How to Get Out of Payday Loan Debt for Good

Getting out of payday debt is tough, but possible. Here’s how to get out of a payday loan nightmare.

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If your payday loan debt seems to never go away, despite your best efforts, you might be in what’s known as the ‘payday loan trap’.  That is, a cycle of debt that’s so high it’s tough to get out of.

According to statistics from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Pew Research the average annual percentage interest rate is 396%, with the average borrower spending $520 in interest and additional fees alone to borrow $375.

By nature, these loans tend to trap well-intentioned payday loan borrowers into a cycle of debt they can’t get out of.  Yet the 14,000+ storefront payday lenders, combined with endless online lenders, rake in $12 billion in fees every year. To get a sense of how horrible this industry can be, watch the video below by Bloomberg.

If you’re one of the 12 million Americans who has taken out a payday loan this year, you’re not alone.  Here are a few steps you can take to help get out of this trap.

How to get out of payday loan debt

1. Try a payday loan consolidation / debt settlement program

Consolidation programs are designed to take all of your payday loans and put them into a single payment plan. This can be the most effective option for reducing your payday loan debt, but there are lots of scams out there. We highly recommend DebtHammer, which specializes exclusively in payday loan consolidation, and only takes on clients they know they can help.


Debthammer – A Legit Payday Loan Consolidation Company

There are two types of payday loan consolidation.  The first is an actual debt consolidation loan.  In this case, a lender will give you a new loan at a new interest rate, which you can then use to pay off higher interest short term loans.  If you do this route, the US Government recommends talking to a credit counselor so that you know what you’re getting into. 

Payday loan consolidation programs – also called debt relief, debt settlement, or debt consolidation programs – are a bit of a different beast.  In this case, a 3rd party will take all of your loans, along with the responsibility of repaying them, and charge you a flat monthly payment.  They will help you stop lenders from automatically drafting from your checking account (which will prevent overdraft fees), and will negotiate directly with the lenders to come up with a plan that works.  Generally speaking, the total amount you will pay will be a fraction of what you would owe the payday lenders. 

Ready to consolidate your loans?

You might be able to reduce your loan amount by up to 80%.

2. Prioritize high-interest loans first

Begin by laying out all of your loans. Take the time to read each loan agreement to understand 

You should always try and pay back your highest interest loans first.  Because of the way interest payments work, the more you owe, the more you owe.

If you have non-payday loans such as credit card loans, they should usually take back-seat as they have a significantly lower interest rate.  Credit card debt is another problem, but it’s much lower interest debt than a payday loan. 

It may take quite a bit of digging to find out what APRs you are paying with each loan, but it is well worth it to understand which of these have the highest interest rate so that you can prioritize them.

3. Ask for extended payment plans

Payday lenders may not be your friend, but they do want their money back.  If you call them and tell them you can’t pay, they may offer you reduced terms or interest rates.  Try not to speak to their debt collectors, and someone who is a supervisor.   

You can also ask if they offer extended payment plans (EPP).  They may not, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.  Be sure to ask a few people when you inquire, because payday sales reps aren’t the most honest people around.

If your lender is a member of the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSAA), the chances that they offer extended payment plans is quite high. Be sure to ask before your loan’s due date – last business day at the latest.

Before you do sign a repayment plan, be sure to read and understand all of the terms.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch, so they may replace one evil with another.  An extended repayment period might come at the price of higher interest.

4. See if you can get personal loans

Payday loans aren’t the only form of loans out there.

There are home equity lines of credit (HELOCS), credit card loans, and other personal loans designed for paying down larger loans.

Credit cards often offer cash advances, but if you have bad credit you may be out of luck.

For most of these, you’ll need to have some credit history – probably a 580 credit score at a minimum.  Check your credit report from one of the main credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax or Transunion first – many services such as Credit Karma offer this for free.  Be wary of other credit bureaus, as they tend to be more scammy.

5. Get a credit union payday alternative loan

Federal credit unions are financial institutions that tend to be smaller and less profit oriented, since they don’t have shareholders.  They often offer “payday alternative loans” (PALs).  Here are some facts about PALs, courtesy of NerdWallet:

  • Issued to borrowers who have been credit union members for at least one month.
  • Granted in amounts between $200 and $1,000.
  • Affordable, with a maximum annual percentage rate of 28% and an application fee of no more than $20, which reflects the actual cost of processing.
  • Repaid fully after one to six months of installments; no rollovers allowed.
  • Provided to borrowers one at a time; borrowers may not receive more than three PALs within a six-month period.

NerdWallet also mentions that these loans are not very common; only 1 in 7 credit unions offers them. The best way to learn if a credit union offers these types of loans is to call them.

6. Look into non-profit credit counseling

Finance is not easy, and payday loans are among the toughest to comprehend.  A credit counselor is a personal finance expert that can not only help make sense of all the fine print, but help you create a plan to get out of the debt cycle.   

However, if you’re in payday debt, you’re probably not in a position to shell out a bunch of cash to a credit counseling agency.  Fortunately, there are a number of nonprofits that offer debt counseling and financial planning free of charge.

Many military bases, credit unions, local governments and universities offer some sort of credit counseling.  It can’t hurt to call around to see what options are available to you.

Typically they are not going to have a silver bullet for you.  But they can sit down with you, help you understand your financial situation, and lay out a budget for you to get out of debt.  The hard work is actually sticking to that budget.

Be very careful of companies masquerading as non-profits.  This world is full of scam artists.  Do your homework to make sure that there is a real organization behind the offering.  If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

For more information about choosing a credit counselor, visit this article by the Federal Trade Commission . 

7. Ask friends and family for money

One option for getting money to pay off your loans is to ask your friends, family, and community.  It can be extremely humbling to do this, but a no-interest loan from a friend can go a long way into helping you get out of the payday loan trap.

Many churches, mosques and synagogues have support systems where members donate anonymously to help other members through tough financial situations. 

8. Ask for a pay advance

If you have a good relationship and a strong history with your employer, asking for an advance can go a long way.  Many employers will offer pay advances for employees who have proven themselves.  

Be honest about your situation.  Help your employer understand that the sooner you get paid, the less interest and fees you have to pay.  Be sure to mention that the less stressed you are, the better you can do on the job.

Consider offering to put in extra hours, which will not only build good-will, but also make you more money.  Especially if you get paid overtime.

9. Work overtime

If you’re an hourly worker in the United States, you are entitled to overtime pay when you work over the standard work week.  Typically this means that you get 1.5 times your hourly rate for every hour worked over the normal work week, usually about 40 hours.

Not only are you making more, you’re making more per hour which adds up fast.  

10. Do side jobs for extra cash

There are no shortage of side jobs in today’s gig economy. Anybody can make a few extra bucks driving for Uber, walking dogs for Wag, or delivering food for Doordash.  If you have the extra time, use it.

11. Avoid taking on new payday loans

This is absolutely paramount.  At all costs, avoid taking on new payday loans! 

Do whatever you need to do.  Save money, work overtime, borrow from friends, talk to a credit counselor but do not fall back into the trap.  The short term relief is not worth the long term indebtedness that you’re trying to get out of.

Learn From the Experts

Contrary to the claims of many other money-advice sites, personal finance is a difficult subject. There are a dozen problems to keep track of, and the stakes are as high as can be. It’s also deeply emotional, and many of us inherit baggage about money from our parents and environment during childhood.

The proof is in the numbers. Americans consistently fail to reach their financial goals. The average citizen holds $25,483 in non-mortgage debt [1] and saves less than 9% of their income[2]. A recent study showed that a staggering 77% of Americans feel stressed and anxious about their finances.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Our education system does a terrible job of helping people understand how money works. Most Americans go their entire lives without taking a single course on budgeting, taxes, or managing their credit. It sets all but the most privileged of us up to fail. 

Fortunately, there are many admirable people out there trying to turn that around in both the free market and higher education. There are endless resources across every medium: articles, podcasts, webinars, and more. Taking the time to remedy the gap in your education will do wonders to protect you from the pitfalls of personal finance.

Dorothy C. Kelly, CFA. Robert B. Hardaway, Jr. Lecturer of Personal Finance at the McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia.
We decided to put our money where our mouth is and contacted a personal finance professor to get her expert opinion on the rampant payday lending problem. She had some great insights into the ways people can avoid the payday loan trap or dig themselves out after they’ve fallen in. Click here for the fascinating results of the interview.

Do payday loans have any place in a borrower’s finances? Should anyone ever use them?

I have nothing good to say about payday loans or lenders. In Virginia, the finance charge for a 14-day $100 loan is $26.38, equivalent to an annual percentage rate (APR) of 687.76%–these are loan shark rates. It is unconscionable that such rates are legal and I recommend people avoid predatory lenders at all costs. 

Who is most vulnerable to predatory lending? How can consumers protect themselves?

Car-title and payday loan lenders are like any predator—they target and prey on the weak and the vulnerable. Who is vulnerable? Anyone who does not understand the basics of personal finance. To avoid becoming prey, individuals must educate and strengthen themselves and take precautions.

They must educate themselves, learn about personal finance; understand credit, interest rates, and loans; develop and live within a budget; manage their credit, and establish an emergency fund of 3 to 12 months of living expenses. The earlier a person does this, the less likely he/she will become prey and fall victim to the predators.

How does knowledge of personal finance protect you from payday loans?

Informed individuals facing a short-term cash flow problem will look for any and all alternatives. Credit cards charge as much as 36% APR — expensive, but not unconscionable. Meanwhile, a local credit union may offer consumer loans for less than 10% annual interest.

Other options also exist. Many colleges offer students small, short-term, interest-free emergency loans. Employers will sometimes offer employees advances on their paychecks. Churches, charities, and social clubs sometimes make grants or interest-free loans to members suffering financially.

What’s your best advice to someone trying to break out of a cycle of debt?

There is a saying that goes: “When you find yourself in a hole, the first step to getting out is to stop digging.” If someone finds themselves in debt, they must first stop digging, that is, stop borrowing. Cut expenses and funnel as much cash as possible toward the debt, beginning with the debt carrying the highest interest rate debt.

Paying off the high-interest rate debt first helps keep the hole from getting deeper and deeper, which increases vulnerability. In addition to cutting expenses, they can increase income and cash flow with part-time work, overtime, freelance work, selling belongings online, etc. Look for part-time work such as babysitting, childcare, tutoring, dog-walking, sewing, laundry, ironing, repair work, yard work, running errands, etc. (Note all income has tax consequences, so one must budget for taxes on extra income). 

Like loan sharks, predatory lenders keep people in the debt hole by encouraging and enabling them to pay off debt with more debt, which only makes the hole deeper. For anyone who has fallen prey to predatory lending, I recommend seeking free legal counsel from a local non-profit legal aid organization. They may be able to help negotiate a lower APR and can assist with questions regarding bankruptcy. 

What can consumers do to help eliminate the prevalence of payday lending?

Although a July 2020 ruling by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau favors predatory lenders over consumers, the new administration is likely to favor consumers over predators. Voters can email or call their elected representatives to express support for strengthening the CFPB to protect consumers and for repealing the July ruling that supports payday lenders rather than protects consumers.

Predators look for weak, vulnerable victims. We can and should protect ourselves and each other by learning about personal finance. Below are two sites to help consumers educate and protect themselves:

About the Expert

Dorothy C. Kelly is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), which is one of the most highly respected designations in the financial industry. To receive the qualification, one must first have a bachelor’s degree and four years of relevant professional experience, then pass three notoriously difficult exams.

Dorothy received her bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins and her master’s degree from the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia. She passed her CFA exams in 1995 and has been working in the financial industry ever since.

Dorothy served as Principal at Deucalion for fifteen years, where she led custom research projects on competitive analyses, investment policy statements, and strategic plans. She then spent the next five years leading case-based training and raising awareness of the disciplinary process as Director of Training and Outreach at the CFA Institute.

For the past six years, she has served as Principal of the Peripatos Group and a personal finance lecturer at her alma mater, the University of Virginia. In these roles, she generously shares her knowledge of financial ethics, engagement in financial service organizations, and personal financial well-being.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Will payday lenders really let me negotiate better terms?

Some, but not all payday lenders will negotiate with you. At the end of the day, they care most about getting their money back. Some have a strict no-negotiation policy, and others will only negotiate if you stop payments and can demonstrate that you really can’t pay. Either way, it does not hurt to ask.

Do be careful that what you renegotiate isn’t worse than the original loan.

What happens if I just stop paying my payday loans?

This is a bad idea and not a great way to get out of debt. The lenders will report that you defaulted to the credit bureaus and may take you to court.

Can the government help me get out of payday loans?

Unfortunately, the government offers very little to those struggling with payday debt.

The CFPB has put together a bit of content around payday loans and has been working on implementing better regulation. However, the government does not help you specifically.

You best bet if you need payday help is to talk to a credit counselor or try a payday relief program.

Break the payday loan cycle

Getting out of the payday debt trap is not easy but is the first step to ensuring a future of financial freedom.  Once payday loans are no longer hanging over your head, you’ll not only feel better, but will have the freedom to begin planning the financial future that you deserve.  Being debt free with money in your bank account is worth the hard work.