Best Alternatives to Payday Loans to Consider During a Crisis

If you’re in a bind and need money, try local charities, family or a side hustle instead of payday loans.
Annie Millerbernd
By Annie Millerbernd 
Edited by Kim Lowe

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A payday loan may seem like your best option in a financial crisis, but a lower-cost alternative could help you through it — and spare you the additional stress of repaying an expensive, short-term loan.

Payday loan alternatives can help you pay for urgent expenses, lower your monthly bill payments or find extra cash.

Here are 10 alternatives to consider when you need cash quickly.

Payday loan alternatives at a glance

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Local nonprofits and charities

Best for: Free help to cover essential expenses.

Local funding sources, like community centers and nonprofits, are especially helpful if you’re balancing groceries, gas and other expenses with a new emergency. Some of these organizations can be a resource for donated food, clothing or transportation to medical appointments or job interviews.

Check NerdWallet’s database of local payday loan alternatives to find resources in your state.

Speed: How quickly you can get help depends on what you need and which organizations are in your area. Give them a call to find out.

Keep in mind: Charitable organizations may require proof that you need help, like recent pay stubs.

Medical bill assistance

Best for: Reducing a large medical bill or making it more manageable to repay.

There are a handful of ways to manage medical bills that you can try before turning to a payday lender.

  • Payment plans: Ask your doctor’s office if you can set up a payment plan that splits a large bill into smaller monthly payments.

  • Medical bill advocates: Medical bill advocates negotiate down bills after an expensive procedure or hospital stay. They can also spot costly errors and dispute them.

  • Medical credit card: Some medical credit cards offered through doctors’ offices have interest-free promotional periods that may help you cover the expense. Read the terms carefully to avoid hefty interest charges.

Speed: Each option varies in speed, but you may be able to set up a payment plan with the physician’s office over the phone.

Keep in mind: Each option may come with a fee. Calculate the amount you’ll save and weigh it against the amount you’ll pay to make a net-positive decision.

Bad-credit online loans

Best for: Getting cash with a credit score below 690.

Some online lenders tailor their loans to bad-credit borrowers. These lenders may approve applicants with high debt-to-income ratios and bad or fair credit scores.

If you’re unsure whether you qualify for a bad-credit loan, you can pre-qualify to see what lenders will offer you. It doesn’t affect your credit score, and pre-qualifying with multiple lenders allows you to compare loan offers.

Speed: Many online lenders offer fast funding and can send funds to your bank account within a day or two of approval.

Keep in mind: Online lenders report loan payments to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). On-time payments can help you build credit, while missed payments will hurt your score.

See if you pre-qualify for a personal loan – without affecting your credit score
Just answer a few questions to get personalized rate estimates from multiple lenders.

Credit union loans

Best for: Members in good standing with a credit union.

If you’re an existing credit union member, or are eligible to become one, you have an option already at your disposal.

Credit unions consider your credit score and income on a loan application, but they also review your history as a member.

If your credit union offers payday alternative loans, you can borrow a small amount — usually up to $1,000 or $2,000 — with a maximum interest rate of 28% and repayment terms up to 6 or 12 months.

Speed: Large credit unions may be able to fund and approve a loan within a couple of days. If you have yet to become a credit union member, the timeline to become one and get a loan could be longer.

Keep in mind: Credit unions report late and on-time loan payments to credit bureaus, which will affect your credit score.

Payment plans for monthly expenses

Best for: Temporary relief from full or partial bill payments while you cover an emergency.

Request a payment extension or installment plan from your landlord, utility company, mortgage lender or other creditor to temporarily alleviate those expenses while you cover another, more urgent expense.

Some creditors and utility companies have online forms where you can ask for an extension or hardship plan, but you may have to make an informal request to someone like a landlord.

Speed: Depending on when your bills are due, you could get some payment relief before your next payment.

Keep in mind: It may be difficult to keep track of payment plans with multiple creditors or billing agencies. Add the payments to your budget or calendar, and be sure you’ll have money available to pay them.

Other ways to make money

Best for: Creating a temporary or permanent side hustle — or finding extra cash where you haven’t looked yet.

You can make some extra money by selling things you don’t need, driving for a ridesharing company or turning a creative hobby into an online shop.

Some of the options in our guide to making money take longer than others, but many of these jobs can be done alone or from your home.

Speed: How quickly this gets you cash depends on how you choose to make money. Selling things online can take a few hours to a few weeks. Rideshare drivers typically get paid weekly, but some services may pay you after every trip.

Keep in mind: The internet abounds with get-quick-cash scams. Avoid job openings that require you to pay money or ask for personal or financial information.

Lending circles

Best for: Getting low- or no-interest money, as long as you’re willing to contribute funds to help someone else, too.

A lending circle consists of a group of people who lend money to each other at no or very low cost. This is a somewhat long-term commitment because lending circles usually raise money for one person each month, but participating in one can help you raise money for something like a car repair, or get you through a tough time.

Some websites work with lending circles to report payments to the credit bureaus, which can help you build your score.

Speed: This depends on when the cycle of payouts reaches you, but it’s among the slower funding options.

Keep in mind: You should have a steady source of income in order to contribute to the lending circle fund regularly.

Family loans

Best for: Getting money without interest, if you’re close enough with someone to ask.

Asking someone you trust to help cover a bill or spot you a month’s rent won’t hurt your credit score, but it may do a number on your pride.

You and your lender can draw up terms that define when the loan will be repaid and whether you’ll pay it back in installments or all at once.

Speed: This depends on the terms between you and the lender.

Keep in mind: A loan from a family member or friend doesn’t require physical collateral but you could be putting a relationship in jeopardy, so be sure that both parties are comfortable with the loan before you borrow.

Cash advance apps

Best for: When you’re employed and need emergency cash.

If you have predictable income and need a paycheck advance, consider a cash advance app.

These apps usually confirm your income and when you get paid, and offer a small advance typically from $20 to $500 on your next paycheck.

They usually charge low fees, but most request a voluntary tip for the service.

Speed: These apps can take a few days to provide the money, but most will send your advance within a few hours for an additional fee.

Keep in mind: Paycheck advances are a temporary solution. If you find yourself regularly paying to access money you’ve already earned, you may need to review your budget.

Pawn loans

Best for: Getting cash without a credit check and without having to sell an item.

A pawnshop loan is a no-credit-check option that’s a step shy of actually selling your stuff. To get one, you hand something you own to staffers at a pawnshop, and they assess its value and determine whether they’ll give you a loan in exchange for your item.

You and the pawnshop agree on when you’ll pay off the loan — and any other interest or fees — in order to get your item back.

Speed: A pawnshop will usually tell you on the spot whether it will lend you money and how much.

Keep in mind: Pawn loans may not be much better, cost-wise, than a payday loan. Calculate the loan’s annual percentage rate to be sure you won’t be stuck with more debt than you can repay.

These loans are also not a long-term solution. If you find yourself taking pawn loans regularly, look for a different solution.