Staring at a pile of holiday debts and wondering whether there are any side hustles you could use to pay off those bills? Here are five newly-reviewed side hustle platforms that welcome workers in a wide array of fields. One caveat: Only one of the 5 new side hustles is an unequivocal win. The other platforms have issues, ranging from charging “lead fees” to inconsistent payment practices. 

On the bright side, when the newly-reviewed platforms fall short, there are plenty of alternatives to recommend.

Here are 5 new side hustles, ranked from best to worst.

Best bet: Steady

Steady is a job board for part-time, hourly and on-demand work that sorts job opportunities based on your location and skills. None of these jobs are unique to the platform. In fact, many are offered by companies like Care.com, Rover and Pinecone Research, which promote side gigs nationwide.

However, what makes Steady stand out is that it also offers “income boosters” that provide incentive payments for trying a new product or giving a new gig service a try. These income boosters can pay hundreds –even thousands — of dollars in added income each year. The app also helps financially-strapped users apply for grants. This makes Steady uniquely valuable to low-income freelancers. 

But you’ll need to link a bank account to the app to get full use of it. When you do that, Steady will automatically pay any income boosters directly to your account. And the app offers financial advice on ways to earn more money or save money on commonly-used services, such as auto insurance and banking. 

Of these 5 new side hustles, this is the only one that we unconditionally recommend.

Instawork: Good, with a caveat

Instawork connects hospitality and warehouse workers with businesses and organizations that need bartenders, waiters, shelf-stockers and others. The site charges no commissions or fees to workers. Those are paid by the corporate clients.

Pay is about standard for the type of work, ranging from minimum wage to as much as $25 per hour. Most workers are paid once weekly by direct deposit. However, those who complete a set number of shifts and get consistently good reviews, qualify for Instant Pay. Instant Pay compensates workers within hours of completing a shift. 

There’s only one thing that gives us pause. Instawork demands all the rights to any invention or “work of authorship,”  that you create on their time. If it’s illegal to give Instawork your rights, you must provide — without payment — a perpetual license for Instawork to use your idea for profit. This rights-grab is in Instawork’s terms, so if you use the platform, you agree to be bound by it.

To be sure, inventing or authoring something of value is rare, particularly when you’re working in a physical job that’s not about invention. And how Instawork would enforce this provision is hard to imagine. So we wouldn’t write off this platform. But, you may want to consider Instawork’s competitors Qwick, Wonolo, Jitjatjo and BlueCrew first.

Shiftsmart: Payment squabbles

Shiftsmart connects willing workers with available shifts in a variety of fields, including product testing, telemarketing, and retail. The amount you can earn per shift will vary based on the company offering it. But based on the jobs available when we tested the app, it appears that the rates range from $10 to $20 per hour. 

Workers are generally paid within a week of completing a job. If you want to be paid right away, you can choose Instant Pay for a $3 fee. 

The problem? In dozens of complaints with the Better Business Bureau, workers have said the site frequently messes up their pay. Most pay complaints are resolved in the worker’s favor — eventually. But the number of complaints and the site’s explanations about how the problems happen indicate that this is a consistent issue.

You may be able to avoid pay snafus by being particularly diligent about signing in and out of jobs on the app. But, if you have the slightest problem, we suggest you take it to the BBB immediately. This appears to be more effective than dealing with Shiftsmart’s AWOL customer service staff. 

Draiver: Mixed bag

Draiver enlists freelance drivers to move vehicles for car rental companies, auto dealerships and others. The site can enlist you to drive the car that’s being moved or to drive a so-called chase car. Chase cars take the original driver back to where he or she started.

Theoretically, you get both the stated job price, plus expenses, such as gasoline and tolls. In cases where you’re transporting a car without a chase car, you’re also reimbursed for your transportation back to where you started. Drivers are paid once a week via direct deposit.

However, there is no minimum hourly pay and this site’s terms have multiple red flags. So we suggest that you carefully cherry-pick assignments here and use it only as a supplement to better driving apps such as RideZum, Kango and Alto.

Bark: Bites

Bark promises to connect service providers with potential customers in 1,000 different fields — tutoring; cleaning; child care; IT support; web design; magic — just to name a few. The sign up process takes just a few minutes. Once your account is in place, you will be considered a Bark Pro. At that point, Bark will send you leads for potential clients seeking your services. 

If a lead works out, you (the service provider) negotiate the rates and terms with the customer and do all the payment collection and job management. Bark’s role is simply to provide you with job leads. Once it has provided customer contact information, the site’s job is done. You are in charge from then on out.

The catch? You pay between $5 and $35 per lead and there’s no guarantee that the leads will result in business. Users maintain that many of the site’s leads are useless, which puts Bark in the same sorry company as sites like HomeAdvisor and Thumbtack.

Our advice is to avoid all three and advertise your services on sites like TaskRabbit and Fiverr that only get paid when you do.

1/4/2022