Look, we're not here to judge. People need quick cash for all sorts of legitimate reasons. Maybe your little sister's birthday is tomorrow and she's been begging for a $110 American Girl doll. Maybe you owe $1,000 to a guy named Viper. Or, you really need to make this month's rent. Like we said, there all kinds of legitimate motivations for making money fast.
Sure, you could get a second job washing cars or cutting lawns, or take out a payday loan from one of those storefront lenders with interest rates higher than your credit score. But if you're looking for creative ways to gather some quick dough, we think you'll love the 10 ideas we've come up with.
Collect Loose Change
In the hunt for a quick money, coins should be your new best friend. Those nickels and dimes trapped in your couch cushions and jeans pockets are worth something. By one estimate, the average U.S. household contains $90 in loose coinage [source: Lipka]. Other smart places to check: bottom of the washing machine, under car seats, car glove compartment or armrest, pockets of seldom-used coats and pants, and of course, your children's piggy banks (last resort).
Once you've collected your treasure, you can either spend it as is -- and risk dirty looks from cashiers when you buy $20 of groceries with nickels -- or convert it into cash. Many banks will still give you empty coin rolls that you can fill and redeem for free, or you can use those green Coinstar machines. Note that the machine charges a fee -- 9.8 cents per dollar in the U.S. -- unless you have the money placed on a gift card with one of Coinstar's partners like Amazon, Old Navy and Starbucks [source: Coinstar].
Returning past purchases for cash is the best way to turn buyer's remorse into returner's bliss. Think about items that you bought in the past 90 days that are still sitting in their original box, still have the tags on or at least appear brand-new. Most stores will give you cash back with a receipt, or at least store credit. For details, check the individual store's return policy online.
But what if you didn't save the receipt? Returning items without a receipt is an art form unto itself. Some stores, like Wal-Mart, have lenient return policies that allow you to return items that cost less than $25 without a receipt for actual cash. Others, like Target can find the receipt for you if you show the credit card you used for the purchases. At stricter or smaller retailers, the best you can hope for is store credit. But even then, it may take some convincing.
Bring proof to back up your purchase, like credit card statements. If you don't have any hard proof, then at least bring a good attitude. Admit that you're asking a special favor and be grateful for any leeway you get. If all else fails, wait to return receipt-less items right after Christmas, when customer service departments will give you just about anything to get out of their face [source: Gordon].
Sell Scrap Metal
If your backyard looks like a car cemetery, then consider scrapping some of that iron and brass for quick cash. Scrap yards and metal recyclers will pay by the pound for new, used or extremely used items made from ferrous materials like steel and iron, or less common non-ferrous metals like aluminum, brass and copper.
Copper is by far the most valuable scrap metal, selling for around $3 a pound, depending on your location [source: Scrap Monster]. The most common forms of copper are copper pipes and copper wire. Brass is another valuable scrap metal, selling for more than $2 a pound in most locations. Some older cars -- like the one that's been on blocks in the yard for the past 20 years -- have heavy brass radiators.
You'll need a truck to get the metal to the scrap yard, but once there, it's a quick process. The scrap yard weighs your truck when it's fully loaded and a large magnetic crane lifts the scrap from the back. Your truck is weighed a second time and the weight difference and payment amount are recorded on a slip of paper; you get your cash immediately from a special on-site ATM [source: Didorosi].
Sell Bottled Water
Selling cold bottled water on a hot day is an easy way to make some quick cash, but be forewarned, depending on the laws where you live, it might not be a legal one.
True, most U.S. cities have laws on the books that make it less than totally legal to sell bottled water without a vendor's permit and health department license. By that logic, lemonade stands are also illegal (and they are). But unless your local police routinely imprison Girl Scouts, your makeshift water operation will likely go unnoticed.
They key to making money in any retail venture is to buy low and sell high. A case of 24 16.9-oz (500-milliliter) bottles of water sells for around $7 in big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target. If you have a Costco or Sam's Club card, you can get them for even less in bulk. If you can sell each bottle for $1, you're looking at a quick $17 profit in maybe an hour.
Location is key. If the weather's hot and your product is cold, you can find customers just about anywhere that people gather: a neighborhood park, the entrance to a subway station, bus stops, or outside sporting events. Selling on the side of a busy road can be lucrative, but potentially dangerous and more likely to draw the attention of the law.
Gambling is potentially addictive and has been statistically proven to be a highly reliable way to lose money. The sad truth is that the house always wins, eventually. The longer you gamble, the lower your chance of walking away a winner. Statisticians have shown, for example, that if you spend all day playing roulette, you will walk away with an average of 5.26 percent less money than when you started. Likewise, an amateur blackjack player will lose between 10 and 20 percent on average over the course of many hands [source: Walsh]. Slot machines have the absolute worst odds with average losses as high as 35 percent over the long run.
But if you enter the casino with the right attitude ("I won't spend more than $X") and the right strategy, you can tip the odds closer to your favor. Professional gamblers know that the best tactic for making fast money at the casino is the big, one-time bet. A single hand of blackjack, even when played by an amateur, has around a 50/50 chance of winning. The same is true for the pass line on the craps table [source: Derousseau].
If by some miracle you win big on the first try, fight every urge to "double your money" and walk away a winner.
Sell Unused Gift Cards
This is an interesting one. Let's say an uncle sends you a $20 Starbucks gift card for your birthday, but you can't stand the taste of coffee or the sound of "adult alternative" music. Instead of having 20 bucks, you're stuck with a useless piece of plastic, unless you can find someone who will buy it from you.
The good news is that you don't have to stand outside Starbucks scalping your gift card. There are perfectly legal Web sites like CardCash and Cardpool where you can buy and sell gift cards. No, you won't get face value for your card, but both sites pay up to 92 percent of the total value. And they'll send you the money in one or two days after receiving your card in the mail. Internet to the recue!
Sell Your Cell
If you need quick cash, it might be tempting to visit the local pawn shop and sell expensive gadgets like your iPhone, tablet computer or laptop for a steep discount. But hold the phone! (Literally.) There are some amazing new options for getting quick cash for your gadgets, even the broken ones.
Gazelle is a Web site that offers fixed prices for old cell phones, tablets, iPods and Apple computers. All you do is enter your gadget's information (model, operating system, memory) and its current condition, and Gazelle gives you an instant quote that's good for the next 30 days. If you send them your device, Gazelle will send you a check in a week. Gazelle's offer for a "flawless" iPhone 5 16 GB, for example, was $310.
But what if your gadget is in far-from-flawless condition? Your best bet for a cracked, drowned or otherwise dead device is probably EcoATM, an automated kiosk that pays cash instantly for used or damaged cell phones and tablets. EcoATM has thousands of U.S. locations, mostly in malls. The kiosks are equipped with software to recognize makes and models for more than 2,000 devices, and they can also detect damage and flaws. To deter thieves from fencing stolen merchandise, each sale requires a scanned photo ID and a thumbprint.
Find Unclaimed Bonds
Back in the day, paper U.S. Treasury bonds were a popular gift for bar mitzvahs, birthdays and other gift-giving occasions. These savings bonds were great because the buyer only paid half the face value of the bond (e.g. $50 for a $100 bond) and when they reached maturity, they could be cashed in for their full face value. If the bondholder waited even longer, the bonds would continue to accrue interest and be worth even more.
You can still buy savings bonds today, but they are in electronic form and you must pay the full face value of the bond. Learn more at Treasury Direct.
One reason the federal government switched to electronic savings bonds is that so many people lost their paper bonds. To help people claim lost bonds and other Treasury securities, the government launched Treasury Hunt, a searchable database of unclaimed bonds. Just enter your Social Security number to see if you have any securities on file. Warning: While the searching will be quick, the procedure to actually get your money will take a while. (This is the government, after all).
While you're at it, you might want to see if the government is holding any unclaimed income tax refunds for you. The IRS says that millions of dollars in refunds are returned every year as undeliverable [source: IRS]. Visit the unclaimed money section of USA.gov for more information.
Get Your Deposit Back
If you have a less-then-stellar credit history, your water company or another utility might charge you a security deposit before opening a new account. These deposits can run into hundreds of dollars. Laws differ from U.S. state to state, but generally the utility must pay back the deposit, with interest, after 12 months of on-time payments [source: Cat Le]. If you qualify, but haven't received your deposit refund, get on the phone and you could be the recipient of some quick cash.
If you move a lot and have opened several bank accounts and utility accounts in different states, you should also conduct a search on MissingMoney.com. The site can run your name through national databases of unclaimed assets and property.
OK, that came out wrong. You should never sell "yourself" for quick cash, but rather the parts of yourself that you can spare. Again, that doesn't sound right. What we're trying to say is you can sell blood plasma, sperm and even hair for cash. Wow, that was awkward.
College students have been flocking to plasma donation centers for decades to earn $35 for an hour and a half of magazine reading accompanied by a momentary needle prick [source: Bonander]. Donating plasma is perfectly safe for the average healthy young person and can be done up to twice a week. And the plasma itself -- the liquid portion of blood -- is used by doctors to save lives.
Sperm donation pays good money -- $50 to $200 per specimen -- but it's not exactly a "quick money" proposition [source: Bonander]. Sperm banks are very picky about their product and will need to run an extensive background check on your genetic health before taking you on as a donor. Once you get the green light, though, it's a pretty sweet deal.
Hair can also be a lucrative source of quick cash. To sell your hair for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, you will need a lot of it, preferably longer than 10 inches (25 centimeters). It should also be free of color or other chemical treatments and as healthy-looking as possible [source: Lu]. For a look at what sells, check out the live hair auctions on Online Hair Affair.
Dollar stores — where most items cost just a buck — always seem to make money. HowStuffWorks finds out how they do it.
Author's Note: 10 Quick Ways to Make Money
When I was fresh out of college living in my first apartment, we used to have a change jar, a big glass beer stein that one of my roommates had likely stolen from a fraternity house. Instead of leaving our loose change in our pants pockets, only to lose it in the dryers of the coin-operated laundry, we stuck in it the jar. Besides the coin-operated laundry, we had little use for change, or so we thought. One month, the 31st rolled around and we realized that we didn't have enough cash in our meager bank accounts to cover the next month's rent. In fact, we were more than $100 short. That's when one of us geniuses remembered the change jar. There's something deeply satisfying about lugging 20lbs of pennies and dimes down to the grocery store and hearing it pour out like a Vegas jackpot into the Coinstar machine. The spare change covered the rent deficit and left us with some green to spare. I'd like to say we saved it for the next month's rent fund, but we were 22 and stupid, a dangerous financial combination.
- Bonander, Ross. "How To: Sell Your Body for Cash." Askmen (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.askmen.com/money/how_to_250/266_how_to.html
- Cat Le, Phuong. "Consumer Smarts: Utility security deposit surprises customer." Seattle PI. March 3, 2008 (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/article/Consumer-Smarts-Utility-security-deposit-1266099.php
- Coinstar. "Coin to Card" (Sept. 6, 2013) https://www.coinstar.com/FreeCoinCounting.aspx
- Daily Finance. "25 Unusual Ways to Make Money" (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.dailyfinance.com/photos/25-unusual-ways-to-make-quick-money/
- Derousseau, Ryan. "The Best Bets at the Casino." June 14, 2007 (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.forbes.com/2007/06/14/gambling-casino-risk-ent-manage-cx_rd_0614riskcasino.html
- Didorosi, Andy. "How to Sell Scrap Metal for Money." Popular Mechanics (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/recycling/how-to-sell-scrap-metal-for-money#slide-1
- Foreman, Gary. "5 Ways to Make Quick Cash." U.S. News & World Report. August 8, 2013 (Sept. 6, 2013) http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2013/08/08/5-ways-to-make-quick-cash
- Gordon, Whitson. "How to Return Nearly Anything Without a Receipt." Lifehacker. Oct. 26, 2011 (Sept. 6, 2013) http://lifehacker.com/5853626/how-to-return-nearly-anything-without-a-receipt
- IRS. "Does the IRS Have Money Waiting for You?" (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.irs.gov/uac/Does-the-IRS-Have-Money-Waiting-For-You%3F
- Lipka, Mitch. "How to Turn Loose Change into Cash." Daily Finance. Feb. 23 2010 (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/02/23/savings-experiment-whats-the-best-way-to-turn-loose-change-int/
- Lu, Xin. "How to Sell Your Hair for Cash." Wisebread. March 24, 2008 (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.wisebread.com/how-to-sell-your-hair-for-cash
- Scrap Monster. "Scrap Prices" (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.scrapmonster.com/scrap-prices
- Walmart. "What's Walmart's no receipt return policy?" (Sept. 6, 2013) http://help.walmart.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/190/~/walmart-returns-center#no_receipt
- Walsh, James. True Odds. Merritt Publishing, 1996. Excerpted on PBS Frontline (Sept. 6, 2013) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/gamble/odds/odds.html