30 Great Savings Tips to Help You Avoid a Payday Loan

DebtHammer has worked with countless people stuck in the payday loan trap simply because they needed to borrow a small amount of money until payday. We know firsthand the long-term damage a single payday loan can cause.

If you need fast cash and a personal loan is not an option, here are 30 ways to get some fast money.

30 ways to avoid payday loans

These payday loan alternatives can help you in a crisis but won’t leave you stuck in the payday loan debt trap.

1. Open a credit union account

Credit unions are like traditional banks, but they offer some extra products. One is a Payday Alternative Loan, which works like a payday loan but without high interest rates. The loans allow you to borrow more money and repay it in installments instead of from your next paycheck. Interest rates are capped at an annual percentage rate of 28%, and there’s not usually a credit check. Instead, credit unions care more about your membership status and banking history. PALs will always be better than payday loans. Still, the one key additional qualification is that you need to be a member of a federal credit union that offers PALs (many allow you to join online, so you don’t have to live in the same area as the credit union.)

Plus, having a credit union account gives you access to most mainstream financial services, like credit cards, savings accounts, loans, investment accounts, etc.

READ MORE: Payday Alternative Loans

2. Set up an emergency fund

After opening your credit union account, set up a savings account. Savings accounts offer higher interest rates than checking accounts, which means your money will make money as long as it’s in there. This is why savings accounts make great homes for emergency funds.

The easiest way to set up an emergency fund is to establish a budget and have a percentage of every paycheck sent directly to your savings account, even if it’s as little as $5 per month.

READ MORE: How to start a budget from scratch

3. Sign up for a cash advance app

These apps offer you small cash advances to help you cover the gaps between paydays. They’re less expensive than payday loans but not quite as good as Payday Alternative Loans.

These apps require you to link your bank account so that the app can see how much you make, how often you get paid, etc. You will have to show a steady history of regular deposits before you’re eligible for an online loan. These apps don’t charge fees or interest, so they’re cheaper than payday loans, especially if you live in a state where state laws prohibit payday loans and your only alternative is borrowing from a tribal payday lender. Like traditional payday loans, cash advances are typically repaid in full on your next payday.

Pro tip: Some lenders call these cash advances, while others refer to them as overdraft protection.

Cash advance apps make money by asking for “tips” when you borrow, and sometimes they charge a small monthly subscription fee.

Initially, you might only qualify for $20-$50, but if you build a steady repayment history, you’ll eventually qualify for more.

READ MORE: Best cash advance apps

4. Use a credit card

You can skip a payday loan by using a credit card cash advance. Though the interest rates on these are high, they’re significantly lower than payday loan interest rates. If you need help repaying a current payday loan, many credit cards will allow you to transfer balances from payday loans (and other lenders) onto your credit card. Some will even offer 0% APR for a preset amount of time (instead, you’ll pay a fee ranging from 3% to 5% of the amount transferred). You will need to be careful about running up credit card debt, but you can turn your focus to this once your immediate need for a payday loan has passed.

However, if you have poor credit, you may not qualify for a new credit card.

Pro tip: If your credit score is good enough to qualify for one of those 0% offers, this is a great method for low-cost debt consolidation. You can save a considerable amount of money rolling your loans onto this credit card, taking advantage of the interest-free period and paying off your debts in full over time, especially if the alternative is paying for expensive loan rollovers.

READ MORE: Balance transfer credit cards

5. Get a secured credit card

If you already have a traditional credit card, you likely wouldn’t need the payday loan because you could use your credit card instead. But if you have bad credit, a secured credit card has two advantages: It will help you cover emergency expenses while also helping you rebuild your credit history.

After establishing a pattern of responsible use, you may even be able to convert it to a traditional credit card. Make sure that you use it sparingly, pay it off every month and don’t try to exceed the secured credit limit.

READ MORE: Secured credit cards

6. Refinance your student loan debt

According to the Education Data Initiative, student loan debt totals over $1.75 trillion. More than 43 million Americans have student loan debt, which averages around $39,000 per person.

Your student loans will stay on your credit history forever, so making regular payments is important. If you’re having trouble making payments, contact your loan provider. Many offer refinancing options or have hardship programs to help borrowers with reduced incomes. You can also try refinancing through companies like Earnest or SoFi.

7. Consider bankruptcy

Bankruptcy may seem catastrophic, but sometimes you need a fresh start. If creditors are hounding you or you’re at risk of losing your home or car, filing for bankruptcy can win you some much-needed time to figure out your financial situation. A bankruptcy trustee will help you through the process and figure out which assets you can protect.

Not all bankruptcy filings wipe out your debt, though. It’s important that you understand the different types of bankruptcy, the qualifications and how much each will cost.

Before you decide, talk to a lawyer. If you can’t afford to hire one, your state Bar Association can help connect to one who will offer a free consultation.

READ MORE: Types of bankruptcy

8. Change jobs

Wages have been stagnant, and sometimes the only way to get a significant raise is to change jobs. You can try talking to your current employer about overtime, but if they can’t (or won’t) meet your needs, there’s no time like the present to start looking for a new opportunity.

Pro tip: If you love working for your current employer, having an offer for a new job in hand can help you negotiate higher pay. Just be sure that you have an official offer in writing because if your current employer turns you down, you will need to have a concrete backup plan.

In addition, check with HR to see if your employer participates in on-demand pay providers like DailyPay. These apps let you access your earned wages a few days early, but your employer has to be a member.

9. Go back to school

You don’t necessarily have to enroll in a college degree program (though doing so can help you put your student loan payments on hold for a while). Consider trade schools that offer vocational programs. Some are affordable and can be completed in as little as eight weeks. Just be sure only to choose schools and programs that are accredited.

Ask schools about aid packages if you’re worried about paying the tuition. You can also check out resources like Coursera and EdX

10. Start a side hustle

Driving for Uber or DoorDash, shopping for Instacart and other delivery programs are all flexible ways to earn some extra cash. If you’re handy, you could try to get gigs through apps like TaskRabbit. If you drive a pickup truck, sometimes people are searching for someone to transport items from location to location. If you love animals, Rover can match you with people who need someone to drop by to take care of their pets. Most of these options are flexible when it comes to hours and job requirements.

If you’re creative, set up your own side hustle without having to contract through a gig employer. You could sell crafts on Etsy or start a freelance business.

11. Try these easy ways to earn money

There are a lot of ways to earn small amounts of money.

For example, Fetch, Receipt Pal, and the Amazon Shopper Panel offer gift cards in exchange for you sending in scans of your shopping receipts. InBoxDollars offers cash for playing various online games. TopCashBack credits you a percentage of your online purchases with some online retailers. Acorns rounds up your debit and credit card purchases to the nearest dollar and then invests that money for you.

All these earn small amounts of money, but if you use them regularly, the money can add up quickly.

12. Reassess your living situation

Do you need to downsize? Smaller homes and apartments cost less to power, heat, cool, and furnish. If you work remotely, you may be able to move to a less expensive town or neighborhood (some states will even pay you to move there.)

If you need to stay where you are, consider taking on a roommate. Or perhaps now is a good time to consider selling your home. The housing market is hot right now. Stash your equity away in savings and move into a cheaper place until you’re back on track.

13. Don’t pay for anything you can get for free

  • Libraries are a great resource for books, music and movies, and now that most offer digital loans, you don’t even have to leave home.
  • The post office offers free shipping materials for customers shipping via USPS priority mail. (Note that this may not always be a savings, though. Compare shipping rates through a third-party service like PirateShip.)
  • Sites like PINCHme and Influenster offer free items in exchange for completing some tasks.
  • If you’re a new parent or parent-to-be, several sites offer free baby stuff or manufacturer coupons for discounted formula, diapers, etc.
  • Your state likely has programs to help you get stuff like phone service, electricity and internet for free or at a reduced cost.
  • And, of course, check neighborhood groups on NextDoor and Facebook. Sometimes people give away items they can no longer use.

14. Use coupons

You no longer have to pay for an expensive newspaper subscription in order to collect coupons. Many of your favorite grocers offer digital coupons. If a store you shop at regularly has a loyalty program, sign up for it. These programs often offer special coupons and cash back and will tailor discounts to your shopping habits. You can also go to the stores’ websites and download coupons to your account.

There are also coupon apps and websites with coupons and discount offers that you can clip and either print out or save to your phone.

Some apps, like Ibotta and Dosh, will give you cash back when you redeem their offers. Just don’t buy anything you wouldn’t ordinarily purchase.

15. Use cashback sites

Rakuten, Inbox Dollars and MyPoints are all great browser extensions to have running in your browser if you do a lot of your shopping online. They will scan the web for coupon codes or offer you cash back. You can submit your paper receipts for credit at sites like Fetch and CoinOut. You won’t get rich this way, but if you’re diligent, you can make about $100 per quarter.

16. Round up your purchases

Sign up for a program like Acorns or Stash. These programs link to your bank accounts and then, every time you make a purchase, they round that purchase up to the nearest dollar and invest the difference for you into a portfolio you choose. Those extra cents can add up into some significant savings over time.

17. Track your expenses

Track every penny you spend for at least a month. It’s not enough to know that you spent $20 at Target last week. You need to know exactly what that $20 bought. You might be surprised at how many ways you can cut back once you see where your money is going.

18. Review your monthly bills

You want to ensure you have health, car, and renter’s (or homeowner’s) insurance. But comparison shop and look for the policies that best meet your needs. Ensure you know the due dates so you don’t accrue late fees. Consider each subscription, and cut the cord if you still pay for cable or satellite TV. Review any utility contracts to ensure you aren’t paying an unnecessarily high rate for electricity. Many utility companies won’t try to remind you that the price increases drastically when your contract expires.

19. Stop smoking

Smoking is bad for both physical and financial health. The median price for a pack of cigarettes is $7.93 and can go as high as $12 in New York. This adds up to about 60 cents per cigarette. Smokers also pay more for health insurance.

20. Look for free entertainment

There is free entertainment all over the place. You simply have to look for it. Your library probably has a community bulletin board that announces local festivals, movie nights, plays, concerts, etc. You can also find this information online or on a neighborhood site like NextDoor.

If the events aren’t free, you can always volunteer to help out. You’ll get a free pass or ticket in exchange for helping before, after, or during the event. Some theaters even have paid usher positions available, so you could see a performance and earn some money at the same time.

21. Budget for gifts

Some gifts are easy to predict, like birthdays and holidays. Others, like weddings and baby showers, can be more of a surprise expense. In 2023, almost half of Americans planned to take a short-term loan to cover their holiday spending. Don’t let this happen to you. Set up a special savings account for gift buying. This way, you won’t have to figure out where to find the money in your budget when an unexpected wedding invitation arrives.

22. Don’t buy stuff just because it’s cheap

When you do the math, it is usually cheaper, in the long run, to spend more on something that will last than to buy whatever is cheapest. The most popular example of this compares spending $50 on a pair of boots that will last ten years vs. a $10 pair that will last one year. If you can’t afford the $50 for the pair that will last, consider a “Buy Now, Pay Later” (BNPL) program like Klarna or Afterpay that will allow you to buy the more expensive item now, but will space out the payments to $12.50 every other week for two months. BNPL plans aren’t a good option if you’re using them to pay for items you don’t need, but they are a good way to buy essential items you may not be able to afford outright.

Also, don’t overbuy sale items. While it’s great to stock up on household items, it won’t be a savings if they spoil or expire before you can use them.

23. Don’t skimp on preventive health care

Everybody hates going to the dentist. However, that twice-yearly checkup could mean the difference between having a tiny cavity that can be fixed with a sealant (which is usually covered by basic dental insurance) and having to get a root canal and a crown, which can cost thousands of dollars and leave you with a long-term medical bill.

The same is true for other areas of your health. Annual physicals and routine screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies are unpleasant and inconvenient, but early detection of problems can save you tens of thousands of dollars in treatment.

24. Sign up for a medical research trial

If you need more specific medical care but are worried you can’t afford it, look for a research trial. Some hospitals or research companies will pay you to have basic screenings that your health insurance or the Affordable Care Act fully covers. The pay for those isn’t high (usually $100 to $200), but you’re earning money while completing important screenings that you must have done anyway. There are other more lucrative research trials, but whether it’s worth the money depends on how much experimentation you’re willing to endure and how much time you spend at doctor’s offices.

Pro tip: Make sure a reputable hospital or drug manufacturer runs any trial you choose. Do a little bit of research before you commit.

25. Donate plasma

It sounds unpleasant, but you can earn quick cash by donating plasma. You can usually get $50 per donation, and many facilities offer a bonus for first-timers. Plasma donation is usually safe for healthy people who take the proper precautions, and the pain is minimal. And if it’s any consolation, the fluids are used for a good cause. The healthcare industry relies on people who provide blood and plasma to make life-saving medicines. Just be sure to pick a reputable facility, and don’t try to donate more than the recommended number of times per week.

26. Refinance your mortgage

While mortgage rates are high now, refinancing may be a good deal if you pay off a loan with a 30% APR. Home values are also skyrocketing, so you might be surprised by what your home is now worth and how much extra money you can borrow.

27. Apply for a personal loan

There are a number of personal loans available these days. Some require good credit scores, while others have no minimum credit score requirement (though you’ll pay a higher interest rate.) The application is fast, and you can prequalify without completing the full application. That way, you’ll know how much you’re eligible to borrow and the interest rate you would be offered.

READ MORE: Personal loans

28. Ask for help

No one likes asking for help, and there’s a reason it’s called personal finance. We like to keep the details about our financial situations private. But if they have the resources, borrowing money from someone you have a preexisting relationship with can be a fast and inexpensive way to solve your problems without expensive loans, and it won’t matter if your credit is bad. Just be sure to make an agreement in writing and pay them back as planned. You don’t want to start a family feud or lose a good friend.

29. Borrow money from a stranger on Reddit

Another borrowing option comes through the social media platform Reddit. Using the subreddit r/borrow, people who need small loans post a request. The request specifies how much money they need to borrow, how the money will be spent and how much the borrowers will repay.

Requests usually involve money for emergencies, to tide them over to payday, or deal with unexpected expenses, such as critical home improvements, utility bills or vet bills, though sometimes the requests are as simple as asking for $15 for a pizza to tide them over to the end of the week.

Individual investors choose whether or not to fund a request; then, the loan is usually sent and repaid through cash apps like PayPal or Venmo. Repayment plans are flexible and usually worked out directly with the lender. And because you’re borrowing from an individual, there are no prepayment penalties. The drawback is that you need to have a specific amount of Reddit history before you’re allowed to post a request to borrow.

30. Don’t deprive yourself

It’s tempting to make do with as little as possible when you’re in financial trouble. However, you will burn out if you deprive yourself of everything fun. Burnout, most often, turns into binge behavior, which could make your financial situation worse.

It’s important to set aside monthly money to have fun and blow off steam. The goal is to find ways to have fun that won’t leave you short on food or rent money at the end of the month.

Tackle your debt

If you’ve been ignoring your debt, it’s time to stop. Make a plan and start paying that debt off using either the snowball or the avalanche method. Prioritize your payday loan debt simply because the interest rates are so high.

If you’re unsure where to start, there are many great resources to help you figure out your plan.

Credit counselors with nonprofit agencies usually offer a free consultation and will help you set up a Debt Management Plan. With a DMP, the credit counselor will act as a middleman, negotiating with your lenders and simplifying your payment process. This service isn’t free, though. It will typically cost anywhere from $25 to $75 per month.

Check out the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) for tips or help to connect with a trustworthy local credit counselor.

Debt settlement programs, on the other hand, are usually offered by for-profit companies. In a debt settlement plan, the company negotiates with your creditors to allow you to resolve your debt by paying a “settlement” (a lump sum or payment plan that’s less than the total amount you owe.) The average debt settlement customer ends up debt-free while repaying 80% of the total debt they owe – even after fees.

READ MORE: Debt management vs. debt settlement

The bottom line

Payday loans seem quick and easy, but they’re dangerous. They trap you in a cycle of debt that’s difficult to escape.

Research from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) shows that consumers who use payday loans often still use that type of loan a year later, and many of those borrowers fall into that drap despite better, more affordable borrowing options.

More than 90% of payday loan borrowers regret their original payday loan.

A few extra steps can get you the money you need while keeping you out of the debt trap.

Need more help?

If you’re already stuck in the payday loan debt trap, DebtHammer can help. Contact us now to set up a free consultation. There’s no commitment. Our team of experts will review your financial situation and help you determine your next steps.

Scroll to Top