Debt Payoff

Best Cash Advance Apps: Payday Lender Alternatives

Cash Advance Apps
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Cash advance apps are an increasingly popular way to get money into your bank account quickly and easily. Each cash advance app works differently,  but they all essentially allow you to borrow money against your future earnings.

We reviewed more than a dozen options, taking into account factors like fees, loan amounts and repayment terms to find the best option for a variety of situations. 

Here are our top picks for the best cash advance apps:

  • Best overall cash advance app: Earnin
  • Runner up: Brigit
  • Fastest cash advance app: Cleo
  • Best for gig economy workers: Albert
  • Best for bad credit: Empower
  • Best for overdraft protection: Dave
  • Best for students: Kora
  • Best for the self-employed: Gerald

What Is a Cash Advance App?

Cash advance apps allow people to borrow a portion of their upcoming paycheck. These loans typically have low interest rates and minimal fees when compared to payday loans.

Often, cash advances are repaid before or at the next paycheck, and some apps have waiting periods before users can borrow again. 

When users establish accounts with the apps, there’s a process to verify stable sources of income and credit history. Some apps prefer to look at users’ credit scores, while others require direct deposit history for specific timeframes. A handful have created artificial intelligence technology that looks at users’ spending habits, income, demographics and other factors to determine their creditworthiness. 

Cash advance apps do not offer traditional loans. These are short-term advances on funds you’ve already earned. As a result, the amount you can borrow is limited and typically ranges from $100 to $500.

Counterintuitively, many of the apps have no fees or offer free membership. The platforms make most of their money through fees to speed up transactions, optional subscription fees that offer additional features, or optional tips. This is a major advantage compared to payday loans’ sky-high interest rates. 

Cash advance apps’ extra features also vary considerably, and the best choice depends on your particular situation. For example, some apps process fund transfers faster than others, others can advance more money, and some have unique additional functions such as student loan specialization or credit-building offerings. 

Best Cash Advance Apps

There are a number of cash advance apps on the market. All have their own unique set of features and benefits. Out of the many we reviewed, the eight below are worth considering.

Best Overall Cash Advance App: Earnin

Why we picked it: Earnin offers the highest maximum loan amount of $500, has no subscription fees, and provides an option for instant cash transfers. 

Maximum loan amount:Up to $500 per pay period, $100 at a time.
Turnaround time:Up to three days, or instantly with “Lightning Speed” for a fee of up to $3.99.
Loan terms:Your next paycheck is debited by the amount of the advance. There is no interest.
Minimum credit score:No minimum credit score.
Direct deposit required:Earnin requires a history of at least two direct deposits. Income history can also be manually verified with a paystub.
Fees:Earnin does not charge fees. However, users do have the option to leave a tip for their services.
iOS rating:4.7/5
Google Play rating:4.4/5

Earnin pros:

  •  Earnin offers the highest loan amount of all the cash advance apps we researched. 
  •  The platform does not charge subscription fees or interest.
  •  There’s no credit check, and the required direct deposit history is less than other apps.

Earnin cons:

  • Instant transfers have an additional fee.
  • The $500 maximum loan amount is only available after you’ve used the app over time and built a positive repayment history.
  • The initial $100 maximum is relatively low compared to other apps we researched.

Users set up their banking instructions with Earnin when they create their account. This will allow Earnin access to debit repayments or Lightning Speed fees from their account. After their income history is established, they’re eligible to borrow in increments up to $100, and no more than their personal maximum per pay period.

The maximum is dependent on each individual user’s history using the app and can increase over time to up to $500 per pay period. Once the next paycheck arrives, the total amount borrowed is debited from the user’s checking account. 

One unique feature of Earnin is its “Boost” function. To increase borrowing potential above the initial $100 maximum per pay period, users can endorse each other by “boosting” one another’s profiles.

Boosts are available only if both users have previously received a cash advance, and if neither has missed a repayment. Boosts give the receiving user a one-time $50 additional cash advance, available for the current period (though the maximum amount that can be borrowed is still capped at $500). 

Download Earnin.

Runner Up: Brigit 

Why we picked it: Brigit is another solid all-around cash advance app with low fees, relatively fast transfers, bonus features, and limited income or credit requirements.  

Maximum loan amount:$250.
Turnaround time:Same day if the request is made before 10 a.m. EST.
Loan terms:Your next paycheck is reduced by the amount of the advance. There is no interest.
Minimum credit score:No minimum credit score.
Direct deposit required:Requires at least three deposits from one employer/income source, $1,500 or more in monthly income from the same company, and an average paycheck of more than $400. 
Fees:Free to use with an optional $9.99 monthly subscription that provides additional features.
iOS rating:4.8/5
Google Play rating:4.6/5

Brigit pros:

  • Brigit’s free same-day transfer speed (or next-day, if requested after 10 a.m. EST) is one of the fastest transfers available.
  • The app alerts Plus users when they’re about to overdraft their checking and can automatically advance cash to prevent that from happening. 
  • Identity theft protection, credit building, and spending analytics are available with the optional subscription plan.

Brigit cons:

  • Does not offer an instant cash transfer option, even for a fee. 
  • Has strict income requirements despite not requiring a credit check.
  • Customer support is only available through email. 

In addition to the cash advance feature, Brigit also has a checking account monitoring feature that can automatically advance cash to cover a potential overdraft.

While most cash advance apps are selective about who can borrow, Brigit is particularly restrictive. Applicants may be declined when any of the following is true:

  • The bank account linked to Brigit is a joint account. 
  • The checking balance is $0.
  • The account has been open for fewer than 60 days. 
  • There is insufficient account activity. 

Download Brigit.

Fastest Cash Advance App: Cleo

Why we picked it: Cleo offers instant cash advance transfers with limited barriers to entry for its users. While there is a subscription fee, it’s lower than other apps that charge additional fees for instant cash advances.   

Maximum loan amount:$100.
Turnaround time:Instant.
Loan terms:Your next paycheck is reduced by the amount of the advance. There is no interest.
Minimum credit score500.
Direct deposit required:No.
Fees:$5.99 monthly subscription fee.
iOS Rating:4.6/5
Google Play rating:4.2/5

Cleo pros

  • You don’t have to be a W2 employee to use Cleo, making it one of the better options for freelancers and business owners.
  • There are built-in budgeting tools that come with the $5.99 monthly subscription.

Cleo cons:

  • At $100, the maximum cash advance amount is smaller than many competitors. 
  • Not everyone is eligible for the maximum advance amount.
  • While the minimum credit score is only 500, this may still exclude certain users.

In addition to Cleo’s instant transfers, it offers other features that can help you budget, save and build credit. The budget and saving features help users set targets for monthly expenses and savings goals and send notifications to ensure they’re on track.

The “Credit Builder” card helps users build credit by having them pre-load the card with funds, using it to spend up to the pre-loaded amount, and then paying off the spending to contribute to improved credit over time.  

The app’s branding is aimed at a young audience, and includes fun imagery, the occasional swear word, and spending tracking that “roasts” users for not sticking to their budgets (via not-so-nice notifications from the app).

One thing to note about Cleo is that while it offers quick cash advances, the company is relatively strict about who they’ll lend to. Users with higher credit scores are more likely to unlock the full $100 maximum advance, rather than those with credit scores closer to the 500 minimum. 

Download Cleo.

Best for Gig Economy Workers: Albert 

Why we picked it: Albert offers the most bang for a gig economy worker’s buck thanks to a solid cash advance maximum and no direct deposit requirements, which helps users with irregular income streams or many income sources. 

Maximum loan amount:$250.
Turnaround time:2-3 business days, or instantly with a $4.99 fee.
Loan terms:Users have up to 15 days after the date of their next paycheck to repay the advance. If the advance still isn’t repaid by then, the app will suspend the user from Albert’s services for 30-90 days until repayment is collected. 
Minimum credit score:No minimum credit score.
Direct deposit required:None.
Fees:No interest or fees, but there is an optional paid subscription plan.
iOS rating:4.7/5
Google Play rating:3.9/5

Albert pros:

  • Low eligibility requirements, which makes it more accessible to gig workers than other apps on this list (many of which require a formal direct deposit from an employer). 
  • Offers financial advisory and planning services on a tip-based system.

Albert cons:

  • Albert doesn’t offer overdraft protection. 
  • There’s no customer service hotline to call if there are issues. 

Albert users can borrow money up to three times per pay period (up to a $250 maximum). The app monitors spending habits within users’ accounts and adjusts their personal maximum borrowing amounts accordingly, so you may not have access to that full $250.

Albert’s checking account, “Albert Cash,” (which is free) works in conjunction with their cash advance service, allowing you to get your entire paycheck up to two days early. Their financial planning options, called the “Genius” subscription, are robust, and you can access human financial advisors to work on planning and budgeting for $4 a month. The advisors are strictly brokers, and while they may provide advice for a fee, they do not operate under the fiduciary standard. 

Download Albert or learn more in our Albert review.

Best for Bad Credit: Empower

Why we picked it: Empower offers credit-building options to its users and has no credit score check as a barrier to using the app. It also features fee-free instant transfers, with the added benefit of offering a higher cash advance amount than other instant-transfer apps.  

Maximum loan amount:$250.
Turnaround time:Instant.
Loan terms:Your next paycheck is reduced by the amount of the advance. There is no interest.
Minimum credit score:No minimum credit score.
Direct deposit required:Yes, requires at least three deposits from the same employer with a minimum monthly income of $1,000.
Fees:$8 monthly subscription fee.
iOS rating:4.8/5
Google Play rating:4.7/5

Empower pros:

  • Instant transfer of funds without additional fees. 
  • Helps individuals with poor credit borrow due to no credit check requirement. 
  • No late fees.

Empower cons:

  •  The $8 subscription fee is higher than competing options.  
  • Its requirements for opening an account are based on income minimums and direct deposit consistency, which some other apps don’t require. 

Empower is a good all-around fit for users with bad credit, as its additional services help provide a comprehensive strategy for credit repair and financial stability. For example, its “Autosave” feature uses machine learning to determine good times during the month to put money into savings, based on recent spending activity. 

However, it’s important to note that despite having no minimum credit score, the app does have relatively strict vetting standards for its users. It requires users to have their checking account open for at least 60 days, have at least three deposits from the same employer, have a monthly income minimum of $1,000, and that users maintain a checking account balance of $100. 

Download Empower.

Best for Overdraft Protection: Dave 

Why we picked it: Dave doesn’t debit your bank accounts unless you have sufficient funds to repay your cash advance. 

Maximum loan amount:$500.
Turnaround time:1-3 business days, or instantly with an extra fee.
Loan terms:Users have until 30 days following their next regularly scheduled payday to repay the loan. If the loan still isn’t repaid after that, then Dave will debit the checking account on file without regard for overdrafting.
Minimum credit score:No minimum credit score.
Direct deposit required:Yes, at least two regularly scheduled and matching direct deposits are required to verify income.
Fees:Dave’s monthly subscription fee is only $1, but instant transfers cost between 99 cents and $6.99 when transferring to a Dave spending account, and between $2.99 and $11.99 when transferring to an external account.
iOS rating:4.8/5
Google Play rating:4.4/5

Dave pros:

  • Minimal credit requirements and fees to use the platform. 
  • Dave is more conscious of overdrafting users’ accounts than other apps. 

Dave Cons:

  • Instant transfer fees are high when not transferring funds to a Dave spending account. 
  • Not ideal for freelance or gig workers, because it requires a W2 and two identical direct deposits.

When borrowing from Dave, users will repay their cash advance when their next paycheck comes in or when there are sufficient funds in their account to cover the bill (to prevent overdraft fees). However, once 30 days have passed (beyond the repayment date), Dave will automatically begin debiting users’ checking accounts (regardless of the potential for an overdraft).

Dave offers a cash advance service, checking accounts with debit cards, and a “Side Hustle” feature that functions as a job board for gig work.

Download Dave.

Best for Students: Kora

Why we picked it: Kora exclusively serves college students and offers higher loan amounts than any other cash advance app. It doesn’t dictate that its advances are spent only on school-related expenses, and doesn’t require monthly subscription fees like some other cash advance apps. 

Maximum loan amount:$2,000.
Turnaround time:1-2 business days.
Loan terms:Users choose to pay back loans over 3, 6, or 12 months. Interest rates range from 15-20%. 
Minimum credit score:No minimum credit score. 
Direct deposit required:None.
Fees:If repayment is more than 15 days late, a $15 or 5% fee (whichever is less) is charged. If there aren’t enough funds to cover the late fees, a not sufficient funds fee of $15 is also charged once funds are in the account. 
iOS rating:4.5/5
Google Play rating:Not available for Android devices.

Kora pros:

  • Very high cash advance amount with no credit history requirements. 
  • No hard credit checks or co-signers required. 
  • Fast loan transfers compared to other cash advance apps.

Kora cons:

  • Steep interest rates make Kora more similar to a credit card than a cash advance. 
  • Not available in every state. 

Kora is different from the other cash advance apps on this list in that it doesn’t rely on regular income to repay the advance, and is thus treated more like a traditional loan. All loans must be paid back within one year, and students can choose whether they’d like to make payments monthly or bi-weekly. 

Interest rates depend on the user’s financial background, and Kora makes it clear what dollar amount per payment is going toward interest. 

Kora may be a good option for both international college students and students with limited credit history. The app also offers money management tools, budgeting tools, auto loans and a credit card. While its credit card and auto loan interest rates are high, it still offers more borrowing capacity that other lenders do not. 

Download Kora.

Best for Self-Employed Individuals: Gerald 

Why we picked it: Gerald positions itself as the cash advance app that helps people manage bills they may not be able to pay until their next paycheck. It has monthly household bill and subscription tracking features that help automate payments. 

Maximum loan amount:$215.
Turnaround time:Instant.
Loan terms:Your next paycheck is reduced by the amount of the advance. There is no interest.
Minimum credit score:None.
Direct deposit required:Must have three months of direct deposit history.
Fees:None. 
iOS Ratings4.5/5
Google Play Ratings4.2/5

Gerald pros:

  • Will automatically send an advance when it predicts you’ll overdraft your checking account. 
  • Up to half of your paycheck may be available to be paid in advance. 
  • Will track all of your bills’ due dates. 

Gerald cons:

  • If the advance isn’t repaid by the repayment date, Gerald will debit the checking account on file despite its promoted overdraft protection features.
  • Doesn’t offer additional options like investment accounts, checking accounts, or advice. 

Gerald uses machine learning to monitor your spending and income activity and anticipate when your account is at risk of running low on funds (especially prior to a bill due date). The app automatically advances funds to prevent an overdraft.

Gerald is optimal for people who have regular income that isn’t regularly scheduled, like many self-employed people do. Along with the auto bill pay feature, the app allows users to set custom-scheduled reminders for when upcoming payments are due.

The app’s budgeting software builds in the monthly recurring fees to the user’s budget and helps form a foundation for income versus expenses. 

Download Gerald.

When Should You Use a Cash Advance App?

Using a cash advance app can be a good option if you need money immediately. But before deciding, you should know when taking a cash advance is appropriate and when it’s not.

A cash advance app might be a good option if:

  • You need to cover emergency expenses like a car repair or a medical procedure. Foregoing these things can often lead to missed work, turning your short-term financial emergency into a sprawling ordeal that derails your finances for years.
  • You can use it to avoid a substantial late fee. If a cash advance app allows you to pay your bills on time and avoid late fees or an account overdraft, it’s a great solution.
  • To stop a check from bouncing. Banks typically charge around $25 to $35 for a bounced check, and the recipient of the check can also charge you another $20 to $40 (or a percentage of the amount the check was written for).

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some of the questions people ask about cash advance apps.

What constitutes a direct deposit?

For a cash advance app to consider a transfer to be a direct deposit, they’re looking for consistent transfers from a qualified provider. This can be your full-time employer or a qualified gig economy platform (such as Uber). Transferring money from one bank account to another, or from PayPal, Venmo or Zelle, will not qualify as a direct deposit.

How can you spot a payday lender?

Under ordinary circumstances, it’s easy to spot the warning signs of a predatory lender and to stay away. But when you’re in dire straits, you might miss or ignore the red flags.

Plus, as new consumer-friendly options have come to market, so too have products from payday lenders that are disguised to mimic their less-predatory alternatives.

In short, the answer is: look at the fees.

What is the best cash advance app? 

We like Earnin because there’s no fee. And while the initial amount you can withdraw is a relatively low $100, the limit is eventually raised to $500. That said, all of the apps we’ve listed are safe and legitimate to use.

Is there a minimum credit score to use cash advance apps? 

No. Since the money is not a loan, and apps like Earnin can debit the advance from a user’s account on payday, the risk for them is relatively low. As such, they don’t perform credit checks.

Do cash advance apps affect your credit score? 

No. The money is not technically a loan, so the companies don’t pull your credit score.

Cash Advance Apps: Final Thoughts

Being in a position where you’re not sure how to put food on the table for your family or how to afford transportation to get to work is unquestionably stressful. And up until recently, one of the only options many people had was payday lending.

I’m glad to report that innovative companies like the ones mentioned above now offer more consumer-friendly payday loan alternatives to those in need.

The important thing to remember, however, is that these options are still only a temporary fix. Long-term, you’ll want to eliminate your high-interest debt (like credit card debt), build an emergency fund, and start earning more and saving for your future.

R.J. Weiss
R.J. Weiss is the founder and editor of The Ways To Wealth, a Certified Financial Planner™, husband and father of three. He's spent the last 10+ years writing about personal finance and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, MSN Money, and other publications.

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