In this post: We’re looking at a few times it’s perfectly acceptable for a company to ask for some kind of fee and when it’s not. I’ve also included over 50 no fee work-at-home jobs.
I’ve had a lot of questions recently about work-at-home jobs that want you to pay money upfront before you can start working for them. There are all kinds of reasons for a company to ask for your money before hiring you, but not all of these reasons are “above board.”
The common refrain in the work-at-home world is that you shouldn’t have to pay to have access to a job. And while in general requiring a fee of some sort in the beginning is the sign of a scammy operation, it’s not necessarily an immediate red flag.
So how do you know the difference? How can you tell a legitimate company or opportunity from a total scam, when they’re all asking for money upfront?
The good news is that you can get answers to your questions about pretty much every established business hiring remote workers these days. It’s critical to do your own research about any company before joining them (whether you have to pay them something or not). This means looking for reviews online at places like Glassdoor.com, using search engines, and watching video reviews on YouTube. You can find a lot of information about your potential employer if you take just a few minutes to look for it.
But there are a few general guidelines that will help you along in your search, too, so you can avoid wasting time on companies that are very clearly not offering legitimate work-at-home opportunities for you. Let’s break down the different scenarios in which you might be asked to open your wallet during the at-home job hunt and see what’s legitimate and what’s not.
1. Job Board Fees
There are many free job boards, which makes the paid job boards seem like a bit of a rip-off. If you absolutely have zero money to funnel into your search for a work-from-home job, then paying for access to a high-quality job board might not be in the cards for you. But there’s a difference between scammy fees and the cost of quality.
Many of the free job boards do have legitimate work-from-home opportunities posted, but because they’re free, it’s a bit of a “free for all” in a sense. You never know what’s going to turn up, and you’ll have to do some real digging.
Paid job boards, on the other hand, offer you better leads in exchange for their price tag. It’s not a scam, it’s a premium service. Think of it as an upgraded job board. My favorite job board, FlexJobs, is a great example. They specialize in non-traditional employment set-ups (like remote work and flexible hours), and because they’re so widely regarded, they’re the first place many employers will post when they’re looking for remote employees. In my opinion, if I can spare the money for the job board subscription, it’s 100% worth it to save me time, effort, and even heartache in the work-at-home job search.
2. Paying for Background Checks
If you’re in the interview process for a new work-at-home job and the company asks you for a fee to pay for a background check, this is usually a legitimate request. It might be a little off-putting, but it’s totally normal and it doesn’t mean they’re out to scam you. If you’ve ever applied for a rental home or apartment, you may have been asked to cover the cost of your own background check. This is pretty much the same scenario, except it’s with a potential employer instead of a potential landlord.
If you aren’t comfortable with having a background check run on you, you’re not out of luck just yet. There are plenty of work-at-home opportunities for people who wish to refuse background checks. You can learn more about those here.
3. Equipment Costs
A few work-at-home jobs will either send you the equipment you need for the job, or they’ll reimburse you for the expense of buying the equipment. This is a really nice perk, but it’s not typical.
Most companies hiring remote employees will expect you to be the one to supply any equipment and technology you need (aside from company software). That means you’re responsible for paying for the computer, the office furniture, the headset, the Internet connection, and the phone line (or whatever else you’ll need for the job).
If you’re required to pay for job-related equipment, don’t be alarmed. This is fairly standard practice. If you aren’t being reimbursed for your equipment costs, the good news is that you can deduct these expenses on your taxes.
4. “Enrollment” or “Membership” or “Registration” Fees
A lot of scams operate under the pyramid scheme structure, where you place ads for people to buy information about a work-at-home opportunity, and then what they end up buying is just an info packet on how to place ads enticing other people to buy the same info packet. THAT is a scam, and you need to be on the lookout for anything like that.
There are times when paying up-front for training or enrollment makes sense, though. Let’s take a closer look so you can learn how to tell the difference.
5. “Enrollment” or Other Start-Up Costs for Direct Sales Organizations
This is an area that sends up a lot of red flags for people. Direct sales organizations almost always require you to pay an enrollment fee of some sort. The difference between direct sales and scams, however, is what you get for the enrollment.
There should be a starter kit that comes with your enrollment fee. This is a physical kit or package that includes everything you’d need to get started with the organization and truly understand the products they offer. The enrollment kit will often send you a wide variety of products at a steep discount (for example, $350 worth of product for a $100 fee) in addition to materials and supplies to help your new business get off the ground.
While direct sales businesses aren’t the right fit for everyone, they’re still a legitimate business opportunity when the right person finds the right organization.
6. Paid Training
It’s common for some work-at-home companies (like Arise) to require you to pay for the training you’ll receive. To some people, this reeks of scam. To me, it just means that you’re dealing with a business that’s keeping its costs low.
Is it fun to pay for the training that’s required to do the work? Not really, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing… or even a bad idea. If you’re ready to commit to a work-at-home organization for the long term, it does make sense to pay for training. If you want to go into nursing, you have to pay for nursing coursework, right?
What’s the difference between paying for training and paying for a scam? Take a look at what the paid training gets you: access to better clients. On some level, it does seem a little scammy. But look deeper — you’re giving up some money in exchange for better opportunities… opportunities that actually exist. You aren’t buying a kit, you’re buying an actual roster of clients. You won’t just get training and then have to go out and find people to sell to — the people are brought to you. That, to me, is the difference. Paying for training opens a door with an actual client, higher hourly rate, or other results on the other side — a scam just takes your money and then still makes you do all the work.
Paying for training isn’t always a good idea, though. If you’re just testing the waters, I wouldn’t recommend paying for training. It’s really only something that makes sense when you’re in it for the long haul.
50+ Online Jobs Without Investment and Registration Fees
Whether it’s an extremely tight budget or just the desire to avoid paying for background checks, there are plenty of reasons to decide not to pay anything at all for your job search.
Generally speaking, one of my favorite ways to start working from home is to start your own business. It’s possible to do this without paying anything upfront (especially if you’re offering a service like freelance writing or VA work) — your focus would be on finding work through your personal network.
That said it can be tough to put together a freelance business without spending even a tiny bit of money for a custom domain and some web hosting. Plus, not everyone wants to be their own boss and (as much as I love self-employment) I totally get that! So what other options are there?
If you already have the background, this is a great option for setting up your own shop, as we discussed above. But beyond the self-employment route, there are work-from-home jobs with other companies and even accounting firms that won’t require you to pay anything to get started. A good place to start looking for contract work is with local businesses, and you might also have some good luck calling up accounting firms in your area and asking if they’re interested in subbing out any extra work.
Otherwise, these are some good work-at-home jobs in accounting and bookkeeping:
Customer Service & Sales
Customer service is a HUGE field for work-at-home jobs. It typically involves phone calls, but not always — there are also at-home customer service jobs in roles like email and online chat agents. If customer service is the type of role you want, you may have to wade through job descriptions that will ask you to foot the bill for a background check and that sort of thing, but this is definitely not the case for all of them. Just keep looking, and you’ll find something. Here are a few good places to start:
- American Express
- Sutherland Global
- Blooms Today
- Capital One
- ModSquad (non-phone)
- NextWave Advocacy
- World Travel Holdings
- Virtual Gal Friday
Data entry is one of the more common types of work-at-home jobs that people look for. We’re drawn to it because it’s easy, it doesn’t require any special skills or equipment, and we know that it’s something that people get paid to do.
While all of that is true, data entry isn’t necessarily a great option for you. The competition is steep and the pay can be extremely low — so low that it’s not worth your time in many cases.
That said if data entry is what you’re after, you should be able to find work doing data entry at home without having to pay for anything to begin. Try checking out these companies to get started:
- Capital Typing
- Click n Work
- Coding Network
Search Engine Evaluation
The interesting thing about search engine evaluation is that you could be assigned to one of several available projects. You aren’t going to replace your full-time salary as a search engine evaluator, but it’s a solid way to build up some pocket money. These companies hire search engine evaluators from time to time, but when the doors open, try to get in as fast as you can:
Small Task Sites
When you’ve got some brainless time to spend clicking around to make a few dollars here and there, consider small task sites. To get started, pretty much all you have to do is register for an account. After that, you’ll be able to pick and choose small task assignments that you can complete in a minute or two and get paid for. The pay isn’t much at all, but it can help supplement your current income or give you something profitable to do in your downtime.
These are some of the most popular small task sites:
- Amazon mTurk
- Figure Eight
- Fancy Hands
- Spare 5
One of the things I love about transcription work is that it requires no special equipment to start, other than a headset (which you probably already own anyway). The other thing that’s so fantastic about transcription is that if you decide you really like it, you can spin off your regular job and start offering transcription services as a freelancer to get paid higher rates — generally about twice as much as the typical transcription site will pay you!
But if going out for work yourself isn’t for you, transcription is still a great option. You’ll need your own computer, and you’ll probably need to download the company’s software to use. Other than that, it really is just a matter of picking clients, doing the work, and getting paid!
These are some transcription websites to get you started:
- 3Play Media
- Casting Words
- Crowd Surf
Like transcription, translation is something you can do through a company or on your own. Many translation websites will hire at-home translators, and the only thing you’ll need to do to get started is to prove your translation skills.
If you speak more than one language, check out these translation sites and see if this is the right work-at-home job for you:
Tutoring is a really popular option for working from home. It’s traditionally something you do as your own business, advertising in your local area. Word of mouth, putting up fliers, advertising on Craigslist, and, getting in touch with the local schools are all ways to get tutoring clients without having to pay for anything. Parents and their students aren’t interested in running background checks on you, either, so you don’t have to worry about that.
You can also take your tutoring business online, using free programs like Skype to hold your sessions.
But if you want to work for a tutoring company, you’ve also got a few options. You won’t get paid as much, but they’ll send the clients to you (which is worth getting paid less, for many people). Tutoring companies with no hiring fees or background checks include:
- Chegg Tutors
- Verbal Planet
This may be toward the bottom of the list, but it’s near the top of the list of my personal favorites! I think virtual assistant jobs are a great way to make money from home, and there are no background checks or start-up costs required (aside from putting together your own website, which can be done for free or very low costs).
Like freelance writing, you can even skip the website in the beginning and just start talking to people in your personal network to see if anyone would be interested in working with you. But if starting your own VA work isn’t for you, there are a few websites that may be interesting. These websites hire and outsource VAs (that’s you!) and don’t require any money from you to get started:
- Smith A.I.
- Time Etc
Writing is another of my favorite ways to go into business for yourself. Freelance writers basically never have to deal with background checks, and the only fees they incur to start their business are the ones they choose (which usually are related to having a website, and possibly taking a course or two). When you’re freelancing, you’re responsible for finding people that will hire you to write.
There are lots of websites that will pay writers. Typically they won’t pay nearly as much as freelance writing clients, but they can be a good place to get the ball rolling. You could even start there and save up some money for a freelancer website or training to help you find better-paying work. These are some great sources to find writing jobs:
- Content Gather
- Crowd Content
- Wonder – Technically considered a research position, but requires writing
- Writer Access
- BKA Content
- Express Writers
Companies That Will Pay for Your Equipment
Quite a few companies require that you provide your own equipment to start working for them. This could be anything from supplying you with an approved headset to going all the way and paying for a job-specific computer and internet connection for you. These are just some of the companies that will cover at least some of your technology-related work-at-home expenses: (Note: These offers can change at any time. Please check the job listings and with your hiring rep.)
- Apple – Customer service and technical support agents are supplied with an iMac for work.
- A Place for Mom – Senior Living Advisors are provided with laptops. Employment is available nationwide.
- American Express – Agents in some positions are offered a monthly allowance to help offset costs of phone and internet services.
- ABC Financial – Work-related equipment may be provided to call center reps.
- World Travel Holding – Computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse and headset are provided to travel care reps. This isn't fully paid for, however. They provide it upfront and take reimbursement for the equipment out of your paychecks.
Paying upfront is usually called a scam, but it isn’t really always a scam. There are ways to tell whether you’re dealing with something shady or something legitimate. Usually just doing a bit of research on the company is enough, but these tips should help you be able to sniff out the bad opportunities from the good ones, too.
First published July 2017. Updated November 2019.