When your $3,500 rooftop air-conditioning unit goes out in the middle of a heat wave, you can either melt or deal with an unexpected cash outlay. And if the unit is installed on top of your building (and with no convenient walk-up access), it’ll cost a bit more than usual to replace, adding insult to injury.

Or maybe some creep sideswipes you at a stop sign and then drives off. Your car insurance won’t pony up until you can cover the deductible. Of course, the police will never find the perp, even though you recorded his license plate number. As such, you’ll have to pay out of pocket — again.

Alternatively, let’s suppose that vandals break your plate-glass windows. The repair sets you back $500 at a time when you least expected it.

All of these scenarios unfortunately happened to me. While I’m thankful they did not occur back-to-back-to-back, these situations demonstrate that bad things often happen when we least expect them — and they usually come with a hefty price tag that leaves you scrambling for quick cash ideas.

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Got an Emergency? Avoid Payday Loans!

Some say that bad news comes in threes, and to that end I recommend an emergency fund to turn to in the event of an unlucky streak — money you set aside little by little each month that you don’t touch except for times of extreme hardship.

But what if you don’t have enough in savings when everything seems to be falling apart?

If you don’t have the funds to deal with the emergency, visiting a payday-loan operator may seem tempting. I get it. Payday lenders are everywhere. Their loans are typically under $1,000 and are meant to be a short-term loan — in between paychecks — and are tempting because they’re so easy to obtain.

You might be asked for proof of employment, an address, or some personal references. These loans seem like a simple solution to an irritating, immediate problem — so what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll pay it back, right?

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Gina Marie Velez found that out firsthand when she turned to payday loans during a stressful divorce.

“It took me over a year to pay them off because of the ridiculous interest and fees,” she says. “They’re the absolute worst. They create a vicious cycle of debt that feels impossible to get out of. Do not ever take a cash payday loan. The interest rates and fees cause a bigger hole in your pocket than the amount of the loan.”

Other Quick Cash Ideas to Avoid

Alternatively, you could be tempted to request a deposit advance from your bank, where your bank financial institution puts money in your account in advance of a forthcoming direct deposit.

While this seems like a smart solution — one that avoids the high interest of payday loans — your bank will likely pay itself back when your next deposit comes in. That, in turn, could set you back to square one. Worse, if there’s no direct deposit in 35 days, your bank might just withdraw the funds from your account regardless of what your balance is, which can lead to hefty overdraw fees.

Running the Numbers on Payday Loans

The average term for a payday loan is two weeks. Finance charges are generally $15 to $30 for every $100, equaling an average APR (annual percentage rate) of 400 percent, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. By contrast, credit card APRs typically range from 12 to 30 percent, and that’s already considered high.

Payday loan users typically end up taking out six to eight of these emergency loans at the same location.

Two-thirds of those are to cover the original loan. This is how unsuspecting borrowers get trapped into a never-ending cycle of high-cost short-term loans.

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Better Quick Cash Ideas

Instead of a payday loan, a low-cost personal loan from your bank or credit union may be available. Small dollar loans from your local banks or credit unions will still come with interest. So even though they won’t be as aggressive as payday loans, you’ll still want to pay them off in a timely fashion.

Knowing if you qualify in advance is helpful, and one of the best ways to figure this out is by checking your credit score. With a high enough score, you may be able to get a short-term loan at a low rate, avoiding the high-interest quagmire of predatory lenders.

When you face an emergency and need money in a hurry, but don’t qualify for a low-cost personal loan, try one of these quick cash ideas instead. This way, you can avoid the debt trap of a payday loan.

1. Sell Something

Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, garage sales, and now apps like Letgo can help you raise cash by selling the possessions in your home. Look through your closets, garage, or storage units, and give your things a new home to make some quick cash and resolve your crisis.

You can use online vending services like eBay to ensure both a quick sale of your unwanted items and a quick receipt of your funds.

Plus, selling unneeded items will help with decluttering your home and organizing your life. Invoke your inner Marie Kondo and get to work — and get that cash.

2. Borrow From Yourself

If you have money in a tax-deferred retirement account, a loan of half the vested value — 50 percent of the money in the account, up to $50,000 — is an option when you’re cash-strapped and facing an emergency. There’s no credit check or long approval period; the interest rates are generally lower than credit cards; and the payments are deducted from your paycheck, which makes ignoring the loan impossible.

Keep in mind this method applies only to individuals with certain types of retirement accounts. “Only two types of tax-deferred retirement accounts have this feature: a 401(k) and 403(b),” says certified financial planner Samuel Rad. “There are other accounts — Roth IRAs and SEP IRAs — that do not have this feature.”

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The Drawback

The downside is that you miss out on tax-deferred gains, which will hamper your long-term financial planning efforts. And since your repayment of this loan will come directly from your paycheck, you won’t be contributing to your retirement account during the repayment period.

In short, you’ll be contributing less to your retirement fund during the repayment window and losing any compounding effect.

Another Option

Alternatively, if you’ve already taken out a loan via your employer-sponsored retirement account and opt instead to withdraw the money directly — without the intention of paying it back — you’ll face a number of financial penalties.

“If it’s a pre-tax account and the person does a withdrawal — not a loan — it’s called a premature distribution,” adds Rad. “If a person does this, they’ll incur a 10 percent IRS penalty for taking it out too soon, in addition to the tax they’ll have to pay on that money.”

“However, you can take up to $10,000 out for financial hardship as it relates to medical expenses without the IRS penalty, but it will be taxed. The same can be done for a first-time home purchase and education costs such as tuition,” Rad adds.

The qualifiers on the number of loans you can take out — and for what value — will be determined by the plan your employer has selected. As such, you’ll likely want to touch base with your company’s HR department before touching your retirement plan’s war chest.

3. Try Peer-to-Peer Lending

An applicant with a credit score of at least 640 can qualify for up to $40,000 through a peer-to-peer lending service. Peer-to-peer lending occurs when an individual borrows money from another individual, usually through an online platform, eliminating the need for a bank or credit union. Rates vary depending on loan term, credit score, and loan amount, but the average is 14 percent.

The application process uses a soft credit score pull that won’t negatively impact potential borrowers. Plus, it’s a fairly quick option, providing loans on a timetable much faster than the bank and with less strict qualifications.

The process is completely automated, so you can obtain a quote in minutes.

Origination fees range from 1 to 6 percent, and you’ll have your loan in your account within 24 hours of approval.

4. Consider a Low-Interest Credit Card

While not the best option for long-term financial health, you could also use a zero percent APR or low-interest credit card to address unexpected expenses, provided you qualify. Using a credit card to cover emergency expenses isn’t ideal because keeping your balances low and paying off the bill in full each month is necessary to maintaining a good credit score.

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Credit cards tend to have relatively high interest rates, but those rates are usually still lower than payday loans. Plus, some come with a zero percent rate for a few months as an introductory promotion. Then the rate increases to anywhere from 12 to 30 percent: still much better than a rate of 400 to 500 percent.

5. Negotiate With Creditors

You should also consider whether, rather than saddling yourself with additional debt, you can buy yourself more time as it relates to repaying creditors.

If you have a good history with debt repayment up to this point, a quick phone call conversation could provide you with a necessary extension until that next direct deposit hits.

While not a guaranteed method, talking to debtors and explaining your situation can help you avoid saddling yourself with additional debt and save you the hassle of scrambling to come up with the necessary cash. When dealing with pushy creditors, acquaint yourself with the rights you have under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Creditors are not allowed to barrage you with incessant calls, misrepresent the amount you owe, or falsely claim you’ll be arrested. While having outstanding debt can be stressful, don’t let a third party make things worse than they actually are.

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6. Cut Everday Costs (and Earn Extra Cash!)

Reducing everyday expenses can help free up some additional funds to pay for emergency expenses when you least expect it. To that end, perhaps consider looking into local food pantries for free groceries, or try your hand at extreme couponing with the help of your local newspaper.

This may also be the perfect time to perfect your side hustle and take advantage of extra paid gigs relevant to your skillset.

Look into recruiters and staffing agencies in your area, polish up your résumé, and get to work.

There’s no shortage of money to be made in temp or part-time gigs, provided you have a few hours to spare.

Taking advantage of them can ease your burden tremendously if your checking account starts to run dry.

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7. Ask Friends and Family

If all else fails, there’s always your personal connections. If you decide to borrow from friends or family, repay the emergency loan as soon as possible. Damaging your “credit” with loved ones can ruin relationships, and no amount of help is worth that.

It’s best not to get in the habit of constantly borrowing money from people. And whether or not you should ask also depends on how much you need. If you just need $200 to get you through the next four days until you get paid, that might be more doable than if you needed to borrow $2,000 to cover you for a month.

Finding Quick Cash Ideas and Avoiding Payday Loans

Periods of financial hardship are stressful, regardless of your income level, but payday loans can exacerbate that hardship for years to come. Thankfully, there are quick cash ideas out there that won't devastate your finances.

By pooling your local resources and seeing what cost-saving measures are possible, you can avoid loan sharks and get back on the financial saddle in no time.

Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.