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How settlement loans work

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With so many fees, you might want to leave this financial relief as a last resort.

When your lawsuit finally reaches settlement, it can be a gratifying end to lengthy litigation. But all too often, coming to an agreement simply marks the beginning of the settlement process. Getting your money can take weeks and sometimes months — a lot of time when you face mounting legal fees, medical bills and other personal costs.

If waiting just isn’t an option, you may be tempted by the immediate relief of a settlement loan. These loans are designed to help you stay afloat while waiting for your money. But they’re expensive, leaving them best as a last resort.

What’s a settlement loan?

Despite its name, a settlement loan is not a loan but an advance on the settlement you’re expecting after a successful lawsuit. It’s a type of emergency funding designed to cover personal costs involved in the lawsuit such as:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost income
  • Vehicle replacement
  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Utility bills
  • Other living expenses

Settlement loans are also advertised as presettlement loans, lawsuit loans, lawsuit cash advances, litigation financing, lawsuit funding and settlement funding.

What types of providers offer settlement loans?

The most common place to find a settlement loan is through a lawsuit funding or lawsuit loan company in your state or online. You’ll find other types of companies offering advances requiring the defendant to pay the plaintiff in installments, rather than a lump sum.

If you’re considering a settlement loan, talk with your attorneys first. They might be able to point you to a legitimate settlement loan provider — or advise you against taking one.

How do presettlement loans work?

These loans provide you with a cash advance on a future legal settlement. You can apply for a settlement loan during the presettlement period of a civil case — or after you’ve filed the complaint, but before you learn about your settlement or a verdict. Presettlement can take months or even years, depending on the complexity of your case.

Most lawsuit settlement loans follow five general steps:

  1. The plaintiff in a civil case and their lawyer contact a lawsuit loan company.
  2. The lawyer and the company calculate an estimate of how much the plaintiff is likely to win in their suit. If a win doesn’t sound likely, the company will decline providing an advance.
  3. The lawyer and the company negotiate the amount, term, interest and fees for the advance. Advances often reflect your expected settlement minus your legal fees.
  4. The plaintiff signs the contract and receives the advance.
  5. The plaintiff doesn’t repay the advance until after winning the settlement.

Is my claim eligible?

Common legal claims are eligible for a settlement loan, including:

  • Personal injury
  • Workers’ compensation
  • General negligence
  • Product liability
  • Premises liability
  • Civil rights
  • Wrongful death
  • Medical malpractice

How much does a settlement loan cost?

In short, settlement loans are expensive. Most lawsuit loan companies charge interest and a funding fee that adds up while you’re waiting for your case to settle. Others charge a monthly “funding fee” equal to about 2% to 4% of your loan amount. When you finally repay your advance, you could be looking at an APR of 30% to 120%.

Because you aren’t repaying the actual advance amount while interest and fees add up, settlement loans can be more expensive than your typical personal loan with a similar APR.

You may find a structured settlement company that charges a fixed fee when you receive your settlement, known as a discount rate. Discount rates can run 9% and 15%, though some companies charge more.

Do I have to pay if I lose my case?

Most often you won’t repay your settlement loan if you don’t win your case. It’s what contributes to the high cost of settlement loans: They’re highly risky for the lender.

However, approval for a settlement loan isn’t likely unless the company is convinced your case will win.

Benefits of a settlement loan

  • Helps cover personal expenses. Settlement loans are designed to help you pay for personal expenses related to the situation or issue you went to court over.
  • Buys time to negotiate. If you’re short on cash, a settlement loan can help you afford extra time for your attorney to negotiate a fair deal with the defendant.
  • Helps cover the cost of a trial. If your lawyer isn’t able to negotiate a fair settlement, a settlement loan can help you afford court costs you’ll end up with.
  • You don’t pay if you lose. You typically won’t repay your advance — including interest and fees — if you lose your case.

What to look out for

  • They’re expensive. Offering rates that rival payday loans, lawsuit loans are generally best left for emergency situations.
  • Little state and federal regulation. Settlement funding is a relatively new service, and lenders don’t face as many restrictions as payday or personal loan providers.
  • Shady lenders. With so little regulation, hidden fees and unclear terms, you’ll want to carefully choose a legitimate lender when considering a settlement loan.
  • Your case may not qualify. To be eligible, your settlement loan company must think you have a good chance of winning your case. Some companies refuse to work with any case it thinks will last more than a few years.

5 tips to finding a legitimate settlement loan provider

  1. Read customer reviews. They won’t always give you the full scope of what your experience could be like, but reviews are a good place to spot red flags like hidden fees or unclear terms.
  2. Look for accreditations. Trade industries set standards that protect both lenders and consumers. While it’s not as effective as government regulation, businesses accredited with organizations like the Better Business Bureau are theoretically held to some standards of business practices.
  3. Ask about rates and fees. Try to avoid any company that’s unwilling to discuss your potential rates and terms after learning about your case. If the company charges an application fee, ask if they’re willing to waive it.
  4. Get your lawyer involved. Your attorney may be able to guide you toward a legit lawsuit loan. Many lawyers have worked with settlement loan companies before, providing a better idea of providers on the up and up.
  5. Watch out for conflicts of interest. Confirm that your lawyer doesn’t have a financial relationship with any lender they recommend before agreeing to continue.

Alternatives to settlement loans

If you’re still earning money or aren’t totally dependent on the legal settlement, consider alternatives to expensive settlement loans:

  • Personal loans. In most states, the highest APR a lender can charge is 36% — around where settlement loans start. Loan amounts can range from $2,000 to $50,000, and borrowers typically have from two to five years to pay it off.
  • Personal line of credit. Lines of credit are a solid option if you have ongoing expenses that aren’t easy to predict. You get access to a credit limit to draw from whenever you need it, repaying what you borrow plus interest and fees. Rates are typically lower than a credit card.
  • Crowdfunding. If you have a sympathetic case and a healthy social media presence, a crowdfunding platform may be a way to raise funds for your legal defense, medical bills and more. Most platforms take a percentage of the money you raise as a fee.
  • Friends and family. It’s not always easy to ask for help, but you may be surprised by how much your loved ones want to help. You can even use a service like Loanable, which draws up legally binding contracts with more favorable rates than you might find with a lender.

Riskier options include borrowing against your house with a home equity loan or drawing from your retirement savings with a 401(k) loan. If you’re not able to repay what you borrow, you could lose your home or savings.

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Rates last updated October 22nd, 2018

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Bottom line

Presettlement loans can help when you’re struggling to pay your bills while waiting for a legal settlement to come through. But they’re expensive, and they’re not yet as heavily regulated as payday and other loans, which means you’ll need to carefully research the lender you ultimately go with.

Learn more about potential borrowing options and compare lenders in our guide to personal loans.

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Anna Serio

Anna Serio is a staff writer untangling everything you need to know about personal loans, including student, car and business loans. She spent five years living in Beirut, where she was a news editor for The Daily Star and hung out with a lot of cats. She loves to eat, travel and save money.

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