Best 5 Loan Apps in 2021

 If you find yourself strapped for cash before your next paycheck, it might be worth researching apps that loan money to find one that can provide the funds you need.

Here’s our take on the best apps currently available to help you decide which one — if any — is right for your situation. Note that we only included apps where you can apply for loans directly through the app and not just manage payments.

Best for low fees: Earning

Why Earnin stands out: When you borrow money through the Earnin app, the company doesn’t charge interest or fees on your paycheck advance. Instead, it asks customers to consider providing an optional tip in an amount they think is appropriate. (But you don’t have to tip to use the app.)

Eligibility requirements — To use Earnin, you must have a consistent pay schedule — weekly, biweekly, semi-monthly or monthly. More than 50% of your paycheck must be sent to a single checking account by direct deposit each pay period. And you’ll need to either work at the same location every day or use electronic timesheets to track your hours.

Withdrawal limits — You may borrow up to $100 per pay period when you begin using the app. As you continue using the app and paying Earnin back successfully, that limit may increase to up to $500.

Funding timeline — If you have Earnin’s “Lightning Speed” feature, the lender says you may be able to receive your money immediately. But if your bank doesn’t support this option, you won’t be able to use it. Without Lightning Speed, Earnin says you’ll typically receive your money in one to two business days.

Overdraft protection — If you sign up for Balance Shield alerts, Earnin will notify you when your bank balance is getting low, which can help you avoid overdraft fees. If your checking account balance falls below $100, you can sign up for Balance Shield Cash Outs, which automatically cashes out up to $100 of your earnings, which could help you avoid incurring a negative balance on your account.

Best for small loan amounts: Dave

Why Dave stands out: If you need extra cash to cover an expense before your next payday, Dave offers cash advances of up to $100.

Eligibility — There’s no credit check required to use the Dave app. But you must have a steady paycheck that’s set up with direct deposit into your checking account, and you need to show that you have enough money in your account to pay the advance back once you receive your next paycheck.

Membership fee — Dave charges a monthly membership fee of $1.

Low balance alerts — Dave sends alerts when your checking account balance is getting low or when you have a bill due, so you can decide whether to request a payday advance to help prevent overdraft fees.

No interest — Dave doesn’t charge interest on cash advances, but it asks for optional tips to help support the app.

Funding timeline — You can choose from two funding options: standard or express.  Standard funding is included with your monthly membership fee, but it takes up to three business days to receive your money. You may be able to get your money the same day you request it with the express option, but it costs a small fee (Dave doesn’t specify how much the fee is).

Best for suite of online services: MoneyLion

Why MoneyLion stands out: MoneyLion offers a 0% APR “Instacash” cash advance up to $250 once you sign up for a free account and link an eligible checking account. There’s no credit check required. But the MoneyLion app is really worth a look because of what else it brings to the table: a mobile banking account, an auto investing account with no management fees, and access to a credit-builder loan (with a monthly membership fee).

Tipping is optional: MoneyLion doesn’t charge any mandatory fees for its cash advances, though you can tip for the service.

Pay for speed: MoneyLion doesn’t charge for “regular delivery,” but if you need money in a hurry, you can pay for “instant” delivery. The app charges $3.99 for this type of transfer to one of its RoarMoney accounts or $4.99 to an external checking account or debit card.

Loan amounts: How much MoneyLion approves an advance for depends on activity in your linked checking account. Typically, larger deposits mean larger advance amounts (the minimum is $25). The app also says you may be able to raise your Instacash limit by switching your direct deposits to MoneyLion.

Best for access to banking services: Branch

Why Branch stands out: Not only does Branch allow you to request cash advances for hours you’ve already worked, the company offers fee-free checking accounts, debit cards and ATM withdrawals at more than 40,000 locations.

Eligibility requirements — To use Branch Pay to get a cash advance, you must have at least two months of direct deposits from the same employer. Each deposit must be more than $40 and deposited into the same bank account with a participating bank.

Cash advance limits — The amount of money you can request for a cash advance is based on two things: your bank account direct deposit history and how much you spend compared to what you earn. When you first start using the app, Branch says your cash advance limit will be low. But as you use the app over time and repay your advances, your limit may increase.

Fees and interest — Branch doesn’t charge interest on cash advances, and its fees vary based on how you choose to receive the money. You can get “instant” access for free when the money is sent to your Branch debit card. Standard delivery to an external bank account or debit card, which should take three days, is also free. But if you want your money sent to an external bank account or debit card right away, Branch will charge you a fee of $2.99 to $4.99, depending on the amount you transfer.

Best for helping you track your finances: Brigit

Why Brigit stands out: Brigit may advance you between $50 and $250, but you’ll have to pay $9.99 a month for its Brigit Plus plan to qualify for “instant transfers” and other features. The app, which is available on Android and Apple devices, stands out for its budgeting tools that help you track your spending and its “Brigit score” model. Your Brigit score ranges from 0 to 100 and measures three financial wellness metrics: bank account health, spending behavior and earnings profile. You’ll need a Brigit score of at least 70 to be approved for Brigit Instant Cash.

No interest or tips — Unlike Earnin and Dave, Brigit doesn’t ask for tips when you borrow money. The company also won’t perform a credit check. But keep in mind that if you’re paying for a Brigit Plus membership, the money isn’t free of fees.

Eligibility requirements — Brigit requires you to have at least three recurring deposits from the same employer to qualify.

Not compatible with all banks — Brigit says it works with more than 6,000 banks and credit unions, but that doesn’t guarantee it will work with yours. The company notes that it isn’t yet compatible with Chime Bank, Capital One, Net Spend or Varo.

Auto advances available — Brigit will analyze your spending habits in your checking account to predict if your balances are low and you’re in danger of overdrafting. Its “Auto Advances” feature will transfer money to your bank account automatically to prevent an overdraft from occurring.

What you should know about apps that loan money

A number of apps that loan money allow you to borrow small amounts against your next paycheck. Since these apps typically charge lower fees than payday lenders, one of these apps may be a good choice if you’re in a pinch and need some extra cash to bridge the gap until you get paid.

But before you borrow money from an app or a traditional lender, it’s important to compare interest rates, fees and terms and calculate what you can afford to pay back. If you’re struggling to pay your bills, taking out a high-interest loan or a cash advance app with a monthly fee is not a long-term solution. Instead, try negotiating with lenders, utilities and other companies to get a lower interest rate or work out a payment plan.

How we picked these apps

We reviewed 10 apps to come up with our picks. The criteria we used to make our choices included eligibility requirements, fee structures, interest rates, loan amounts and the ability to build credit. We also considered what benefits each app offers, such as financial education resources, overdraft protection, and the availability of additional products and services.

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