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Alternatives to tax refund advances

Don't want to pay to have your taxes prepared? Miss the deadline? Consider one of these options instead.

While several tax preparation companies offer 0% APR advances on your refund, that doesn’t mean they’re free. You usually still have to pay to have your taxes prepared, which can be upwards of $250 depending on how complex they are. And most have deadlines some time in February. If you missed the cutoff date, your refund is on the smaller side or you just don’t want to pay to have your taxes prepared, consider these alternatives instead.

Personal loans

Personal loans are a good choice if you have one or two large expenses you want to pay for but your tax refund won’t cover it. Rates are typically low for borrowers with good to excellent credit, and you can find amounts up to $100,000.

Best overall: SoFi

SoFi is our top pick because of its competitive rates and large maximum loan amount — with no fees. It also gives its borrowers access to perks such as networking events and financial advisors. However, you’ll need to borrow at least $5,000. And you may be able to find lower rates elsewhere if you have excellent credit.

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Best for good credit: Earnest

Earnest’s rates max out where some lenders start. It also doesn’t charge any origination or late fees, meaning you won’t be on the hook for extra costs after you take out your loan. But you’ll want to go with another lender if you need funding fast — it can take up to 10 business days to hear back about approval.

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Best for fair credit: Alliant Credit Union

Alliant offers large personal loans at extremely competitive rates, especially if you have fair credit. While you’ll need to become a member of the credit union to borrow, there are no fees. And to sweeten the deal, Alliant also has a debt protection plan in case of unemployment, disability or death.

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Pay advance apps

Pay advance apps are ideal if you frequently find yourself short on cash between paychecks. They’re a low-cost way to get an advance on the hours you’ve already worked, and many can transfer funds into your bank account the same day you apply. Most of these apps also don’t take your credit score into consideration, meaning they can be a good option if you’ve struggled to stay on top of your bills in the past.

Best for fee-free advances: Earnin

You can choose to leave a tip on an Earnin advance — but it isn’t required — and there are no membership or advance fees. You may be able to get up to $500 per pay period advanced to you, which makes Earnin a good alternative if you have regular bills that fall on weeks you don’t get a paycheck.

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Best for fast cash: Branch

With Branch, you can pick between a free advance that takes three days to hit your account or an instant advance for $3.99. You’ll also get access to a suite of financial wellness tools you won’t get from a tax preparation service. But there’s a waitlist if your employer doesn’t already have an account set up with Branch.

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Best for improving your finances: MoneyLion

There are no fees to open a MoneyLion checking account and no fees to borrow an Instacash advance. But that’s not all this app has to offer. Signing up with MoneyLion also unlocks free credit monitoring with weekly score updates, rewards for healthy financial behavior and access to a personalized investment portfolio. However, it isn’t the best option if you need cash right away. You’ll have to wait two pay periods to be eligible for an advance after opening your account.

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Installment loans

Installment loans can be helpful if you aren’t able to get an advance on your tax refund and need money fast. Most lenders are willing to work with borrowers of all credit types, and many offer next-day funding. Just watch out for high rates and fees that can lead to APRs in the triple digits.

Best for flexible repayments: OppLoans

OppLoans is one of the less-expensive options despite its APR maxing out at 199%. It allows you to pay directly from your bank account or debit card — most lenders only do direct deposit. And since OppLoans reports your credit to the three major credit bureaus, you may be able to improve your credit by making on-time repayments.

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Best for building credit: NetCredit

NetCredit offers loans up to $10,000. While its APRs are capped at a high 155%, it’s relatively lower than where other short-term lenders max out. You’ll also have the chance to build your credit since it reports payment activity to TransUnion and Experian.

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Best for borrowing large amounts: HonestLoans

The lenders in HonestLoans’ network offer loans up to $50,000. Since it’s a connection service, you can compare rates and terms from several lenders by filling out just one online form to help you find the best deal available to you. But while its minimum income requirement is relatively low, just keep in mind you’ll need a higher income to qualify for larger amounts.

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Payday loans

If you only need a small amount and don’t have the money to professionally file your taxes, a payday lender can help you get up to $500 quickly. But these loans are expensive — so consider a pay advance first.

Best for same-day funding: Check Into Cash

Check Into Cash allows you to apply for a payday or installment loan online or at a branch. If you visit a branch, you could walk out with your loan the same day you apply. But you need to be at least 21 to qualify, and it’s not up front about how much it might cost you.

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Best for improving your credit: LendUp

LendUp offers small-dollar loans in seven states. While it touts itself as an alternative to payday loans, it’s still not cheap. However, one perk to borrowing from LendUp is that it offers lower rates and better terms the more you borrow. If you were rejected for a tax refund advance due to your credit score, borrowing through LendUp can help you get your finances back on track — but only if you’re able to keep up with repayments.

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Best for wide availability: Check ‘n Go

Check ‘n Go is available in 27 states — much more than most short-term lenders. You can apply for a loan online or in store. And depending on where you live, you may be able to borrow as little as $100 to help you get by until your tax refund comes in. Just keep an eye on the APR, which can easily hit triple digits.

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3 credit unions that offer low-cost payday alternative loans instead

Read more about these alternatives

Frequently asked questions

Read on for more answers to common questions about alternatives to tax refund advances.

How can I borrow without a bank account?

While most personal loan providers require you to have a checking account, it’s possible to find a short-term lender that doesn’t require a bank account. Keep in mind these types of loans are typically more expensive.

Why was my tax refund advance denied?

If your refund was too small or you didn’t meet the lender’s underwriting criteria, you might not have qualified for an advance. Check with the company you filed your taxes with to get specific details on why you were denied.

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Kellye Guinan is a freelance editor and writer, specializing in consumer lending. Her writing and analysis has been featured on Bankrate, MSN and MediaFeed. She holds degrees in anthropology and German language and literature from Middle Tennessee State University. See full bio

Kellye's expertise
Kellye has written 132 Finder guides across topics including:
  • Personal, business, student and car loans
  • Credit scores
  • Car financing
  • Debt consolidation

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