Finally, Amazon Pays You: Earn $15 an Hour with Amazon Mechanical Turk

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What would you say if I told you I make several hundred dollars each month working at home taking online surveys? Probably that I would have a very successful career in writing spam emails.

However, I’ve averaged at least $500 per month for the past few years from Amazon on their service platform called Mechanical Turk.

With the birth of my first child quickly approaching, I began thinking through all of the expenses we’d soon be incurring. Daycare, diapers, food, clothes – the list went on and on. So I started researching ways to make extra money. My wife and I already had full time jobs, so I was looking for something that I could do on the side that wouldn’t be a huge time commitment.

In my research, I found an article on Yahoo talking about making money doing surveys on Amazon Mechanical Turk. It seemed intriguing, so I decided to do some more research into it.

When I first read that I could make money doing surveys, my skeptical side immediately flashed the warning signal. If it sounds like a spammy, too-good-to-be-true money making idea on the internet, you’re better off not clicking on it. But I figured since it was hosted by Amazon, it was worth looking into.

What is Amazon Mechanical Turk?

Amazon Mechanical Turk is a site that allows “requesters” to post work to be completed at a specific price. Requesters include researchers, consumer product groups, universities, small businesses and tech giants.

The tasks they post are called HITs, or “human intelligence tasks.” Each HIT shows you the price the requester will pay for completion along with the allotted time you have to finish it. Once you complete the tasks, you submit the HIT and await payment.

The types of HITs aren’t just limited to surveys, although that is probably the most popular. They also include audio and video transcription, categorization, spreadsheet work, video annotation and YouTube video ratings to name a few. Even the survey topics vary greatly between personality, finance, consumer products, ethics, etc. At any given time, there are hundreds of thousands of tasks available on the site.

I personally prefer to work on surveys. I find them to be the simplest and most straight-forward, which means I can complete them quickly. Remember, there’s a fixed payment for each HIT so the faster you complete each task, the better your pay rate.

That does not mean you should rush through the tasks without reading instructions. It is extremely common for requesters to include “attention check” questions where they will ask you to give a specific response to a question to screen out random clicking.

Failing an attention check gives the requester the right to reject your work and not pay you for the HIT. Random clicking is worthless to them and they will pay you accordingly – meaning nothing.

I’ve found that as long as you’re reading the questions, these attention checks are extremely easy to spot. I’ve completed nearly 100,000 HITs and have never had a HIT rejected for missing an attention check question.

How Much Money Can You Expect To Make?

Ahhh, now we get to the important question. Maybe a bit anticlimactic, but the answer is: it depends. It is really all about how much time you put into it.

The HITs have different pay rates because they’re coming from different requesters. Some are notorious for paying well and others, well…not so much. Realistically I’d say you can expect $6-12/hour for the majority of HITs. On average, the pay rate for the HITs that I do are about $10 per hour. One time I caught one that paid $5 for about 2 minutes of work ($150 per hour pay rate!) so it’s all about being on the site at the right time.

As soon as you sign up, there will be a ton of work available to you. However, many of the higher paying requesters require you to complete a specific number of HITs before you can work on their tasks. 100, 500 and 1000 HITs completed are the common tiers that open up even more work.

While those numbers may sound daunting, it really isn’t that difficult to work up to. It works out exponentially where the more HITs you complete, the more that open up, the more than you can complete and so on. It took me about a month to get to 100 HITs when I didn’t really know what I was doing. But then it only took me another month to reach 500.

Like I said, I’ve completed nearly 100,000 HITs in the 3 and a half years I’ve worked with Amazon Mechanical Turk, so basically everything is open to me.. At this point, I typically average at least $500 per month, although in 2016, I averaged more than $1,000 per month. Again, this was all while maintaining a full time job.

What would be a realistic number if you’re just starting out? I’ve gotten a few friends of mine signed up in the past, and they were earning about $100 a week after a few weeks.

The best way to look at Mechanical Turk earnings is from an hourly rate standpoint. When I’ve told some people about it, they’ll scoff at the money I make. “Oh big deal, you just made 50 cents on that survey. Will you be picking me up in your Ferrari later?” Sure, it was 50 cents, but it took me 2 minutes. That’s a pay rate of $15 an hour that I just made from home sitting on my computer.

Even if you don’t have a lot of free time to spend working on the site, every little bit counts. Initially I tried to set goals for myself. If I can make $20 a week, that will cover my gas bill for the month. Then when I started making more, I was determined to reach $20 per day. Even if you go for a very achievable $10 per week, that might be a dinner out each month.

Pros and Cons of Amazon Mechanical Turk

So what makes Amazon Mechanical Turk worth signing up for?

  • Flexibility – Do as much or as little work as possible. You can work all day or do a couple of HITs if you have a 10 minutes available.
  • Get paid in cash – Many other survey sites pay out in gift cards or credits. In the U.S., this one pays out in cash and there are no minimums to hit before you can cash out.
  • Use scripts to increase productivity – There are scripts you can add on to your browser that can help you be more efficient with your time on the site.

Of course the site isn’t perfect. Here are some of the cons you can expect:

  • It won’t replace your day job – While the side income is nice, you won’t get rich doing this. It’s just a nice supplement to your regular income.
  • Inconsistency – Well-paying HITs can become available at any time, but you never really know when that will be. Some days are slower than others, and sometimes are better than others. Typically most of the better paying work comes out between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays.
  • Limited work – When the higher paying work does come out, workers pounce on it. Requesters only need so many responders to take surveys and do other work, so you need to grab the work quickly before that particular one runs out.
  • Payment only in the US – Unfortunately only workers within the US can withdraw their earnings in cash. Outside the US, earnings can only be redeemed via Amazon gift cards.

How to Sign Up for Amazon Mechanical Turk

Visit the Amazon Mechanical Turk site to get started. Upon registering, you’ll be asked for your social security number for tax purposes. Within about 48 hours, they’ll verify your information, and then you’re ready to go.

You will begin in a “probationary period” where you need to complete at least one HIT per day for 10 days (these do not have to be consecutive days). During that time, there’s a 100 HIT maximum per day, and you can’t withdraw your money. When that period is over, you no longer have any withdrawal restrictions.

Amazon Mechanical Turk is great for those looking to earn some side income without the hassle of working a part time job. The flexibility it offers conveniently fits into my increasingly busy life. Instead of scrolling through facebook and reading about how my coworkers can’t wait for Friday, I make some extra money in my spare time.

Michael Naab is an analyst, writer and online entrepreneur. His blog shares ways to earn, save and invest money. He is also the author of the ebook Side Hustle From Home: How To Make Money Online With Amazon Mechanical Turk. You can follow him on twitter @TopMoneyHabits