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3 last-ditch solutions for cash emergencies

By Peter Andrew

3 last-ditch solutions for cash emergencies

Been there, done that, got the bills for overdraft fees. I know some readers will look down their noses at me for my bad financial planning, but a whole lot of others will know all too well that nauseous, sinking feeling when the realization dawns: This month's money simply won't stretch until payday.

It's only human to panic in such situations, but panicky people often make dumb choices. So the first things to do are sit down, calm down and think the situation through. Here are three options that may, depending on your personal circumstances, be open to you:

1. Borrow from friends, family or your employer

This may be the most excruciatingly embarrassing option, but it's usually the one that makes the most financial sense. Maybe the bank of mom and dad is open, or you have an irritatingly successful sibling or a generous close friend. And, if you are lucky enough to have a sympathetic and appreciative employer, an advance on your salary might be available.

Yes, I know, there's a whole lot of pride-swallowing involved in making such a request. But these short-term loans are often interest-free or very cheap, and thus generally provide the fastest way for you to get back on your feet.

2. Pursue an overdraft line of credit

This may be your next-best option: You agree with your bank on a limit to which you can overdraw your account -- and for what price. But there are three things to remember:

  1. You have to stick to your limit.
  2. The bank may -- though not always -- charge a modest annual fee for this service.
  3. You have to pay interest, though the APR is often within the normal ranges for a credit card.

Sounds great, huh? The trouble is, banks hate lending to people who need to borrow, and you may be turned down if your credit's not good. If you are declined, and you think one of these would suit you, remember to set one up next time your financial affairs are in good order.

Don't confuse overdraft lines of credit with overdraft protection programs. You have to opt in for the latter nowadays, but all they do is give your bank permission to pay checks or debit card charges when you don't have sufficient funds. You're likely still to be hit with eye-watering fees ($35 isn't uncommon) for each such payment. If you're already struggling to make ends meet, those aren't going to help.

3. Consider the absolute last resort

There can be circumstances in which a payday loan is a reasonable choice. There, I've said it. And I hate myself for doing so. These lenders are often predatory, and many people who promise themselves they're just going to have one small loan for a couple of weeks find themselves caught up in an endless cycle of debt at horrendously high rates.

In fact, The Pew Charitable Trusts calculates that the average payday borrower spends five months in every year burdened with this sort of debt. And consumers in states that haven't banned this form of lending altogether -- or capped the interest rates that can be charged -- are clearly being ripped off. In Idaho, the average APR is 582 percent, according to Pew's April 2014 report.

And yet, even that rate on a small sum over a short period can sometimes be cheaper than being hit with overdraft fees or paying to have your electricity reconnected. If you borrow $100 for two weeks, the cost at 582 percent APR would be about $22.35. The cost of a couple of bounced checks could be $70, and some power suppliers charge $50 or more to reconnect you.

Please, please don't get into payday loans unless:

  1. You absolutely have to -- this usually means your credit history leaves you no other borrowing options -- and it makes sound financial sense in your circumstances.
  2. You know for sure you can pay back the sum on the due date -- and won't be back for another loan the next month or anytime soon.

I'm going to have sleepless nights from now on, worrying I've encouraged a reader onto a declining spiral of debt and misery.

Addressing the real problem

Those three are all short-term solutions. To really address your problem, you have to ask yourself why you're in this mess.

Maybe there's been a single problem (a period of unemployment, ill health or short hours at work) that's now in the past, and your finances are going to be healthy again soon. Once you're back on your feet, don't forget to find the best high-yield savings account you can and rebuild your rainy day fund.

But maybe the issue's structural: You're simply spending more than you earn. That was my problem.

My solution? Create a proper household budget. Spend a couple of months writing down every cent you spend, and then analyze where all your money's going. Find savings, and implement them. If you truly can't find enough to balance your books, then it's time to talk to a reputable credit counselor.

There's pretty much always some way forward. And eventually (or maybe soon), a month should arrive when you don't have to worry about eking out your pay over the last week or two, and all that stress is going to be in the past forever (or so you can hope). When that time comes, just remember how easy it is to get into trouble, and don't start looking down your nose at those who are still struggling.

Peter Andrew has over 25 years of experience writing about marketing, advertising and management. He regularly covers consumer credit card topics for IndexCreditCards.com and other personal finance publications including Fox Business, TheStreet and MSN Money. He also writes frequently about mortgages and auto loans. Peter has spent extended periods living overseas, in the UK, France and Africa. He lives with his partner of 20+ years, and wastes too much of his time on cryptic crosswords.

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