No one wants to deal with a financial crisis. But if you’re faced with unexpected expenses and don’t have enough money in your emergency fund to cover them, an emergency loan can help you get back on your feet.
Emergency loans are a safe and affordable way to get much-needed cash for car repairs, medical bills, or major life events. Some lending platforms like Upstart offer emergency loans online for one business day funding¹, so you can get your money faster.
What’s more, you don’t necessarily need a stellar credit score to qualify for a loan. In this guide, you’ll find comprehensive information about getting safe emergency loans, where to find urgent loans for bad credit, and what to look for when you need money now.
What is an emergency loan?
Also known as a hardship loan, an emergency loan is any short-term personal loan used for financial emergencies or other unexpected expenses, including weddings, funerals, trips, or medical costs.
Emergency loans usually have quick funding and can get you the cash you need in as little as 2 days. They’re often unsecured, which means they aren’t backed by collateral, like your home, car, or investments. As a result, they may be more expensive and come with slightly higher interest rates.
How do emergency loans work?
Emergency personal loans are like other types of loans, but with a faster timeline. Unlike a traditional bank loan, you can usually apply for an emergency loan online, get approved in minutes, and receive your money within a few days.
Depending on the loan provider, you may even qualify for same-day emergency loans. For instance, when you get approved for an emergency loan through Upstart, you could receive your money in as fast as 1 business day*.
After you get your money, you’ll begin making payments on the principal, or the total amount borrowed. You’ll pay interest on the loan, too, which can range from single digits to 35% or higher depending on factors like your credit history, credit score, and the loan amount.
Finally, your payments will most likely include additional charges, such as processing or origination fees. The total cost of your interest rate and fees is known as the annual percentage rate, or APR.
What can emergency loans be used for?
When most people think of an emergency loan, they usually assume the loans are meant for emergencies. In reality, most emergency personal loans are pretty flexible, which means you can use the funds however you want—with a few exceptions, like paying for college tuition or business expenses.
Some of these common reasons for an emergency loan will sound familiar:
- Medical expenses
- Veterinary bills
- Funeral costs
- Wedding expenses
- Rent, mortgage, or utility payments
- Car repairs
- Home repairs or improvements
- Vacation or travel expenses
Each lender may have different guidelines and restrictions, so do your research before you select a loan to make sure it meets your needs.
Types of emergency loans
When it comes to emergency personal loans, you can take your pick from several options. Keep in mind that every loan won’t suit your needs, though. In fact, some could end up costing you more in the long run—or even increase your debt.
Let’s explore some of the most common emergency loans.
A personal loan is a short- to medium-term loan with relatively fast funding. You can get an emergency personal loan from a credit union, bank, or online lender. You’ll usually need a credit score ranging from good to excellent to qualify for a personal loan with an affordable APR.
However, some online lending platforms like Upstart consider other factors when determining your emergency loan rates, like education² or employment. These details can help you qualify for a better loan even if you’re rebuilding your credit.
Need a little emergency money now? If you’ve got a credit card, you may be eligible for a cash advance. A cash advance is a type of loan from your credit card company. Typically, you’ll only need to call your card provider to establish the credit line, then go to the nearest ATM or bank to withdraw your funds from your available account credit balance. That means no paperwork, no approval process, and no waiting periods.
Cash advances have their disadvantages, though. They usually come with high fees worth up to 5% of the loan amount. Your credit card company will also begin charging interest immediately, resulting in higher monthly payments.
Cash advances can negatively impact your credit score by increasing your credit utilization rate, too. A credit utilization rate measures how much you currently owe on your credit card balance, divided by your available limit.
For example, if you have a $4,000 credit limit and currently owe $1,500, your credit utilization rate is 37.5%. However, if you take a $2,000 cash advance on top of your existing balance, your credit utilization rate will jump up to 87.5%.
Most lenders assume that a higher rate means you’re experiencing financial hardship or that you present a higher risk of defaulting on a loan. Credit bureaus take the same view. In fact, your utilization rate makes up about 30% of your credit score, so it’s wise to keep some distance between your credit limit and your balance.
Payday lending companies offer small loans with short repayment periods, usually ranging from one to four weeks. Payday loans are essentially a paycheck advance, but they can come at a hefty cost.
Most payday lending companies charge a flat fee for every $100 borrowed that can range from $10 to $30. When added up, that’s an APR of about 400% or higher, which will leave you owing significantly more than you borrowed—and missing part of your next paycheck.
If you can’t repay the loan on time, your payday lender can charge a rollover (or renewal) fee to extend your repayment term, adding even more fees to your outstanding balance. The cycle often continues for borrowers, too, with most payday loans rolling over nearly 10 times before they’re paid off.
With all that in mind, we highly recommend that you steer clear of payday loans.
Auto title loans
Like payday loans, auto title loans are an expensive way to get emergency funds. They usually come at an exorbitant price, with costly fees and high interest rates. However, you may be able to qualify for an auto title loan even if you have a credit score that’s low or have no credit history yet by securing your loan with your car.
How to get an emergency loan
After you’ve considered the different types of loans for emergencies, the next step is to apply for your loan. Get started by following these 5 simple steps.
- Make sure you’re eligible for an emergency loan. At a minimum, most lending companies require you to be 18 years old with a regular income and active bank account to qualify for a loan. You’ll likely need to prove you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to access funds, too. So gather your identifying documents, financial statements, and any other details before you begin the application process.
- Compare lenders. When you’re in a financial bind, it can feel tempting to go with the first lender you find. Still, take some time to consider a few options before signing on to a loan. Shop around for the best terms, including interest rates, repayment periods, and additional fees. Check for customer support reviews, too. While it may not seem important today, a good customer service team comes in handy if you run into issues down the road.
- Prequalify for your loan. If possible, try to prequalify for a loan before applying. When you prequalify, you can usually check personalized rates without impacting your credit score, since lending companies usually perform a soft pull at first. You’ll only be subject to a hard pull after you accept the loan. Hard pulls will appear on your credit report and can reduce your credit score by a few points.
- Complete the application. Make sure you fill out your application completely to prevent any delays. Double-check your personal and financial details, submit copies of tax information or pay stubs, and stay tuned for any additional requests throughout the approval process.
- Review the loan terms before accepting. This is another crucial step, even when you’re facing a stressful situation. Read the terms of your loan agreement carefully before accepting. Emergency loan providers know that borrowers need cash quickly, so unethical companies may inflate interest rates, add additional charges or services, or conceal details. Pro tip: Perform a quick Google search to check for average interest rates, learn more about the fees included in your loan terms, and make sure you’re not dealing with a predatory lender.
How to select an emergency loan
You have several ways to get an emergency personal loan, but they’re not always affordable, legitimate, or safe. It’s important to evaluate your options carefully to avoid an unaffordable or unfair loan. But most importantly, make sure it aligns with your needs and keep an eye out for details like timeline and costs.
If you’re in search of an emergency loan, you likely need your money as quickly as possible, which could eliminate potential loan providers, including banks or credit unions. If that’s the case, look for online lenders that offer an easy application process and same-day or next-day funding.
You know how much money you need to cover your current expenses, but have you considered the long-term costs of your loan? Depending on factors like your credit score, the loan term, and additional fees, you could get stuck with an unaffordable loan.
To reduce the risk of defaulting on your loan, use a personal loan calculator to input the loan details. You’ll get a more realistic look at your monthly payments and discover how much you’ll pay in interest before you sign on the dotted line.
We’ve already mentioned that you’ll have to meet certain guidelines to get a loan. Before you spend time applying, check each lender’s credit score and income requirements. For example, some lenders require borrowers to have credit scores over 620 or a minimum income to get approved. If you know your score is lower or you don’t quite meet the income threshold, you can focus your efforts on other companies.
Can I get an emergency loan with bad credit?
If you’re trying to rebuild your credit, you may feel like your chances of qualifying for a loan are slim to none. We’ve got good news for you!
Typically, you can get an emergency loan even if you have poor or nonexistent credit. In some cases, your interest rate might be higher and you may only be eligible to borrow up to a certain amount. Still, an emergency personal loan with a 35% interest rate is more affordable than a payday loan.
You can improve your chances of qualifying for an affordable emergency loan, too. First, take some time to boost your credit score in the short term by asking for a credit limit increase, making timely payments, and checking your credit report for incorrect information.
Next, consider securing your personal loan with collateral in exchange for a lower rate or asking a trusted, financially stable friend or family member to co-sign on your loan. If they have a higher credit score and income than you do, you could get a better interest rate.
Alternatives to emergency loans
Don’t think an emergency loan is right for you? Depending on your circumstances, you may be better off with another option, especially if you only need a smaller amount of cash or want to avoid high interest rates.
If that’s the case, consider one of these common alternatives to emergency loans:
- Credit cards. You may qualify for a 0% APR credit card, especially if you have a solid credit score. You can use the credit card to pay your bills, then repay the balance during the card’s interest-free introductory period. These grace periods usually last 12 to 18 months, giving you ample time to pay down smaller balances. Just make sure you don’t add to the balance and create more debt in the process.
- Repayment plans. Medical bills can feel crushing, especially if you have insufficient insurance coverage. Fortunately, many hospitals and clinics can work with you to create an affordable, potentially interest-free, payment plan. You may also be able to reach a settlement agreement. If so, the hospital will reduce your total costs in exchange for some money down.
- Nonprofit organizations. Many nonprofit organizations exist to help people through a financial crisis. Some may even connect you with a local lending circle or a group of individuals that work together to raise money for certain needs.
- Loans from family members or friends. Asking your friends or relatives for money can feel uncomfortable. But if you’re willing to push through the awkwardness, you could save hundreds in interest rates and fees. You’ll also skip the paperwork and approval process, which means you could get your money faster. Pro tip: Transfer the money you’d save in interest into a high-yield savings account and start your emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses in the future.
- Credit unions. Last, you may be able to borrow emergency money from a local credit union. But be aware that the timeline is usually longer than an online lender. You may also need to be a member in good standing to receive a loan, especially if you have a lower credit score.
Need cash fast? An emergency personal loan can help
Finding the best urgent loan for your needs isn’t easy when you’re faced with an untimely repair, medical crisis, or costly event. Still, knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your financial future.
Getting familiar with the different types of emergency personal loans and learning how each one works can help you avoid illegitimate loans, save money, and manage your current situation. At the same time, you’ll be better prepared for the future—and better able to plan for the unexpected.
¹If you accept your loan by 5pm EST (not including weekends or holidays), your funds will be sent on the next business day. Loans used to fund education related expenses are subject to a 3 business day wait period between loan acceptance and funding in accordance with federal law.
²Neither Upstart nor its bank partners have a minimum educational attainment requirement in order to be eligible for a loan.