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Key takeaways

  • Loans for those with bad credit tend to have higher interest rates and fees than traditional loans.
  • Payday-alternative loans and credit card cash advances are emergency loan options available to most borrowers — even with imperfect credit.
  • Payday and title loans are another option, but these are much more likely to be predatory, charge sky-high interest rates and should be avoided whenever possible.

If something unexpected happens and you don’t have enough saved to cover the expense, you may need to borrow money. But if you have less-than-perfect credit, you’ll generally have to look beyond traditional personal loans to get the help you need.

Though bad credit loans are available, they come with higher interest rates and fees than other loans. Weigh each option’s pros and cons before applying to avoid any financial headaches down the line.

Types of emergency loans for bad credit

Emergency loans for bad credit usually come with higher-than-average interest rates and small limits. Short repayment terms are also quite common, though there are some exceptions.

Loan type Loan amount Repayment term APR Who it’s good for
Payday-alternative loan Up to $2,000 1-12 months Up to 28% Credit union members in a pinch, who need to borrow a small amount.
Credit card cash advance 20 to 30 percent of the available credit limit Until account is paid off Close to 30% Cardholders who need quick cash and can afford to pay off their balance quickly.
Payday loan Up to $500 15-30 days 390% and up Borrowers that don’t qualify for a loan anywhere else and are confident they can repay the loan quickly.
Title loan 25 to 50 percent of your vehicle’s value 2-4 weeks About 300% Borrowers who need the funds urgently and lack other options to borrow money.

1. Payday-alternative loan

Offered by select federal credit unions, payday alternative loans offer amounts of up to $2,000. These unsecured loans have repayment terms ranging from one to 12 months. Though they may be easier to get than a traditional personal loan, borrowers still need to pass a credit check for approval.

Because interest rate is based on your credit score, those with bad credit tend to get the highest rates. That said, these loans cap interest at 28 percent, which is lower than some credit cards and most other emergency loans. To apply, you have to be a member of a credit union offering this loan product.

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  • More competitive interest rates than payday loans.
  • Application fee cannot exceed $20.
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  • Credit union membership required.
  • Small loan amounts.

Who it’s good for

Credit union members with lower credit scores who need a small loan and can’t get approved elsewhere for a personal loan with competitive terms.

2. Credit card cash advance

Some credit cards have a cash advance feature that lets you pull funds from your credit line. You can visit an ATM or a bank branch to withdraw the funds you need up to the cash advance limit or the available credit on your card, depending on the card issuer’s guidelines.

Credit card issuers charge a transaction fee, usually between 3 and 5 percent, to use this feature. Plus, you’ll immediately accrue interest on the funds you borrow since there’s no grace period. Credit card cash advances tend to be limited to between 20 and 30 percent of your available credit limit.

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  • Immediate access to cash.
  • No application or credit check required.
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  • Cash advance fee.
  • Higher APR and no grace period.

Who it’s good for

Cardholders with available credit that need to access a small amount of cash and can afford to pay it back quickly.

3. Payday loan

Payday loans are short-term, unsecured loans that offer funding on the spot. Most are limited to $500 and due by your next payday, or within two weeks. You likely won’t need to undergo a credit check to get approved, making payday loans easily accessible to borrowers with bad credit.

That said, lenders charge hefty interest rates to take out a payday loan, and payment is often required by ACH withdrawal. Not having the funds available when the loan becomes due often results in fees from your financial institution. Though you may be able to get an extension on your due date if you live in a state that allows rollovers, this usually comes at a price that can keep you trapped in a vicious debt cycle.

Some states have completely banned payday loans. Others impose lending restrictions that outline limits on interest rates and fees.

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  • No credit check.
  • Funding as soon as a few hours.
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  • Triple-digit interest rates on some loans.
  • Steep fees for rollovers.
  • Usually doesn’t help build credit.

Who it’s good for

Consumers who’ve exhausted all other options and are confident they can repay the loan in full by the due date.

4. Title loan

Title loans are secured and require you to hand over the title to your vehicle as collateral in exchange for cash. Most lenders let you borrow between 25 percent and 50 percent of your car’s value.

Like payday loans, title loans should also be used as a last resort for several reasons. You risk losing your vehicle if you cannot keep up with the loan payments. These loans also come with high interest rates, and you could get a short repayment period that places a strain on your wallet if the monthly payment is steep.

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  • Funds available as soon as the same day.
  • Often accessible without a credit check.
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  • Risk of repossession.
  • High borrowing costs.
  • Doesn’t report to the credit bureaus.

Who it’s good for

Individuals who have no other alternatives to access the cash they urgently need.

Non-loan alternatives for bad credit

If you’d prefer not to use credit to cover a financial emergency, these non-loan alternatives could work:

  • Get help from a charity or local nonprofit: Call 211 to learn more about financial resources available in your local area or through your state.
  • Request a paycheck advance: If you’ve been at your job for a while, ask your employer for an advance on your next paycheck.
  • Ask a friend or relative for a loan: They may be willing to give you an interest-free loan but be sure to put the agreement in writing.
  • Make payment arrangements: If you need fast cash to cover monthly debt obligations, contact the lender or creditor and ask for an extension.
  • Borrow from your 401(k): Some 401(k) plans permit loans of up to $50,000 or 50 percent the vested balance — whichever is lower — and the interest you pay goes back into your account. Keep in mind that this route could impact your retirement savings as there is a large tax deduction when drawing from your 401(k).

How to avoid a bad credit loan scam

Financial emergencies can be stressful and overwhelming. Unfortunately, it’s common for scammers to prey on innocent consumers by offering illegitimate or predatory loan products that lead to even more financial distress. But you can avoid falling victim to these deceptive tactics by taking the time to consider your options carefully.

It’s equally important to research the lenders on your list thoroughly. Conduct an online search to learn more about their reputation, and check the Better Business Bureau’s website to view their status before applying.