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What Is A Cash Advance And Should You Get One? – Forbes Advisor


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When you’re strapped, you might consider a cash advance from your credit card. A cash advance is a means of accessing money without applying for a formal loan. Cash advances do not require a credit check and can provide the funds immediately. The amount of fees and interest you pay is directly related to the length of your repayment, so cash advances are intended to be a very short term solution. They also limit the maximum amount of cash you can access, so a cash advance may not be sufficient to cover large expenses.

Types of Cash Advances

Credit Card Cash Advances

A credit card cash advance is a feature offered by many credit cards. Essentially a short-term loan, the borrower can receive cash or a cash equivalent usually up to 20% or 30% of the available credit limit on the card. Some cards will allow you to withdraw 50% or more of your available credit limit.

Merchant Cash Advances

Merchant cash advances (MCA) extend funds to small business owners based on past sales and a projection of future sales. If your business brings in a decent amount of daily credit card and debit card sales, you will likely qualify and have the funds in a matter of days. With a simple application, you can have the funds in hand within a few days.

Payday Loans

Payday loans provide you access to future payment from your employer. In most cases the payday lender requires proof of income such as a previous pay stub. Funds can be accessed at a physical location or online.

How a Cash Advance Works

The process is a little different for each type of cash advance.

Credit Card Cash Advances

You can access a cash advance at an ATM, the financial institution for your card or by writing a convenience check. also known as an access check, periodically mailed in your monthly credit card statement.

Merchants may treat specific credit card usage as a cash advance, as well. Some transactions may be processed as a cash advance including:

  • Initial deposits when opening a bank account
  • Overdraft protection when a credit card secures a checking or savings account
  • Foreign currency, traveler’s checks or money orders
  • Gold or virtual currencies
  • Wire transfers
  • Lottery tickets, casino chips and gambling wagers
  • Some gift cards and prepaid cards

You will pay compounding interest on the advance from the first day the cash is extended plus an up-front service fee. Additionally, most credit card companies only make a portion of your revolving credit line available for use as a cash advance. This amount is often printed on your monthly statement or visible when you log into your account online.

Merchant Cash Advance

Merchant cash advances are not usually extended by your credit card provider, but are offered in partnership with the payment processor for your credit and debit cards sales. Unlike a typical loan, merchant cash advances do not charge an APR. Instead your repayment is based on a factor of your daily sales. This means that you will make a daily repayment based upon your sales at a factor of 1.2 to 1.5.

If you borrow $15,000 at a factor of 1.3. You will need to repay $19,500 plus any origination fees.

This factor means that your daily payment may increase if your sales are high and may further reduce your business cash flow. Likewise, the payments are intended to fall if daily sales drop. However, the FTC received complaints during the pandemic that not all MCA processors conducted the “true-ups” promised to reduce payment when sales dropped.

Payday Loans

Payday loans are intended to be short-term, small amount loans secured by a deferred presentment transaction. The borrower provides a post-dated personal check or permission for a future electronic withdrawal. Even though they are called payday loans, the funds can also be secured by other income such as a pension or Social Security.

While these loans may seem small, often under $500, the fees can be enormous. To obtain a payday loan the borrower commits to finance charges often $10 to $30 for every $100 borrowed. These fees are added to the loan principal on the date of the transaction.

Assuming a $15 finance fee per $100 borrowed on $400, your loans and fees would cost $460 by your next paycheck, often within two weeks. If these fees were calculated as an annual APR this loan is charging over 390% in interest.

Some states allow lenders to roll-over or renew loans if the borrower cannot repay the loan plus fees in full. Depending on the state, these fees could include finance charges, interest, late fees or insufficient funds fees. The true cost of payday loans means that you almost always have better options.

Cash Advance Credit Card Options

If you are planning on a cash advance from a credit card, there are a few ways to reduce your cost. Most credit cards change a fee or a percentage, whichever is greater. If you know that a cash advance is in your future consider a credit card that offers a 3% on cash advances such as the Capital One Venture card as opposed to those that charge 5%.

Credit cards also charge a separate APR for cash advances that is usually higher than your purchase APR. Make sure you shop for the lowest APR you can find on cash advances.

One of the best credit cards for cash advances is the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa. With no fee and a lower than industry standard 17.99% APR for cash advances, this card will make a cash advance much less onerous.

Why Are Cash Advances Expensive?

Fee Structure

Credit card cash advance fees include both up-front fees and interest. Up-front fees are usually a flat fee or a percentage of the cash advance, whichever amount is greater. This fee posts to your account the same day as the cash advance transaction. Common up-front flat fees range from $5 to $12 or 3% to 8%.

Most cards do not offer a grace period for cash advances. You will begin paying interest from the first day the cash advance posts to your credit card. For most credit cards, the cash advance APR is significantly higher than the APR for purchases. Cash advance interest rates typically range from 17.99% to 29.99% APR.

Some cards designate various APR for different types of cash advances. Bank of America assigns APR to direct deposit and check cash advances and a higher APR to bank cash advances including ATM, over-the-counter, overdraft protection and cash equivalent transactions. Check your credit card’s terms to find out what to expect from your specific card.

Potential Costs

Your credit card cash advance is often limited to a portion of the revolving credit line. For instance, if you have a credit limit of $3,000, your cash available is likely $600. With a transaction fee of 4% and no other purchases on your card, you would pay $24 up front and approximately $13 in interest given a 30-day billing cycle with a common 24.99% APR. If you only make the minimum payment of $27, you would pay nearly $236 in interest over 32 months before paying it off. This means that in total, you would pay $260 in interest and fees to borrow $600.

There are additional costs to consider. Withdrawing a cash advance from an ATM will likely incur a fee from the bank or company operating the machine. If you request a cash advance in a foreign currency, a foreign transaction fee could be charged as well. And if you accessed that foreign currency at an ATM there may be a transaction fee for the cash advance, a foreign transaction fee and an ATM operator fee added to your costs.

Using convenience checks issued by your credit card provider could result in unexpected fees. If you write a check over your available cash advance limit, your credit company may not honor your check. According to Luke W. Reynolds, the Chief of the Community Outreach Section of the FDIC, a returned check could incur returned-check fees and over-limit fees from your credit card provider.

Reynolds recommends contacting your credit card company before writing a convenience check to ensure the cash advance is not over your limit. If you plan to deposit this check to your bank account, he advises calling the credit provider after depositing the check and the bank before spending the fund to ensure the check was honored. If the check was not honored and you spend the funds, you could also be charged overdraft fees from your bank.

Note that cash advance checks are different from promotional APR checks that banks may offer from time to time. Using a promotional APR check allows you to access funds at a lower rate than a cash advance—or sometimes even lower than your regular APR. These promotional APR checks can be a good deal if you need to pay off bills with a higher interest rate. If you are unsure which type of check you have, check with your bank before you use that check.

And lastly, if you are unable to make your payments for more than 60 days late on a credit card payment, your card provider could apply a penalty APR.

Cash Advance Pros and Cons


  • Provides quick access to unsecured funds—no collateral required
  • Easy to get—no underwriting or credit check involved


  • Extremely high APR and fees
  • No grace period—credit card cash advances begin accruing interest on day one

Other Considerations for Cash Advances

  • Credit card cash advances do not earn rewards points.
  • Convenience checks are less secure and offer fewer consumer protections than credit card purchases.
  • Your credit card may require a PIN to access a cash advance from an ATM.
  • While merchant cash advances are unsecured, you may be required to sign a personal guarantee making you responsible for repayment even if you go out of business.
  • Repayment for merchant cash advances and payday loans often result in a payment that would be a triple digit APR.

Alternatives to Cash Advances

Personal Loan

If you have good credit, consider a secured or unsecured personal loan from your financial institution. Even with the potential origination fee and interest, the interest rates are typically lower than those for cash advances. This solution will take longer and require additional paperwork. However, if you need a larger amount of money, a personal loan could meet that need with less overall cost.

Retirement Account Loan

You can withdraw the funds you contributed to a Roth IRA at any time without penalty. For tax-advantaged retirement accounts like 401(k)s or Traditional IRAs, you can access funds with an early withdrawal penalty. Both options provide methods to repay the money withdrawn within specific time parameters. Learn more about how the CARES act has changed retirement account rules during COVID-19.

Negotiate a Payment Plan

Contact your creditors or service providers if you believe you cannot make your payment. If your credit account is in good standing, you may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate. If creditors offer you an extension on payments, ensure you know what fees are associated with that service. For other bills like utilities, you can request a payment plan. Due to COVID-19, there are a variety of resources available.

Pay Bills With your Credit Card

If there are bills you usually pay with cash or an ACH transfer from your checking account, consider putting them on your credit card. While there may be a convenience charge for some purchases, car insurance, cell phone and internet bills can usually be charged with no additional cost. This option could free up cash in your budget and would not incur the additional fees or higher APR of a cash advance.


Chime is a mobile banking app that offers a few features to get money to you faster.

With direct deposit to your Chime spending account, you gain access to funds on the date Chime receives the payment, which could be up to two days before the scheduled payment date. How early your paycheck arrives will depend on when your employer releases the funds.

Each Chime account with at least $500 in monthly direct deposits qualifies for up to $20 of fee-free overdraft protection on debit card purchases, via a feature called SpotMe. Based on your account history and other risk factors, Chime may increase the SpotMe limit to up to $100. (SpotMe does not apply to ATM withdrawals, ACH transfers, Pay Friends transfers or Chime Checkbook transactions.)

For small amounts, using the SpotMe overdraft protection for debit card purchases would incur fewer fees than a cash advance.

Is a Cash Advance Right for You?

For urgent needs, a cash advance is an easy, but expensive, way to access funds. Make sure that you have the necessary cash advance credit line available on your credit card and plan to pay the cash advance off as soon as possible. Remember that your credit cash advance line is usually a limited percentage of your overall credit line and that interest charges start accruing right away.

Make sure you understand the fees and consider all your options. In many cases, there are less expensive alternatives to cash advances. If you’re a merchant, make sure to read the fine print very carefully. You will likely want to consider other options if required to personally guarantee repayment.

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