Making Money With Amazon MTurk When Homeless

homeless people in the library

If you’re struggling to find a job when homeless and have little or no income, I’m here to tell you about a great program you can use called Amazon MTurk that I’ve been using for years now. I’ve been making money on the internet for over a decade in a number of different ways, and to be honest, most of the things I’ve been successful with have taken lots of time, skills, and patience.

However, this is one of the few methods I’ve found that I feel just about anybody can easily do and get paid quickly, as long as they have a stable internet connection.

If you don’t have your own laptop and access to Wi-Fi, you can do this from the public library if your local library has computers. While it’s much easier to do with a full-sized computer and you’ll make more money that way, you can even do this with just a smart phone if you have one.


What is Amazon MTurk?

Amazon Mechanical Turk, or Mturk for short, is a website offered by Amazon where you can make money by doing surveys or small online jobs. You don’t need any experience to do the vast majority of tasks and surveys they offer on their site.

While doing surveys online is normally a waste of time in many cases and amounts to only a dollar or two per hour, MTurk is much better than any survey site you’ve probably tried in the past because it’s backed by Amazon, which as you know is a massively successful and reputable company. So there’s enough people posting jobs and tasks on there to keep you busy throughout the day, whereas other survey sites often only have a few surveys or tasks every so often.

It’s perfect for stay at home moms and disabled people who need to make some extra money each month by working part-time, but that also means it’s perfect for homeless people who can at least find a way to somehow get online. You don’t have to sell anything on MTurk or deal with customers or products. It’s mainly a microtask website, which means that you can work on small tasks available through the website, such as taking surveys, doing small data entry jobs, or give reviews of new websites for businesses in exchange for money.

The pay is typically lower than even a minimum wage job in most cases, but if you’re truly desperate for money or simply can’t work a physical job due to physical or location restraints, you might just want to give MTurk a try. Because I used it to get by for almost a year when I was struggling, I’ll cover everything you need to know about it so you can decide if it’s worth your time.


How Does MTurk Work?

When you visit Amazon’s MTurk website at Mturk.com, you can register for an account. Their requirements are sometimes changing, but they will most likely ask you for your social security number or Tax ID, as well as a bank account which they can verify.

Once you’re registered, you can visit the site whenever you’d like and search for jobs you’d like to do. These jobs are all done online from within the MTurk interface and vary in pay, but most are simple tasks that just about anybody can do. People who use the site to make money and who do the tasks there are called “workers”. Those who post the tasks and pay the workers are referred to as “requesters”.

The tasks or jobs are referred to as “HITs” (Human Intelligence Tasks). As a worker, you will complete these HITs for money and the requesters will pay you once they review you work and approve your HITs. Doing work on MTurk for requesters is referred to as “Turking”. A requester could be anybody that has signed up through the MTurk website as a requester. They could be a private company, an individual, or an educational institution.


What Types of Tasks Are Available?

The majority of HITs on MTurk are posted by universities and colleges who are posting tasks for research purposes. If you’ve ever read an article about a study that was performed or a survey that asked for people’s opinions, well then you have an idea of what types of HITs you will most commonly see on MTurk.

When I’m doing HITs on MTurk, I typically only do ones that I can verify are from universities or educational researchers and I’ll explain more about why I do this later in this guide. One university might ask you to take a survey about your racial attitudes or what you think about certain groups of people, while another university might want you to do a memory task that involves memorizing words and numbers and trying to recall them.

The tasks vary depending on what they’re researching and what they need from you, but you decide which HITs you want to accept and you will generally know how much you will be paid for completing them ahead of time. In addition to surveys and research tasks posted by labs, colleges, and researchers, you can also find other types of tasks posted by companies or other requesters that need your work to build their businesses. Some of them are building artificial intelligence robots and might want you to make audio recordings of yourself saying 100 different words, or they might want you to look at scanned receipts from different stores and type in the names of the products and prices paid for them into a database for a pricing website.

Other requesters might want you to write articles for them or they might want you to test out a new video game they’re developing and give your opinion on it in a survey afterwards. You never really know what types of HITs you’ll find on there each day and sometimes it can be difficult finding decent tasks to do while other times you’ll have a great day and find lots of fun and high-paying HITs.


How Much Money Can You Make?

HITs on MTurk can vary in pay from 1 cent to as much as $100 USD, though the average HITs I would normally see and do would be in the range of .40 cents to $3.00 per HIT. It’s very rare for HITs to pay any more than $5 per HIT, but I have done a few here and there that were over $20.

Now when you think of HITs paying less than $1.00, you might wonder why I would even bother doing this. I know what it’s like to be homeless and I know that as bad as it is, you might still have other resources or income that would make all this MTurk stuff seem like a waste of time.

However, most requesters will tell you how long a task is expected to take and you will often have to factor that in to determine if the pay is worth it. Just because a HIT pays only .50 cents, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. If it only takes you a few minutes to do that HIT for .50 cents and you can move on to another HIT directly after, then it can definitely be worth your time if you’re struggling and need cash within a few days.

How much money I make on MTurk depends on how well I manage my time and calculate whether a HIT was worth my time or not. As I mentioned earlier, most people typically make less than minimum wage by turking and while I have read reports of people claiming to make $10 per hour or more, I can say that I’m a fairly intelligent and quick worker and I hardly ever average more than $7 per hour.

I was homeless just like you so I’m not going to waste your time with unrealistic expectations. To be realistic, you should expect to make anywhere between $3-$5 per hour if you’re doing things right and just getting started. After you’ve been on MTurk for awhile, you’ll start getting better at time management and will have access to higher paying HITs so you may start to average about $5-$8 per hour.

The typical hourly range fluctuates based on what HITs are available to you each hour, but I average about $4-$8 per hour on most days and while I typically turk only an hour or two a day now, in 2017 and 2018 I would turk for about 5-7 hours per day and would average about $30 per day. There’s less HITs available during summer, spring break, and on weekends so you will typically make less during these times.

When turking about 5 hours per day, Monday-Friday, my monthly earnings are around $600 by the end of the month. When just starting out, you may want to aim for a $3 hourly rate as you might not have high paying HITs available to you just yet until you do over 100 HITs, with your next big milestone for higher paying HITs occuring at about 1,000 HITs.


Payment Options

Workers living in the United States have the option of getting paid funds into their Amazon Payments account (which can then be transferred to their linked bank account), or they can have their funds put onto an Amazon giftcard which can be redeemed for products on Amazon.com. If you have a U.S. bank account, then I would recommend choosing the first option as you’ll receive the funds much more quickly and can spend them on whatever you’d like to withdraw it as cash from your bank or an ATM.

Those living outside the USA normally can only have their funds put onto an Amazon giftcard, with the exception of workers in India. Indian workers can do the giftcard option or can have the funds sent directly to their bank accounts from MTurk.


How Long Does it Take to Get Paid?

Sometimes it takes longer for requesters to approve your HITS as they all have a deadline of 30 days to approve and pay you. With that said, it’s very rare for any requester to take longer than a week and I’d say that about 90% of them pay within 2-3 days and at least 50% of them pay within the first 24 hours. As for how long it takes to actually get the funds in hand, it can vary based on your bank or whether you’re doing the gift card option or not. Please consult with the Amazon Payments site if you’re choosing the gift card option as this can vary based on your country or where you live.

In my case, I go through JP Morgan Chase bank and the whole process from approved survey to receiving money in my bank account takes about 48 hours. Let’s say I do a number of HITs on Monday, and by Tuesday $20 worth of those HITs have been approved by requesters. I’ll then typically transfer that money to my Amazon Payments account the same day, and it will usually show up in that account by Wednesday (the next day).

When the money appears in Amazon Payments, I’ll then transfer it to my Chase bank account and normally see the funds in my bank account on Thursday (the next day). So in this scenario, my HITs were approved and paid out on Tuesday and I had the money in my bank account by Thursday.


Available in Most Countries

Amazon MTurk is available in the majority of developed countries and a number of second and third world countries as well. Those living in the United States will typically have access to more HITs and will see many more high paying ones available to them than those living in other countries.

People in Canada and the UK are second to this and will normally have more HITs available to them than those living in countries such as India, Thailand, or many less developed countries. Many of the requesters want native english speakers to complete their HITs because they might want an article written in perfect English, or the research may be geography based and they might want American opinions on how they feel about things specific to the United States.

Using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to change your IP address and to hide your actual location from requesters will not work most of the time with MTurk due to a filter that was introduced by an entity known as TurkPrime in 2018. Unfortunately, this filter sometimes negatively affects those who live in the acceptable countries, such as the United States, as there have been some reports of people on college campuses or in large apartment buildings who have noticed they’re blocked from doing most HITs due to a possible flaw in the filter where it misidentifies them as using a VPN.


What Types of Locations Can You Work From?

When I was homeless, I would typically do any online tasks or work I needed to do from the local library. I had a laptop with me which I kept in my backpack, but there were days where I just wanted to use the library computer for a few hours because my keyboard was starting to fail with some buttons not working.

My local library would allow people to use computers for up to 2 hours total in a day, so I’d and when I ran out of time on the library computers I’d use my laptop with their Wi-Fi until the library closed. After that, I’d go to McDonald’s or Starbucks and use their Wi-Fi, as I’d typically make enough in an hour online to cover the cost of buying a coffee or a cheap burger.


What Devices Can You Use?

You can use MTurk with an Android phone or iPhone and there’s actually some HITs which require that you have one or you won’t be able to do the HITs. There are many requesters that want you to test out their websites specifically on a smart phone or tablet and these are sometimes higher paying HITs.

However, the majority of requesters create HITs that are designed for larger screens and may not appear correctly on a smaller screen, so they will tell you that you must have a laptop or a full sized computer. They will normally state somewhere in the introduction page what requirements are necessary to complete a HIT, and they can usually tell what screen size you did the HIT on.

So you won’t be blocked from accessing the MTurk website with a smart phone or tablet, but you might be blocked or warned not to take a specific HIT if you are using one and you can expect to make significantly less money without a laptop or computer to where it might not even be worth your time.


How Do You Work on HITs and Submit Them?

When you accept a HIT and start working on it, you’ll have two windows open in most cases. The first window is the MTurk window where you accepted the HIT, and the second window is where you’re working on the HIT, such as on a separate website where a survey has been posted.

Some HITs are integrated within the same window and only one window (which is the MTurk window itself), but most of the ones I typically do are two windows. After I complete a survey in the second window, there’s normally a completion code at the very end that is given to me to identify me.

I then copy and paste that completion code into the first window in MTurk to submit the work I did to MTurk themselves. The requester will then review the work within 30 days (usually within 24-48 hours in most cases) and will match that completion code to what I submitted in MTurk and will pay me.


Approval Rate and Rejections

When you complete HITs on MTurk, requesters will either approve or reject your completed HITs after you submit them and they’ve had a chance to review them. It’s extremely important on MTurk to maintain a high approval rate, because most requesters will only allow you to do their work if you are above a certain approval rate.

Legitimate reasons why someone’s work might be rejected is if they did not follow the instructions in the HIT, if they did not pass any of the attention checks throughout a survey, if they lie about their location in the demographics section (normally at the end of the HIT), or if they rushed through a HIT and it shows that they could not possibly have read all the instructions or questions in such a short amount of time. All of these scenarios give requesters a reason to reject your work, which would impact your approval rate once you receive a rejection.

Many requesters will require that you have at least a 95% approval rate, meaning that for every 100 HITs you do you must not have more than 5 rejected HITs. But the actual percentage you should strive for and try to maintain is 99% or higher, because this is another common level that most of the higher paying requesters require from you.

I’ve done over 2,000 HITs, with most of them being surveys, and I’ve only received 2 rejections. Both of these rejections were wrongly and unfairly given to me as both requesters had a history of rejecting all workers for no reason (I had read their reviews on the independent Mturk review site known as TurkOpticon). So sometimes there’s not much you can do to avoid a rejection after you’ve submitted a HIT, but you can still take precautions to avoid HITs which are more risky than others.


How Do I Know if a HIT is Worth Doing?

In order to determine what HITs you should do or which ones are safe to complete, you should make a mental list of what to avoid and how to do so. Everybody has their own requirements or levels of risk they’re comfortable with. In my case, I am extremely cautious about the HITs I do and the time I spend on MTurk in relation to the pay.

I normally only do surveys or work that is posted by educational institutions because they are less likely to reject work in my experience. If it’s a private company or an individual that I see posting a HIT, then I won’t touch it because I don’t want to take any chances in lowering my approval rate, even though I’m at a level now where even 10 rejections in a row would not cause me to drop below the 99% threshold. Each HIT will normally have a requesters name next to it and if you can’t identify a college this way, they will normally have an introduction page in the beginning that explains who they are and why they’re posting this HIT.

I will accept any HITs over .40 cents that might look like a survey, and then I’ll look for that introduction page real quick to identify if it’s a college or not. If it’s not, I will typically return the HIT and there’s no penalty for returning them if you decide you don’t want to do them. When it is a college, I’ll then determine how long the survey will take and if the amount of time compared to the pay will equal an acceptable hourly rate.

If a HIT is estimated to take 15 minutes and pays .50 cents, I will typically return the HIT and not work it because this will lower my hourly rate since I need to be making at least $1.25 every 15 minutes to reach a $5 hourly rate. The requester will either mention the estimated time it will take in the title of the HIT or in the introduction page, but this isn’t always listed by them and it isn’t always accurate.

I will also check on the website TurkOpticon to read reviews on each requester before doing their HIT. If you have the Hitfinder extension installed in Google Chrome, you can access the TurkOpticon reviews for each requester directly from the Hitfinder page as it will create a TO button next to each requester. You can often read reviews quickly to determine how long a HIT took other people to complete and see if they were approved or rejected or if they recommend doing the HIT.

This is highly useful and you should always check reviews if you want to be as cautious as I am and maintain a high approval rate. I didn’t start reading reviews until after I received two rejections from unfair requesters and it’s helped me avoid rejections ever since then.


When is the Best Time to Work on MTurk?

MTurk HITs are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week because there are requesters who are posting tasks on the website from all different countries. Someone in Germany might be posting a HIT on MTurk when it’s daytime there but the middle of the night in the United States.

However, if you want to increase your earnings by only focusing on the times when most HITs are posted, I’ve found that hours of 9am EST to 3pm EST on weekdays seem to be the busiest times on MTurk when the most jobs are posted. This is when many of the universities and colleges are open and have the most students in attendence for the studies they’re conducting.

The morning time is definitely better than late afternoon, with 11am-1pm EST sometimes being a bit slow due to everybody taking their lunches. Fridays are often somewhat slow compared to other weekdays and weekends and holidays can definitely be slow or completely dead. Just keep in mind that although there will be more tasks posted during these prime time hours, you’ll also have the most competition from other MTurk workers in the USA as this is when many of them are awake.

The worst time I’ve experienced on the site with the least amount of tasks normally occurs during Spring Break in the USA as many college students are home from school and turking as your competition, while their colleges are also closed and running less studies, which results in less HITs being available.


Batches (Completing Multiple HITs From the Same Requester)

Batches are when a requester posts more than one HIT of the same type and allows you to do multiple HITs within this batch. Most requesters who do not want you to do more than one HIT within a batch will either block you from doing the same HIT twice, or will warn you not to do the same HIT twice in the instructions for each HIT. In my experience, I’ve come across scenarios where I’ve started a HIT and then realized I had already done it and chose to return it rather than risk getting a rejection.

Not all requesters know how to block you from doing multiple HITs if that’s what they want some requesters are simply new to Mturk and learning their way around still. But when you do come across a requester who has no problem with you doing batches for them, they will normally specify that it’s OK to do more than one HIT within their batch and they will encourage you to do more.

Batches are a great way for you to boost your earnings because it gives you the chance to move from one HIT to another quickly without having to look for more, and you’re already familiar with how the HITs work so you can complete them more quickly the second and third time around.

When it comes to good HITs that are high paying, batches are sometimes rare and you’ll want to be cautious when doing them for a requester you’ve never worked for before. I say this, because there’s always a possibility that you might end up doing 10 or more HITs for one requester, and then that one requester turns out to be a bad requester and rejects all the work you did for them. This would give you multiple rejections in a single day and your account may not be able to recover from such a negative impact for a very long time.

So when starting out, my advice is to ignore batches until you have at least a few thousand HITs under your belt so you can soften the impact in the off chance that you do happen to get multiple rejections.


How MTurk Scripts Work

Because so many people are now using MTurk and competing for HITs on there, you’re going up against people who are using programs that allow them to find and accept HITs even quicker than they would by just using the MTurk website the way Amazon designed it.

You can’t expect to make much money on MTurk without using scripts or plugins, which are programs you add to your browser (Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox) which greatly improve your chances of seeing HITs before others and grabbing them before they’re all gone.

There’s two types of scripts available, extensions and plugins. Firefox uses plugins and Google Chrome uses extensions. When you add these programs to these browsers, it basically creates new buttons or windows in the browsers that you can use to monitor MTurk or take actions from within it. When a requester posts HITs, such as a university posting a batch of surveys, they only have so many surveys in that batch that they need completed.

A requester might post a high paying survey for $3.00 and post 10 of them, and within a few seconds all 10 will be snatched up by people using scripts. This is why it’s crucial that you have the same edge in the game as people who have been turking for years so you can have a fair chance at the same HITs. You don’t have to be very computer-savvy to understand how they work and use them either, so don’t be discouraged by the tech lingo.

My personal recommendation and what I use most is Google Chrome as my browser with the MTurk Suite extension installed on it, which you can find in the Google Play store for free. Once you install the MTurk Suite, you’ll see a new button in the top right-hand section of your Google Chrome window that you can click on which says MTurk Suite.

After clicking on that button to open MTurk Suite, there’s a number of different tools available to you that you can click on. You would normally click on these tools after you’re signed in to MTurk.com in one tab in your browser. Clicking on any tools in the MTurk Suite will open new tabs or windows where you can use these tools while you still have the main MTurk website opened in another tab or window.

Within MTurk Suite, the only two tools I ever use which I use at the same time are Hit Finder and Hit Catcher. Hit Finder will show you a list of all HITs available and you can set it to refresh the list every second. This way, when a new HIT is posted to MTurk, you’ll see it instantly and can click on it quickly and then click accept as fast as possible. Without this tool, you would have to constantly refresh your MTurk HITs page to find any new HITs posted and most people wouldn’t want to just sit there and keep clicking refresh constantly.

For any HITs you click on in Hit Finder that aren’t available because you weren’t quick enough to accept them (and somebody else already snatched them up), you will then have the option of “catching” them if Hit Catcher is also open in another tab. Catching means that if the HIT becomes available again, you’ll automatically accept it and it will be found in your HITs dashboard in MTurk and alert you that it caught the HIT. This means you won’t even have to do anything and can start working on the HIT immediately once Hit Catcher catches it.


Taxes

Because you have to provide your social security number or Tax ID when signing up for Amazon MTurk, you will be liable for paying taxes on any earnings you make on the website. I can’t provide assistance with this as everybody’s tax situation is different, but in my personal situation this means that I typically have to report this income to the IRS on my tax forms when filing taxes each year. It also means that I normally owe money to the IRS on these earnings each time since Amazon does not take any money out of your earnings the way an employer normally would.

In the USA, you have to file taxes on income that’s over a certain amount or threshold and I had earned more than that amount so I had to file. You’re not employed by Amazon and are working as a self-employed independent contractor, so you must report the income as self-employment income along with any other tax forms you need to file for any real jobs you might be working.

This may be different for you if you’re living outside the USA or have different sources of income or making a different amount than I did. You will have to research this on your own or speak to a tax expert.


Happy Turking

The information I’ve covered regarding MTurk might seem overwhelming at first, but once you access the website and begin using it, all of this will make more sense to you and there’s no rule on how little or how many HITs you can do in a day so you can work at your own pace.

I know that not everybody has access to the internet or computers when homeless, but many do and I just hope that this guide has helped you in some way so that you can get back on your feet and into a better position in life. While MTurk (and microtasking in general) is definitely not the best way to make money online or get rich, it’s simple enough and accessible to most people where I feel it might just be the best option for the average homeless person.

Lastly, if you live in a country where MTurk is not available or you feel MTurk just isn’t right for you, then feel free to check out the guides section here for other ideas and tips that might be useful to you as we strive to put together as many guides on methods that have worked for us so you can hopefully find something that works for you.