Short on Cash? Employee Loans Are Alternatives to Payday Loans

More tech companies are offering employers ways to give workers low-cost alternatives to payday loans.

Amrita JayakumarOctober 23, 2018
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If you were in a financial bind, would you turn to your employer instead of a payday lender?

Coming up with cash quickly can be a costly endeavor for the 78% of working Americans who often live paycheck to paycheck. Many turn to payday loans because they’re convenient. But they also carry high interest rates and allow rollovers, trapping many in a cycle of repeat borrowing and indebtedness.

In recent years, startups from Silicon Valley and beyond have stepped up to offer payday alternatives through the workplace. Some, including Earnin and PayActiv, have put a new twist on the two-week pay cycle to give people access to their wages as soon as they’ve earned them. Others, such as HoneyBee, SalaryFinance and TrueConnect, allow employers to offer low-cost emergency loans as an employee benefit.

Coming up with quick cash can be a costly endeavor for the 78% of working Americans who often live paycheck to paycheck.

These startups say that by providing solutions for the two main reasons people take payday loans — to manage cash flow or pay for unexpected expenses — they will eliminate the need for them.

Here’s what you need to know about paycheck advances and emergency loans.

Paycheck advances in the modern workplace

The concept of a paycheck advance is not new — your workplace may already have an informal program that gives you access to money you’ve earned.

What technology companies like Earnin and PayActiv say they offer is a streamlined approach for employees that retains the employer’s traditional two-week pay cycle.

“If we can watch movies in real time, why can’t we get access to our income in real time?” says Ijaz Anwar, co-founder and COO of PayActiv, based in San Jose, California.

Earnin, based in Palo Alto, California, has a mobile app that asks for your time sheet and lets you cash out a portion of the money you’ve earned before your pay date. The company asks for an optional “tip,” which is deducted from your regular paycheck.

If we can watch movies in real time, why can’t we get access to our income in real time?

Ijaz Anwar, Co-founder and COO, PayActiv

PayActiv integrates with your employer’s payroll system to offer a similar app-based service that sends earned wages to a bank account or prepaid debit card. The company, which counts Walmart among its clients, charges employees a flat membership fee of $5 that includes three chances per month to withdraw pay. It also offers financial counseling and budgeting tools.

The typical user makes between $11 and $13 an hour and is in their mid-30s, Anwar says.

Emergency loans through your employer

HoneyBee, SalaryFinance and TrueConnect provide small personal loans for emergencies, typically between $250 and $3,000, through an employer’s benefits portal.

All three companies say they look at employment and income data to underwrite borrowers instead of traditional credit information, so a low credit score won't automatically disqualify you. They also report payments to the credit bureaus, which can help your score.

Companies look at employment and income data to underwrite borrowers, so a low credit score is not an automatic disqualifier.

It's not only low-income workers taking such employer-provided loans. Workers at all salary ranges have cash-flow issues at some point or another, says Doug Farry, one of the founders of Employee Loan Solutions, the company behind TrueConnect.

The TrueConnect program was originally meant for lower-income workers, Farry says, but even people making six-figure salaries use it. Comcast is one of the company’s better-known clients.

Compared to annual interest rates on payday loans — which can be as high as 400% — the rates on these loans are significantly lower:

  • TrueConnect has a one-size-fits-all APR of 24.9%.

  • HoneyBee charges an upfront fee of 5% of the loan amount with a payback period of three months. A $1,000 loan with a $50 fee would carry an APR of 20.27%.

  • SalaryFinance charges 11.8% APR.

These loans work like any form of credit — as long as you make on-time payments, your credit improves. Payment terms span from a few months to a year, and monthly loan payments are deducted from the employee’s paycheck. If you lose your job, you’re still responsible for loan payments, although the companies say they will work with borrowers in that situation.

In keeping with their mission to help people manage money, they also offer financial education resources.

Pros and cons

The biggest advantage of paycheck advances or emergency loans is access to money at a low cost, regardless of your credit situation. They’re one option in an array of alternatives to payday loans, depending on your need. Others include payday alternative loans from credit unions, pawnshop loans and lending circles.

But these services aren’t a silver bullet if you have chronic spending problems, low income or a lot of debt. You may be better off creating a budget, exploring ways to make more money, or using a strategy to pay off debt.

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