Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images
A Bankrate survey found that over half of Americans — 58 percent — are uncomfortable with the amount of savings they have in their emergency fund. This can leave many searching for an emergency loan if an unexpected cost comes up.
Emergency loans can be found in the same places borrowers would seek out traditional loans like from banks, credit unions and online lenders. They all carry benefits and drawbacks, so shop around to find the best emergency loan for your needs.
What are emergency loans?
Emergency loans are a type of personal loan that borrowers can use following a crisis of some sort, such as medical bills or important home repairs.
Banks and credit unions
One of the first sources to consider when looking for an emergency loan is a bank or credit union. This is especially wise if you have a longstanding relationship, as history could mean more competitive rates and potentially better terms.
What to look out for
The main benefit of signing off with a bank or credit union is the assurance of a reputable establishment and better rates if you have a history with the organization. Though, the funding timeline may be longer than if you secure a loan outside of traditional banks. This is also a great option for those that prefer a brick-and-mortar institution as many banks offer in-person assistance.
The process of securing an emergency loan online is fairly simple and likely only requires you to fill out some personal information from the comfort of your home. Taking out your loan online will also allow you to compare different loan options all at once.
What to look out for
The standout feature of getting an emergency loan from an online lender comes down to the speed of funding. If you find yourself in a precarious financial situation and need money as soon as possible, an online lender is your best bet. While some lenders have same-day funding, the majority at least have funding available within a few business days of approval.
Payday loans are a type of instant loan that allows borrowers to gain access to a small sum of money. These risky loans can carry interest in the triple digits along with large hidden fees.
What to look out for
While these types of loans can be tempting for those who need money quickly, they are not a recommended route. The likelihood of defaulting on these types of loans is very high, which could mean more financial headaches in the future. If you have to take one, make sure you can pay it off when it’s due.
Types of emergency loans
There are eight primary types of emergency loans that those in need can secure. Each option has different uses and eligibility criteria.
Just as with any loan, not all emergency loans are created equal. Some carry special features such as customer support or more competitive interest rates. Consider the types of emergency loans outlined when determining which is best.
- Personal loans. Received as a lump sum and paid back each month, these can be found at banks, credit unions or other financial institutions online.
- Credit card cash advances. These are available to cardholders in good standing but the amount available varies by the card company. And the fees are higher than a normal APR.
- Payday loans. These should only be used in an extreme bind and offer a small amount of money in a fast amount of time.
- Title loans. These loans use your vehicle as collateral and can give you fast access to cash. Though they can lead to vehicle repossessions, so only sign off if you can confidently pay off the loan within its term, usually 30 days.
- Home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). Depending on the value of your home, you can use it as collateral and receive lump-sum funding or a line of credit.
- Payment plans. Best for a large or unexpected bill, some accounting departments will allow you to negotiate a deal that allows you to stretch out the time you pay off the expense.
- Paycheck advance. Just as it sounds, this allows you to get your paycheck sooner than usual. Depending on employer policies you could get cash sooner if an emergency comes up.
- Friend or family member. This option is wise for those with strong connections as it can become complicated. Agree upon payment schedule ahead of time to avoid any issues.
How to choose the best emergency loan
The key to getting the best emergency loan comes down to doing your homework ahead of time. Look out for the following factors if the time comes to apply for an emergency loan.
Your credit score is used as your measure of risk to lenders. So if your credit score falls on the lower end you may not receive the most favorable terms. Consider this when applying for emergency loans, for example, focus on fair and poor credit lenders if your score is not in tip-top shape.
Consider the terms that each lender offers and how it fits into your ability to pay back the loan. While it can be tempting to sign off on a long-term loan with a smaller monthly payment, it can mean more interest in the long run. Instead focus on being able to afford a doable monthly payment to reduce the time you have to pay.
Overall available APRs are based on macroeconomic influences outside of our control, so some of your qualifying rate comes down to what the lender offers. When shopping for an emergency loan pay close attention to APR to try and lock in the most competitive rate. If your credit is lacking, the APRs follow suit. But remember that paying on time and in full will help build your credit over time.
Your budget should serve as your map when it comes to spending. Take the time to examine your current spending so you sign off on a loan that you can truly afford. Even more, keep up with your budget throughout the lifetime of the loan.
The bottom line
Sometimes unexpected expenses come up, an emergency loan can help you out of your situation so you can focus on what matters most rather than the finances that come along. Each type of lender carries a different set of benefits and drawbacks. It’s best to compare lender offerings and shop around, even when you’re in a hurry.