Salary advance services

Earned wage access, get paid as you go, employee loans or salary advances... Call it what you will, the fintech community's fairer (not to mention cheaper) answer to payday loans is the talk of the town.

What is a salary advance?

Have you ever realized that you have a stash of cash you’ve theoretically already earned but can’t spend because you’re only paid at the end of the month? It’s so ingrained in most people’s financial routines that they don’t even think about it. But what if it didn’t have to work that way? What if you could access at least part of your hard-earned wages early?

A few startups are trying to make this happen, so employees who run into an unexpected expense have an affordable way to face it without going into high-cost debt. It’s generally referred to as a salary advance or earned wage access.

What’s in it for employees?

Asking for a salary advance is normally way cheaper than the alternative, which is usually an expensive overdraft or payday loan.

Moreover, since you’ve already earned the money, you don’t have to worry about credit checks when you apply, you don’t have to pay the money back and you’re not technically going into debt.

What’s in it for employers?

Employers have the chance to offer an extra perk that both makes them more competitive when it comes to the hiring process and helps them reduce staff turnover at the same time.

Many companies also do it to take care of the financial health of their employees, who, in turn, tend to be less preoccupied and more productive. When people are worried about debt, it can become more difficult for them to stay focused on their jobs.

What’s in it for the startups providing these services?

They have found different (but complementary) ways to make money. Some charge a fee to the employer, the employees or both (the fee is still lower than the interest rate you’d get with a payday loan). Others also offer actual employee loans to which they apply an interest rate (again, usually cheaper than what you’d get with a regular loan).

How do they work?

It depends. Normally, your employer has to register with one of these providers. Then, you can download an app that tells you how much of your salary you’ve already earned and how much you can borrow. If you decide to try it, you can request the salary advance from the app and will be charged a fee in return.

However, different companies offer different services and work in slightly different ways. Let’s take a closer look at some of the players in this emerging market:

Wagestream logo

Wagestream

Wagestream was founded in 2018 by Peter Briffett and Portman Wills. It offers both salary advances and financial education resources that employees can access. Employees are charged a £1.75 fee every time they withdraw part of their salary in advance, and they can withdraw up to 50% of what they’ve earned. There’s also a monthly withdrawal limit of £1,000. In September 2018, the company staged a funeral for payday loans as a publicity stunt (which may have been a tad premature, but you get where it’s going).

Salary Finance logo

Salary Finance

Salary Finance was founded in 2015 by former head of Google UK Dan Cobley, together with Asesh Sarkar and Daniel Shakhani. The company offers salary advances, employee loans and also Help to Save, a service that automatically takes a portion of the employees’ salary and puts it into a savings pot for a rainy day. This savings pot is held with National Savings and Investments (NS&I), and at the end of each 2-year period, savers get a bonus from the government. For salary advances, employees can access up to 50% of their earned pay and are charged a £1.69 fee per withdrawal.

Hastee logo

Hastee

Hastee offers financial education resources, rewards and cashback, savings tools and, of course, salary advances. Employees are charged a 2.5% fee, and how much of their salary they can access early is set by the employer. The company was founded in 2017 by James Herbert and Simon Draper and is especially convenient for employers. Setting up the service is free, and Hastee itself funds the advances, so there’s no impact on the company’s cash flow.

FlexEarn

FlexEarn is another salary advance service that lets employees access the money they’ve already earned early. Employees pay a £1.75 fee per withdrawal, and once they’ve signed up, they can also access a range of financial wellbeing services with Money Helper and StepChange. FlexEarn is free for companies to join and has partnered with Sage to integrate its payroll software.

Is this happening across the pond?

Glad you asked. Yes, this kind of employee benefit is also becoming a thing in the US. PayActiv and DailyPay are companies that operate in a similar way, offering salary advances, employee loans and Help to Save services in the US.

Any catches?

It’s still early days, but there are a couple of things to be aware of:

  • If your salary can’t support your way of life, you’ll still experience difficulties. It goes without saying that if you withdraw part of your wage early, you’ll get less at the end of the month. Unfortunately, salary advances aren’t pay rises (sigh!).
  • You may be tempted to borrow more. Since it’s so easy, you may end up withdrawing and spending more than you should throughout the month, then have trouble meeting your regular expenses (such as your rent or mortgage payments).
  • Your employer needs to jump on the bandwagon. Salary advances aren’t very common yet, and many employers (especially the smaller ones without big HR departments) may not be aware of this opportunity or may simply not be willing to give it a go.
  • Your employer will have visibility of your use of the facility. Getting access to wages before payday may be at the employer’s discretion. Some employees might not like the idea of their employers having visibility of this aspect of their finances.

Pros and cons of salary advance services

Pros

  • Fast access to funds. You could get access to cash quickly, which can help you cover unexpected expenses.
  • No credit check. You’re not borrowing money, so you don’t need to undergo a credit check.
  • No repayments. Again, as you’re not borrowing money, there’s nothing to repay.

Cons

  • Fees apply. You’ll need to pay a fee each time you make an early withdrawal.
  • No regulation. Salary advance services are not regulated, so you can’t take up any issues with the Financial Ombudsman Service, for example.
  • Could get into greater financial difficulty. If you’re regularly getting an advance on your salary, your salary at the end of each month will be reduced, and you might struggle to meet regular payments.

Alternatives to salary advance services

If you’re not sure whether using a salary advance service is right for you, here are some alternatives to consider:

A credit card

Credit cards can be ideal for one-off emergency expenses, particularly if you clear the balance each month as you won’t pay interest. Or, if you have a good credit rating, you could apply for a 0% purchase credit card, which will enable you to spread the cost of your spending interest-free for a number of months.

An overdraft

You could ask your bank to arrange an overdraft on your current account if you don’t already have one or extend an existing one. Then, it’s there to dip into from time to time to cover emergency expenses. Just be aware that many overdrafts charge high rates of interest, so you should only use it for the short term.

Borrowing from friends and family

You could also ask friends or family if they could lend you some cash to tide you over. They might even agree not to charge interest on the repayments. However, it’s important to draw up a written agreement to ensure you have a repayment plan in place and to avoid any arguments.

How do you apply for salary advance services?

You can only apply for a salary advance service if your employer has signed up to one. If it has, you can download the relevant provider’s app and see how much cash you can access early.

Bottom line

Salary advance services can be a quick and easy way of getting access to cash when you need it. However, it’s best to only use these services in an emergency rather than get into the habit of accessing your wages early. Using salary advances regularly could reduce your ability to budget, and you could end up in a worse financial situation. Remember, you’re not getting access to extra cash – you’re just withdrawing your salary early, and you’ll be paying a fee each time for doing so.

Frequently asked questions

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Written by

Rachel Wait

Rachel Wait is a freelance journalist and has been writing about personal finance for more than a decade, covering everything from insurance to mortgages. She has written for a range of personal finance websites and national newspapers, including The Observer, The Mail on Sunday, The Sun and the Evening Standard. Rachel is a keen baker in her spare time. See full profile

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