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Smart Ways to Borrow Money: Most Affordable Lending Options & What to Avoid

Lendstart Updated: March 13, 2024 • 8 min read
photo of man receiving money from a cashier at the bank

Key Points:

  • What if we told you there are paths paved with relatively cheaper and safer options that won't leave you pulling your hair out?

  • While many borrowing options are available, some should be cautiously approached or avoided altogether.

  • Take a look and explore these options, carefully considering the costs, terms, and potential impacts on your financial future.

The world of borrowing can often feel like navigating a labyrinth of high-interest rates, daunting terms, and the fear of falling into a debt trap. But what if we told you there are paths paved with relatively cheaper and safer options that won't leave you pulling your hair out? Let's take a look and explore these options, carefully considering the costs, terms, and potential impacts on your financial future.

Affordable Ways to Borrow Money

1. Personal Loan from a Bank or Credit Union

A personal loan from a bank or credit union is an unsecured loan, meaning it doesn't require collateral like your home or car. These loans are based on your creditworthiness and can be used for various purposes, including consolidating debt, financing a large purchase, or covering unexpected expenses. Interest rates and terms vary widely based on your credit score and the lender. Credit unions often offer lower interest rates and more flexible terms than banks, as they are nonprofit organizations designed to serve their members.

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2. 0% APR Credit Card

A 0% APR credit card offers no interest on purchases, balance transfers, or both for a promotional period, typically 12 to 21 months. This can be an excellent way to finance a large purchase or transfer high-interest credit card balances and pay them off without accruing additional interest. However, paying off the balance before the promotional period ends is crucial, as the interest rate will jump to the card's regular APR, which can be quite high.

3. Buy Now, Pay Later

BNPL services let you split purchase costs into smaller, interest-free payments over a few weeks to months. They're widely available online and in stores, but late payments can lead to fees and harm your credit score.

4. 401(k) Loan

A 401(k) loan allows you to borrow money from your retirement savings account, with the principal and interest paid back to your own account. The maximum loan amount is usually less than $50,000 or 50% of your vested account balance. One of the main benefits is that there's no credit check, and the interest you pay goes back into your account. However, if you leave your job, the loan may become due in full, and if not repaid, it could be considered a distribution, subject to taxes and penalties.

5. Personal Line of Credit

A personal line of credit is a flexible loan from a bank or financial institution that works much like a credit card, offering a maximum borrowing limit and allowing you to draw funds as needed. Interest is only paid on the amount borrowed. This option is ideal for ongoing expenses or as an emergency fund. Rates are generally lower than credit cards but higher than personal loans, and approval and the rate offered often depend on your creditworthiness.

6. Home Equity Financing

Home equity financing includes home equity loans and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), allowing homeowners to borrow against the equity in their homes. A home equity loan provides a lump sum at a fixed interest rate, while a HELOC offers a credit line to draw from as needed with a variable rate. These options typically offer lower interest rates because your home secures the loan, but they also carry the risk of foreclosure if you cannot repay the loan.

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Comparison of the most affordable ways to borrow money




Personal loan from a bank or credit union

  • Lower APR than other types of personal loan lenders.
  • Discounts for current customers or members.
  • Perks like financial advising and flexible payments.
  • Many types are available including secured personal loans.
  • May need good or excellent credit for a bank loan.
  • Must become a member to apply for a credit union loan.

0% APR credit card

  • Pay 0% interest on all purchases during the introductory period.
  • Need good or excellent credit.
  • Must repay the balance in a short time period.

Buy now, pay later

  • No interest or fees with some plans.
  • Some plans charge interest or fees.
  • It can lead to overspending.

401(k) loan

  • Borrow money from yourself instead of a third party.
  • Low interest rates.
  • Interest paid goes back to your retirement account.
  • Missed payment does not hurt your credit score.
  • Reduces retirement nest egg and its ability to grow.

Personal line of credit

  • Draw money based on what you need and pay interest only on what you use.
  • Ideal for those who are unsure of total borrowing need.
  • Need good or excellent credit.

Home equity financing

  • Lower interest rates than unsecured loans or credit lines
  • Long repayment periods.
  • Risk losing your home if you don’t make payments on time.

Personal Finance Related Articles

The Fastest Options to Borrow Money

In today's fast-paced world, financial needs can arise unexpectedly, requiring immediate solutions. Knowing the fastest ways to borrow money can be incredibly useful, Whether for an emergency expense, a sudden investment opportunity, or a last-minute purchase. This article explores borrowing options and what to avoid, comparing their benefits and drawbacks to help you make an informed decision.

1. Personal loan from an online lender

Online lenders have revolutionized the borrowing process, offering personal loans with swift approval and funding times. Unlike traditional banks, which may take days or weeks to process a loan application, online lenders can provide decisions within minutes and funds as soon as the next business day. This speed is due to automated underwriting processes that assess an applicant's creditworthiness quickly.

2. Loan apps

The digital age has ushered in a new era of financial services, with loan apps playing a pivotal role for those needing funds. These apps offer a user-friendly interface, making it possible to apply for a loan with just a few taps on your smartphone. The convenience and speed of loan apps have made them popular among borrowers looking for quick cash solutions.

3. Cash advance from a credit card

A cash advance from a credit card is a feature that allows cardholders to withdraw a portion of their credit limit in cash. This option can be particularly useful in emergencies or when cash is the only acceptable form of payment.

4. Loan from family or friends

Borrowing money from family or friends is a time-honored tradition that predates modern banking systems, offering a personal touch to financial transactions. This method of securing funds can be particularly appealing due to its flexibility, potential for low to no interest rates, and the absence of formal application processes. However, navigating this path requires careful consideration to maintain healthy relationships and communicate clearly.

Compare the fastest ways to borrow money

Type of Loan



Personal Loan from an Online Lender

  • Quick approval and funding

  • Competitive interest rates for good credit

  • Convenient online application

  • Higher rates for bad credit

  • Possible origination fees and prepayment penalties

Loan Apps

  • Immediate access to funds

  • Convenient mobile process

  • Flexible loan amounts

  • High-interest rates and fees

  • Short repayment terms

  • Privacy concerns

Cash Advance from a Credit Card

  • Instant access to funds
  • No application process
  • Available credit immediately usable
  • High-interest rates and fees
  • No grace period for interest
  • Can affect credit utilization negatively

Loan from Family or Friends

  • Low or no interest rates
  • Flexible repayment terms
  • No impact on credit score
  • Potential for relationship strain
  • Lack of formal agreement can lead to ambiguity

Borrowing Options to Avoid

While many borrowing options are available, some should be cautiously approached or avoided altogether due to their high costs and potentially predatory nature. Among these, payday loans and high-interest installment loans are particularly notorious for their long-term financial risks to borrowers. Here's why these options might be more harmful than helpful:

1. Payday Loans

Why to Avoid:

  • Exorbitant Interest Rates: Payday loans are infamous for their extremely high annual percentage rates (APRs), which can exceed 300% or even 400%. This makes them one of the most expensive borrowing options available.
  • Debt Trap Potential: The structure of payday loans often leads borrowers into a cycle of debt. When borrowers cannot repay their loan by the next payday, they might be forced to take out another payday loan, incurring more fees and interest, which can spiral into an unmanageable debt situation.
  • Short Repayment Terms: Payday loans typically require repayment by the next payday, which can be unrealistic for many borrowers, leading to rollovers or additional borrowing.

2. High-Interest Installment Loans

Why to Avoid:

  • High Costs Over Time: While installment loans allow for longer repayment periods than payday loans, they can still come with very high interest rates. This means that over the life of the loan, borrowers can end up paying back significantly more than they borrowed.
  • Predatory Lending Practices: Some lenders of high-interest installment loans engage in predatory lending practices, targeting vulnerable borrowers who may not have access to other credit options. These practices can include aggressive marketing tactics, hidden fees, and terms that make it difficult for borrowers to repay the loan.
  • Negative Impact on Financial Health: Regularly relying on high-interest loans can lead to a cycle of debt that damages your credit score and financial health, making it harder to qualify for more favorable lending options in the future.

Alternatives to Consider

Instead of falling into the trap of high-cost loans, consider exploring other options that can be more sustainable and less damaging to your financial health:

  • Credit Union Loans: Many credit unions offer payday alternative loans (PALs) with much lower interest rates and longer repayment terms.
  • Community Assistance Programs: Look into local or community assistance programs that may offer financial help for those in need.
  • Payment Plans: If you're dealing with medical bills or other large expenses, ask the provider if you can arrange a payment plan with more manageable installments.
  • Financial Counseling: Non-profit credit counseling agencies can help you create a budget and may suggest debt management plans that consolidate your debts with lower interest rates.

By avoiding high-cost borrowing options like payday loans and high-interest installment loans, you can protect yourself from falling into a debt cycle that jeopardizes your financial future. Always explore all available alternatives and consider the long-term impacts of any borrowing decision.


While there are numerous ways to access funds quickly, making informed decisions that won't jeopardize your financial health in the long run is crucial. There are various borrowing options available including online personal loans, loan apps, cash advances from credit cards, and loans from family/friends. However, it is important to avoid payday and high-interest installment loans due to their predatory nature and financial burden on borrowers. Choose a reputable lender with fair terms. By carefully considering the costs, terms, and potential impacts on your financial future, you can choose the most appropriate and sustainable borrowing method for your needs.



What should I consider before choosing a borrowing option?

The interest rate, fees, repayment terms, and how quickly you need the funds should all be considered before selecting a borrowing option. Considering these factors can help you choose the option that is the least risky and most cost-effective for you. Also, consider the potential impact on your credit score and financial health.

Are there any safe alternatives to payday loans and high-interest installment loans?

Yes, safer alternatives include payday alternative loans (PALs) offered by credit unions, personal loans from online lenders with reasonable interest rates, borrowing from family or friends under clear agreement terms, and seeking assistance from community programs or non-profit credit counseling services.

How can I avoid falling into a debt trap with high-cost borrowing options?

Understand the terms and conditions of the loan agreement, including interest rates and fees, to avoid a debt trap. To find a sustainable financial solution for your situation, consult with a financial advisor or credit counselor and borrow only what you need.

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