How Payday Loans Work

Brightly-lit, neon Payday Advance Loan sign

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Payday loans are short-term loans that often are used to get through a rough spot. However, there are very few situations in which these loans actually end up being helpful. Before you use one, make sure you understand the costs and risks.

A Little Cash for a Big Headache

Most payday loans are often for no more than a few hundred bucks and need to be paid back within a couple of weeks. To get a payday loan, you typically write a check for the amount you are borrowing, plus a fee. You might leave the check with the lender, and they cash it once you are ready to repay.

If you can’t repay your payday loan when it comes due, you can sometimes roll it over so that it is extended. You don’t have to repay it, but fees keep accumulating. Some states regulate rollovers by outlawing them or limiting the number of times you can renew. Before taking out a payday loan, it's important to review the laws in the state where you live.

In general, payday loans are significantly more expensive than traditional loans. You may end up paying an annual percentage rate (APR) that exceeds 100% several times over. For example, you might pay a $20 fee to borrow $100 for two weeks. Depending on all of the terms, that calculates to an APR of more than 500 percent.

No Credit Check Loans

Payday loans are sometimes marketed as no credit check loans. You don't need good credit scores or even a credit history, and getting approved is easy relative to more traditional loans. As a result, they are popular with people facing financial difficulties.

Pitfalls of Payday Loans

The main pitfall with payday loans is their cost. Due to extremely high fees, they don’t help you solve the real problem. If you’re having persistent financial difficulties, payday loans only make things worse. You’re paying an extraordinarily high rate of interest, which means that your expenses are just going up. As a short-term strategy—maybe once or twice in your life—payday loans might get you through a rough patch. For example, you might need an emergency repair for your car to get to work and keep earning income. As a long-term strategy, payday loans will be a hardship for you.

You also can get yourself in trouble if things get out of hand. Bouncing checks that you write to the payday loan establishment can end up on your ChexSystems file and result in overdraft charges from your bank. Banks and retailers may then be unwilling to work with you. Lenders also may sue you or send your account to collections, which will ding up your credit. If you keep stretching out payday loans, you'll pay far more in interest and fees than you ever borrowed in the first place.

Payday Loans From a Bank

Banks have moved into the payday loan industry, most likely to earn more revenue. While traditional bank loans that require you to qualify based on your credit, income, and assets can be a better alternative, bank payday loans are no better than any other payday loan. They may go by a variety of names, but they’re still expensive and risky.

In fact, payday loans from banks can be even worse than the loans you get at a payday loan store because the bank has access to your checking account, and you have to agree to let them pull funds from your account to repay the loan. When you borrow elsewhere, you might have more control over how and when your money leaves.

Alternatives to Payday Loans

Instead of using a payday loan, consider some alternatives:

  • Build up an emergency cash fund in your savings account.
  • Build credit so you can borrow from mainstream lenders.
  • Keep an open credit card for emergency expenses.
  • Get a signature loan (or unsecured loan) from your bank or credit union.
  • Pick up a part-time job for extra cash.
  • Negotiate a payment plan or loan modification with your lenders.
  • Investigate overdraft protection plans for your checking account.
  • Try peer-to-peer lending services for a better deal.
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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Payday Loans Key Terms."

  2. ChexSystems. "Impact of Mishandling a Checking Account."

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