If you sometimes feel like there’s too much month at the end of your money, you’re not alone.
According to the 2016 National Financial Well-Being Survey conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, more than 40% of American adults have trouble making ends meet. It’s one reason payday loans are such big business in this country. These short-term loans promise a quick and easy way to tide yourself over until your next payday. But in the long run, they only make your situation worse by adding a whopping interest payment to all your other bills.
Thanks to modern technology, there’s a better solution. Several popular personal finance apps help you make it from one payday to the next by giving you access to your paycheck a few days early. That way, if it’s the middle of the week and your car battery just died, you can get the money to cover the repair without paying hefty interest and fees.
How Payday Advance Apps Work
Technically, the service these apps offer isn’t a loan. It’s a paycheck advance. In other words, it’s a way to get paid a little early for the work you’ve already performed.
A payday advance app pays you for some of the work you’ve already done this week, even if your paycheck is still several days away. For example, the app transfers the $100 you need to borrow to your checking account, and when your next paycheck arrives, the app takes $100 directly from it to cover the cost.
It’s the same way a payday loan works but with one crucial difference: There’s no interest. When you receive your paycheck, all that comes out is the $100 you actually received — without an extra $15 or more in interest. The apps earn their makers money in various other ways, including tips and monthly fees.
However, the lack of interest doesn’t mean there’s no downside. You’re still taking money out of your next paycheck, leaving yourself with even less to pay all the bills. For many, that leads to taking another advance before the next paycheck and another the paycheck after that. Eventually, you’re stuck in a cycle. You’re always behind and dependent on the app and the advances it offers to get you through the month.
Taking a paycheck advance is only a stopgap measure. It doesn’t make your limited paycheck stretch any further this month than it did last month. Use it for the immediate cash you need to deal with an unexpected one-time expense. If you’re always behind, it’s time to either earn extra cash or tighten your belt a notch or two.
Pro Tip: If you want to reduce your monthly expenses, sign up for Billshark. They negotiate bills like your Internet and cellphone and help you cancel subscriptions you no longer need. Plus, if you send them a bill to negotiate, they give you a $25 reward.
Top Payday Advance Apps
Some payday advance apps do only one thing: give you access to your paycheck early. However, most of them come with more features. Many apps provide online banking services, cash-back shopping, online investing, and tools for employers to manage their workforces.
Don’t just use the first app you download. Figure out which one has the features you really need, and stick with that one.
Perhaps the most flexible payday advance app is Brigit. It delivers up to $250 that you’ve already earned to your account by the next business day without subjecting you to a credit check.
When your next paycheck arrives, Brigit automatically pulls the money out of your bank account. However, you can opt to pay back the loan early. You can also extend the due date once on your first loan with no late fee or penalty. As you continue to use the app, you can earn additional extension credits that allow you to delay payment up to three times in a row.
Brigit has an option to notify you if your account balance is running low so you can request an advance if you need it. You can also set up automated advances to receive a transfer anytime your account balance is in danger of dropping below zero to avoid overdraft fees. However, this perk is only available as part of Brigit’s Plus plan, which comes with a $10 monthly fee.
Brigit doesn’t offer cash advances to just anyone. You must meet the app’s requirements for:
- Income. You have to show your monthly income is above a certain amount, which they don’t specify on the site. Moreover, all this income must come from a single steady source. You must show you’ve received at least three paycheck direct deposits from the same employer before Brigit grants you an advance.
- Banking. You must have a checking account that’s at least 60 days old with a balance greater than $0. Additionally, you must show sufficient activity in your account, which means using it regularly to make payments, receive deposits, or check balances. Finally, you must show you have a sufficient end-of-day balance on your payday so Brigit knows it can safely collect your payment without overdrawing your account.
- Brigit Score. Brigit applies a scoring system similar to a credit score to all potential members. It’s based on your earnings, spending, and banking behavior. The score ranges from 1 to 100, and you must have at least a 70 to receive cash advances.
In addition to cash advances, Brigit offers a few extra features to help you stay on top of your finances. With the free plan, you get updates on your financial health, personalized tips for improving it, and opportunities to earn extra cash. The Plus plan also provides instant deposit, flexible repayment, credit monitoring, and identity theft insurance.
With the Empower app, you can get an interest-free advance of up to $250 at any time during your pay cycle.* There are no late fees and no credit checks. You can have the money sent instantly to your external bank account for a $3 fee or to your Empower Checking Account (discussed below) for free.
However, Empower is more than just a payroll advance app. It’s a complete online interest checking account that includes:
- Interest Checking. Access free delivery of instant Cash Advance with no interest, no late fees and no risk to your credit. Plus, Get your paycheck up to two days early^ by having it deposited into your Empower Checking Account. There’s also no overdraft fees and no minimums with 24/7 spending alerts to help you keep track of your money.
- Automatic Savings. Empower also has an Automatic Savings feature. The app tracks your income and expenses and uses that information to transfer money to your AutoSave Account. It sets aside more money when your balance is high and less when your expenses increase. It keeps doing this every day until you hit your designated weekly savings goal.
- Budgeting. You can use Empower as a budgeting app too. The app suggests an overall spending limit based on your income, and you decide how much of that limit to devote to specific budget categories. Empower sends you alerts when your spending in a given category is about to go over the limit. It also provides monthly reports that show how much you spend in each category.
- Savings Tips. As it tracks your spending, Empower lets you know about areas where you can potentially save money. For instance, it can tell you how much you’re spending on subscription fees and makes it easy to cancel subscriptions you’re not using.
Empower is free for the first 14 days. After that, it charges a fee of $8 per month. To qualify for up to $250 Cash Advance, you must make regular direct deposits to your Empower Checking Account.* You must also meet certain requirements for account history and activity.
*Eligibility requirements apply. Free instant delivery is available for eligible Empower Checking Account customers with an activated debit card.
^Banking services provided by nbkc bank, Member FDIC. Early access to paycheck deposit funds depends on the timing of the employer’s submission of deposits. We generally post such deposits on the day they are received which may be up to 2 days earlier than the employer’s scheduled payment date.
Nextgen banking service Wealthfront now offers an additional perk: a bank account that processes your paycheck faster. When you set up direct deposit on your Wealthfront Cash Account, the money can enter your account up to two days before your official payday, depending on your payroll provider. In addition to making the money available sooner, that gives it two extra days of each pay period to earn interest. And with unlimited free transfers to your connected investment account, you can easily put your money to work in the market at any time.
The Wealthfront Cash Account offers a generous interest rate of 0.10% APY, with no account fees or monthly maintenance fee. You can make an unlimited number of transfers into and out of your account each month at no cost. You can also make payments directly from your account or withdraw cash with no fees through a nationwide network of 19,000 ATMs. And, unlike most banks, it insures the cash in your account up to $1 million — four times the amount covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
One unique feature of Wealthfront is its Self-Driving Money™ vision. It gives you the option to take care of all your financial obligations automatically. Once you direct-deposit your paycheck, Wealthfront can pay all your bills, replenish your emergency fund, and direct any extra money into an investment account based on your personal goals.
Varo is an online banking service that can give you faster access to your paycheck. With most traditional bank accounts, you have to wait up to two days for the payment to clear before you have access to the money. But when you use direct deposit with your Varo account, your paycheck enters your account as soon as your employer transfers it. Thus, the money can be in your hands up to two days earlier.*
Other features of a Varo Bank Account include:
- Varo Visa® Debit Card. The account comes with a contactless debit card that bears the Visa brand mark. It comes with a Zero Liability guarantee, meaning you aren’t responsible for any unauthorized charges. The app gives you the ability to lock this card instantly if it’s lost or stolen. You can link your debit card to your Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Cash App, and Venmo accounts for online payments.
- Transfers to Other Varo Bank Customers. You can transfer money instantly from your Varo account to anyone else’s. There’s no fee for this service.
- Fewer Fees. Varo has no monthly fee, no minimum balance, no transfer fees, and no foreign transaction fees. It also provides fee-free access to more than 55,000 ATMs in the Allpoint® network in stores like Walgreens, Target, and CVS.
- Deposit Money. You can deposit checks remotely using the Varo app. You can also deposit cash into your account at any of more than 90,000 retail locations that use Green Dot Reload® @ the Register, though most retailers charge a fee for this service.
- Automatic Savings Tools. A standard Varo Bank Account is similar to a checking account. However, if you also have a Varo Savings Account, Varo offers two automatic savings tools to build up your nest egg. With Save Your Pay, you can automatically have a chosen percentage of every paycheck transferred from your bank account to your savings account. Or with Save Your Change, you can round up every transaction to the nearest dollar, and Varo transfers that amount from your Varo Bank Account to your Savings Account.
- Varo Believe Credit Card. If you’re trying to build your credit score, Varo’s secured credit card can help. It’s linked to your Varo Bank Account, and each time you use the card, Varo automatically sets aside money to meet the payment. That guarantees you can always pay your balance in full and on time. Varo reports these on-time payments to the three major credit bureaus to boost your credit score fast. You can even watch it improve through credit monitoring in the Varo Bank app.
*Early access to direct deposit funds depends on timing of payer’s submission of deposits. Varo generally posts such deposits on the day they are received which may be up to 2 days earlier than the payer’s scheduled payment date.
Bank Account Services provided by Varo Bank, N.A. Member FDIC. Visa® Debit Card is issued by Varo Bank, N.A. pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.
©2021 Varo Bank, N.A.
Like Wealthfront and Varo, Chime is an online bank account that gives you access to your pay faster. If you have a Chime account with direct deposit, your wages become available to you the same day your employer deposits them into the account. That gives you access to your money up to two days earlier.
Chime is a full-service bank account you can use to transfer money, send and deposit checks, and pay bills online. It also offers a lot of other great perks most bank accounts don’t, including:
- No Hidden Fees. Most brick-and-mortar banks load down their accounts with costly bank fees. By contrast, Chime charges no overdraft fees, minimum balance fees, monthly service fees, transfer fees, or foreign transaction fees. It also offers fee-free access to a network of over 38,000 MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance ATMs.
- Banking Alerts. Chime helps you keep track of your money by sending you an alert any time it transfers cash into or out of your account. The app notifies you when your paycheck comes in or when you make a purchase with your Chime debit card. It also tells you every day exactly how much money you have in your account.
- Automatic Savings. Chime offers a savings account with built-in automatic savings features. For instance, you can arrange to have 10% of every paycheck transferred to your savings account immediately. There’s also a feature to automatically round up your debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and deposit the change into savings.
- Debit Card Protections. Chime’s debit card is protected by Visa Zero Liability. Additionally, if your card is ever lost or stolen, you can stop others from using it by disabling it right in the app with one swipe.
- Payments to Friends. Chime’s Pay Friends feature allows you to send payments to other Chime users free of charge. You can use it for splitting a restaurant check, paying your share of the rent or utility bill, or making an instant payment to the babysitter.
Chime is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by, and debit card issued by, The Bancorp Bank or Stride Bank, N.A.; Members FDIC.
6. Axos Bank — Direct Deposit Express
Another online bank that offers faster access to your paycheck is Axos Bank. Its fee-free Essential Checking account comes with Direct Deposit Express, a feature that gives you access to your paycheck as soon as your employer submits the payroll instruction to the bank — up to two days before your coworkers get theirs. All you have to do is set up direct deposit for your account, and the bank does the rest.
Essential Checking from Axos also offers other perks, such as:
- Low Fees. Essential Checking has no monthly maintenance fees, no minimum monthly balance, and no overdraft or nonsufficient funds fees. It also offers unlimited reimbursement for ATM fees from other banks within the United States.
- Online and Mobile Banking. You can use the Axos website or mobile app to manage your account from anywhere. Its features include free mobile check deposit and online bill payment. And you can integrate it with third-party apps like Venmo or Mint.
- No-Hassle Switching. If you don’t currently have an Essential Checking account, it’s easy to set one up. Axos can walk you through the whole process in two minutes. You don’t even need to make an initial deposit.
Another Axos account that comes with Direct Deposit Express is Nationwide My Checking. This special checking account is available only to customers of Nationwide insurance. It’s similar to Essential Checking except it requires an opening deposit of $100.
The very first payroll advance app was ActiveHours, which is now Earnin. Its creator, Ram Palaniappan, says its goal is to make the financial system fairer by helping workers break free of the pay cycle that holds back their money.
Earnin works much the same way as Brigit, but it only allows you to cash out up to $100 per day and $500 per pay period. There’s no fee for this service, but you can add a “tip” of any amount up to $14. Although the tip is optional, Palaniappan told Vox in May 2019 that many Earnin users voluntarily pay it to help keep the app running. Some even opt to “pay it forward,” deliberately leaving a bigger tip to cover the cost for those who can’t afford it.
In addition to paycheck advances, Earnin provides several other features to help workers on a budget, including:
- Balance Shield. This feature protects you from hefty bank overdraft fees. It keeps track of your bank balance and alerts you if your balance drops below a particular amount you choose. It can also automatically give you a $100 cash advance if you need one.
- Cash-Back Rewards. Earnin also acts as a shopping rewards app. Just link your credit card to your Earnin account and earn rewards of up to 10% cash back at participating local stores and restaurants. Cash in your rewards at any time and transfer them directly to your bank account.
- Tip Yourself. This is an FDIC-insured online bank account with a special perk. When you save money in your Tip Yourself account, you enter a drawing to win weekly cash prizes. It’s like a lottery ticket that pays out interest even when you don’t win.
The Dave app combines some of the features of Earnin and Chime. It’s an online checking account with no minimum balance that also offers a no-interest cash advance.
With most banks, if you make a payment that’s more than you have in your account, the bank pays out the money and then hits you with a stiff fee. Dave takes a different approach. It notifies you you’re at risk of going over your balance and gives you the option to request a cash advance of up to $200 from your next paycheck. There’s no interest, and no credit check is required.
Other Dave features include:
- An electronic checking account with no minimum balance
- Fee-free access to 32,000 MoneyPass ATMs nationwide
- The ability to freeze and unfreeze your card via the app
- Automatic budgeting based on your monthly expenses
- Free subscription to LevelCredit, which reports your rent payment to the credit bureaus to let you build credit without a credit card. (This feature is available only to users who make regular direct deposits of at least $200 into their Dave Spending Account.)
- A Side Hustle feature to connect you with money-making gigs in your area
Dave has a minimal membership fee (just $1 per month), but it makes most of its money from tips. Each time you request an advance, you can opt to tip a suggested amount or set your own amount. For each 1% you tip, Dave gives back by planting a tree through Trees for the Future and making a donation to Feeding America.
Another online banking app that offers a combination of early cash advances and early paycheck access is MoneyLion. Its Instacash feature lets you borrow up to $250 of your next paycheck with no interest and no credit check. This feature is available 24/7, and the money appears in your account within seconds. And, at the same time, its online RoarMoney account gives you access to your paycheck up to two days early.
But MoneyLion’s features don’t end there. It also offers:
- Low-Fee Checking. RoarMoney has no minimum balance requirement and no fees for standard transfers, foreign transactions, mobile check deposit, stop payment, or card replacement. It also gives you fee-free access to over 55,000 Allpoint ATMs worldwide. The only fee is a $1 monthly administrative fee.
- Low-Fee Investing. MoneyLion isn’t just for saving. It lets you transfer money from your savings account into a portfolio of exchange-traded funds customized to fit your risk tolerance. You can also adjust your investments to fit specific interests, such as socially responsible investing. Your account is fully managed but has no management fees and no minimum balance. There’s even an automatic investment feature to make investing easy. Like RoarMoney, this account has a $1 monthly fee.
- Free Fraud Protection. MoneyLion uses multi-factor authentication to keep your account secure. It also enables you to lock and unlock your debit card through the app.
- Budgeting Tools. MoneyLion sends weekly spending reports so you can see where your cash is going. It also provides budgeting tools to help you get your spending under control.
- Cash-Back Rewards. With the MoneyLion app, you earn cash back on debit card purchases from select online merchants. And with MoneyLion’s Shake ‘N’ Bank feature, you can earn additional rewards just by shaking your phone after making a $10 purchase.
- Price Protection. Your purchases through MoneyLion are also price-protected. If you find a lower price within 90 days after making a purchase, you can get a refund of the difference. (There’s a limit of $250 per refund and four refunds per year.)
For $19.99 per month, you can upgrade to a Credit Builder Plus account. This feature allows you to take out a loan of up to $1,000 and pay it back over 12 months. Annual percentage rates (APRs) range from 5.99% to 29.99%, depending on your credit rating. By making regular, on-time payments, you can build a solid credit history.
Credit Builder Plus also includes other features to help build your credit. It comes with free credit monitoring from TransUnion, allowing you to track your progress. And it allows you to waive the $1 administrative fee on a RoarMoney bank account, a MoneyLion investment account, or both.
Yet another mobile bank account that provides early paycheck access is Go2Bank, a subsidiary of Green Dot. It offers all the perks you’d expect from an online bank account, including:
- An interest rate of 1% APY — over 10 times the national average
- No monthly fees, as long as you use direct deposit. (Without direct deposit, the fee is $5 per month.)
- Fraud alerts if there’s suspicious activity on your account
- The ability to lock and unlock your account in the app
- Online bill payment
- Overdraft protection of up to $200 with direct deposit
- Access to a network of free ATMs that you can find through the app. (There’s a fee of $3 for out-of-network ATM withdrawals.)
- A secured credit card to help you build credit
- A free monthly credit score from Equifax
- The ability to make cash deposits at a participating retail store (although the store may charge a fee)
- The ability to cash checks via the app for a fee of 1% to 5% (minimum $5)
- Up to 7% cash back on in-app purchases of electronic gift cards
Unlike some payday advance apps, PayActiv isn’t something you use on your own. Instead, your employer offers it to you as a benefit. Its core feature is what it calls “earned wage access,” or EWA, which is the ability to collect your wages as soon as you earn them.
PayActiv allows you to collect up to 50% of any wages you’ve already earned, up to a maximum of $500. You can transfer the money to your bank account, use it to pay bills online, transfer it to a prepaid card, or even receive it in cash at a Walmart Money Center. The app charges a flat fee of $5 for each biweekly period in which you use the service. If you don’t use it, you don’t pay a fee.
Along with EWA, PayActiv offers one-on-one financial coaching and payment features for employees. You can use it to pay bills, summon an Uber, or make purchases on Amazon. It even provides discounts on prescription drugs. You can also choose to put your money on a free PayActiv prepaid card, which is accepted anywhere Visa is and also works at 65,000 in-network ATMs.
PayActiv has perks for employers as well. It helps improve worker satisfaction, reduces turnover, attracts new workers, improves on-the-job productivity, and even reduces stress-related health care costs. The service costs employers nothing and takes only two days to set up. Employers using it include restaurants such as Wendy’s, retailers such as Walmart, and senior care facilities.
DailyPay is another app for employers to offer as a benefit. Like PayActiv, it gives you access to a portion of the wages you’ve earned before payday.
For each shift you work, you build up credit in your DailyPay account, which you can then transfer to your bank account at any time. The app charges a fee of $1.99 per transfer to receive your money by the next business day or $2.99 to receive your money instantly. When payday comes around, you receive your regular paycheck minus any advances you’ve requested. According to DailyPay, the average employee using the service saves $1,205 in overdraft fees, late fees, and payday loan interest.
DailyPay also lets you set up various kinds of automatic transfers to your savings account. You can use AutoSave to save a set amount each payday, DirectSave to set aside a percentage of each paycheck, or RoundupSave to make a transfer to savings whenever you request an advance.
DailyPay boasts that it can help employers attract nearly twice as many job applicants and reduce turnover by more than 45%. It even says one out of six workers using DailyPay applied for their current jobs specifically because of this benefit. Companies that use it include Kroger, Vera Bradley, Westgate Resorts, and The Maids International.
The FlexWage app for employers works a little differently from DailyPay and PayActive. When you sign up for the app as an employee, you receive a reloadable debit card for your wages, which takes the place of a paper paycheck. This gives you immediate access to your money on payday, unlike a check you deposit at the bank. You can use the card at any retailer that accepts Visa and at any Allpoint ATM, or transfer the cash to a bank account for free.
If you need money before payday arrives, the OnDemand Pay feature lets you request an advance. However, it’s up to your employer to decide how often that feature is available and what the limit on the advance is. The fee you pay for this service also varies by employer.
An additional feature, called FlexPay, is specifically for tipped employees, such as restaurant servers. It allows them to receive all their tips on their pay card instantly at the end of their shift. It’s faster than waiting for tips submitted with a credit card payment and safer than leaving work with a large sum in cash. FlexPay also lets employers pay contract workers or make one-time payments such as commissions, bonuses, and per diems to their regular workers.
FlexWage gives you access to a financial wellness program called Sum180 too. It allows you to:
- Link and view all your financial accounts in one place
- Make a starter budget in seconds
- Receive daily financial tips and challenges
- Read more detailed information on financial topics of interest
- Talk to a financial wellness coach
In addition to improving worker satisfaction, FlexWage helps employers save money by eliminating the need for paper paychecks. Many well-known restaurant chains use this app, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Denny’s, and Panda Express. Other clients include RWJBarnabas Health and Peppermill Casinos.
Branch is another payday advance app designed mainly for employers. It replaces paper paychecks with cashless payments to a free digital account complete with its own debit card. Employers can use the service to pay contractors, reimburse employees for expenses, and grant workers access to their pay through EWA.
For employees, Branch also offers savings tools to get ahead financially. Aside from accessing your wages early, the app lets you:
- Keep track of your balance and payments
- Get alerts about upcoming bills
- Receive regular spending reports
Branch is a great benefit for employers with a lot of unbanked or underbanked employees. It provides them with their own bank account, payment card, and fast access to their wages. Branch says it can help employers reduce absenteeism by 16% and double their worker retention.
Payday Advance App Won’t Lend Enough?
Sometimes, the $100 or $250 limit on payday advance apps isn’t enough to cover all your expenses. Even in this situation, a payday loan isn’t the best way to get the help you need. A personal loan has much lower interest and more manageable payments than a payday loan, which is due in a lump sum.
Banks, credit unions, online lenders, and peer-to-peer lenders such as Prosper all offer personal loans. The lender performs a credit check before approving you for a loan. Some personal loans, called secured loans, also require some form of collateral, such as a car or cash in your bank account. Unsecured loans don’t require collateral, but they usually have higher interest rates.
Banks offer personal loans for amounts ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. If you have great credit, you can get a personal loan for as low as 10% APR, according to ValuePenguin. That’s significantly less than the rate on most credit cards.
However, if your credit is poor, the interest rate on a personal loan could be as high as 30%. Additionally, these loans often come with origination fees of 1% to 6%. So, before signing off on a loan, check the total cost to make sure it wouldn’t be cheaper to use your credit card.
If you need money in a hurry to cover an unexpected expense, cash advance apps offer a cheap and convenient way to get it. However, they’re not a long-term solution to your financial woes. If you consistently have trouble making ends meet, you need more than just a one-time cash infusion. You need to stop living paycheck to paycheck.
Fortunately, many of these apps help you with that too. For starters, they help you break free from payday lenders and the high interest payments they charge. They also help you stay on top of your bills and avoid the late or overdraft fees that are weighing down your budget.
Some payday advance apps also offer budgeting tools to help you track and manage your spending or automated savings tools to help you build up your emergency fund. Many also provide ways to help you earn extra money through cash-back rewards, extra shifts, or side gigs. With the help of these tools, you won’t need to rely on cash advances to cover those unplanned expenses; you’ll have money in the bank to take care of them.