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Strategies to Save

RANKED: The 10 Best Options When You Need Cash Fast

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

What happens when your emergency fund isn’t enough?

Long-term unemployment or a medical emergency can easily dry up a once-healthy rainy day fund, leaving consumers wondering where to turn next. According to a recent consumer expectations survey by the New York Federal Reserve, only one in three Americans say they wouldn’t be able come up with $2,000 within a month to cover an unexpected expense.

It’s during times of vulnerability like this that it’s easy to jump at seemingly quick and easy sources of cash, like payday lenders, credit cards, or even your 401(k).

Unfortunately, practically every potential source of cash that doesn’t come from your own piggy bank is going to cost you in some way.

But at this point, it’s all about choosing the lesser of all evils — when all you have are crummy options, how do you decide which one is the best of the worst?

We’ve ranked common sources of emergency short-term cash from best to worst, which can help you sort through your borrowing options when your savings dry up.

#1 Personal loan from family and friends

It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have with a loved one, but asking a friend or relative for a small loan can be a far better idea than turning to high-interest credit debt, or worse, payday lenders. Unless they’re offering, it doesn’t have to be an interest-free loan. Agree on an interest rate that seems fair and is lower than what you’d find through a bank or other lender.

Because you have a relationship already, you may have an easier time convincing them to lend you money versus a bank that would make the decision after doing a credit check and evaluating other financial information.

#2 (tie) Lender-backed personal loan

A personal loan can be a solid borrowing option if you need money in a pinch or you’re looking to consolidate other debt. The process to apply for a personal loan is similar to applying for a credit card or auto loan, in that the lender will run your credit and offer you a certain rate based on your creditworthiness.

If your credit is poor, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the running for a personal loan, but it will cost you in the form of much higher interest charges. For example, a lender could offer loans with APRs ranging from 5.99% to 35.85%. The lower your score, the higher your rate. You can get rates from multiple lenders without impacting your credit score at LendingTree (which owns MagnifyMoney). You can start your shopping experience on their website (by clicking this link).

Why choose a personal loan over a credit card? It really comes down to math. If you can find a personal loan that will cost less in the long term than using a credit card, then go for it. Use this personal loan calculator to estimate how much a loan will cost you over time. Then, run the same figures through this credit card payoff calculator.

#2 (tie) Credit cards

If your need for cash is truly short-term and you have enough income to pay it off quickly, then credit card debt can be a decent option. This option gets even better if you can qualify for a card with a 0% interest offer. The card will let you buy some time by allowing you to cover your essentials while you work on paying off the balance.

Because the debt is unsecured, unlike an auto title loan, you aren’t putting your assets at risk if you can’t pay.

#3 Home equity line of credit (HELOC)

You may be able to leverage the equity in your home to cover short-term emergency needs. A HELOC, or home equity line of credit, is a revolving credit line extended to a homeowner using your home as collateral. How much you can take out will depend on your home’s value, your remaining mortgage balance, your household income, and your credit score. A home equity line of credit may allow you to borrow the maximum amount, or only as much as you need. You will also be responsible for the costs of establishing and maintaining the home equity line of credit. You can learn more about these here.

You’ll choose the repayment schedule and can set that for less than 10 years or more than 20 years, but the entire balance must be paid in full by the end of the loan term. You’ll pay interest on what you borrow, but you may be able to deduct it from your income taxes. Keep in mind that if you are unemployed, it will be unlikely that you’ll be approved for a HELOC.

HELOC vs. Personal loans

Because home equity lines of credit are secured against the borrower’s home, if you default on your home equity line of credit, your lender can foreclose on your home. Personal loans, on the other hand, are usually unsecured, so, while failure to make your payments on time will adversely impact your credit, none of your personal property is at risk.

#4 A 401(k) loan

A 401(k) loan may be a good borrowing option if you’re in a financial pinch and are still employed. And it is a far better bet than turning to a payday lender or pawn shop for a loan. Because you’re in effect borrowing from yourself, any interest you pay back to the account is money put back in your retirement fund. You are allowed to borrow up to $50,000 or half of the total amount of money in your account, whichever is less. Typically, 401(k) loans have to be repaid within five years, and you’ll need to make payments at least quarterly.

But there are some cons to consider. If you get laid off or change jobs, a 401(k) loan immediately becomes due, and you’ll have 60 days to repay the full loan amount or put the loan funds into an IRA or other eligible retirement plan. If you don’t make the deadline, the loan becomes taxable income and the IRS will charge you another 10% early withdrawal penalty.

#5 Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) withdrawal

Generally, withdrawing funds from your retirement savings is a big no-no, because you’re going to miss out on any gains you might have enjoyed had you kept your money in the market. On top of that, there are fees and tax penalties, which we’ll cover in the next section.

But there is an exception: the Roth IRA or Roth 401(k).

Because funds contributed to Roth accounts are taxed right away, you won’t face any additional tax or penalties for making a withdrawal early. The caveat is that you can only withdraw from the principal amount you’ve contributed — you’re not allowed to withdraw any of the investment gains your contributions have earned without facing taxes and penalties.

However, it is still true that any money you take out is money that will not have a chance to grow over time, so you will still miss out on those earnings.

#6 Traditional 401(k) or IRA withdrawal

Experts typically recommend against borrowing from your 401(K) or IRA, but when you’re in desperate need of cash, it may be your best option.

Just understand the risks.

If you withdraw funds from a traditional retirement account before age 59 1/2 , the money will be taxed as income, and you’ll be charged a 10% early distribution penalty tax by the IRS. You may want to speak with a tax professional to estimate how much you’ll have to pay in taxes and take out more than you need to compensate for that loss. There’s no exception to the income tax, but there are a number of exceptions to the 10% penalty, such as qualified education expenses or separation from service — when you leave a company, whether by retirement, quitting, or getting fired or laid off — at 55 years or older.

When you take that money out, not only will you lose out on potential tax-deferred investment growth, but you’ll also lose a huge chunk of your retirement savings to taxes and penalties.

#7 Reverse mortgage

Homeowners 62 years old and older have another option for cash in a pinch: a reverse mortgage. With a reverse mortgage, your property’s equity is converted into (usually) tax-free payments for you. You can take the money up front as a line of credit, receive monthly payments for a fixed term or for as long as you live in the home, or choose a mix of the options. You keep the title, but the lender pays you each month to buy your home over time.

In most cases, you won’t be required to repay the loan as long as you’re still living in your home. You’ll also need to stay current on obligations like homeowners insurance, real estate taxes, and basic maintenance. If you don’t take care of those things, the lender may require you to pay back the loan.

The loan becomes due when you pass away or move out, and the home must be sold to repay the loan. If you pass away, and your spouse is still living in the home but didn’t sign the loan agreement, they’ll be allowed to continue living on the property, but won’t receive any more monthly payments. When they pass away or move out, the home will be sold to repay the loan.

The reverse mortgage may take a month or longer to set up, but once you get the paperwork set you can choose to take a line of credit, which could serve as an emergency fund, advises Columbus, Ohio-based certified financial planner Tom Davison.

He says the reverse mortgage’s advantages lie in the fact that it doesn’t need to be paid back until the homeowner permanently leaves the house, and it can be paid down whenever the homeowner is able. You can also borrow more money later if you need it, as the line of credit will grow at the loan’s borrowing rate.

Take care to look at the fine print before you sign. Under current federal law, you’ll only have three days, called a right of rescission, to cancel the loan. Reverse mortgage lenders also usually charge fees for origination, closing, and servicing over the life of the mortgage. Some even charge mortgage insurance premiums. Also, if you pass away before the loan is paid back, your heirs will have to handle it.

#8 Payday loan alternatives

While regulators work to reign in the payday lending industry, a new crop of payday loan alternatives is beginning to crop up.

Services like Activehours or DailyPay allow hourly wage earners to get paid early based on the hours they’ve already worked. Activehours allows you to withdraw up to $100 each day and $500 per pay period, while DailyPay, which caters to delivery workers, has no cap. DailyPay tracks the hours logged by workers and sends a single payment with the day’s earnings, minus a fee ranging from 99 cents to $1.49.

Another alternative could be the Build Card by FS Card. The product targets customers with subprime credit scores and offers an initial low, unsecured $500 credit limit to borrowers, which increases as they prove creditworthiness. The card will cost you a $72 annual membership fee, a one-time account setup fee of $53, plus $6 per month just to keep it in your wallet. It also comes with a steep interest rate — 29.9%. After all of the initial fees, your initial available limit should be about $375.

#9 Pawn shop loans

Pawn shop loan interest charges can get up to 36% in some states and there are other fees you’ll have to pay on top of the original loan.

Pawn shops get a shady rap, but they are a safer bet than payday lenders and auto title loans. Here’s why: Because you are putting up an item as collateral for a payday loan, the worst that can happen is that they take possession of the item if you skip out on payments. That can be devastating, especially if you’ve pawned something of sentimental value. But that’s the end of the ordeal — no debt collectors chasing you (payday loans) and no getting locked out of your car and losing your only mode of transportation (title loans).

#10 Payday loans and auto title loans

We have, of course, saved the worst of the worst options for last.

When you borrow with a payday loan but can’t afford to pay it back within the standard two-week time frame, it can quickly become a debt trap thanks to triple-digit interest rates. According to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, only 14% of payday loan borrowers can afford enough out of their monthly budgets to repay an average payday loan. Some payday lenders offer installment loans, which require a link to your bank account and gives them access to your funds if you don’t pay.

Some payday lenders today require access to a checking account, meaning they can dip in and take money from your bank account if you miss a payment. Also, your payday loan will be reflected on your credit report. So if things end badly, your credit will suffer as well. They have no collateral, so payday lenders will continue to hound you if you miss payments.

And, of course, auto title lenders require you to put up your wheels as collateral for a loan. And if you rely heavily on your car to get to and from work, having it repossessed by a title lender could hurt you financially in more ways than one.

The loans are usually short-term — less than 30 days — so this might not be a good option for you if you don’t foresee a quick turnaround time for repayment. If your household depends on your car for transportation, you may not want to try this option as there is a chance you could lose your car. If you don’t repay the loan, the lender can take your vehicle and sell it to cover the loan amount.

One more thing to watch out for is the advertised interest rate. Auto title lenders will often advertise the monthly rate, not the annualized one. So a 20% interest rate for the month is actually a 240% APR.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at


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Strategies to Save

Where People Save the Most: Super Saving Metros

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Give credit to the residents of Dubuque, Iowa. They saved their pennies last year, according to a recent study by MagnifyMoney.

Dubuque earned the highest Saving Score in MagnifyMoney’s Super Saving Metros report, which looks at the savings habits of residents living in the biggest metropolitan areas across the United States.

Relying on data from the IRS and U.S. Census Bureau, MagnifyMoney created a Saving Score for nearly 400 U.S. metropolitan areas. This score reveals:

  • Which areas boasted the greatest percentage of adults who earned money from interest-bearing vehicles, such as savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs)
  • How much interest on average these residents claimed on their 2017 tax returns
  • What percent of their annual income came from interest

We’ve changed our study a bit this year. Instead of looking at cities with populations larger than 25,000, as we have in the past, this year we are looking at savings within entire metropolitan statistical areas. These areas often include several cities and provide a more accurate look at the savings habits of residents within a larger area.

One of our key findings? As a nation, the U.S. doesn’t have a lot of savers. Nationally, 28.3% of U.S. residents who filed income tax returns in 2017 earned interest income on their savings. This interest income averaged $554, equal to 0.76% of filers’ total income for the year.

Not all metro areas are created equal when it comes to savers, though. In Naples, Fla., for instance, filers reported an average of $3,224 of interest income on their taxes last year. But in Pittsfield, Mass., that average was a far lower $481.

There are also significant differences among metropolitan areas in how many residents earn enough interest from their savings to report to the IRS. Filers who earn more than $10 of interest on savings accounts, CDs, money market accounts, high-yield checking accounts or certain types of taxable bonds have to report their interest income. MagnifyMoney found that in Peoria, Ill., 48% of filers reported interest income on their returns. But in Los Angeles, just 30% did.

Key findings

  • Dubuque pulled down the top savings spot among the 381 U.S. metropolitan areas that MagnifyMoney studied. The city had the highest Saving Score, an impressive 97.8 out of a possible 100.
  • Naples, which came in second with a Saving Score of 97, topped the country with the highest amount of average interest income per return, a strong $3,224. Naples also ranked first in highest percentage of interest income compared to total income. Filers here earned an average of 2.33% of their total annual incomes from interest on their savings.
  • Peoria had the highest percentage of filers who earned at least some interest income. About half of the federal tax returns filed here last year had some amount of interest income.
  • Iowa might have been the thriftiest state in the country in 2017. Dubuque notched the highest Saving Score in this year’s study. But the cities of Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids also earned high scores. This isn’t a one-time fluke either. MagnifyMoney found a similar trend when looking at the numbers from earlier tax years.

What does the Saving Score measure?

It can be challenging to determine how much the residents of a particular metropolitan area are saving. For our study, we crafted a Metro Saving Score that relies on data from the IRS and U.S. Census Bureau for 381 metropolitan areas across the country.

We looked at three key factors to calculate our score:

  • The percentage of all tax returns that declared interest income
  • The percentage of residents’ total annual income that came from interest earned from savings
  • The average interest income recorded on tax returns in a metropolitan area

50 cities with the top Saving Scores

Dubuque led our list of the metro areas with the biggest savers, earning a healthy Saving Score of 97.8. But what’s so special about Dubuque?

The area isn’t especially rich: The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the median household income stood at $56,154 in 2016 in Dubuque County and $48,021 in the city of Dubuque itself. That’s below the median annual household income of the U.S. as a whole, which was $57,617 in 2016. The Census Bureau also said 16.8% of the city’s residents lived in poverty, while 29.7% of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Regardless of the relatively modest incomes here, 44% of tax filers in the Dubuque metro area claimed interest income on their returns. This interest income averaged $781 per return, which accounted for an average of 1.24% of these residents’ annual income.

So why the high savings rate? Maybe it’s the low unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the unemployment rate in Dubuque was a low 2.2% as of August 2018. It’s easier to save when you’re employed. Also, it’s not that expensive to live in Dubuque. The Census Bureau said the median costs for owners with a mortgage is $1,102 a month, while the median cost for renters is $728 a month.

Things are a bit different in Naples, where the Census Bureau said the annual median income was $84,830 in 2016. It’s important to note that median income isn’t the same as average income. The median is the dollar amount that half of all residents in an area earn less than each year and half earn more. In Naples, half of all households reported an annual income of less than $84,830, while half reported an annual income higher than that.

What is clear, though, is that the residents of this Florida city have more money to save, which might be why Naples ranked second with a Saving Score of 97. Here, 36% of income tax returns included interest income. The interest income per return in Naples was high, too, leading our survey with a hefty $3,224.

In Fairfield County, Conn., which came in third with a Saving Score of 96.3, 36% of tax returns recorded interest income. The interest claimed here was sizable, too, with an average of $2,434 claimed per return. Again, the residents here have more money to save, with the Census Bureau reporting a median household income of $86,670 in 2016.

Santa Barbara, Calif., and Boston rounded out the top five metro areas on our list. Santa Barbara earned a Saving Score of 95.7, with 36% of tax returns here claiming interest income. This income accounted for 1.18% of annual income earned by residents here. The interest income per return in Santa Barbara was a healthy $1,074.

And in Boston, with its Saving Score of 94.2, 37% of returns claimed interest income, with an average per return of $920.

10 cities with the most savers

Dubuque again represented itself well on our list of metropolitan areas with the most savers. But it didn’t top it. The No. 1 spot went to another Midwestern city, Peoria, where 48% of tax returns listed some form of interest income.

What makes Peoria residents such good savers? It’s hard to say. The income here isn’t sky-high, with the Census Bureau stating that the median household income stood at $46,547 in 2016. At the same time, though, it’s not expensive to live in Peoria, freeing up residents to save. The Census Bureau said it cost $1,200 a month for owners with a mortgage, while the median value of a home was $127,200. Those who rented didn’t pay too much, either, with the Census Bureau reporting a median gross rent of $746 a month.

Then there is Dubuque. Again, the income here wasn’t high, but housing isn’t overly expensive, perhaps making it easier for residents to save. The Census Bureau reported that owners with a mortgage paid a median value of $1,102 a month, while those who rented paid a median of $728 a month. Maybe that’s why Dubuque tied for second with 44% of returns claiming interest income.

Dubuque tied for this spot with Ithaca, N.Y., where the same percentage — 44% — of returns claimed interest income. It’s not easy determining how Ithaca residents were able to save so much. The Census Bureau reported that the median annual household income here was just $30,291 in 2016, while 44.8% of the people lived in poverty. At the same time, the median value of owner-occupied homes stood at a fairly high $219,100. This makes Ithaca’s high savings rate a bit of a mystery.

Appleton, Wis., is easier to explain. This area ranked fourth on our list with 42% of returns claiming interest income in 2017. This isn’t surprising: The Census Bureau said the median household income here was $53,878 in 2016, while the median value of owner-occupied homes was a fairly low $137,800. Perhaps residents spent less on housing costs and were able to save more.

Iowa City, Iowa, finished fifth on our list, tied with Appleton with 42% of returns claiming interest income. That percentage was a popular one, with Rochester, N.Y., and yet another Iowa city — Cedar Falls — tying with Appleton and Iowa City.

10 cities that earned the most interest income

Here is a not-so-shocking fact: People who make more money tend to save more of it. That’s proven by our list of metro areas in which taxpayers claimed the most interest on their returns.

Look at Naples. Those living here earned a lot of interest income in 2017. According to our research, the average return filed here in 2017 listed a whopping $3,224 in interest income. That easily topped our list. The reason is fairly obvious: A lot of wealthy people live here.

The city is a costly one, with the Census Bureau showing that the median home value is $770,000, while it costs owners with a mortgage a median $2,987 a month. With those barriers to entry, it’s not surprising that the median household income was $84,830 in 2016. When you earn more, it’s easier to save more — a lesson made clear in Naples.

Fairfield County was second on this list, with the average tax return listing interest income of $2,434 in 2017. Again, this is another high-income area, with the Census Bureau reporting that the median household income was $86,670 in 2016.

Next on our list is Vero Beach, Fla., where the average interest income reported on tax returns stood at a healthy $1,839. This city is a bit more puzzling: The Census Bureau showed that the median household income was a modest $38,405 in 2016. And it’s not particularly cheap to live here, with the Census Bureau stating the median costs for owners with mortgages as $1,654, while monthly rent stands at a median of $829.

Coming in fourth on our list is another Florida tourist metro, Fort Myers, where the average interest income per return was $1,195. This is an interesting place: In the city of Fort Myers, with a population of almost 80,000, the median household income is $38,971. But if you focus on the smaller area of Fort Myers Beach, where the population is just more than 7,000, the median household income is $59,416.

The New York City metro area claimed the fifth spot on this list, with an average interest income of $1,146 reported per return. With a population of more than 8.6 million, New York City itself sees a wide range of yearly incomes. The median household income is $55,191, but plenty of households saw a far higher income than that. This helps explain the Big Apple’s high spot on this list.

10 cities with the lowest Saving Scores

While there are plenty of metro areas where people are saving, there are others that have earned low Saving Scores from our research. In most of these areas, the median household income is low. In others, unemployment is high.

This isn’t surprising: It’s a challenge to save when you don’t make enough and you’re struggling to find a job.

The first metro area on our list of areas with the lowest Saving Scores — Hinesville, Ga. — earned a Saving Score of just 0.5, with 15% of income tax returns filed in 2017 claiming interest income. The average filer here claimed just $80 worth of interest on their returns.

The median household income stood at $42,949 in 2016, according to the Census Bureau. That is below the median household income for the U.S., which the Census Bureau said was $57,617 in 2016.
El Centro, Calif., ranks high on this list, too, coming in second. Unemployment is a problem here, with the Federal Reserve Bank showing the rate at a high 17.2% in El Centro as of August 2018.

Third on our list was Fayetteville, N.C., earning a Saving Score of 1.8. Only 18% of tax returns here claimed interest income in 2017, with the average return listing just $149 in interest income. The median household income was $43,882 in 2016, while 18.4% of the population lived in poverty. The Census Bureau also reported that 14.2% of the people younger than 65 do not have health insurance, a factor that could account for the low savings rate here.

Pine Bluff, Ark., scored a low 3.0 Saving Score with 19% of income tax returns claiming interest income. Pine Bluff’s population is declining, falling to 42,984 in 2017, a drop from 49,083 in 2010 — a dip of 12.4%. At the same time, the median household income was just $30,942 in 2016, while 32.5% of residents lived in poverty.

Rounding out the bottom five of savers was the metropolitan area of Florence, S.C., with a Savings Score of 3.7. Just 17% of returns here claimed interest income in 2017. The median household income here was not terrible, but at $44,989 is still below the median for the U.S.

How to save more money

Need to increase your savings rate? There’s no secret formula. Start with crafting a household budget. List the income that comes into your household each month and the money you spend during the same time. Include both fixed expenses such as your monthly rent, mortgage payment, auto payment or student loan payments while estimating those that vary each month, such as your utility bills, transportation costs and grocery bills. Make sure to also budget for discretionary expenses such as eating out and entertainment.

This budget will tell you how much you should have at the end of the month for savings. If you don’t have much, or if you are spending more than you are earning, you’ll need to cut back on whatever expenses you can. This might require slashing your spending at the supermarket or cutting back on restaurant meals.

Be sure to start an emergency fund, too. You use the dollars in this fund to pay for any unexpected expenses that pop up, such as a busted water heater or blown transmission on your car. If you have this fund built up, you won’t have to resort to paying for these emergencies with a credit card, something that will build up your debt and make it even more difficult to save.

It’s important to note, too, that it might be a bit easier now to earn interest on your savings. That’s because as the Federal Reserve raises its benchmark interest rate, banks and credit unions are starting to do the same, boosting the interest rates attached to their savings accounts and CDs. These rates might still be small, but they are set to improve, so now is a great time to begin saving those dollars.


To rank cities, MagnifyMoney created a Saving Score on a scale of 0 to 100 that included three equally weighted components:

  1. How broadly individuals in the metro saved (measured by the percentage of all tax returns that declared interest income, ranked by percentile).
  2. The metro’s dedication to saving regardless of their income (measured by the percentage of total income that came from interest, ranked by percentile).
  3. The absolute magnitude of savings in the metro (measured by the average interest income per tax return, ranked by percentile).

MagnifyMoney measured these factors using anonymized data from tax returns filed with the IRS from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2017.

To be counted as a saving household, the taxpayer must declare interest income using Form 1099 on their 2016 tax returns. Filers who earned over $10 in interest on savings and investments, including a high-yield checking or savings account, a CD, a money market account or certain types of taxable bonds, should have received a copy of 1099-INT, which reflects interest income reported by financial institutions to the IRS.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Dan Rafter
Dan Rafter |

Dan Rafter is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dan here