This article was fact-checked and reviewed by Brad Stevens, a business loans consultant with an MBA in finance. Content has been updated for 2021.
What is a payday loan?
Payday loans are small loans, usually under $1,000, meant for emergencies. Unlike other loans, lenders don’t require you to have good credit — and many won’t check your credit score with the big three credit bureaus.
Since payday loans are repaid within a week to 31 days, they have a high annual percentage rate (APR). In many cases, your APR can be 300% or higher. But some of the best payday lenders have more reasonable fees.
The application can be done online from a mobile device or computer, although some lenders also allow you to apply over the phone or by visiting a store.
To repay your loan, you will either need to provide your lender with access to your bank account for an automatic transfer or sign a post-dated check.
Are payday loans legal?
It depends on where you live. Some states prohibit payday loans by enforcing a cap on interest rates. Other states restrict how much payday lenders can charge or impose other regulations to protect borrowers.
Unfortunately, many states allow payday lending without enforcing heavy regulations. This can put borrowers at a disadvantage and allows lenders to charge fees that lead to APRs of 700% or higher.
A loan connection service works to pair borrowers like you with a suitable lender. They don’t provide loans. Instead, they compare your application against a network of lenders and show you which best fit your needs and situation.
Most loan matching services don’t charge a fee for their services. Their money comes from generating leads or referring you to direct lenders, similar to a commission. Some also function as a lender subscription service.
A payday loan matching service is a solid solution if you’re short on time and need a little help with comparing your offers. By submitting just one application, you’re able to compare offers without the labor of finding a series of reputable lenders.
How much do payday loans cost?
Payday loans generally have fixed fee from $10 to $30 for every $100 borrowed. However, it varies based on your state laws and the amount you borrow.
On average, the APR works out to around 400%. Typical ranges are from about 390% to 780%. For credit cards and personal loans with standard banks, the APR is a lot lower. For example, the national average APR for credit cards is around 15%.
To give you an example of how APR works with short-term loans, take a $200 loan amount with a loan fee of $30. If you have a repayment term of 12 days, your APR would come out to 456.25%.
Your loan agreement should outline the total cost of your loan as well as any additional fees. If you don’t understand the costs, speak with a customer service representative before signing.
Like the application process, the specific requirements you need to meet will vary by lender. However, most lenders have similar criteria:
Open checking account
Employed or receiving regular benefits
Regular source of income
US citizen or permanent resident
At least 18 years old
And while payday loans are meant for bad credit, meeting these eligibility requirements doesn’t guarantee that you will be approved for a loan. If a lender offers guaranteed approval, you should steer clear — it’s likely a scam.
You may also be approved if you’re self employed. To increase your chances of approval, you’ll need to show evidence of a regular income, which you need to do by supplying bank statements. Some lenders won’t consider self-employed applicants regardless, but others will. You can check the eligibility criteria before you apply.
Most students don’t have steady enough income to get approved for a standard loan. Short-term loans, on the other hand allow students to access emergency funds they can repay when they get income from other sources.
Most lenders require students to provide their identification details and show they can repay their loans by providing 90 days worth of bank statements. The online application and approval process removes the need for any paperwork or face-to-face meetings, allowing you to possibly get your money faster.
Remember that you may be required to pay for the loan in less than a month depending on the terms of your particular loan, and that the interest rates are a lot higher than what you’d normally find in a personal loan.
Instant options available, even on the weekend
A lender may be able to fund your loan as soon as you’re approved if you visit a store — potentially even on a Sunday, depending on the lender’s hours. Some online providers and lenders that offer debit cards may also be able to fund your short-term loan instantly.
You may face higher fees if you go for an instant option. Depending on your state, there may be limits to these charges — check your local APR regulations before you apply.
Common payday loan fees
These are the most common fees when you borrow a payday loan — but the exact fees will depend on your lender and your state.
Financing fee. The amount you pay to borrow a loan.
Rollover fees. An additional fee if you choose to pay off your payday loan with a new loan.
Late payment fees. A fee charged if you are unable to make a payment.
Returned check or nonsufficient funds (NSF) fees. A fee if your check doesn’t clear or a lender is unable to withdraw your payment from your bank account.
Will I have to pay interest?
Not usually. Payday loans have a high APR, but it isn’t because of a high interest rate. APR is an expression of the loan’s total cost as a percentage, which includes both interest and fees.
Since payday loans have such short terms — sometimes as little as seven days — there’s not enough time for interest to add up to a profit. When it comes to payday loans, a high APR is a reflection of the loan’s high fees, not its high interest rate.
Where payday loans fall short
Payday loans have some of the shortest terms and highest fees, which make them one of the most expensive forms of credit.
Smaller loan amounts. How much you can borrow depends on the state you’re in, but most lenders offer loans between $100 to $1,000.
High fees. Payday loans have much higher APRs than other forms of credit. Most states regulate how much a lender can charge, but this may still result in an APR over 300% — and sometimes over 1,000%.
Short loan terms. Because payday loans are designed to be short-term solutions, you generally won’t find a loan that extends beyond six months, although terms differ by state.
Payday alternative loans (PAL). You’ll need to open an account, but you can borrow up to $1,000 from a federal credit union.
Lending circles. You can take part in a rotating savings club to get a hand up and help someone else out when you’re able.
More short-term loan options
In addition to payday loans, many lenders offer installment loans. These allow you to borrow a larger amount — usually between $1,000 to $5,000 — for up to 18 months. But because you have more time to pay, there’s also more time for interest and fees to add up.
And while they can be expensive, pawn loans let you put up valuables you may have around the house as collateral. But you won’t have access to what you use again until after you pay back the loan in full — plus any fees.
Frequently asked questions
Answers to common questions about payday lending.
Will borrowing a payday loan impact my credit? Most payday lenders won’t send your information to the main credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. However, they may send information on your loans and repayments to smaller credit reporting agencies, like Teletrack or LexisNexis.
The main danger to your credit score is payments. If you’re late on or miss repayments, your credit score could be negatively affected.
Your lender may also choose to take legal action to bring in unpaid loans or pass your loan on to a debt collection agency, which will affect your credit score.
What happens if I can’t repay my loan? Like most things about payday loans, it ultimately depends on your state laws. If you default, your lender will likely turn your debt over to a collection agency.
While you can’t face criminal charges for defaulting on a payday loan, your lender can sue to cover what you owe. A lender or debt collector can only garnish your wages if it has obtained a court judgment.
How do I know the lender I’m applying with is safe? Check the lender’s state licenses, online reviews and contact information. If you can easily find out how to get in touch with a representative and find its license to operate in your state, then your lender will likely be legitimate.
However, it still pays to be careful. Some scams have been known to adopt the logo and website design of popular lenders.
Always confirm that the lender you choose is the real thing before submitting any personal information online or over the phone. And read more about payday loan scams with our guide.
What is an ACH authorization? An ACH authorization gives permission to withdraw money from your checking or savings account. Unless you can make payments by check, you will need to sign an ACH authorization.
Before you do, make sure you know how much will be debited and on what dates — and how to revoke the authorization.
Kellye Guinan is a seasoned financial writer with over 500 articles under her belt spanning all things loans from auto to personal to business and everything in between. With four years in the field and five years of research experience, she's able to make complex personal finance decisions easier for anyone to tackle. When she's not up to her knees learning about the latest trends in lending, she spends her time improving her own financial literacy and expertise — and maintaining a Duolingo streak of over 1,300 days.
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