You’ll generally pay between 115 and 650 percent (or more) in interest, depending on your state of residence. Furthermore, the likelihood of default on payday loans is rather high, and you could be better off using an alternative funding source to get over a financial hump.

What is a payday loan?

Payday loans are unsecured personal loans that you usually must repay by your next payday (or within two weeks) and generally total $500 or less. Because these loans are often a last-ditch option for borrowers with poor credit, payday loans tend to carry significantly higher interest rates than traditional personal loans and can come with a plethora of hidden fees. Because of this, payday loans are often criticized for being predatory, particularly for borrowers with bad credit.

“The best way to identify a payday loan is any time you borrow money and you pay back the entire amount at once, normally your payday,” says Jeff Zhou, co-founder and CEO at Fig Tech, which offers payday alternative loans. Additionally, most payday lenders don’t run a credit check; if the lender isn’t interested in your credit history, this could be a sign that you’re dealing with a payday lender.

How payday loans work

Payday loans can typically be obtained at a brick-and-mortar location or by applying online. They’re regulated at both the federal and state level. However, many states have laws that limit the fees or interest rates payday lenders can charge, and others have banned payday loans entirely.

Credit checks

To determine your rate and terms, the payday lender may request a hard credit check to view your credit score, although this is less common with a payday loan. The lender will also generally require proof of income and your pay date.

However, your credit score isn’t as large of a factor with payday loans because the lender has the authority to take its payment from your bank account when you get your next paycheck. That’s how payday lenders minimize their risk. They also can base the principal amount of your loan on a percentage of your predicted income.


You can repay a payday loan in a few ways. You might give the lender a postdated check that it can deposit on your next payday. Alternatively, you can authorize the lender to take the funds from your bank account once you’re paid by your employer or receive benefits such as Social Security income or a pension.

Fees and other costs

Payday lenders don’t typically charge a traditional interest rate on their loans. Instead, they calculate fees to borrow and add them to the balance you have to repay. To illustrate, assume a payday lender charges $10 for every $100 borrowed. That means you would owe $50 in fees for a $500 loan, and the $550 would be due on your next payday.

If you can’t afford the payment when your next payday comes around, that’s when a lender might offer you a “rollover.” A rollover allows you to just pay the initial borrowing fee until your next paycheck, but you’ll still be on the hook for the original loan balance plus the fee for the rollover amount. Since many payday borrowers end up rolling their balances over because they cannot cover the full amount when it’s due, these fees can rapidly pile up. This makes it difficult to get out of the payday loan debt cycle.

Payday loans vs. personal loans

A payday loan and a personal loan have some similarities. Both are unsecured loans, which means that, unlike a mortgage or auto loan, they are not backed by collateral. However, you’ll want to be aware of a few important differences.

Borrowing terms

Personal loans typically have terms of at least a year and up to several years. A payday loan has a shorter term. It’s common for payday loans to need to be repaid in a matter of weeks. Usually, the full payment — interest and fees included — will be due on your next payday.


A payday loan is typically for a smaller amount — usually under $500. Personal loan borrowers typically seek much more cash. As of the fourth quarter of 2022, the average balance for a new personal loan was $8,018.


Personal loans are typically paid online monthly via direct deposit from a bank account. With a payday loan, if your check bounces or you can’t pay the full balance on the required payday, you may have to roll the loan over to the next payday, accruing more fees.


There are many types of personal loans, but most will have much lower interest rates than payday loans. Your interest rate will depend on the lender, the amount you borrow and your credit score.

Payday loans when you have bad credit

Many payday lenders do not rely on a credit check at all. They understand that most borrowers looking for payday loans typically do not have the best credit. Instead, lenders make up for the increased credit risk by charging higher interest rates and more fees.

A payday loan won’t negatively affect your credit if your payday lender doesn’t require a hard credit check and you can pay back the full amount by the required date. If your lender does require a hard credit check, you may notice that your credit score drops a few points.

However, if your check bounces or you can’t pay the full balance on the required payday, the amount could be sent to a collection agency, which negatively impacts your credit.

Risks of a payday loan

Although payday loans are convenient for fast cash, they aren’t without risks.

Steep borrowing costs

Due to the high interest rates and hidden fees, payday loans can potentially derail your financial health and credit score. “Payday loans charge a high interest rate, but the biggest risk of payday loans is the fine print,” Zhou says.

The fine print can include change fees, mandatory subscription charges or early repayment fees, which can quickly add up. To illustrate, the average consumer pays $520 in fees on a two-week payday loan for $375.

Risk of default

“The biggest danger of payday loans is when they turn from a short-term stopgap into a long-term drain on your finances,”  Zhou says. Unfortunately, only 14 percent of payday loan borrowers can’t afford to pay the loan back.

Excessive rollover fees

If you don’t have a plan to pay your payday loan off in full on the requested date, you’ll have to roll your loan over, meaning you’ll be responsible for the principal balance and additional fees and accrued interest. This is a vicious cycle that could land you in high-interest debt down the road.

Alternatives to payday loans

You might not be able to get a traditional bank loan to meet your quick-cash needs, but some of these methods to stretch your finances to the next payday might work better than a payday loan.

  • If you have a credit card that’s not maxed out, you could use it to charge your expenses. Not only will your interest rate likely be lower than that of a payday loan, but you’ll have 30 days to pay the credit card balance before it incurs interest. A credit card could be a cheaper option if you can pay back by your next payday.
  • Some online lenders, such as LendingClub, have loans for as low as $1,000. Avant requires a minimum credit score of 580 FICO with an estimated APR ranging from 9.95 percent to 35.99 percent — significantly lower than the estimated 400 percent you’d be facing on a payday loan. With many lenders, you can check your personal loan rates online without impacting your credit score. Once approved, it’s possible to have the money sent to you within one business day.
  • Credit unions offer payday alternative loans (PALs) that allow you to borrow between $200 and $1,000 for one to six months. The APR is capped at 28 percent.But you have to be a credit union member for at least a month to be eligible to apply for PALs, so they won’t be the best solution if you need money immediately.
  • Friends and family might not always be able to lend money, but sometimes they can help in ways that can lessen your expenses. For example, they can let you do your laundry at their place, saving your costs at the laundromat, or they can make dinner for you and give you leftovers that will last until payday.
  • You can do a few things to generate extra income quickly. One way to make extra cash is by selling some of your stuff that you can live without. Have clothes you can get rid of? Try selling them online or at local second-hand stores.You also can explore renting out a room on Airbnb, trading your unused gift cards for cash or cashing in any unused rewards points on your credit cards.
  • Check with your employer if you can get an advance on your paycheck to tide you over. Your HR or payroll department may be able to help you out.
  • If you owe money on certain bills, you should call each creditor to request an extension on your balance due date until you have the money to pay it back.\Many companies will agree to this leniency or find ways to allow you to make partial payments on your bills. It’s worth checking areas where you can lower or hold off on payments to get you through till payday.
  • You might be able to save up for any upcoming payments and eliminate other expenses in your budget by using emergency aid services in your community. Here are some ways:
    • Local food banks: Reduce or eliminate your grocery bill by accessing the resources of a food bank in your area while you wait for your next paycheck.
    • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): This is a program run by the federal government to help families meet their energy needs.
    • Local community service agency: Many communities have nonprofit organizations that help residents in times of need. For example, Community Services Agency in Mountain Park, California, offers help with rent, utilities and back-to-school expenses. Some local churches or other religious institutions offer similar services.
  • You could borrow money from a pawn shop by using one of your valuable items as security against your loan. The pawnbroker will hold the item and lend you an amount that typically is a portion of the resale value, often for a high fee. If you make payments on this loan, you’ll be able to redeem your item. If you stop making payments, the pawnbroker eventually will sell your item to recover its loss.But a pawn loan is an expensive way to borrow money, with some loans charging APRs upward of 200 percent, and the term length for many pawn loans is just 30 days. Pawnbrokers don’t report your payment history to consumer credit agencies. It won’t impact your credit if you don’t pay your loan off, but you’ll lose the pawned item

Frequently asked questions

  • Payday loans vary by lender and state. Most borrowers pay between $10 and $300 per $100 borrowed, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The average APR on payday loans by state range from 114 percent to 652 percent.
  • You’ll need to find a reputable lender that’s licensed to do business in your state. The application process with most lenders is relatively simple. You’ll generally need to provide a copy of your photo ID, proof of income and banking information.
  • Beyond interest, you could be assigned a late fee if you’re unable to pay the loan on time. Some states also permit rollovers, which lets you pay the fees and extend the date, but come at a cost. Or you can enter into a repayment plan (if allowed in your state) to – there’s also a fee for this arrangement.

The bottom line

Payday loans can be beneficial under the right circumstances. A payday loan could be a great option if you have a sound financial history but just need some extra cash to cover an expense. However, remember that payday loans come with risks, and if you’re not confident in your ability to repay your debt, a payday loan could ruin your credit score or even land you in court.

Before getting a payday loan, discuss your loan options with banks and credit unions and find the best rate available. The dangers of payday loans often outweigh the benefits, so make sure you know their terms before applying.