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Cash advance apps to cover you until your next payday
Are these free, no-credit-check advances too good to be true?
Cash advance apps, also known as pay advance apps or paycheck advance apps, are financial services apps that offer small, interest-free advances on your next paycheck.
These small amounts of extra cash are designed to help users avoid overdraft fees. In addition to advances, these apps typically offer a range of services designed to help improve the user’s financial health.
But many apps require users to pay a monthly membership fee to qualify for an advance. This makes cash advance apps best for those who regularly overdraft their bank accounts — due to a misalignment between their pay schedule and monthly bills, for example. You also run the risk of overdrafting your account if you don’t have enough funds to cover your repayment when your paycheck comes through.
How cash advance apps work
Cash advance apps, also known as payday advance apps, work by connecting to your bank account, analyzing your history of direct deposits and advancing a portion of your next paycheck upon request. When your next payday rolls around, the app automatically debits the advance from your account.
Some apps like the Brigit app also allow you to sign up for automatic advances if your bank account balance is too low to cover regularly recurring bills, as a form of overdraft protection. But typically you need to request an advance to receive one. The best pay advance apps offer quick delivery and low fees.
While a few offer as much as 50% or even 100% of your paycheck, most only advance up to $250 per pay period. Apps like Earnin and the Branch app are outliners that offer advances up to $500 per pay period — but you can only borrow as much as around $100 at a time.
Even with an app like Earnin, most users won’t qualify for the maximum advance right away. Your advance amount typically depends on the following factors:
- How frequently you receive direct deposits into your checking account
- Recurring expenses billed to your bank account
- History of use with the app
Advance amounts for new users often start at around $50, though apps like MoneyLion Instacash offer advances starting as low as $25.
Interest rates and fees
Unlike personal loans, paycheck advance apps don’t charge interest. And unlike payday loans, there is typically no fee directly connected with the advance.
But that doesn’t mean these advances are free. While there are no hidden fees per se, some users might be surprised by some of the costs.
Monthly membership fee
Most often, apps require users to sign up for a paid membership in order to qualify for an advance.
- Monthly subscription fees as low as $1 per month are available through apps like Dave.
- More typically, you’ll pay around $9.99 per month with apps like Brigit and the B9 app.
- MoneyLion Instacash charges as much as $19.99 per month — though it also offers more funding in the form of credit-builder loans as high as $1,000.
- Being a subscriber usually comes with a variety of personal finance support in addition to paycheck advances — such as credit monitoring.
For example, Dave, Brigit and MoneyLion also offer budgeting tools and credit builder features. The Dave app even offers bank accounts without overdraft fees, ATM fees or minimum balance fees.
Apps like Earnin that don’t require a paid membership typically ask for an optional tip — usually up to $14. While these apps claim that tips aren’t required, that may not have always been the case.
In 2019, Earnin faced a lawsuit where a user claimed their advance amounts were tied to the amount they tipped. According to the lawsuit, a $14 tip on a $100 Earnin advance would cost as much as a payday loan with a 700% APR.
The user eventually dropped the lawsuit after Earnin entered another class action settlement. This lawsuit came from a group of users who sued the company over overdraft fees they were charged when the app deducted repayment from an account with insufficient funds.
Instant delivery fee
While many apps offer same-day funding, many charge a small fee for this service. Otherwise, it can take up to three business days to get your advance.
Apps that charge a range of fees typically vary depending on the advance amount, charging higher fees for larger advances. Here are a few examples of same-day funding fees you can expect from a cash advance app.
- B9 charges a $4.99 express delivery fee for instant funding.
- Branch charges between $2.99 and $4.99 for an instant deposit.
- Dave charges an express fee of $1.00 to $5.99.
- Earnin charges a lightning speed fee of $1.99 to 3.99.
Apps like Vola Finance offer instant cash advances if you sign up for the Vola Card. The Vola Card falls somewhere between a credit card and a prepaid debit card, in that you can spend the funds as needed but are required to pay it off in full at your due date.
In many cases, paycheck advance apps offer a lot more than cash advances. Many offer the following features:
- Credit builder tools to improve your credit score and credit history
- Credit score tracking
- Insurance against identity theft
- Tools to track your spending and savings habits
- Budgeting tools
- Tools to help you find a side hustle
- Checking accounts and savings accounts with an APY — usually with no overdraft fees
The main eligibility requirement for a cash advance app is to have regular income that you receive through direct deposit to a checking account. It doesn’t necessarily need to come from the same employer — or an employer at all — as long as the money comes through regularly.
For example, Vola Finance requires you to have an average account balance of at least $150, while Brigit only requires you to have an average bank account balance greater than $0.
Some providers like Chime only allow you to qualify for SpotMe, its overdraft protection service, if you have a Chime account.
There’s no credit check, no interest and no fee directly related to the advance. So you can typically qualify even if you have bad credit.
However, many apps require you to regularly use the app. In many cases, users aren’t eligible for the full advance amount until after they’ve established a positive history as an app user.
Cash advance apps can improve your credit score
Paycheck advances themselves may or may not have an impact on your credit score. But using your cash advance app can help improve your credit rating nonetheless. That’s because almost all paycheck advance apps offer credit-builder features.
For example, Brigit and MoneyLion offer credit-builder installment loans in addition to cash advances. The funds are deposited into a savings account.
Typically, you can only access these funds after you’ve paid off the loan, though MoneyLion allows access to a portion of the funds upfront. It reports each payment to the three major credit bureaus to build your credit history.
Dave, on the other hand, reports your repayments on your paycheck advance to the three major credit bureaus. This means that if you miss a payment, it could hurt your credit score.
The credit builder tool typically reports more data to credit bureaus than they would normally receive.
Cash advance apps vs. personal loans
There are several differences between cash advance apps and personal loans:
- Cash advance apps offer much smaller funding amounts than personal loans, which typically start at around $2,000 and can reach $50,000 or more.
- Cash advance apps only charge optional tips or monthly subscription fees. Personal loans come with an interest rate — often in addition to origination fees and late fees.
- Cash advance apps require full repayment over a very short period of time — no more than a month. Most personal loan providers give you three to five years to pay down your debt.
- Cash advance apps offer funding that’s easier to qualify for than a personal loan. To get a personal loan, you typically need a good credit score of at least 670 and at least $23,000 in annual income.
If you have bad credit — a score below 580 — you likely won’t be able to qualify for a personal loan. Even with fair credit, you may only be able to qualify for high-interest options.
If you just need a little extra money to get you to the next payday, a paycheck advance app is the better choice. But for larger expenses or consolidating credit card debt, a personal loan is the way to go.
Cash advance apps vs. payday loans
While cash advance apps are more similar to payday loans than personal loans, there are some key differences between the two:
- Cash advance apps only charge an optional tip or monthly fee whereas payday loans come with a fee of at least $10 to $15 per $100 borrowed.
- Cash advance apps can help build credit while payday lenders only report missed payments to credit bureaus.
- Cash advance apps typically don’t have minimums for how much you can borrow. While some payday lenders offer loans as low as $50 most require you to borrow at least $100.
- Payday lenders also offer slightly larger advances than cash advance apps — reaching $500 in most states. Many cash advance apps only offer up to $250.
- Payday loans are available the same day if you apply at a store location. Cash advance apps may require you to use the app for a few months before you can qualify for an advance.
Payday loans are built for emergency expenses, but many Americans use them for recurring expenses, which can trap them in a cycle of debt.
Paycheck advance apps are designed to better meet this need, but they’re also very new. While cash advance apps appear to be a less-expensive option than payday loans, we also don’t have a lot of data on how they affect consumers.
Employer-based cash advance apps
Some companies like Walmart and Comcast have started partnering with paycheck advance apps to offer both wage advances and installment loans specifically to employees. Many of these apps, such as dailypay and payactiv, are only available through employers.
These work similarly to pay advance apps for everyone, but your employer advances the money instead and deducts repayments from your future paychecks. Learn more with our guide to employer-based paycheck advances.
Alternatives to cash advance apps
Paycheck advance apps are only one option when you’re looking for cash fast. If you need to borrow more than these apps offer, you might want to look into these alternatives:
- Payday loans. Depending on what state you live in, you may be able to get a payday loan of between $100 and $500. However, these usually come with APRs in the triple digits and loan terms of just a month.
- Installment loans. Looking for larger loan amounts or longer terms? Installment loans have more flexibility than payday loans but often come with the same sky-high APRs.
- Payday alternative loans. Some federal credit unions offer payday alternative loans, which are short-term loans up to $1,000. Rates are capped at 28% APR, though you’ll have to be a member of the credit union to qualify.
- Auto title loans. Own your car? Auto title loans use your vehicle’s title as collateral, which means they’re often cheaper than payday loans. However, you risk losing your car to repossession if you default.
- Local programs and resources. Many local government agencies, nonprofits and charities offer free financial services and help with things like food or utilities for those in need. Check out our guide to local resources by state to find one near you.
Compare cash advance apps
Use our table to get a quick look at how cash advance apps stack up. Or, visit our guide to the best cash advance apps for more details on how these providers compare.
We update our data regularly, but information can change between updates. Confirm details with the provider you're interested in before making a decision.
If you need $100 or so to hold you over until your next paycheck, consider using a pay advance app. They usually don’t charge interest, so you’ll only be on the hook for a minimal membership fee or optional tip — if that. But you’ll need to be employed to qualify, and you’re limited to borrowing a percentage of the money you already earned.
Don’t have a regular source of income or need to borrow more? You might want to look into other payday loan alternatives instead.
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