Sunday, September 15, 2019

Turn Your Downtime Into Cash: An In-Depth Look at InboxDollars (App/Web)

Everyone, meet Billy, InboxDollars' cute little dollar bill mascot.

WHAT IS IT? 
InboxDollars is one of the top "paid activity" sites, probably second only to Swagbucks, that offers users the chance to make small amounts of money by taking company-sponsored surveys. What makes it great though is that, like Swagbucks, there are a variety of other ways to help you raise your balance to the minimum $30 payout requirement, which prevents things from getting overly boring. Because, let's be real here, answering the same questions over and over again can get to be quite a drag after a short amount of time.

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION
My, oh my is that an ugly site.
Visually speaking, InboxDollars is a very ugly site that, in my opinion, feels about five years out of date. I promise not to make this a comparison between the two similar services, but especially compared to Swagbucks's pleasant, clean look, InboxDollars feels like walking into a Goodwill when you were expecting Old Navy: The ugly orange and green color combination, paired up with a focus on “spammy” offers that take up at least 60% of the page, make visiting the site an almost depressing experience. (I must say their dollar-shaped mascot, Billy, is pretty darn cute.)

From a navigational standpoint though, the site is set up fairly well, utilizing the now-standard practice of having all of your available options spread out horizontally across the top of the page. The main screen highlights three top surveys, supposedly catered to you, while a vast majority of the remaining space is used to highlight the mostly-crappy “cash offers” they have available. These are actions you can take to make money, but many of them either require payment, are shady as hell, or have some ridiculous threshold that must be met in order to meet the obligations for payout (such as becoming an Uber driver and accepting your first “job”). Sure, these are great for the small percentage of people who are already planning on doing it, but they certainly aren't worth going out of the way for, and thus will only apply to a very small percentage of people.

There are so many options across the top that they have to “hide” some things under a “more” banner, which aside from taking an extra click to get to (oh no, think of all the wasted time!) does keep a couple useful tools out of plain sight, but they are tools most people won't use very often, so this is just a minor quibble.

Overall, if you can get past its ugly look, it won't take long to acclimate yourself to where everything is, which can help you figure out a routine that will maximize your cash flow.

REWARDS SYSTEM & ACTIVITIES
InboxDollars relies on the tried-and-true system of “what you see is what you get” in terms of total balance, where your accrued amount is shown in actual dollars and cents. This, at least in my opinion, is much preferred to earning “coins”, or “points”, or some other form of fake currency that other sites use, because you can tell exactly how much you have at any given time, without having to refer to a FAQ to figure out the conversion rates between units and actual cash payouts.

While there are quite a few different paid activities, which I will dig into at length in a separate post, the “highest” payouts are generally answering surveys. If you've ever used another survey site before, then you already know what to expect here, namely lots of time reanswering the same demographical questions and getting disqualified from a large number of surveys, but InboxDollars does tend to pay a little better than some sites, with a $.25 minimum on every survey. Some even go up near $5, though in my experience those ironically tend to require you to be in a high-ranking position within a large company; I can't see many people like that, who are mostly making at least $60,000 a year, dedicating what little extra free time they have left to filling out surveys, but maybe I'm mistaken.
Get used to this page, because you'll probably be seeing it a lot more than you want to.
Conveniently, there is also an “estimated time” column presented right next to the payout amount for completed surveys, so you can weigh out the ratio to see which ones work best for you. Personally, I try to keep the quarter payouts for surveys that take ten minutes or less, and will only go for longer ones if they pay more, but that's just what works for me—if you have more time to kill, the longer ones tend to have a higher success rate (because many people, like me, tend to avoid them).

Awww, thanks Billy!
Even though you will more than likely be disqualified from dozens upon dozens of surveys on a monthly basis, each of your failed attempts will result in a spin on “Billy's Spin & Win”, which can reward you with scratch and win progress, a $.25 survey token (which tacks $.25 onto the total of your next completed survey), or instant cash in the amounts of $.05, $1, or even $5! Surprisingly, even though there's a “No Win” tab, you'll win something more often than nothing, even if that something is just a small little fraction of scratch and win progress. Regardless, seeing that bar constantly moving can be pretty encouraging to help you keep going.

What is this “Scratch & Win” I keep speaking of? At the top of the screen, there is a bar that stretches vertically the entire way across, and is broken down into three sections. This is the Scratch & Win bar. Doing a variety of tasks fills up the bar, such as watching videos, playing games, or reading PaidEmails. The more the bar fills up, the greater the potential cash payout: fill up the first tier (a very simple task), and you can win up to $10; fill it up to the second and that goes up to $25; or fill it up all the way and you could stand to win $100! But you probably won't.

I've scratched these off dozens of times, and used to let the bar fill all the way up constantly, but realized the effort just really isn't all that worth it for the small odds. I don't doubt people have won—there is a rolling banner that shows you the big winners from the past couple of days—but I've scratched off dozens of tickets, and can't recall winning anything over $.10. But the thing that's really nice about the scratch-off is that you're guaranteed to win something...there are no losing tickets. And the minimum amounts tend to go up as you work your way through the tiers: for the first tier, you'll win at least a penny; second tier will grant you at least $.03, and the third tier is usually around $.05. Keep in mind the more you scratch, the more they may limit your winnings, so these numbers can change, but you still won't ever lose.

The much-discussed "Scratch & Win" bar.
These are just some of the main earners, but there are lots more where that came from, including games, watching TV and videos, WinIt codes, referrals, and so much more which, again, I will cover at length in a separate post. While there aren't as many things to do as Swagbucks (there goes that comparison again), there should be enough options to keep most people entertained and earning cash for at least a few months.

HOW MUCH CAN I MAKE?
As with any similar site, putting a precise number on things is virtually impossible, because earnings rely on a wide number of variables that will vary greatly from member to member. As a general rule, though, I'm able to cash out about once every 1-2 months, using the site for 30 minutes to an hour (on average) most days. Weekdays, when I work, I don't spend much time on the site at all, but I'll set aside an hour, or sometimes more, on weekends to try to earn a couple extra bucks. When all is said and done, I can typically make around $5 per week; those with more free time can probably make quite a bit more, but no matter what, you're not going to make anything resembling a living wage.

At any rate, this is actually my preferred platform for earning extra money out of any cash-earning site that I've tried so far. Sure, there are other sites that offer higher payouts, and fewer survey disqualifications, but those sites tend to have far fewer survey opportunities, or require you to complete more labor-intensive tasks that would require you to leave the house (gasp!). Of course, everyone is their own unique person, so your mileage may vary, but personally, I consistently earn more here than I do anywhere else.

MOBILE APP
The main page of the app is somehow even more spammy than the website.
Like many survey sites, InboxDollars does have a mobile app, and while I mostly use the site on PC (easier to fill out surveys, a wider variety of games available, and no suckage of battery), I still keep the mobile app around. Navigation on there is even simpler than the PC interface, and while part of that is because there are some missing options (you can't print coupons, for example, from a mobile device), there are also a couple of additional ways to earn cash that are only valid from a mobile device.

The first one is known as “InMarket”, and it's an easy way to earn a nickel almost any time you're out and about. Just make sure your location services are on, and when you pass a company advertising in this way (currently for me, it's Walmart, but I've had Target and MAC Cosmetics pop up in the past) you'll receive a push notification (if you have those activated). Simply wait for the ad to load, and then click out of it (the site says you have to click into it, but you don't) to receive your $.05 reward. It's that simple. I don't even have push notifications for InboxDollars activated on my phone, but I've found as long as I open my app within the hour, it typically still pops right up, even if I'm no longer near the advertising business.

An example of their new feature, called "Scansense".
The second way was just added in August, 2019, and it's called “ScanSense”, which pays you a nickel per item you scan at a specified store. In the top right corner of the home screen is a barcode icon with a number beside it. Tap the barcode icon, and a list of participating nearby stores will pop up, along with the number of items they have available for scanning. Simply head into the supermarket, scan the barcode of the specified item(s) using the app, and voila! A nickel will be credited to your account for every item scanned.

I just tried this for the first time last night, and it was as easy as expected: click on the item you want to scan, and a camera pops up (you'll have to give InboxDollars access to your camera) with a barcode field inside. Just line that up with the barcode on the product, an ad for that product will pop up, and then you'll receive a verification message that you earned $.05, which is added to your account immediately. That's not too shabby, and the perfect task for me to do while my wife is taking forever at the supermarket.

CASHING OUT
When I first used InboxDollars in the middle of 2018, there was only one option for getting paid in cash: a paper check. While I'm not going to complain about free money no matter how I get it, I have to admit that limiting users to just a paper check in this day and age was pretty absurd. But after recently opening a new account (accounts lapse after 6 months of either not attempting a survey, or checking PaidEmails) and hitting the payment threshold again, I was surprised to find that Paypal is now a supported option, which is a huge deal, and one that addresses my biggest complaint against the service.

Good news...Paypal is now a payment option!
One thing I have seen users harp on about the payout process is that there is a $3 processing fee, which was presumably to cover the costs of issuing the check (and now is more understandable as Paypal presumably charges fees to process the payment through them, as well). But the thing that I have not really seen covered anywhere is that there's a way to avoid paying anything at all to get your money, and it's actually fairly simple.

If you go from $30 to $40 within 30 days, they'll completely waive the processing fee for you, and pay you the entire amount you have accrued. I've cashed out my account three times now, and have hit $40 every single time, which has saved me $9 in processing fees. Sure, $9 is not a lot, especially considering if I would have accepted the fee, I still would have made at least $81 in “free” money. But by bringing my account balance up and saving that $9, I've made a little over $120 total within that same time period, which is an even better deal.

Funds take two weeks to process for first time members, whether you request Paypal or paper check, and are processed on Wednesdays. But you're also automatically given free access to another perk, which is a "Gold Membership"!

Cash out once to become a "Gold Member", which pays you out a week earlier in the future.
As the slightly-misleading table above shows you, Gold Members can get "weekly payments", which almost makes it sound like you can cash your balance out weekly. But before you get excited, just know that it's much lamer than that: You still have to hit the $30 minimum, but from that point on, your payments will be processed on the following Wednesday, instead of having to wait the full two weeks for first-time payees. And that, as you can see, is the only perk.

I don't want to sound ungrateful, because really I'm just happy to earn some extra cash, but it would be nice if there was some other kind of perk for Gold Members, such as the ability to deposit directly to a bank account (which I believe would be free for InboxDollars to do anyway), or even some kind of timed “boost”, like a 2x increase on Scratch & Win progress for your first week after cashing out. Or even Gold Member-only social media contests...something that would be a little more enticing and encouraging for people to keep going. Or, you know what else they could do? Just ax the whole program entirely, and pay everyone out within a week.

You're also given your $3 processing fee back (even if you didn't pay one!), in the form of a $3 balance credit once you're cashed out and your . I don't know if it's a psychological tactic, but I have to be honest: it's one that more apps should use. There's nothing more depressing than taking a few months (or in some cases, multiple years) to raise up enough funds to be able to cash out, only to have your balance go down to zero and realize your only reward is getting to do it all over again, only this time from scratch. (And I speak from experience: my excitement for Ibotta went down the tubes in this fashion, when I went from cashing out $110, down to nothing.) But wait! The first time you cash out, you're also given the chance to take a quick two-minute feedback survey, which pays you out an additional $2! That puts you a sixth of the way toward your next cashout goal, all with a minimal amount of effort.

$5 is a nice little bonus for cashing out for the first time. (Every other time it's $3).
SUPPORT/COMMUNITY
There are no message forums to speak of, so not much in the way of a community, and I've never had a need for support, so I can't really vouch for it from personal experience.

Their support page.
One tip that I will offer for not just this site, but any similar site: The use of a VPN will get you immediately banned, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the reasoning behind at least a quarter of the people who were booted from the site. Survey sites in general often use your location information to corroborate your identity, which could be the reasoning behind the bans: if you're saying you're living in Ohio, but your IP is showing another state, then that's enough just cause for them to feel that you are not being honest. Also, the site (along with most other such sites) are only available to users in the U.S., so if your IP is linked to another country, that would be cause for immediate termination. I'm not at all saying all, or even most, of the people that do this were intentionally trying to manipulate data (I got banned from Swagbucks immediately after signing up simply because I forgot my VPN was on), but in their eyes, it's a pretty unforgivable no-no.

You can also be booted if you are caught constantly speeding through answers, or if you consistently fail “attention check” questions that are peppered throughout some surveys. Again, this is to weed out the people that are trying to take advantage of the system (although it is pretty ironic that the scummy, dishonest corporations that sponsor many of these surveys will ban you for being just like them; I'd think lying would earn you a chance to sit on their board of directors.)

A quick search of InboxDollars on the internet (or a quick glance at their Facebook page) does show a large number of users whose accounts were terminated, and who can't seem to get in touch with customer service. Again, they more than likely violated a policy, either intentionally or by accident, but it's still pretty concerning that customer support seems to ignore them rather than give them an explanation; it's also par for the course with many such websites prone to these kinds of actions virtually all across the board. With no specific details on why these people were terminated, it's hard to say who's in the right, but there are enough complaints that one should approach with caution, and actually spend some time reading the site's terms of use before signing up.

All I can speak to is that I was able to cash out twice within two or three months in 2018, and then again in mid-2019 after about a month of use, with no problems.

InboxDollars' admittedly enticing Instagram feed.
On the social media front, InboxDollars are pretty active on almost all major social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Pinterest (which is one of the least pinteresting social media sites ever made). Through these channels, they alternate between offering up some motivational words (for “Motivational Monday”), Win-It codes (which are single words that can be redeemed either on the website, or in the app), and other fun money-earning contests, so if you're active on social media, they're probably worth a follow.

OVERALL

PROS (+)
+Quite a varied mix of paid activities beyond surveys that can keep you entertained as you make some money.
+Active on social media, where they have fun contests and hand out Win-It codes that can earn you some extra cash.
+Generous $5 sign up bonus gets you off to a good start.
+$3 “refund” of your processing fee (even if you didn't pay one!) upon cashing out ensures you should never see a balance of $0.
+Paypal support recently added to paper checks as a way to get “cash”; gift cards to various retailers also an option.

CONS (-)

-Some activities that paid out direct cash (PaidEmails) now only contribute to “Scratch & Win” progress.
-Accounts can be banned with little to no warning, leaving you unable to cash out your balance.
-Can't speak from personal experience, but many users online complain about being ignored by their support staff after facing issues with their account.
-Interface is ugly.
-Many “cash offers” are unclear about what is required to earn money, and also opens you up to loads of spam emails.

InboxDollars is, in my opinion, a very underrated survey site that doesn't really get much attention. Sure, it's prone to the same issues that plague other sites (frequent survey disqualifications, slow/no payouts on completed offers, etc.) but if you go in with realistic expectations, and have a bit of time to kill, you can make a decent chunk of extra cash. Not at all to brag (because in the grand scheme of things, it probably equates to pennies per hour), but as a real-world example, I've made a little over $120 in about four or five total months of use, using the site about an hour per day, on average. It's not going to pay all your bills, but hey, that's an Amazon Prime membership right there! Or it can go into checking/savings accounts, toward gifts for friends or family, or toward your own growing list of wants and/or needs...the possibilities are endless.

You can always go back to wasting time here if this doesn't work out.
And if it doesn't work out for you, all you're really out is a few hours (or minutes) of your time, which you were probably just going to use to look at porn anyway.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10.

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