When an unexpected expense pops up, many people find themselves in a bind. In fact, a recent Federal Reserve survey found that 44% of respondents said they’d have to sell a belonging or borrow money to cover a $400 emergency expense.
The fix is to build an emergency fund. Even $500 in the bank can get you out of a pinch, and having three to six months of expenses is even better. That amount could let you get by without pawning off valuables, selling your blood or leaning on the generosity of a friend or relative.
It takes time, discipline and extra money to build that cushion. In the meantime, here are strategies to earn fast cash today, increase your income on an ongoing basis and cut your monthly spending.
Get your hands on extra cash today
1. Sell old cell phones: A study released in 2015 found that half of the people surveyed had at least one old cell phone gathering dust. You can sell your old phone on sites such as Swappa and Gazelle, but to get cash today, using an ecoATM kiosk is your best bet. Consider selling old MP3 players and tablets, too.
2. Sell unused gift cards: In 2015, an estimated $973 million in gift cards went unused, according to research and advisory firm CEB TowerGroup. Most online gift card exchanges take a few days because you have to mail the card and then wait for a check or direct deposit, but Cardpool kiosks offer instant cash for cards valued at $20 or more. You’ll get slightly less there; the company pays up to 85% of the card’s value at its kiosks, while it pays up to 92% if you sell through its website.
3. Pawn something: As a way to borrow money, pawnshop loans are not great. But they’re quick, and if you can’t repay the loan, the pawnshop simply keeps the item you used as collateral. That’s a lot better than ruined credit and calls from debt collectors. You can often sell outright to a pawnshop, too, instead of borrowing against an item. Jewelry, musical instruments, firearms and up-to-date electronics fare best.
4. Work today for pay today: Searching for this phrase online turns up lots of results. We’ve researched 26 legitimate side jobs that can provide a quick income boost, ranging from driving passengers or packages to freelancing from home.
You can also try the Craigslist jobs or gigs sections, which often have postings for short-term work in food service, housekeeping and general labor.
Ask for help
5. Seek community loans and assistance: Local community organizations may offer loans or short-term assistance to help with rent, utilities or other emergencies. NerdWallet has compiled a database of payday loan alternatives available to residents in nearly two dozen states. Local churches may make small loans at low rates. Community centers and nonprofit associations in your area may also offer small loans.
6. Ask for forbearance on bills: Some creditors such as utilities and cable television companies don’t charge interest on late payments, so find out whether they’ll accept delayed payments. Use whatever money you save from not paying those bills to cover emergency needs. If you can’t pay consumer debts such as auto loans or mortgages, explore your options with the lender first before turning to toxic high-rate loans.
Borrow from yourself
7. Request a payroll advance: Ask your employer for a cash advance on your pay, which usually doesn’t cost you any fees and which you repay via payroll deduction. Some companies also offer low-cost loans to workers in crises. You also might consider Earnin, an app that offers workers advances that they repay in a lump sum on payday at no interest. It does ask for a donation, though, and requires access to your bank account and work time sheets.
8. Take a loan from your retirement account: You can take a loan on your 401(k) or individual retirement account, but there are conditions. You can borrow from your IRA once a year if you repay the money within 60 days. If your employer allows 401(k) loans — not all do — you typically can borrow as much as half your account balance, up to $50,000, and you have five years to repay it. However, if you don’t make payments for 90 days, the loan is considered taxable income. And if you quit or lose your job, you typically have to repay the 401(k) loan shortly thereafter.
9. Borrow against life insurance: If you have a life insurance policy that has cash value, sometimes called permanent life insurance, you can borrow against it and have the rest of your life to repay it. If you don’t repay, the insurance company subtracts the money from the policy payout when you die. But you can’t borrow against a term life insurance policy, which is the more common type.
Take out a loan
10. Use a credit card cash advance: If you have a credit card and the account is in good standing, a cash advance is a much less expensive option than a payday loan. You’ll pay a fee, typically around 5% of the amount you borrow, plus interest, which can be around 30%.
11. Look for a payday alternative loan: Some credit unions offer small, short-term cash advances known as payday alternative loans. Federally chartered credit unions legally can’t charge more than a 28% annual percentage rate on PALs. That’s not cheap, but it’s much better than payday loans, which have triple-digit APRs.
12. Take out a personal loan: Some lenders can fund a personal loan in a day; if you have good credit, you’ll probably have many choices. If your credit is a challenge, you’ll need to find a lender that not only delivers fast cash but also accepts poor credit. Rates for borrowers with bad credit from mainstream lenders top out at 36% APR. You may find other lenders offering fast funding without a credit check, but you’ll pay triple-digit interest rates. Don’t fall for it.