Your washing machine suddenly breaks down, a child requires a laptop for school or your car needs new tires—sometimes surprise bills can be difficult to cover.
Life’s financial emergencies happen to everyone, but six in 10 Americans cannot cover an unexpected $500 bill without selling something or borrowing money, according to Bankrate.
As many as 70 percent of U.S. families live paycheck to paycheck, according to Alok Deshpande, founder of SmartPath Financial Education. In fact, less than 30 percent of families today have anything left at the end of the month to put in savings. That reality is echoed by a recent GoBankingRates survey, which revealed that 69 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings and 34 percent don’t have any savings at all.
“When you don’t have cash for something you need, there are many different financing options available. However, few realize that many of these options can lead to a debt spiral that can be difficult to pull out of,” said Richard Carrano, CEO of Purchasing Power, an employee purchase program offering consumer products and services through payroll deduction at the workplace.
“Regrettably, circumstances and bank accounts don’t always align. That’s why it’s so important to be ‘credit educated’—to understand hidden costs and fees associated with high-risk credit options and avoid making financial mistakes that can hound you months, even years later.”
Buying items on sub-prime credit or through high-interest vehicles like payday or title loans can be risky propositions, particularly if you have a low credit score to begin with. Understanding your options can help ensure you make the best choice to meet your short-term needs without compromising your long-term finances. Consider the following:
Cash: Paying cash for a major purchase makes the most sense in terms of avoiding exorbitant fees and preventing credit dings from missed payments. However, cash may not always be readily available.
Credit cards: Chances are, even with a shaky financial history, you can find a creditor willing to offer you a line of credit, but you’ll likely have a steep annual percentage rate that accrues each month. Furthermore, if you’re unable to repay more than the monthly minimum, you could end up carrying that debt for years before it’s fully paid down.
Employee purchase programs: Research shows that financial stress at home regularly impacts employee productivity at work. This leads many employers to offer an employee purchase program such as Purchasing Power, which allows you to buy what you need through automatic paycheck deductions over a 12-month period. There’s no credit check, zero interest and no hidden fees. There’s also a free financial wellness platform to help with budgeting, credit reports and personal coaching. Learn more at purchasingpower.com.
Rent to own: With rent-to-own products, you pay a monthly principal amount plus service fees and taxes for a period of time, up to completing the rental agreement and owning the item outright. Although the monthly rate makes items like appliances and furniture immediately accessible, be wary of the long-term cost. Renters can end up paying as much as three times the retail value of an item before satisfying the terms for ownership.
Payday/title loans: Essentially, these loans function as a loan against a future paycheck or your vehicle. They often come with high percentage rates and fees as well as extremely short repayment schedules. Rely on these loans only if you are certain you can cover the entire loan and associated fees by the designated due date.