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4 types of emergency loans

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If you don’t have enough cash on hand or in your rainy day fund to cover an emergency expense, using an emergency loan can be a good option. Most types of emergency loans can provide you with quick access to cash. Plus, some have flexible repayment terms that allow you to make lower monthly payments.

However, all emergency loans aren’t created equal. For instance, while some come with lower interest rates for well-qualified applicants, others come with interest rates as high as 400 percent. Before you decide, learn how these four common emergency loans work and consider alternatives.

4 types of emergency loans

1. Personal loans

Personal loans are offered by lenders such as banks, credit unions and online financial institutions. With a personal loan, you receive funds as a lump sum that you repay in monthly installments. In addition to repaying the principal amount that you borrowed, you pay interest and fees.

One benefit of a personal loan is that it lets you repay a large sum over a longer period of time. Repayment terms vary by lender but can typically be as short as one year or as long as seven years for qualified borrowers.

Another key benefit is that you can receive quick funding — some lenders can issue your loan funds as soon as one business day.

However, a major downside is that if you have a less-than-stellar credit score, you may have to pay a high annual percentage rate (interest plus fees). Some lenders have maximum APRs that are greater than 30 percent.

Who this is best for: Borrowers who are looking for lower interest rates than credit cards and high borrowing limits that don’t require collateral.

Pros  Cons
  • Quick access to cash
  • Interest
  • Typically doesn’t require collateral
  • Fees
  • Some lenders have flexible repayment terms
  • You may have trouble qualifying for a personal loan if you have bad credit

2. Credit card cash advances

Credit cards, when used responsibly, can be useful tools in the event of an emergency. Many credit cards offer a cash advance feature that lets you access cash conveniently from an ATM or bank branch. How much cash you can borrow is limited by either a percentage of your card’s limit or a set maximum amount.

Credit card cash advances have higher interest rates than your card’s variable APR. Since the cash advance is tied to your existing card’s credit limit, it doesn’t require an additional credit check.

Who this is best for: Cardholders who already have active credit cards in good standing and need to borrow small amounts. It might also be an option for existing cardholders whose credit score might not qualify them for a new line of credit.

Pros Cons
  • Same-day funding
  • High interest rate

3. Payday loans

Payday loans are a type of instant loan that lets you borrow a small amount (usually a few hundred dollars). The repayment term for these types of emergency loans is extremely short, often within two weeks or by your next pay period.

This kind of emergency loan is generally considered predatory because it charges exorbitant interest rates. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, payday loans typically charge interest as high as 400 percent.

Who this is best for: Borrowers who need small amounts of money and can repay the loan in full within a short period. Whenever possible, payday loans should be avoided; instead, consider emergency loan alternatives.

Pros Cons
  • Easy to qualify for since most lenders don’t require a credit check 
  • Sky-high interest rate
  • Fast funding
  • Short repayment period


4. Title loans

Another kind of emergency loan is a title loan. These are secured loans that use your vehicle title as collateral (hence the name). If you’re unable to repay the loan by the end of the loan term — typically 30 days — the lender can repossess your car to settle the outstanding debt.

In addition to using your car to secure the short-term loan, title loans have high interest rates similar to payday loan rates. According to the Federal Trade Commission, title loans charge rates as high as 300 percent.

Who this is best for: Consumers who want to borrow small amounts and can repay their loans within a month. A title loan might be an option for borrowers who can’t access other types of emergency loans, but it should be considered a last resort.

Pros Cons
  • Quick access to cash
  • High interest rates
  • Some lenders don’t require a credit check
  • A lender can repossess your vehicle if you default on the loan


Which emergency loan should you get?

Among the four kinds of emergency loans discussed above, personal loans offer the lowest out-of-pocket cost to borrow.

Although the interest rate you’re approved for depends on your credit history, personal loan interest rates are still incredibly lower than payday or title loans. Personal loan rates currently range from three percent to 36 percent; the average rate is 10.46 percent, as of September 8th, 2021.

If an unsecured personal loan isn’t a viable option, consider turning to emergency loan alternatives.

Alternatives to emergency loans

1. Home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC)

If you’ve built up enough equity in your home, you might be eligible for a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). Based on your home’s appraised value and how much you have left on your first mortgage, you may be able to borrow thousands of dollars.

A home equity loan is an installment loan that offers lump-sum funding, a fixed interest rate and repayment terms of up to 30 years. A HELOC is a revolving line of credit that you can draw funds from for a fixed time, such as 10 years, with a repayment period of up to 20 years afterward.

Both types of loans use your home as collateral, which puts it at risk of foreclosure if you can’t repay the loan.

Who this is best for: Homeowners who need large loans for necessary expenses such as home renovations or repairs or education costs.

Pros Cons
  • Average home equity loan rates are typically lower than average personal loan and credit card rates
  • Requires a certain amount of equity in your home
  • Flexible repayment terms
  • Lender can take your home if you default on the loan


2. Payment plans

If your urgent need for a loan is the result of an unexpected bill, a payment plan is an alternative to an emergency loan. For example, let’s say you have a large medical bill that you can’t pay outright. You might be able to negotiate a manageable payment plan with your provider’s billing or accounting department.

Who this is best for: Individuals who can pay for large expenses with lower monthly payments over longer repayment terms. This alternative is ideal because it avoids putting you further into debt.

Pros Cons
  • Some payments plans come with interest-free periods
  • You may be charged interest or a fee 

3. Paycheck advance

Some employers offer paycheck advances, also called payroll advances, through the company’s human resources department. A paycheck advance provides you with up-front funds from your future earnings. Depending on your employer’s payroll advance agreement and your state laws, the loan might be automatically deducted from your paychecks in installments.

If your employer offers this benefit, it might have limitations with regard to amounts and how often paycheck advances are allowed.

Who this is best for: Individuals who need small, short-term loans and work for employers that offer this loan option.

Pros Cons
  • Some employers offer interest-free paycheck advances
  • Not offered by all employers

4. Friend or family member

Borrowing money from a friend or family member can be a difficult decision. However, it’s an option that can be helpful to address unexpected bills. If you have a willing family member or friend who agrees to give you an emergency loan, sit down with them to get on the same page about repayment expectations.

Discuss whether they want to be paid in a lump sum or if installment payments are OK. If the latter, how long are they willing to give you to repay the entire loan, and how much do they expect for each installment? It’s also wise to ask if they expect interest on top of the principal amount.

Who this is best for: Those with strong relationships with family members or trusted friends who are willing to help.

Pros Cons
  • A family member may charge you little to no interest
  • Defaulting on the loan can ruin your relationship with the lender

Next steps

Taking on additional debt to pay for a sudden expense can be a tricky situation to navigate if you’re unable to repay the emergency loan. Before considering which kinds of emergency loans make sense for you, consider if there’s a way to save for the expense as a first option.

If saving up isn’t possible, shop around to find an emergency loan with the lowest interest rate and borrow only what you need.

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Written by
Jennifer Calonia
Contributing writer
Jennifer Calonia is an L.A.-based writer and editor. She's covered topics like debt, saving money and credit cards. You can find her work on Business Insider, Forbes and more.
Edited by
Loans Editor