Best Emergency Loans
Min. credit score
Best for Secured emergency loans
Best for Bad-credit emergency loans
Best for Emergency loans for thin credit
Best for Flexible payments
Best for Fair-credit emergency loan
Best for Excellent-credit emergency loans
Best for Small emergency loans
Best for Good-credit emergency loan
Best for Fast emergency loans
Our pick for
Secured emergency loans
Our pick for
Bad-credit emergency loans
Our pick for
Emergency loans for thin credit
Our pick for
Our pick for
Fair-credit emergency loan
Our pick for
Excellent-credit emergency loans
Our pick for
Small emergency loans
Our pick for
Good-credit emergency loan
Our pick for
Fast emergency loans
NerdWallet’s guide to emergency loans
An emergency loan can help you pay for an unexpected home or car repair, last-minute travel or an urgent medical procedure. When you need cash fast, a personal loan is a safer choice for your finances than payday and high-interest installment loans, but you may have cheaper alternatives.
Here’s our guide to getting an emergency loan, as well as other fast-cash options to consider.
Why trust NerdWallet? NerdWallet’s review process evaluates and rates personal loan products from more than 35 technology companies and financial institutions. We collect over 50 data points from each lender and cross-check company websites, earnings reports and other public documents to confirm product details. We may also go through a lender’s pre-qualification flow and follow up with company representatives. We do not receive compensation for our ratings. Read more about our personal loan star ratings methodology and our editorial guidelines.
What is an emergency loan?
An emergency loan is a personal loan you get to cover an urgent expense. Emergency loans are often unsecured, meaning the lender uses your financial information, including credit, income and other debts, to decide whether to offer you a loan and at what interest rate.
Emergency loans have annual percentage rates from about 6% to 36% and amounts from $1,000 to $100,000. Lenders typically have minimum credit score and maximum debt-to-income ratio requirements for personal loans. Some offer secured, co-signed or joint loans, which may be easier to qualify for.
Even in an emergency, taking time to compare personal loans and potentially cheaper options can save you money and help you avoid harmful lenders that damage your credit and finances.
How do emergency loans work?
A personal emergency loan is a type of installment loan, meaning you receive the money in a lump sum and repay it in monthly installments. The best emergency lenders can approve your application and fund a loan within a day or two.
Repayment terms are from two to seven years. These loans have fixed interest rates so your monthly payment doesn’t change during repayment.
Most reputable lenders report loan payments to the three major credit bureaus, meaning on-time payments build your credit, while missed payments can hurt it.
How to choose an emergency loan
Calculate the monthly payment
Weigh how the loan’s monthly payments will impact your budget to determine if you can comfortably pay them on time. Use a personal loan calculator to see how the rate and repayment term affect the monthly payment.
Compare interest costs
The loan with the lowest APR is the least expensive overall. You can use APR to compare emergency loans with other financing options. A loan with a long repayment term and low monthly payment may seem appealing, but it costs more in total interest. Look for an offer that balances affordable monthly payments with reasonable interest costs.
Check for fees
The most common fee to look for with a personal loan is an origination fee. This is often 1% to 10% of the loan amount, and it may be subtracted from the loan before you get the funds.
Ask about funding speed
If you need cash fast, consider a lender that offers fast funding. Some lenders can fund a loan the next day, while others could take up to a week after approval. Online lenders may disclose the timeline in an FAQ or blog section of their websites.
Compare emergency loans
Time to approve
Time to fund
Other loan types
As fast as 5 seconds.
Within a few minutes.
Same or next day.
$25-$500 or 1%-10%.
Same or next day.
Typically within a minute.
1 to 4 days.
Up to a few days.
Up to a few days.
1.85% - 9.99%.
How we chose the best emergency loans
We compared more than a dozen lenders to choose the best personal loans for emergencies. Among the factors we considered are:
Minimum credit score requirement.
Approval and funding time.
The ability to add a co-applicant or collateral.
Annual percentage rates.
How to get an emergency loan
Check your credit. Most lenders prioritize applicants’ credit scores in a lending decision, so check your credit report for any past-due accounts or errors, and correct them before submitting an application. You can view your report from all three credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Determine what you can afford. Review your monthly budget to determine how much you can afford to pay toward the loan each month. That way, when you’re comparing loan offers, you can choose a payment that fits your budget.
Pre-qualify and compare offers. Even if you’re in a hurry, it’s worth the extra time to find a good rate on a loan you’ll be repaying for a year or more. Most lenders let you pre-qualify online to preview the loan’s rate, amount and repayment term. Pre-qualifying takes a few minutes and your credit score is never affected, no matter how many times you do it.
Gather documents and apply. Once you have a loan offer with affordable monthly payments, find the documents you need to apply for a personal loan. This can include W-2s, pay stubs, a government-issued ID and proof of address. You could get an instant approval decision, but it more commonly takes a day or two.
How to get an emergency loan with bad credit
A bad credit score (below 630) doesn’t automatically disqualify you from getting a loan, but many lenders weigh your credit score heavily on an application.
Here are a few tips to get an emergency loan with bad credit:
Add collateral: Some lenders offer secured personal loans and consider the item used as collateral (usually a bank account or vehicle) when assessing an application. Adding collateral can improve your chances of qualifying, but the lender can take the collateral if you miss too many payments.
Add up income streams: Your monthly income is another important factor on an application. Most lenders want to see that you have enough to cover regular expenses, make the new loan payment and have a little leftover. Many lenders consider things like Social Security, alimony or child support as part of your income.
Where to get an emergency loan
Online lenders usually let you check your rate before applying and offer a fast application process. But predatory lenders will try to exploit your emergency. Find a reputable lender that caps rates at 36% — the highest APR affordable loans can have, according to most consumer advocates — and review your credit and income to ensure you can repay the loan.
Many banks prefer borrowers with good or excellent credit (690 or higher), but there are some exceptions. Some large banks, like Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Bank of America and Truist, offer small loans that can cover emergencies. You must be an existing customer to get this type of loan, but the fees are much lower than what payday lenders charge.
Credit union members may have the most affordable emergency loan option. Federal credit unions cap personal loan APRs at 18% — lower than many online lenders. A credit union may consider an applicant’s membership history, in addition to their credit and income, to make a loan decision. Some credit unions offer payday alternative loans, which are small-dollar loans with low rates that are repaid over six months to a year.
Best uses for emergency loans
Though lenders may ask why you’re borrowing, there are few restrictions on how you can spend the funds from an unsecured loan. Examples of emergencies you can pay for with a personal loan include:
Medical or dental bills.
Bills after a loss of income.
Unexpected travel expenses.
Other types of emergency loans
High-interest loans, such as pawn, car title and payday loans, should be considered as a last resort after you’ve exhausted all other options. These emergency loans can be fast and easy to get, but they could do long-term financial damage.
No-credit-check installment loans: Some no-credit-check installment loans share similarities with payday and auto title loans. They’re available online and at storefronts. These lenders don’t review your credit score or history to determine whether you’re able to repay the loan and what a fair rate would be, which is why many no-credit-check lenders charge rates above 100%.
Repayment terms on these loans may be longer than you need or a lender may encourage you to refinance the loan multiple times, resulting in exorbitant interest costs over the lifetime of the loan.
Pawn loans: Pawn loans require you to hand over a valuable item to a pawnshop as collateral for a small loan. You have to repay the loan, with interest, or the pawnshop will keep your item. APRs can reach above 100% on this type of loan.
If repayment takes too big a bite out of your bank account, you could end up borrowing from the pawnshop again.
Car title loans: With car title loans, a lender assesses the value of your vehicle and lends you a percentage of that amount. If you accept, the lender holds the car title and you receive your loan. The lender doesn’t usually review your ability to repay the loan and can charge APRs of 300%.
If you can’t repay the loan, the lender will take your car.
Payday loans: Payday loans are high-cost, short-term loans that are risky — even in an emergency. Payday lenders’ fees can equate to APRs of 400%, they don’t check your credit score and may not confirm your ability to repay the loan.
Borrowers who aren’t prepared to repay the loan on their next payday often borrow again, causing them to slip into a cycle of debt.
Emergency loan alternatives
Cheaper alternatives to borrowing aren't always fast or convenient, and sometimes they require asking for help. But NerdWallet strongly recommends exhausting alternatives first, even in an emergency.
Here are some possible alternatives to an emergency loan:
Get help from local nonprofits, charities and religious organizations.
Explore ways to pay off medical bills, like a payment plan or income-driven hardship plan.
Use a “buy now, pay later” app to split a purchase into smaller, often biweekly payments.
Steps to build an emergency fund
Though it won’t get you through today's emergency, starting an emergency fund can help you avoid borrowing in the future. Here are a few steps to build an emergency fund.
Decide how much you need. Most financial experts recommend saving three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Use an emergency fund calculator to determine how much you’d need to live comfortably without working for a few months.
Start small. Three to six months’ worth of expenses can seem ambitious if you’re starting from zero. It may be easier to begin with a goal of $500, which can cover smaller emergencies, and work your way up. A smaller monthly savings goal can help you get there.
Automate your savings. Once you know how much to save from each paycheck, cut out the potential human error. Many banks allow you to set up recurring transfers from your checking to a savings account. If your employer offers direct deposit, have them deposit part of your paycheck into a second account.
Last updated on September 1, 2023
NerdWallet’s review process evaluates and rates personal loan products from more than 35 technology companies and financial institutions. We collect over 50 data points from each lender and cross-check company websites, earnings reports and other public documents to confirm product details. We may also go through a lender’s pre-qualification flow and follow up with company representatives. NerdWallet writers and editors conduct a full fact check and update annually, but also make updates throughout the year as necessary.
Our star ratings award points to lenders that offer consumer-friendly features, including: soft credit checks to pre-qualify, competitive interest rates and no fees, transparency of rates and terms, flexible payment options, fast funding times, accessible customer service, reporting of payments to credit bureaus and financial education. Our ratings award fewer points to lenders with practices that may make a loan difficult to repay on time, such as charging high annual percentage rates (above 36%), underwriting that does not adequately assess consumers’ ability to repay and lack of credit-building help. We also consider regulatory actions filed by agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We weigh these factors based on our assessment of which are the most important to consumers and how meaningfully they impact consumers’ experiences.
NerdWallet's Best Emergency Loans of September 2023
- OneMain Financial : Best for Secured emergency loans
- Universal Credit: Best for Bad-credit emergency loans
- Upstart: Best for Emergency loans for thin credit
- LendingPoint: Best for Flexible payments
- Best Egg: Best for Fair-credit emergency loan
- LightStream: Best for Excellent-credit emergency loans
- Oportun: Best for Small emergency loans
- U.S. Bank Personal Loan: Best for Good-credit emergency loan
- Rocket Loans: Best for Fast emergency loans
Frequently asked questions
- What can I use an emergency loan for?
You can use an emergency loan to pay for unexpected expenses if you don't have savings or don't want to max out a credit card. In a true emergency, they're a fast and convenient source of funding for borrowers who qualify.
- Can I get an emergency loan with low income?
It may be possible for borrowers with low income to qualify for a loan since some lenders care more that you have steady income versus a specific amount. Learn what it takes to get a loan with low income.
- How can I borrow emergency money?
You can get an emergency loan through a bank, online lender or credit union. Online lenders can fund loans quickly — sometimes the same or next day after you're approved — and many let you check your rate before you apply. It usually takes a few minutes to apply for a loan if you have all the required documents ready. It's best to compare emergency loans with alternatives to find the cheapest way to borrow money.