Household debt is at record levels. Credit cards, student loans, car and home loans — they all hang over the heads of consumers. The average American who carries a credit card balance pays more than $1,000 in interest every year – a painful reminder that many Americans spend more money than they make. Consider this: according to a survey by the Federal Reserve, nearly half of adults surveyed couldn’t pay a surprise $400 bill without borrowing money. Only a small percentage have the recommended three months’ living expenses saved in an emergency fund, and even fewer are on track for retirement savings.

The Good News

While I’ve just painted a dark picture, there is good news. Thanks to the gig economy, technology, and changes in the way American companies hire, part-time work is more available than ever. The simple answer is to make more money. More specifically, there are broad new opportunities for those who wish to make some extra money working from home. There are pitfalls, too: work-from-home scams abound. But a careful consumer can make a dent in their debt or start building up savings – just pick some good opportunities and put in the extra hours (nights or weekends) from home. Plus, you can’t beat not having to commute.

A lot of people are trying the work-from-home route. According to FlexJobs.com, about 26 million people in the U.S. are currently working part-time, and 82% are doing so for non-economic reasons.  They come from different walks of life. Flexjobs surveyed part-timers and found that 29 percent of them identify as freelancers, 23% as stay-at-home parents, 19% as retired or semi-retired, and 19% as entrepreneurs. The top reasons they work are to pay for basic necessities (71%), to save for retirement (58%), because they enjoy working (57%), they want to travel (52%), and to pay off debt (48%).

“Part-time work offers an ideal arrangement for many different people, such as freelancers, parents, caregivers, entrepreneurs, and others, to meet their financial needs while also addressing their other priorities,” said Sara Sutton, CEO & Founder of FlexJobs. “So while some professionals worry that high-level, higher-paying jobs don’t offer part-time schedules, there absolutely are a variety of part-time jobs that are a good fit for experienced professionals at higher career levels, even at the C-suite.”

Safety First

I’m going to describe five broad categories of work-at-home opportunities. But first, a warning: The Better Business Bureau says work-from-home job scams and other fraudulent employment schemes have skyrocketed in the last year. Scams come in all sizes and shapes, but most of them boil down to a cover story designed to trick someone into wiring money into a bank account or using some other non-reversible form of sending cash, like a gift card.

According to the BBB, typical cover stories include fake mystery shopping jobs; eBay schemes in which the criminal sends a fraudulent check for more than the expected amount and then demands a refund; at-home assembly work; envelope stuffing; or “refund-recovery” scams, which claim to enlist workers to help consumers getting refunds from retailers. They might sound easy and lucrative, but falling for scams like these can cost a lot. Some victims even get charged with aiding and abetting criminal activity.

As usual, the main tipoff is an offer to make money for nothing or almost nothing. Package forwarding is a typical example. The pitch is, “Just pick up this package and send it the next day to this address overseas. For $100.” Nothing is that easy.

However, there are plenty of honest, part-time work-from-home jobs. Here are five popular categories with examples:

1. Writing / Marketing

“Author” might be the classic work-from-home job, but it sounds like something only a few people can do. If you think of an “author” only as someone who writes books, then you might be right. But broaden the topic a bit to “writing,” and you’ll see there are far more opportunities. Local news sites need people to write about city meetings or high school sports. If you have a specialty and a small following, you can make your own blog and use affiliate relationships to earn commissions, as many fashion writers do. Advice websites on topics like money and health (like this one!) are always looking for freelancers. There are other categories you might not expect, too, like video game writers.

Broaden the topic even further, to marketing and public relations, and you’ll see the possibilities are nearly endless – from copywriting for advertisements, to writing press releases, to managing public relations campaigns. Then there’s the broad category of social media: managing Twitter accounts or Facebook pages for brands. Helping firms make and execute on Search Engine Optimization plans. And if you are handy with art and photography, don’t forget Instagram and the potential to make money as an influencer.

2. Educating

There’s lots of work-at-home gigs for people in the education field. Some might be obvious: online tutoring, for example, or helping students write and edit papers remotely. There’s plenty of jobs for English Second Language teachers, too. But others are less obvious. You might be surprised to find opportunities for virtual mathematics teachers. Here’s a listing for university supervisor needed to help observe special education teaching candidates, and here’s an entire page full of jobs for remote academic consultants.

3. Software Programming

Computer programmers can often call the shots when taking part-time gig work; there just aren’t enough app programmers or e-commerce site developers in the world yet. The more advanced the programming language, the better the pay. But a host of coding boot camp programs available (online) promise to make a programmer out of almost anyone within a couple of months.

Taking a course like that can open a lot of doorways to lower-level language gigs, which can then lead to better-paying jobs at more sophisticated tasks. Of course, those who work full-time in software development need to be careful about their employer’s moonlighting rules. But even if you don’t see yourself as a coder, don’t write off work-from-home opportunities created by tech firms. Non-technical gigs include editing computer science manuscripts, technical bulletins, or software documentation. There are also plenty of jobs working as bug testers or quality assurance evaluators, taking customer service calls, or doing data entry.

4. Coordinating

This group might seem a little less obvious. However, plenty of money is being made now under the broad heading of virtual assistant and coordination. Americans are living crazy lives right now and love outsourcing tasks like making appointments or scheduling travel, tasks that traditionally have been done by administrative assistants but have recently been eliminated by many companies. Coordination is a big topic, however, and goes far beyond traditional admin tasks. Many involve offering help to busy families. Flexjobs has listings for child care coordination, academic support coordination, or social work coordination. On the other side of the work-from-home spectrum, a long list of firms are looking for remote project management on FlexJobs.com, from planning marketing meetings to assisting workers with relocations.

5. Consulting

Plenty of people have skills to offer and advice to give that they discount. But the broad category of being a consultant can be very lucrative, and usually offers the chance to work as little or as much as desired. Experienced human resource professionals can consult on defined benefits plan design or help recruit top-notch new employees. Computer engineers can consult on database management, design, or optimization. If you have experience in any field, you can offer yourself as a consultant in that arena.

One important tip: find industries and companies that are unlikely to have your skill as part of their core business. If you have experience as a corporate trainer, approach a small business that might need training – say on implementing a new point of sale system or sales program – but is too small to have in-house training. You could be able to solve their problem for a fraction of the money they might otherwise spend; but you can take home a tidy set of profits for yourself in a month or two.

So please do consider these opportunities (and others like them)! If you feel like your budget is squeezed every month, you are hardly alone. Unemployment is currently low, but many Americans in the middle class are still struggling. Mainly because wage gains just haven’t kept up with increases in the cost of housing, health care, and child care. But today’s changing economy does give workers plenty of opportunity to supplement their income with part-time work. It takes a sense of entrepreneurship, and maybe a little risk, but the rewards are worth it. Don’t overlook sellable skills you have: hunt for opportunities to turn those skills into a little extra money for paying down debt or building up savings. It’s worth the work.

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