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You need cash now, but payday is days or weeks in the distance. What do you do?
Panic and stress are natural reactions. Once those subside, you’ll find there are ways to get your hands on money in a hurry, without falling prey to scams.
Here are 19 strategies to earn fast cash today, plus some tips on how to cut costs, boost your income and build an emergency fund, so you don’t find yourself scrambling for spare change next time around.
1. Sell spare electronics
2. Sell unused gift cards
Cardpool kiosks offer instant cash for gift cards valued between $15 and $1,000. You’ll get slightly less there; the company pays up to 85% of the card’s value at its kiosks, while it pays up to 92% if you sell through its website. You can also go through an online gift card exchange like Gift Card Granny, but most take a few days because you have to mail the card and then wait for a check or direct deposit.
3. Pawn something
As a way to borrow money, pawnshop loans are not great. But they’re quick, and if you can’t repay the loan, the pawnshop simply keeps the item you used as collateral. That’s a lot better than ruined credit and calls from debt collectors. You can often sell outright to a pawnshop, too, instead of borrowing against an item. Jewelry, musical instruments, firearms and up-to-date electronics fare best.
4. Work today for pay today
Searching for this phrase online turns up lots of results. We've researched 26 legitimate side jobs that can provide a quick income boost, ranging from driving passengers or packages to freelancing from home.
You can also try the Craigslist jobs or gigs sections, which often have postings for short-term work in food service, housekeeping and general labor.
5. Seek community loans and assistance
Local community organizations may offer loans or short-term assistance to help with rent, utilities or other emergencies. NerdWallet has compiled a database of payday loan alternatives available to residents in nearly two dozen states. Local churches may make small loans at low rates. Community centers and nonprofit associations in your area may also offer small loans.
6. Ask for forbearance on bills
Some creditors such as utilities and cable television companies don’t charge interest on late payments, so find out whether they’ll accept delayed payments. Use whatever money you save from not paying those bills to cover emergency needs. If you can't pay consumer debts such as auto loans or mortgages, explore your options with the lender first before turning to toxic high-rate loans.
7. Request a payroll advance
Ask your employer for a cash advance on your pay, which usually doesn’t cost you any fees and which you repay via payroll deduction. Some companies also offer low-cost loans to workers in crises. You also might consider Earnin, an app that offers workers advances that they repay in a lump sum on payday at no interest. It does ask for a donation, though, and requires access to your bank account and work time sheets.
8. Take a loan from your retirement account
You can take a loan on your 401(k) or individual retirement account, but there are conditions. You can borrow from your IRA once a year if you repay the money within 60 days. If your employer allows 401(k) loans — not all do — you typically can borrow as much as half your account balance, up to $50,000, and you have five years to repay it. However, if you don’t make payments for 90 days, the loan is considered taxable income. And if you quit or lose your job, you typically have to repay the 401(k) loan shortly thereafter.
9. Borrow against life insurance
If you have a life insurance policy that has cash value, sometimes called permanent life insurance, you can borrow against it and have the rest of your life to repay it. If you don’t repay, the insurance company subtracts the money from the policy payout when you die. But you can’t borrow against a term life insurance policy, which is the more common type.
10. Use a credit card cash advance
If you have a credit card and the account is in good standing, a cash advance is a much less expensive option than a payday loan. You’ll pay a fee, typically around 5% of the amount you borrow, plus interest, which can be around 30%.
11. Look for a payday alternative loan
Some credit unions offer small, short-term cash advances known as payday alternative loans. Federally chartered credit unions legally can’t charge more than a 28% annual percentage rate on PALs. That's not cheap, but it's much better than payday loans, which have triple-digit APRs.
12. Take out a personal loan
Some lenders can fund a personal loan in a day; if you have good credit, you’ll probably have many choices. If your credit is a challenge, you’ll need to find a lender that not only delivers fast cash but also accepts poor credit. Rates for borrowers with bad credit from mainstream lenders top out at 36% APR. You may find other lenders offering fast funding without a credit check, but you’ll pay triple-digit interest rates. Don’t fall for it.
13. Rent out a room
Sites like Airbnb aren’t just for people who have vacation homes to rent out when they’re not using them. Many of the site’s listings are for extra rooms — or even shared rooms — in the owner’s house, meaning you could stay put while bringing in some cash, particularly if you live in a reasonably desirable area. Check local ordinances to make sure short-term rentals are allowed.
Creating a listing on the site is free, but there is a 3% service fee when a reservation is made. The company releases payment to the host 24 hours after the guests check in.
14. Moonlight as a dog sitter
Technology is on your side here, too, with sites including Care.com and Rover, matching pet owners with dog sitters and walkers. You can choose to host the dog or stay at the owner’s house (and — here’s an idea — rent out your place through Airbnb while you’re gone). Rates are between $20 and $60 a night in most areas, though they can skew higher or lower depending on the location and the amount of work involved.
15. Become a rideshare or delivery driver
These are jobs you can do in the evenings or on weekends, using your own car and gas. Companies such as Uber and Lyft match you with people willing to pay for a ride, and delivery services such as OrderUp and Postmates pay you to deliver takeout and other items.
16. Cut your insurance premiums
One of the dirty secrets of the car insurance industry is that premiums for the same driver for the same coverage can vary by hundreds of dollars from company to company. Each insurer does its own math; that’s why it pays to compare car insurance quotes.
If you like your carrier, review the dozens of discounts it may have available. You could get 10% off or more for things like making good grades, completing defensive driving training or going at least three years without an accident.
The same is true with homeowners insurance. Shopping around can save you 10% to 15%, as can discounts for things like having a home security system, staying claim-free or being a nonsmoker. And many insurers offer discounts for buying both car and homeowners or renters policies with them.
17. Consolidate your debt
If you’re struggling to keep up with multiple debt payments, you may be able to consolidate those balances — from credit cards, medical bills, store financing or other charges — and lower your payments with a personal loan. Some lenders can fund the loan within a day. Refinancing $5,000 worth of debt from a 10% interest rate to 5% could save you more than $800 in interest if you need to carry the balance for at least four years.
If you have good credit, you can do a balance transfer of high-interest credit card debt onto a new card with a 0% introductory interest rate. Make sure you can pay off the balance before the rate balloons at the end of the introductory period.
18. Refinance your student loans
Borrowers are benefiting from low interest rates and a competitive private student loan refinancing market, and refinancing options are available for people with a range of credit scores. It’s worth checking into whether a refinance could save you money — especially when the average borrower through NerdWallet’s refi platform can save more than $11,000.
19. Change your cell phone plan
If you value money in your pocket over buying a new fancy phone, look into cell phone providers that offer rock-bottom rates. FreedomPop offers basic voice and data service for free. The catch with these services is you often have to buy a phone outright or bring your own. So maybe you don’t want to sell your old phone quite yet. You can find a prepaid cell phone plan for $30 a month or less as well.
4 fast-cash sources to avoid
Payday loans: Payday loans are short-term loans that are made to people who have a source of income and a bank account and that are repaid in a lump sum. Your credit isn’t a factor, but if you already have outstanding payday loans, you may not be able to get another one. Interest is usually expressed as a “fee” — $15 per $100 borrowed is typical. But that can be a trap: Borrowers typically have the option to pay another fee instead of settling the loan, and over time, those fees add up. A typical $15 fee on a two-week loan amounts to nearly 400% interest on an annual basis.
Payday installment loans: Available at stores and online, these payday installment loans stretch repayment terms to as long as three years. You don’t need good credit; the products often are advertised as no-credit-check installment loans. But you typically must meet the requirements of a payday loan: a paycheck and a bank account. Interest charges mount quickly: A $2,000, three-year loan at 400% APR will end up costing over $16,000.
Auto title loans: These short-term loans — in places where they’re legal — require you to hand over the title to your vehicle as collateral for the debt. They’re often compared to payday loans, and the interest rates are comparable, but they can be even worse: If you don’t repay, the lender can seize your car.
Credit-building payday loans: Most payday lenders don’t report on-time payments to the big credit bureaus, which would help your credit scores. Some lenders do, and they also reduce interest rates on subsequent loans to reflect improved credit. Oportun, Rise and Fig Loans all offer installment loans at a lower cost than a payday outlet — but their rates are still many times those of mainstream lenders. We don’t recommend these loans unless the only other option is a traditional payday loan.
Looking for more money?
If you need every dollar of income, slash expenses by picking up the phone. For any bill you pay – utilities, credit cards, loans, mortgage, insurance – call that company's customer service team. Politely request to have your bills lowered or deferred. Don't be afraid to ask to speak with the representative's manager, who may be in a better position to help you.
Call 211 or visit 211.org. This free, confidential service helps many people pay bills and rent, secure food, access the internet and more.
Learn more ways to save on a tight budget.