’s trending? Is anything in the news relevant for your readers, like a new product release or a new movie with a photographer as the main character? If Instagram just dropped a bunch of new filters or you want to share your obsession with your awesome new zoom lens, your blog is the perfect place to wax lyrical.
  4. Google it. When you search for “photography tips,” you get a whole a world of content. From “taking stellar photos with your Android phone” to “how to photograph fireworks,” you find tons of inspiration. Plus, you’ll see what’s already popular and you can riff on those topics in your own voice. Keyword Tool can also help. Type in “photography” and you’ll get a giant list of the top Google searches related to your topic, like photography classes, contests and apps.

How Often to Post on Your Blog

The more often you post, the quicker you’ll build up a following.

Give yourself a schedule by picking one day each week to publish, and stick to it. Over time, you might want to start posting more often, especially if you’re looking to build a business out of your blog.

A quick tip: When it comes to SEO (more on that later), longer posts (think 1,000 to 2,000 words) perform better and rank higher in search engines.

Plus, readers tend to like content that outlines everything they need to know in one post (like this one!), rather than having to jump around from link to link.

That said, don’t feel like every post needs to be an essay. Online readers generally scan content, so as long as you’re formatting your posts so they’re easy to read, write as much or as little as you like.

It’s nice to have some short posts for variety, too!

Appearance Matters: Make Your Blog Posts Look Great

While you could just write amazing posts with no visuals or structure, your blog will look a lot nicer with a little formatting and some graphics and pictures -- and that helps readers stick around longer.

Here are some tips for making your blog posts aesthetically pleasing.

Stock photos and free photos for blogs

Add Photos

In general, big chunks of text don’t do particularly well -- they look intimidating and no one wants to read them.

If you’d seen a massive wall of words when you started this post, would you have made it this far?

Break up your text with imagery, like graphs, screenshots or photos of your subject.

You have tons of options, from downloading free or low-cost stock photos, finding Creative Commons-licensed photos on Flickr or using your own shots. If you want to get fancy, use a tool like Canva or FotoJet to create your own images by adding text to a photo or combining images.

Need another reason to add photos? Readers love to put a face to the name, or an image to the recipe or colors to the outfit -- and when you add something visual, they’re a lot more likely to share your post with their friends or followers, which goes a long way toward helping your blog gain traction.

Format for Easier Reading

If you’re going to write 1,000 words, that’s great, but you need to break it up so it’s easy to read.

Use subheadings, bolded sentences, pull-quotes and photos, and break up long paragraphs into shorter ones for easier reading on a tablet or smartphone.

Take this post for example -- we’ve divided it by topic, using heading, subheadings and screenshots to break up the text. Since most readers will skim your posts, you want to make it easy for them to get the main points and decide to stick around for a closer read.

Promoting Your Blog

Don’t worry about this part until you’ve been blogging for a while -- creating great content is the most important part of running a blog.

But eventually, you’re going to want more readers, so here are the best ways to promote your blog and increase traffic to your website.

Track Analytics

Before you start promoting your blog, install Google Analytics. It’s free, and will help you see how your posts perform, right from the very beginning.

Google Analytics helps you track how many visitors read your posts, how long they spend on your site, where they come from and which posts are most popular.

Over time, this information will help you hone in on your blog’s goals, get specific about your niche, write more posts your readers want to see, develop relationships with sites that link to you, and eventually sell advertising.

How to Find Readers for Your Blog

When you first get started, the easiest way to find readers is to share your posts with friends on social media.

You don’t even need to create a separate Facebook page or Twitter account. Just share your posts with family and friends wherever you hang out, whether that’s LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram or elsewhere.

There’s no need to use fancy hashtags or worry about the perfect time of day to reach people. Just share your posts, and then get back to blogging.

Once your blog has started gaining momentum, here are a few more great ways to build your readership:

Social sharing

Make It Easy to Share Your Posts

When a reader wants to share one of your posts with his friends on social media, you want it to be super easy.

If you don’t have a few clear social media share buttons front and center, you’ve just lost the chance to connect with a ton of potential new readers.

The good news is, adding these buttons is pretty easy. WordPress offers a wide range of plugins to make it simple. A few of my favorites are Monarch ($89), Shareaholic (free) and Simple Share Buttons (free).

Start Learning SEO

It can take years to learn how to wrangle Google search algorithms to your benefit (and once you master the techniques, they change the rules on you), but learn a few basic tricks to help new readers find you.

Before you publish a post, do these four things:

  • Check your content for keywords (for example, if you’re writing about a photography class, make sure to say “photography class” and not “course for photography”)
  • Write an excerpt and meta description (you’ll find options for these within your WordPress post)
  • Name your images and add ALT text (just describe what’s in them or what your post is about)
  • Link to other relevant parts of your blog, whether it’s other posts or pages

Focus on Great Headlines

While writing great content goes a long way, no one will click to read those posts unless you have awesome headlines. If your headlines are spectacular, your posts are not only more likely to get read, they’ll also get clicks and shares, which helps boost your ranking in Google.

Experts have written entire books about how to write a good headline, so I’ll keep this brief. Here are two rules of thumb to get you started:

  • Pique the reader’s interest: Create a “curiosity gap” so your reader wants to click through and read the full post. Instead of writing a post called “My Day at the Zoo,” write “How My Visit to the Zoo Changed My Life.”
  • Think about what you’d ask Google: Most people wouldn’t search for “how I got into running.” They want to know how they can get into running. Make your headlines less about you and more about how others will benefit. For example, “Just Do It: 7 Brilliant Ways to Trick Yourself into Running” or “Never Wear Pants Again: 103 Ways to Make Money at Home.”

Interact With Other Bloggers

You have your favorite blogs, right? The ones you read religiously every time a new post pops up in your feed reader or inbox?

It’s a safe bet that many of those bloggers are in your niche, or at least a similar one.

Instead of lurking on the sidelines, participate!

Comment on those bloggers’ posts, interact with them on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn. You’ll not only create fun relationships, but you’ll increase the chances they’ll share and comment on your content.

And speaking of connecting with other bloggers...

Write Guest Posts

Many large blogs (and some smaller ones) accept guest posts. All bloggers want great, interesting content to share with their readers.

If you can share a new take on a situation or subject, why not offer your thoughts?

Writing for other blogs helps you tap into whole new communities of potential readers, and if you’ve already been chatting with a blogger or interacting with a community in the comments, you might be in luck.

When it comes to pitching other bloggers, do your homework. Be familiar with the blog’s content -- don’t pitch something she’s already written about a hundred times, an idea that’s hopelessly generic or a topic that’s totally outside her niche.

Many bloggers who actively solicit guest posts will have submission guidelines, so be sure you’ve read those -- and then follow them. Otherwise, your message is likely to get deleted.

If a blogger doesn’t have guidelines, explain how your post will link to other content on her site and share a unique perspective with her readers.

Build an Email List

Hands down, the number one thing you can do to build your blog (and eventually start making money from it) is to build an email list.

Your list helps you accomplish two things:

  1. It lets readers know every time you post, so you get more repeat visitors.
  2. It allows you to reach out to people with a special offers, events and sales.

Most people use one of these two options for their email lists.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp is the cheap and cheerful option.

It’s free for the first 2,000 users, so it’s a good choice if you’re just getting started, and it’s incredibly easy to learn.

You can play with different formats, schedule your emails to go out anytime you want and even test different subject lines to see which ones your subscribers like best.

AWeber

If you’re hoping to grow your list to more than 2,000 fairly quickly, AWeber is a good choice.

You’ll get your first month free, and then you’ll pay $19 a month for up to 500 subscribers, with additional charges as your list grows. AWeber is a bigger investment, but offers all sorts of creative options like autoresponders, lots of testing methods and beautiful templates.

The good news is, even if you start out using MailChimp’s free service, you can eventually upgrade to have more subscribers on your list or transfer those subscribers over to AWeber.

Either way, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of building your email list.

Even if you do nothing else with your email list other than set it up and start collecting subscribers, starting it early will be the best thing you can do for your blog.

As I write this post, I’ve got more than 350,000 email subscribers -- but if I’d started collecting emails when I first launched The Penny Hoarder, I bet I’d have thousands more.

How to Make Money Blogging

While it can be fun to start a blog just to keep your family updated or show off photos of your cute kids, you might also want to actually make some money.

How much you can earn from a blog depends on a number of factors, but a big one is the level of effort you’re willing to put in.

Even if you sell your own products on your site, like ebooks, you probably won’t make much if you only blog once a month and don’t consider other ways to make money.

But if you blog daily and feature a combination of advertisements, affiliate offers and your own products, you might be able to make a full-time living from your blog. Let’s break down how most bloggers -- including me -- make money online.

Advertising

The most common way for bloggers to make money is through advertising.

Google AdSense is the easy option, but there are a variety of ad networks to choose from, including ones targeted towards specific niches like food bloggers, mommy bloggers or athletes.

Whatever you choose, recognize that this piece is never going to be a huge source of income.

Readers don’t love being hit with ads over and over again, so start by including just one or two in your sidebar. Be sure to monitor the ads that show up on your blog -- you don’t want scammy “make $35,000 in 20 minutes from home!” ads to distract readers from your great content.

Once your blog has grown a bit more, you might consider selling ads directly rather than using a network. It can be a lot of work, but it can also help you make a lot more money.

Affiliate programs: Amazon Associates

Affiliate Programs

Affiliate programs are the next step up for bloggers looking to make money.

In a nutshell, you promote a product you love, and if anyone buys it through your link, you get a percentage of the sale. The most common affiliate program is probably Amazon Associates, which offers a small commission for any item someone buys on the site after clicking on your link (4 to 10%, depending on the item).

But the sky’s the limit here, and many programs offer much higher commissions, often 30-50%.

If you like a product or service, like your hosting provider, your theme, an ebook or an online course, why not earn a little money back by sharing your thoughts with your readers?

A few minutes of research will help you find if a particular product has an affiliate program already set up.

If you have a favorite brand of furniture or clothing or beauty products or running shoes -- and your blog is big enough -- reach out to the company directly and ask if they can set you up with a program. Most brands these days are used to working with bloggers and are eager to help.

You’ll want to be honest with your readers and explain that your opinions are your own, even though you’re using an affiliate link.

You also need to clearly highlight or declare any affiliate links to meet FTC standards.

Products and Services

The most hardcore, but lucrative, step in the make-money-as-a-blogger world, is creating your own ebook, course or other product -- and it will likely yield the best financial results, especially if you don’t have a massive audience yet.

It’s also the most time consuming way to make money, at least at the beginning. The cool thing about making your own product is that once you create it, you can sell it over and over.

If you’re a food blogger, you might want to compile a cookbook of your best recipes. Or if you run a fashion blog and recently purchased an entire wardrobe at your local thrift store for under $100, you could create a video course to help other people do the same.

This is where your email list comes in handy, since you can email them about your product while you’re putting it together and when it’s ready to sell.

You could also offer regular readers or email subscribers a discount to help drum up early sales and reviews. You could even consider trying your own affiliate program and offering your products to other bloggers to promote in exchange for a commission.

Win-win!

Not ready to put together a product? No problem.

Why not experiment by selling your services as a freelancer or consultant in your area of expertise? A food blogger could create meal plans for busy families, a photographer could take headshots and portraits, and pretty much any blogger can offer to write paid blog posts.

Ready to Start Your Blog?

All of that sounds pretty easy, right?

Just kidding.

Creating a blog with great posts and a ton of readers that actually makes money takes time.

Start with the basics, relax and have fun with it! Over time, if you put in the effort and follow this advice, you’ll build up your readership and even start making money from your blog if you chose to go that route.

Your Turn: What questions can I answer about how to start a blog?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. We would have shared them with you anyway, but a true "Penny Hoarder" would be a fool not to take the company's money. :)

From Donald Trump to Kevin O’Leary, entrepreneurs entering the world of politics have been in the spotlight. And that has sparked a discussion about whether CEOs transition into successful political leaders.

My journey is the opposite: I went from politics to CEO.

In 2004, I began college as a political science major at the University of South Florida. During my freshman year, I campaigned for Working America. When the office closed after the November election, I moved on to Clean Water Action.

As my second semester rolled around in January, I was offered a promotion and an opportunity to work on a park bond campaign. In Texas.

My parents weren’t thrilled that I was giving up my scholarship and dropping out of school. But I took the job and later worked on various campaigns in a number of roles for the next several years. And you know what? Working on campaigns taught me a lot about running a company.

Here are five things I learned from working on political campaigns:

1.  How to Sell

As a field canvasser, my job was to go door to door educating people on the issues and soliciting donations. I had a daily quota to hit, so I had to be direct when asking for money.

When the door opened, I had about a two-minute window to make a personal connection with someone. As a shy, introverted young guy, I was scared shitless to talk to complete strangers.

The bad part: I’d have to talk to 40-60 people a day. The good part: I’d have to talk to 40-60 people a day. I had the chance to get better each time.

If I had an awkward exchange, I could tweak my approach with the next person who answered the door. I learned to overcome my nervousness and shaky knees by relying on my sense of humor -- it’s a disarming tool, sure, but it helped me relax, too! Plus, once I got someone to chuckle, I knew I had bought myself another 30 seconds.

I got better at reading people, relating to them and reframing my ask. I also assumed support -- that the person on the other side of the door already cared about the issues and wanted to help.

It’s never easy to ask people for money. But years of canvassing helped build my confidence when selling today.

2. How to Build a Business

On the campaign trail, I was never in the same spot for long. Working on the Affordable Care Act in 2009, for example, I began in Ohio, headed down to Virginia for a few weeks and then drove to Louisiana. My schedule hinged on the needs of the campaign and would change accordingly.

With each move to a new city came a new office. When I became a field director, I’d have to do everything from set up an office space to hire staff to navigate labor laws that varied from state to state. It was a lot of work in a short period of time -- and an office might only last a couple months!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building mini-startups. Assembling and scaling a team quickly? These skills came in handy when I founded my own business and had to budget for an office, build a team, do payroll and administer benefits as a scrappy entrepreneur.

3. How to Hire

There’s an infinite need for canvassers during campaign season. I would routinely place ads on Craigslist, in newspapers and on job websites. I’d set up interviews for roughly half the respondents; from there, 50-60% would actually show up. After six years, I had conducted a lot of interviews.

During this time, I really learned what to look for and what questions were important to ask. Since these interviews were five to 10 minutes long, I had to quickly evaluate whether someone was a good fit. Two things I looked for were attitude and the ability to learn new skills. And today, those are still the first things I look for in candidates at The Penny Hoarder.

4. How to Do Press

I made my TV news debut at an event for Working America in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 2009. We organized an event at a bus depot with hundreds of people. Canvassers dressed up like doctors to disseminate information about the ACA and ask people to write letters to then-Sen. Mary Landrieu.

The event got national attention. As the organizer, it was my job -- whether I wanted it to be or not -- to speak to the press.

I gave my first on-camera quote during that campaign. I was the same introverted kid, but because I was passionate about the work, I was able to push that to the side.

I continue to do media spots as a CEO. Those earlier TV news segments helped me get comfortable in front of a camera and deliver a digestible message in a short period of time.

5. How to Remain Calm Under Pressure

Because of the hourly pay and atypical hours, canvassing jobs tend to attract college students. As a director, I had my fair share of expected issues, like people showing up late or not at all. I also experienced not-so-average problems, like neighbors calling the cops on my team, or canvassers getting sick, bitten by a dog or hit by a car. I was guaranteed to deal with some kind of situation every night.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re the boss. But after a while, I started to develop a mindset of “I’ve dealt with worse before.” It’s been a helpful reminder as I scale my business. (And thankfully, no one on my team’s been hit by a car since.)

Kyle Taylor is the founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites with 19 million-plus monthly readers. In 2016, the Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder the 32nd fastest-growing private company and the No. 1 fastest-growing media company in the United States. You can read his latest article here: “Here’s Exactly What We Did to Improve Our SEO in 2016… and Beyond.”

New year, new you, right?

Cliche as it may sound, it’s never a bad time to start padding your bank account, regardless of what time of year it is.

Whether it’s for a rainy day, a major purchase or just to relieve some financial anxiety, there’s nothing wrong with looking for new income streams.

And you’re in the right place. This list of ways to make money this year will get you in better shape in more ways than one.

Some of these will literally help you get healthy, another can help inspire change. One can get your voice out in the world, while another can help you declutter your home.

Most importantly, all of these can help you make some extra money to put toward paying down debt.

We've put together a list of some of our favorite tips from the last few months. There are 12 of them, so you can either do all of them this month, or split them up throughout the year (one a month).

Hope they help!

1. Grab a Free $10 Gift Card to Amazon

[caption id="attachment_49242" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]amazon-free-shipping-minimum Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Anytime I shop online, I use a cash-back rewards site like MyPoints.

It’s a smart way to earn cash for the shopping you’re doing anyway!

And it works at most of my favorite retailers. Once you sign up for a free account, you can get 1.4% cash back on purchases at Target and a whopping 5.4% at Walmart.

There are more than 1,000 stores on the list, so you can purchase nearly everything you need through the cash-back site.

Plus, when you spend your first $20 through the portal, MyPoints will give you a free $10 Amazon gift card.

2. Scan Your Own Groceries


You’ve head of Nielsen, right? Yep, the same company that tracks TV ratings.

Well, it has a new app that will pay you to scan the groceries in your fridge.

Once you sign your family up for the Nielsen Consumer Panel, the company will send you a free scanner or you can use your smartphone.

Every time you go shopping, you simply scan the barcodes on the back of each product and send your data off to NCP.

If you want to give it a try, you can fill out an application here.

As an active participant, you earn gift points which you can redeem for different types of merchandise. You can choose electronics, jewelry, household items and even toys for the kids.

The longer you stay on the panel, the more opportunity you have to earn points toward prizes. You also receive entries for the panel’s many sweepstakes. Prizes include money, vacations and brand new vehicles.

3. Make Money Completing Simple Tasks

[caption id="attachment_49842" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Better money habits m-imagephotography/Getty Images[/caption]

A number of websites out there will pay you to read advertiser’s emails, take surveys, even just listen to the radio.

I’ve tried about a million of them, but there are only a few I’d really recommend. InboxDollars is one of those companies.

It’s free to join, and best of all, you get $5 just for signing up. It’ll even pay you up to $120/year just to listen to its radio station.

InboxDollars just requires you to accumulate $30 in earnings before you can “cash-out” and then pays you by sending a check.

Some sample offers include one asking you to sign up for a email newsletter from AMF Bowling. It pays 50 cents and takes about 15 seconds. Another offer asks you to sign up for a free TurboTax account to earn $3.50.

These are simple and there are nearly a hundred of them to choose from. If you’re interested in giving InboxDollars a try, visit the sign-up page here to get started (open to every country).

4. Share Your Info with Google

A number of companies, including Google, will pay you to install their app on your cell phone and for every month you keep them installed.

The apps collect data from your cell phone and help companies better understand web and mobile usage better — such as what times of day people browse, how long they stay on websites and use apps, and what types of sites and apps are popular (or not).

Here are my favorites (install all of them and earn $400/year or more):

Smart Panel - This panel is open to everyone and once you’ve downloaded the app, they will give you $5. If you keep it installed for at least two weeks, you’ll earn another $10. And then for every month that you keep the Smart App installed, you’ll get another $5. All total, you can earn up to $75 for the 1st year!

Nielsen Mobile Panel – If you have a smartphone, this Nielsen panel will pay you $50/year to keep this app on your cell phone and browse the web like you normally do.

MobileXpression for Android - After you’ve installed this app for one week, you get to play an instant rewards game for a prize (everyone wins something). I won a $25 Amazon gift card, but some of the other prizes include iPads & Samsung TVs.

 

5. Open a 2nd Bank Account

[caption id="attachment_49786" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]atm fees guruXOOX/Getty Images[/caption]

We've put together a huge list of banks that will pay you just to open a bank account!

Having multiple bank accounts isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I often find it’s helpful to have multiple places to save (I’m less likely to touch the money), so I have savings accounts for my Christmas and vacation fund.

The top bank bonus is $500 right now — head over to this list to see all of the banks in your area that are offering free cash.

You don’t have to walk into an actual bank, either. Aspiration’s Summit Checking Account is an online-only bank account with no fees, no minimums and an interest rate up to 1%.

6. Get Paid to Get in Better Shape

Let's face - every year we all make the same New Year's resolution to get in better shape.

Well, this year you'll have a little extra motivation if you're getting paid for it.

We're fans of both HealthyWage and DietBet, two sites that will allow you to place a wager and earn cash when you successfully lose weight.

Already in great shape? Try starting a boot camp at your local park a couple of nights week.

Start with just a few friends - these camps tend to grow pretty organically once people see a group of people working out. Most boot camps trainers can earn $100/hour or more.

7. Write a Letter to Your Member of Congress

Write Congress

You know how etiquette books say to never discuss politics at the dinner table?

Well, if you love a good political discussion and need an outlet — or if you just want a way to earn money working from home — consider working for one of two grassroots advocacy groups that offer work-from-home opportunities.

Next Wave Advocacy, LLC, and DDC Advocacy both have “@home” operations.

These advocacy groups run grassroots political campaigns on issues such as health care, energy, defense and taxes. Each hires people (which is where you would come in) to call constituents or advocates, folks who might be interested in the issue at hand.

Your job is to help those people communicate their opinions by writing letters on their behalf to members of Congress.

Both companies like you to work 20 to 25 hours a week during a project, but some people work full-time hours.

Campaigns usually last from a couple of weeks to a few months, depending on what the political issue is. Pay varies, but you should earn about $12 to $15 an hour or more.

8. Get Paid to Go on Top-Secret Missions

[caption id="attachment_43390" align="aligncenter" width="900"]What is deferred interest Eva-Katalin/Getty Images[/caption]

Remember scavenger hunts when you were a kid? Ever pretend you were a private investigator on an important mission?

Don’t let a few years get in the way of your fun.

QuickThoughts turns your cell phone into private-eye technology, taking you on top-secret missions in your area. 

Was that CVS you visited last month clean? How do the lines look at that McDonald’s you’ve stopped by for lunch? QuickThoughts Missions relies on your input -- and sneakily-taken cellphone photography -- to give businesses important feedback.

And like any respectable PI, you get paid for your investigative footwork. Pretending as an adult is looking better and better! 

Using your phone’s GPS technology, the app will prompt you for information from places you’ve visited in the past few weeks, as well as places it detects you’re visiting right now. 

It even has missions you can accept and complete in the future. For instance, it might prompt you to go to your local Walgreens and snap a photo of the seasonal display.

Super fun, right? And you’ll earn valuable gift cards for Amazon and iTunes while you’re at it.

9. Stop Deleting Emails

[caption id="attachment_48184" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]transcription jobs chrispecoraro/Getty Images[/caption]

This is my new secret weapon.

It’s called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases.

It's free to sign up, and once you do, it scans your email archives for any receipts.

If it discovers you’ve purchased something from Amazon, Target, or one of the other 16 retailers listed on its website, Paribus will track the item’s price and issue you a refund if there's a price drop.

You don't have to do anything!

10. Check Your Wallet for Strange Dollar Bills

One Trillion Dollars

Specifically, dollar bills with strange serial numbers — ones that aren’t easy to come by.

The collectors at CoolSerialNumbers.com have created a list of their most-wanted serial numbers, and you might just have a bill with one of these sequences on it in your wallet.

Depending on the rarity of your bill’s serial number, it could be worth a ridiculous amount of money.

The site is currently selling one dollar bills for anywhere from $100 to over $2,500.

Check out the full list to see if you’ve got any of these rare bills, but here’s a rundown of the sort of serial numbers these collectors are looking for:

  • 7 repeating digits in a row on $1 Federal Reserve Notes (i.e. 09999999, 77777776)
  • 7 of a kind on $1 Federal Reserve Notes (i.e.  00010000, 99999099)
  • Super repeaters on $1 Federal Reserve Notes (i.e. 67676767)
  • Double quads on $1 Federal Reserve Notes (i.e. 00009999)
  • and more!

11. Sell Your Old Stuff

Publish your own book

Are your closets and shelves packed to the brim with stuff you never use -- or even look at?

You can sell virtually anything on letgo. This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. Not only does it remove a lot of the hassle of selling things online, it’s 100% free to use.

Have a bunch of movies or CDs collecting dust on a shelf? Decluttr will pay you for them!

Decluttr buys your old CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and video games, plus hardware like cell phones, tablets, game consoles and iPods. Plus, enter PENNY10 at checkout to get an extra 10% for your trade-ins!

For old books from college, you can use Bookscouter. Just type your book’s ISBN into the search bar and the site will connect you with more than 25 of the best-paying and most reputable buyback companies online.

12. Take Pictures of Your Friends

[caption id="attachment_49210" align="aligncenter" width="1199"]I-say review Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

If you have an iPhone and a photographic eye, making money may have just gotten a lot easier.

Oh yeah – you’ll also need access to marketable scenery.

There’s a new app called Foap that allows you to turn your iPhone photos into cash.

Here’s how it works: You download the free app and sign up for an account. You take a quality photo and upload it to Foap’s marketplace. Someone buys the license to your photo for $10. You make $5.

If your photo sells 20 times, you make $5 each time and end up with $100 in your pocket, all for about 5 minutes of work.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not, but there are some limitations.

For one, your photo must be accepted by the Foap developers. If it’s too small, grainy or boring (think: not marketable), it won’t make it to the marketplace. And those cute Instagram shots? They don’t accept those either.

Here's the full run-down.

Nothing on this page is going to get you rich, but sometimes it’s just about making a few extra hundred dollars each month, right?

So get to work and have an awesome 2017!

Good luck Penny Hoarders!

Your Turn: Have you tried any of these ways to make money?

Jammie Proctor had made it. After taking more than 10 years off of school, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech.

He was 36 years old. And he had more than $50,000 in student loans.  

Though he had the same goals many of us do -- to pay off his house and start investing in his future -- he couldn’t move forward with those exorbitant loans hanging over his head.

Neither could John DePrato, who was $65,000 in debt from his bachelor’s and MBA. He was trying to build a house with his wife, but felt crushed by his hefty student loan bill: $850 a month.

Then, one day, things changed. Proctor and DePrato opened their inboxes to find emails from their alumni associations -- emails about a new company that could help them refinance their student loans.

With just a few clicks, Proctor saved an estimated $6,000-$7,500 on his loans and will be debt-free in just seven years.  

And DePrato cut his monthly payments in half -- from $850 to $400 -- freeing up money to continue building his new home.

Becoming debt-free and building a house are things we want for all our readers! And since we know student loan debt is such a burden for many of you, we had to learn more…

How These Graduates Saved So Much on Student Loans

So how did Proctor and DePrato do it? Through a student loan refinancing site called Credible.

Unlike other refinancing companies, which give you one offer -- take it or leave it -- Credible is an independent student loan marketplace, not a lender.

Here's how it works.

You give Credible some basic information — your name, date of birth, where you went to school, how much you earn, how much you want to borrow or refinance, and your monthly housing costs.

Within a few seconds, Credible determines which lenders you’d be a good fit for, and shows you a simple, personalized dashboard with the best rates for you to compare.

“It’s like a Kayak or a Zillow for student loans,” says Michael Fishel, a Houston attorney who graduated from law school in 2012 with $135,000 in loans. “It's brilliant.”

When he tried Credible, he “instantaneously got a ton of offers,” he says. As with most businesses, that competition led to savings for the consumer.

Over the lifetime of his loan, Fishel estimates he’ll save $10,000-$15,000 -- money he’s putting directly into a 529 plan for his newborn daughter.

And that number isn’t uncommon. The average Credible user has $60,000 of loans and an interest rate of 7%... and once they refinance with Credible, an average savings of $18,668 over the life of their loans.

Though Proctor, the engineer, will likely save less than that -- around $7,000 -- he appreciates how easy the process was. All you have to do to browse rates is fill out Credible's 15-question pre-qualification form. Checking rates won't affect your credit score, either.

“I was very impressed with [the fact] they did the heavy lifting for me,” he explains. “I didn't have to go out and seek all of these loan providers to do my refinancing. I could just go through, look at all the offers and figure out which one was most suitable for me.”

That customization is important because everyone has different goals. DePrato, for example, wanted to free up cash for the construction of his house -- so he refinanced from a 10-year loan to a 20-year loan. Though he’ll pay more in interest over the lifetime of his loan, it was the best option for him and his wife.

“Maybe I’m paying out a little bit more total interest,” he says, “but it made sense for what we're doing right now.”

Who Can Refinance Student Loans With Credible?  

Whether you want to pay less interest or lower your monthly payments, you might wonder whether Credible’s right for you.

Like any loan, not everyone will receive offers under this program. To help you determine whether you’re a good candidate, here are the factors Credible and their financial partners consider:

1. Do You Have Good Credit?

Lenders use your credit score to determine your risk level; good credit score means low risk, which means lower interest rates.

If your credit is poor or limited, you may want to look into a cosigner (see number four), or work on repairing your credit first.

2. Is Your Debt-to-Income Ratio Low?

Don’t fret if you have a lot of debt -- as long as your income is also high. Many successful Credible users are high-earners in deep debt due to expensive graduate degrees.

3. Do You Have Work Experience?

How much real world work experience do you have? The Credible service generally works best for people with a few years of post-bachelor’s work experience, or a graduate degree in an in-demand field.

4. Might You Need a Co-Signer?

If you’re recently out of college and your credit history, income or work experience is limited, partnering with a qualified co-signer can reduce your rates.

Should You Give Credible a Shot?

If you’re struggling with your student loan bill each month, we highly recommend you look into refinancing. Because interest rates are so low right now, you could end up saving a bundle of cash.

For the guys we talked to, it has made a huge difference.

“Especially with our generation, it's tough to save,” says Fishel. “This gives an opportunity for people my age to start saving right away -- because the burden of all your other bills, especially student loans, isn't as bad… There are a lot of people in my shoes who simply don't know about this and so much money can be saved.

Want to learn more about Credible? Click here to fill out their five-question quiz or learn more about student loan refinancing with their free refinancing guide.

Your Turn: Would you consider refinancing your student loans?

Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Credible for working with us to bring you this content. It's rare that we have the opportunity to share something so awesome and get paid for it!

Believe it or not, the holidays are almost here! And if you're stressing out about money, trust me -  I'm right there with you.

The holidays should be a time for joy and as stress-free as possible, so we've put together a list of 10 ways you can make extra money.

Take 2 hours today, complete everything on this list and you'll be at least $1,620 richer. Pretty cool, right?

1. Download These Apps

[caption id="attachment_37967" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images[/caption]

Earnings: $400+

There are a number of companies, including Google, that will pay you to install their app on your cell phone. And they’ll pay you for every month you keep them installed.

The apps collect data from your cell phone and help companies better understand web and mobile usage better — such as what times of day people browse, how long they stay on websites and use apps, and what types of sites and apps are popular (or not).

Here are my favorites (install all of them and earn $400/year or more):

– ShopTracker – If you’re a regular Amazon shopper, you can earn money each month contributing to research to help companies understand what people are buying online. Download and connect this to your Amazon account. They’ll instantly send you a free $3 Visa gift card, plus another $3 for every month you keep it installed.

MobileExpressions for Android - This one can only be downloaded on Androids. After you’ve installed it for one week, you get to play an instant rewards game for a prize (everyone wins something). I won a $25 Amazon gift card, but some of the other prizes include iPads & Samsung TVs.

Nielsen Mobile for iPhones - This Nielsen panel is unfortunately just for iPhones, but they will give you points worth up to $50/year to keep this app on your cell phone.

– SavvyConnect – You can earn $5 per device (phone, tablet, computer) for each month SavvyConnect is installed. That's a total of up to $180 per year to help rank the most popular sites and apps. Make sure you keep it installed at least a month to get your first $5 per device.

Smart Panel – This app will pay you up to $110 just for downloading it and keeping it on your smartphone for a year. All the info the app collects remains anonymous.

Nielsen Mobile Panel – If you have a smartphone, this Nielsen panel will pay you $50/year to keep this app on your cell phone and browse the web like you normally do. After you’ve installed it for one week, you get to play an instant rewards game for a prize (everyone wins something, from gift cards to TVs). The longer you stay an active panelist, the more rewards and prizes you can earn and win. (Note: This panel is currently only open to males)

2. Take 10 Surveys from This Company

[caption id="attachment_37970" align="aligncenter" width="641"]make extra money vlado85rs/Getty Images[/caption]

Earnings $20

Swagbucks is one of the only legitimate paid survey apps out there. I've heard some of the top-end surveys can pay up to $95, but those are rare and can take awhile to complete. Most surveys pay a buck or two and only take 10-15 minutes.

This company conducts polls for governments, public bodies, and local businesses. I usually get 5-10 surveys a month from them, so it’s not uncommon for me to get a check every couple of months.

3. Go On a Purge

[caption id="attachment_37957" align="aligncenter" width="639"]make extra money Ryan McVay/Getty Images[/caption]

Earnings: Unlimited

Are your closets and shelves packed to the brim with stuff you never use -- or even look at?

You can sell virtually anything on letgo. This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. Not only does it remove a lot of the hassle of selling things online, it’s 100% free to use.

But there are also apps for selling more specific stuff to people who might actually be looking for it.

 

Have a bunch of movies or CDs collecting dust on a shelf? Decluttr will pay you for them!

Decluttr buys your old CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and video games, plus hardware like cell phones, tablets, game consoles and iPods. Plus, enter PENNY10 at checkout to get an extra 10% for your trade-ins!

For old books from college, you can use Bookscouter. Just type your book’s ISBN into the search bar and the site will connect you with more than 25 of the best-paying and most reputable buyback companies online.

There’s even a site for old purses and designer accessories! Sell them on CashInMyBag.

4. Join a Group Savings Challenge

[caption id="attachment_37959" align="aligncenter" width="640"]make extra money hynci/Getty Images[/caption]

Earnings: $500

Want to save $500 in seven days?

Sign up for the Brightpeak Financial $500 Savings Challenge and they'll send you homework assignments each day via email meant to help boost your savings quickly.

The challenge lasts a week, so make sure you sign up when you can really dedicate some time to this!

5. Open a New Checking Account

[caption id="attachment_37974" align="aligncenter" width="639"]selimaksan/Getty Images selimaksan/Getty Images[/caption]

Earnings: $250

We've put together a huge list of banks that will pay you just to open a bank account!

There’s no harm in having multiple bank accounts. In fact, I often find it’s helpful to have multiple places to save (I’m less likely to touch the money), so I have savings accounts for my Christmas fund & my vacation fund.

The top bank bonus is $500 right now — head over to this list to see all of the banks in your area that are offering free cash.

6. Get Cashback on All Your Shopping 

[caption id="attachment_37966" align="aligncenter" width="640"]make extra money Ivan Bliznetsov/Getty Images[/caption]

Earnings: $80

Are you familiar with cash-back shopping sites like MyPoints? They’ll give you a cash rebate if you do your online shopping through their site.

You just need to create a free account and then use their site to shop at your favorite places like Target, Amazon, and Kohl’s (there are thousands of stores on there – those are just a few). MyPoints will then give you up to 25% cash-back on whatever you purchase! Crazy, right?

I use this year round, but it’s especially helpful at Christmas time. Consider that the average family spent $801 in gifts last year and you can see how fast this would start to add up.

7. Search the Web

[caption id="attachment_38031" align="aligncenter" width="640"]make extra money Alija / Getty Images[/caption]

Earnings: $25+

A great way to earn extra money is with Microsoft Rewards. The company will actually reward you for making searches on Bing and for browsing the web.

The rewards come via gift cards and it’s not a ton of money, but think about how many times a day you search for something. Those pennies can start to add up pretty quickly…

Use this site for your Christmas shopping, average around 10% in cash-back rebates, and save at least $80 this year!

8. Earn a $100+ Bonus by Opening a New Credit Card

$100 Credit Card Bonus
Earnings: $100+

As long as you pay down your credit balance in full each month, rewards cards are a great way to make some extra money. We're not advocating that you open 1,497 credit cards like this guy, but taking advantage of a sign-up bonus here or there can definitely help your bank account!

Check out this list of seven credit cards with no annual fee that offer a $100 bonus or more when you open a new account.

9. Become a Nielsen Family

[caption id="attachment_37973" align="aligncenter" width="640"]make extra money YinYang/Getty Images[/caption]

Earnings: $20

You've heard of Nielsen, right? Yep, the same company that tracks TV ratings. They've got a new app that will pay you to scan the groceries in your fridge.

Once you sign up to become a Nielsen Homescan family, the company will send you a free scanner or you can use your smartphone. Every time you go shopping, you simply scan the barcodes on the back of each product and send your data off to Nielsen.

If you want to give it a try, you can fill out the application here: Nielsen Homescan Application (you can't download this one from the app store; you'll need to visit their website first).

As an active participant, you earn gift points which you can redeem for different types of merchandise. You can choose electronics, jewelry, household items, and even toys for the kids.

The longer you stay on the panel, the more opportunity you have to earn points towards prizes. You also receive entries for the panel’s many sweepstakes. Prizes include money, vacations, and brand new vehicles.

10. Earn Money Renting Out Your Car

Five Hundred Dollar Drive Through Bank Deposit

Earnings: $225

If you own a reliable vehicle, but leave it sitting in your driveway all the time, you could turn it into an income stream by renting it!

Through Turo, you can rent your car to a community of approved drivers.

Here’s how it works:

  1. To get started, list your car for rent here.
  1. Create a calendar to let travelers know when your car is available. 
  1. You’ll get notified when someone requests your car. Just coordinate a meeting place, or deliver the car right to the traveler at the airport or other location.
  1. Get paid!

Turo will dynamically set your car’s rental price based on market value, location, time of year and other data. For a car with a market value of $10,000, Turo suggests you could earn about $1,800 a year renting it just five days a month.

You’ll earn 65% to 85% of the trip price, depending on the vehicle protection package you choose. If you provide your own commercial rental insurance, you’ll earn 90%.

Sign up here to get started.

We hope this list makes your holidays a little less stressful. Have a Merry Christmas! And thanks for being a reader!

Disclosure: Here’s a toast to the affiliate links in this post. May we all be just a little richer today.

Could medical testing be a fun way to make money?

Jillian Shea thinks it is: She made $12,000 from participating in sleep studies

She answered a few questions online from her home in Florida before heading to Boston for the lucrative study.

And she’s not alone. 

NASA’s sleep study at the Johnson Space Center in Houston paid participants $5,000 per month to stay in bed.

But these clinical trials can be intensive. You’ll earn your pay through regular check-ups and exams, some uncomfortable tests and bouts of isolation.

Want to participate in medical research without leaving home?

You can earn $5-$100 taking online surveys and contribute to advancements in medical treatment -- without even leaving your couch!

How to Earn Up to $100 in 30 Minutes

M3 Global Research is recruiting folks around New York City to participate in paid online surveys.

Register here to get started

After you sign up, the company will start sending you surveys that pay $5-$100 each -- if you qualify. 

They take about 20-30 minutes, and you can complete surveys online, over the phone or in person in downtown NYC.

The company is also recruiting for surveys on several conditions, including psoriasis, cancer, migraines and cardiovascular diseases. Check the boxes that apply to your conditions to qualify for more surveys.

And the studies are always changing. 

After you register and complete your profile, you’ll receive survey invitations tailored to your information. You won’t be spammed with irrelevant surveys.

Medical testing can be fun… and you don’t even have to face needles or prodding doctors to reap the benefits!

Your Turn: Do you live in NYC or know someone there who would participate in medical surveys?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. Adding these links helps us keep the lights on in The Penny Hoarder HQ, which makes it a lot easier to play shuffleboard after a long day of deal-seeking!

Adapted from the original post here.

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin. For more information, visit our Advertiser Disclosure page here

Ready for a new bank account? You might be after you see these bonuses.

Each of these awesome checking and savings accounts will give you a huge sign-up bonus — just for creating your account.

1. TD Bank – Earn $300 When You Open a New Premier Checking Account

  • Visit this TD Checking® page and enter your city and state. (Note: This account is not available in every state.)
  • Click the orange “open account” button and follow the instructions to open a TD Premier CheckingSM.
  • There’s no minimum to open an account, but you must maintain a minimum $2,500 daily balance to qualify for the bonus.
  • Receive a total of $2,500 or more via direct deposit into your new account within 60 days of opening. 
  • The bonus $300 will be deposited to your account within 95 days of opening.

Or…

2. TD Bank – Earn $150 When You Open a New Convenience Checking Account (Offer Expires 3/11)

  • Visit this TD Checking® page and enter your city and state. (Note: This account is not available in every state.)
  • Click the orange “open account” button and follow the instructions to open a TD Convenience CheckingSM.
  • There’s no minimum to open an account, but if you maintain a $100 minimum daily balance, TD Bank will waive the monthly fees.
  • Receive a total of $500 or more via direct deposit into your new account within 60 days of opening.
  • The bonus $150 will be deposited to your account within 95 days of opening.
  • You must open the account online from this web page only. Just enter your location info and scroll down past the Premier CheckingSM account.

3. Chase - Earn a $200 Bonus When You Open a New Checking Account and an Additional $150 Bonus When You Open a Savings Account*

Visit this Chase Total Checking® page and enter your email address to get a unique coupon. You’ll need this coupon in order to get the bonus.

  • Just bring your bonus coupon to any Chase branch to take advantage of this offer. It expires on 4/16/17, so you’ll need to complete the application before then.
  • Get a $200 bonus when you open a new Chase Total Checking® account and set up direct deposit. You must make the direct deposit into your account within the first 60 days.
  • Get a $150 bonus when you open a new Chase Savings(SM) account, deposit a total of $10,000 or more in new money within 10 days, and maintain a $10,000 balance for 90 days. You’re not required to open the savings account to earn the $200 Chase checking bonus.

Good luck, Penny Hoarders! Good luck, Penny Hoarders!

Your Turn: Have you found any great bank sign-up bonuses in 2017? Share them in the comments!

*Chase Fine print:

Checking offer is not available to existing Chase checking customers, those with fiduciary accounts, or those whose accounts have been closed within 90 days or closed with a negative balance. To receive the $150 checking bonus: 1) Open a new Chase Total Checking account, which is subject to approval; 2) Deposit $25 or more at account opening; AND 3) Have your direct deposit made to this account within 60 days of account opening. Your direct deposit needs to be an electronic deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government. After you have completed all the above requirements, we’ll deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days. You can only receive one new checking account-related bonus per calendar year. Bonus is considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT.

**Account Closing: If your checking account is closed within six months after opening, we will deduct the bonus amount at closing.

Editorial Disclosure

This content is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the bank advertiser, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program.

[Ed. note: This contest ended Aug. 20, 2016. Thanks for entering!]

Hey there, Penny Hoarders! I’ve got some exciting news to share with you.

Each year, Inc. Magazine releases the Inc. 5000, a list of the fastest-growing private companies in America. We’re proud to announce that Inc. has ranked The Penny Hoarder #32 overall and -- drumroll, please -- the #1 fastest-growing media company in 2016.

WOOHOO!

We couldn’t have done this without you — our amazing readers who have shown such passion for the site over the years. We appreciate you joining us on this incredible journey to make a difference in the lives of others.

Now, we want to help you make a difference.

We’re giving away $500 to one lucky reader to use toward their own entrepreneurial venture. You can enter to win below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The contest will close on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, at 12 a.m. EDT. Good luck, Penny Hoarders!

[caption id="attachment_1401" align="alignright" width="190" caption="Photo by klabusta"]Free Stuff[/caption]

I love FREE Stuff. I've gotten so good at hunting down free things that visiting my mailbox everyday is like opening a treasure box. There are 1000's of companies willing to send you free samples, free coupons, and free products just to promote their company. All you have to do is give them your address.

Here are 10 FREE Things you can get right now:


1. FREE Yoplait yogurt
2. FREE Barbara's Organic Cereal
3. FREE Fresco Taco from Taco Bell
4. FREE UniBall Pen
5. FREE Science Diet Dog Treats
6. FREE Purex Detergent
7. FREE Aveda Shampoo for Men 
8. FREE Mini-Tampons from OB
9. FREE Bagel at Brueggers
10. FREE Box of Cream of Wheat