When it rains, it pours. If your furnace goes out and you break your ankle and you back into a light pole with your car, rest assured that these will all happen in the same week. Sometimes, Murphy takes up residence in the spare bedroom, and you need immediate emergency cash.
While a fully stocked emergency fund is the ideal way to field these problems, the truth is that most of us aren’t there yet. Only 39% of Americans can write an unplanned check for $1,000. Furnace fixes, broken ankles, and car repairs often cost more than that.
With these disasters in mind, we’ve put together eight ideas you can leverage when you find yourself saying “I need money now.”
Note that we’ve ranked these in order of how easy it is to get the extra money, not how much cash they can produce.
#1. Return Past Purchases
Many retailers have surprisingly generous return policies, often with lengthy timelines and sometimes with no strings attached. Nike gives you 60 days, Kohl’s gives you 180 days, and L.L. Bean gives you a full year to return previous purchases — even if you’ve used the items.
So if you find yourself in a pinch, you could potentially raise significant funds by returning stuff you already paid for.
What if you’ve lost your receipt?
You don’t always need a receipt to return an item. Many stores will let you return things with just an ID. You can also ask the store clerk to look up the purchase by scanning the debit or credit card you used to buy the item. If your item was delivered, you can look up the shipping or confirmation email as proof of purchase as well.
We ranked returning past purchases as the number one option on this list because it’s fast, easy and painless. If you’re in an immediate cash crunch, it can be a surefire way to get money in your bank account today. Plus, it’s one option that most people overlook.
#2. Sell Something
If you don’t have items to return, you likely have items you can sell. You’re probably sitting on more valuable items than you realize. Old laptops, video games, sporting equipment and extra furniture (just to name a few categories) still have value and can be sold to get some quick cash.
The fastest way to do this is via Facebook Marketplace. Facebook takes no commission and you usually don’t have to ship the item, since your buyer is local (though shipping is also an option). Craigslist is a decent place to sell as well, but with so many other quick listing options, it’s not quite as popular as it once was.
If you live in a rural area or want to sell a specialty item, a broader, national marketplace like eBay, Mercari or Poshmark may be your best bet. You’ll have to pay for shipping (and probably commission), but you’ll reach the maximum possible number of people.
Selling used stuff will take more time than returning items, plus you’ll end up with at least a small loss. But you’re not limited to items purchased from stores with a liberal returns policy, and online marketplaces have a healthy demand for bigger ticket items.
Should you pawn your items?
Avoid pawn shops because they’ll give you a fraction of your item’s value. Pawn shops know you’re strapped for cash, and their entire business model is built around exploiting that fact. As a result, you’ll almost always get well below fair market value for your goods.
#3. Donate Blood Plasma
Donating whole blood won’t make you any money, but donating blood plasma can earn you a substantial amount relatively quickly.
Plasma is the liquid and proteins in blood. When you donate plasma, you’re hooked up to an IV (like typical blood donation). Your blood is spun in a centrifuge to extract the plasma, then the red and white blood cells and platelets are returned to your body.
Because you don’t lose your blood cells, you can donate plasma much more often than blood — and plasma donation centers incentivize you to do so. You can donate plasma twice a week, as long as there’s one day in between donations.
Compensation for one plasma donation is between $20 and $50 per session, but many donation centers offer bonuses for donating twice in one week or a certain number of times per month.
Can anyone donate blood plasma?
For safety reasons, there are some restrictions on who can donate plasma. To be eligible for donation, you must be in good health, between the ages of 18 and 65, and weigh more than 110 pounds.
You may not donate if you have a history of certain medical problems (such as HIV or cancer), have low iron or hemoglobin levels, are taking certain medications, or have traveled to certain areas of the world.
If you’re an established plasma donor, you’ll get paid the day you donate — usually on a prepaid debit card. Getting paid for your first donation may take some more time due to blood testing and administrative setup.
#4. Take Advantage of Government or Charitable Resources
Depending on where you live and what you need the money for, you may have access to either government or private programs that can help you stop a financial emergency from getting worse.
If you need to pay rent, your mortgage or utilities, many states and municipalities have eviction prevention programs or temporary assistance to help people pay their bills. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, the community services directory phone number is 211. A quick call will put you in touch with the community services in your area.
Qualifying for government services can take some time, documentation and paperwork. Another (possibly quicker) alternative is to reach out to a local church or charity.
Many national and local-level charities are available for medical, dental, housing and other needs. (Check out this list to start.) You can also call local church leaders to see what help is available.
Some churches keep stores of food and clothing for immediate needs. Even if the leader you call cannot offer direct assistance, he or she will likely be able to point you in the right direction to get help.
#5. Do Gig Work
A one-time gig can be a great way to earn some money without the commitment of a full-fledged job. The fastest way to land a gig is to work with someone you already know and trust, like a friend’s business, a neighbor that needs help moving or mowing a lawn, or a previous employer.
There’s also a gig section on Craigslist, but you should proceed with caution as these listings can be hit or miss as to whether they’re legitimate.
The most reliable way to land a paying gig job is to use a gig economy app, such as Uber, DoorDash or Rover. Many of these companies offer an instant payout option (though some charge a small fee for this). Be advised though that most of these legit employment opportunities require a background check, which can take 3-10 days.
Learn more in our list of the best gig economy jobs.
#6. Tap Your Retirement Account
While this shouldn’t be your first choice, know that you are allowed to pull money out of your retirement account in an emergency. You’ll pay penalties and possibly taxes, and you’ll lose out on future gains, but desperate times can call for desperate measures.
You’ll be charged a 10% penalty for all money you withdraw from a traditional IRA or 401(k) before age 59 ½. With a 401(k), you’ll owe taxes on the withdrawal as well.
If you withdraw early from a Roth IRA, you’ll avoid the 10% penalty as long as you only withdraw your contributions (the money you put in, not the growth your money has earned).
It’s worth noting that the IRS has several hardship exceptions to these rules, particularly for medical expenses or job loss situations, so check to see if your specific need qualifies you to take out retirement money without any negative consequences.
Another option is to take out a loan from your 401(k) or TSP (if you’re a government or military employee). The interest you pay on the loan goes back into your retirement account, but there is a repayment fee ($50 to $75).
We rated this much further down the list than other options because even though retirement money is yours, you’ll lose out on the superpower of compounding interest if you pull money out early. You’re also taking away from your future self’s needs to pay for your current emergency.
#7. Get a Personal Loan
Many people turn to personal loans in a financial emergency. These are unsecured loans, meaning you don’t have to put up your car or house as collateral. While these might sound like the instant solution to your problem, these loans come with a big fat asterisk.
Not all personal loans are given by reputable lenders. Payday loan institutions are notorious for crushing interest rates, fees, and getting borrowers stuck in a vicious debt cycle of rolling over or renewing their loans. Even if you have bad credit or are nervous about a credit check, don’t take out a cash advance from these shady places.
Instead, look for a reputable lender if you want to take out a personal loan. Interest rates for these loans range widely (3.5% to 36%) depending on your credit score. The better your credit, the better your options will be for interest rates and repayment terms.
One option worth checking out is Fiona, which gives you loan offers from a range of lenders based on a few quick screening questions. You can learn more about how the platform works in our Fiona review.
Pro tip: Many personal loan lenders offer bad credit loans to borrowers with poor or scanty credit, so don’t count yourself out if your financial history isn’t great.
Before you rush out to get a personal loan, ask yourself if you’re just kicking the can down the road. Will the loan actually solve your financial issue? Are the terms reasonable? Do you have the ability to repay the loan on time? If not, you may be just digging a deeper hole for yourself.
Should you consider getting a loan from friends and family?
This may seem like your first and best option if you run into a financial snag, and asking your friend or relative to loan you some cash may seem like no big deal. However, these arrangements tend to end badly. A recent survey from Bankrate reveals that 46% of family or friend loans end in a negative result for one or both parties.
Patrina Dixon, a certified financial education instructor, financial coach and founder of the website It’s My Money, has seen similar problems arise from borrowing money from friends. “I do not recommend borrowing money from a loved one,” she says. “In the likely event that the borrower can’t repay the loan, it leaves the lender feeling upset. Loans like this can also cripple the lender’s own financial priorities.”
If you have no other option than borrowing from a friend, Dixon tells borrowers to prioritize honoring the terms of the agreement. “Pay back the loan on time and in full. If something comes up, notify your friend before the loan’s due date.”
For would-be lenders, she cautions, “If you choose to lend a family member or friend, be sure it is money that you do not need for your own financial obligations.
#8. Request a Payroll Advance
If worst comes to worst, you can ask your employer for a payroll advance, wherein you get cash from your employer and pay it back with your future earnings.
While this sounds reasonable in theory, in practice it means telling your boss you’re in financial trouble — something most of us would rather avoid. There’s also no guarantee that your boss will agree or that the company is willing and able to loan you the amount you need.
If you don’t want to go to your boss, your bank may be able to get you your cash early. Certain banks like Chime, OneUnited Bank and Varo give you access to your paycheck up to two days earlier than usual.
There are also numerous cash advance apps that can help you get your hands on quick cash. Unlike other loan options, these are free or charge nominal fees instead of hefty interest rates.
The downside with using a bank or cash advance app to get your money is the time it takes to set up and confirm your direct deposit. If you need cash in a day or two, this might not be fast enough.
Options to Avoid
When you’re in the midst of a financial emergency, it can be tempting to take advantage of the easiest and fastest available solution. Unfortunately, some of those options are the most expensive and problematic.
This is far and away the most expensive kind of loan on the planet. While a fee of $15 on a $100 loan might not sound like much, when you work this out to an annualized percentage rate, it’s a whopping 182.5%!
And that’s on the cheaper end. The average APR offered by payday loans ranges from 300% to 500%!
And if payday rolls around and you’re unable to repay your loan balance, the payday lender offers to roll your loan offer if you pay just the interest due.
This extends your repayment period, but it also just doubled the already exorbitant amount of interest you’re paying on the loan. A recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reveals that four out of five payday loans fall into this trap.
This loan renewal cycle becomes financial quicksand as people who are already in dire financial straits become less and less able to pay off a bigger and bigger loan balance.
Even if you’re in a rough financial place, avoid the predatory interest rates of payday loans. They only make a bad situation worse.
Credit Card Cash Advances
You can also get extra money by pulling cash from your credit card, but we don’t recommend this. While the rates on credit card cash advances aren’t quite as awful as those on payday loans, they’re still preposterous.
The average interest rate on credit cards for purchases is no small fee at 16.13%, but for cash advances it’s about 25%. (A cash advance is essentially an instant, unsecured loan, so it doesn’t come cheap.)
What’s more, your card issuer typically charges a fee of around 3% to 5% of the amount of the cash advance — and that’s on top of the interest. So for a cash advance of $1,000, you’d pay a fee of $30 to $50, plus the 25% interest. If you paid that balance off in one year, you’d end up paying around $1,190 for your $1,000 loan.
You should also know that credit card companies treat cash advances differently than purchases in that there is no grace period for repayment; the interest begins accruing the day you take the cash advance.
In short, there are much better financial solutions available than the steep interest rates of cash advances from credit cards.
Quick Money FAQs
Unfortunately, there are essentially no legitimate ways to get free money instantly. However, there are a handful of ways to get free money fast. We’ve rounded up some of the best in our guides on how to get free money and how to get free PayPal cash. In most cases, it will take at least a few days after completing the required steps before you see money in your checking or PayPal account.
As a general rule, the answer is “no” — you should do everything in your power to avoid using payday lenders. As we discuss in this article, these lenders not only charge absurdly high interest rates, they also utilize predatory contract terms that are designed to keep you trapped in debt. If there ever comes a time when you can’t pay back your obligations, you may get sued. Even if you’re not sued, your debt could be reported to a collections agency, where it will damage your credit report for seven years from the date of default.
If you’ve exhausted every other option and the choice comes down to using a payday lender or not being able to put food on the table, make sure that you fully understand the terms of the agreement and have a concrete plan for paying back what you owe as quickly as possible. The faster you pay back the loan, the less it will cost and the less likely it is that you’ll find yourself in long-term financial trouble. Remember, the costs of these types of loans compound over time.
I Need Money Now: Final Thoughts on Getting Fast Cash
When you need money right now, you may be tempted to grasp for any money that will fix your immediate problem. But don’t let desperation get the better of you.
There are many sound options available to come up with emergency cash. Work this list in order from top to bottom, starting with solutions that are quick, relatively painless, and don’t come with crazy interest rates (like selling items or returning purchases).
If things are truly dire, make some extra money with a gig-based side hustle or reach out to community services for help.
And when the dust starts to settle, commit to saving up an emergency fund. Because life happens — and when it does, this emergency fund will help you avoid financial catastrophe.