September 15, 2023

What is a Cash Advance and How Does It Work?

In need of a quick cash infusion to handle an emergency or an unexpected bill?

Cash advances can help you solve unforeseen financial problems. But they often come with strings attached, so it’s crucial to understand what you’re getting into.

What is a cash advance?

A cash advance typically refers to a credit card cash advance. This is a transaction where an individual borrows cash against their card's available credit limit. Unlike regular credit card purchases to buy goods or services, a cash advance allows the cardholder to withdraw cash straight from an ATM or bank.

There are other kinds of cash advances, but they all allow quick access to funds, making them appealing in emergency situations.

But cash advances tend to come with higher costs and additional fees compared to regular transactions—usually a percentage of the total amount withdrawn.

On top of those fees, cash advances often carry higher interest rates than regular purchases, and interest begins accruing immediately after the withdrawal, leaving cardholders with less and less time to pay off the balance interest-free.

So, while cash advances can seem like a convenient solution in emergencies, approach them with caution and use them sparingly. Understanding the associated fees and interest rates will help you make more informed financial decisions and avoid unnecessary debt. You might also discover convenient and low-cost alternatives that work much better for you.

Types of cash advances

The most common cash advances include credit card cash advances, merchant cash advances, and payday loans.

1. Credit card cash advances

Credit card cash advances are the most common type of cash advance, allowing cardholders to withdraw cash from their credit card account. This type of cash advance is readily available to anyone with a credit card, making it a convenient option for those who need quick cash.

But these transactions usually come with high fees and interest rates. In other words, they’re usually an expensive option.

2. Merchant cash advances

Merchant cash advances are designed for businesses and work differently from traditional loans. In this type of cash advance, a business owner receives a lump sum in exchange for a portion of their future credit card sales. The advance is repaid by taking a percentage of daily credit card sales until the agreed-upon amount is reached.

Although merchant cash advances offer quick funding for businesses, they can also come with high fees and may not work well for many business types.

3. Payday loans

Payday loans are short-term loans offered by specialized lenders, usually used to cover expenses until the borrower's next paycheck. These loans tend to involve high interest rates and short repayment terms, which can quickly create a cycle of debt. Consumers are right to be wary of these advances, as the debts they incur can be very difficult to escape.

Choosing a type of cash advance

As you decide which type of advance to seek, if any, consider the terms and fees associated with each kind—that is, how much each option will likely cost you in total.

Explore alternative solutions, like emergency savings or personal loans from reputable lenders (or even friends and family). There may be better, cheaper, safer ways to find funds.

How do cash advances work?

Curious about how to get a cash advance? Each type works differently:

-Credit card cash advances: Cardholders can use their credit cards to withdraw cash from ATMs or receive cash back during purchases. The amount withdrawn is added to the card's outstanding balance. Interest on cash advances starts accruing immediately on the account with no grace period. And you may pay an additional cash advance fee.

-Merchant cash advances: Business owners can apply online with many providers to receive a lump, upfront sum in exchange for a portion of their future credit card sales.

-Payday loans: Borrowers receive a short-term loan and write a post-dated check or authorize an electronic debit for repayment on their next payday. The loan amount, fees, and interest are due in full by the agreed-upon due date. Otherwise, the interest quickly and steadily accrues from there.

Advantages and disadvantages of cash advances

Cash advances can be a lifesaver, but they’re far from free money. Let’s lay out the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision.


-Quick access to funds: Cash advances let you access cash immediately, making them convenient for emergencies.

-No collateral required: Most cash advances, including credit card cash advances and payday loans, don't require collateral, simplifying the application process.

-No credit check for some: Payday loans, in particular, may not require a credit check, making them accessible to folks with all kinds of credit histories.


-High fees and interest: Cash advances often carry significantly higher fees and interest rates than traditional loans.

-Short repayment terms: Payday loans and credit card cash advances typically have short repayment periods, which can increase pressure on the borrower.

-Debt cycle risk: Frequent reliance on cash advances can create a cycle of debt as borrowers struggle to repay the high-cost advances on time.

-Effect on credit score: Failing to repay cash advances on time can bring down your credit score.

To better understand the precise costs of cash advances, let’s review their typical cost structure more closely.

Cash advance costs and fees

How much are cash advance fees? What interest will you be charged, and what other costs may be involved? Let’s explore each factor.

1. Cash advance fee: Credit card cash advances typically come with a one-time cash advance fee, usually a percentage of the withdrawn amount. This fee may range from 3–5% or higher.

2. High interest rates: Besides the initial fee, cash advances also carry significantly higher interest rates than standard loans. The interest begins accruing immediately after the transaction, leaving borrowers less time to repay the balance before interest charges accumulate.

3. ATM fees: Additional fees may apply when using a credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM. These fees can be imposed by both the credit card issuer and the ATM operator. Remember that even small amounts add up, raising the total cost of your cash advance.

4. Late payment fees: Missing the due date for repayment on a cash advance can result in late payment fees, adding to the overall cost of borrowing and potentially hurting your credit.

5. Overdraft fees: If you’re using a cash advance to cover an overdraft, you may still face overdraft fees from your bank, increasing your overall financial burden.

Extra considerations for cash advances

Credit card rewards don’t typically extend to cash advances. Some types of cash advances may also be less secure than others. Or they can also require extra signatures and paperwork.

If you have other sources of funding available, cash advances are likely a more expensive option or even the most expensive option. Repayment of payday loans, in particular, is notorious for overwhelming borrowers to the point where many governments consider such lenders predatory.

Alternatives to cash advances

Just because you’re in a pinch now doesn’t mean you have to throw your personal finance goals out the window. Consider these lower-stress, lower-cost options—including EarnIn’s Cash Out tool:

1. EarnIn's Cash Out tool: EarnIn's innovative Cash Out tool lets you access your pay before payday without the fees or interest of a cash advance.

2. Personal loans: Traditional personal loans from reputable lenders typically offer lower interest rates and longer repayment terms than cash advances.

3. Credit union loans: Credit unions can offer members more affordable loan options, including short-term loans or lines of credit—great alternatives to cash advances.

4. Emergency savings: Building and maintaining an emergency fund is a great alternative to cash advances that avoids interest and fees altogether.

With quick, easy access to your pay as you work and no interest, no credit checks, and no mandatory fees—EarnIn's Cash Out tool provides the best of both worlds. If you want to avoid the debt trap of traditional cash advances, EarnIn offers convenient, stress-free access to up to $750 of your pay every pay period.

EarnIn is a first-of-its-kind app that gives you the power of everyday payday, empowering our customers to reach their goals and build financial momentum. All with no credit checks, no interest, and no mandatory fees. Download EarnIn today to sign up.

Disclaimer: Please note, the material collected in this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as or construed as advice regarding any specific circumstances. Nor is it an endorsement of any organization or services.

You may enjoy

How to Get Cash from a Credit Card Without a Cash Advance
How to Get Cash from a Credit Card Without a Cash Advance
Learn how to get cash from a credit card without a cash advance, and discover alternatives that protect your financial health and avoid hefty fees.
10 Best Cash Advance Apps & Alternatives: Breaking Down the Pros & Cons
10 Best Cash Advance Apps & Alternatives: Breaking Down the Pros & Cons
Learn everything you need to know about the best cash advance apps and alternatives to know which one is best for you when you need quick access to funds.
Payday Loan Alternatives: Exploring Better Options
Payday Loan Alternatives: Exploring Better Options
Discover better payday loan alternatives by exploring innovative apps and other resources with flexible repayment options and low fees.
How Does Interest Work? Interest Rates for Beginners
How Does Interest Work? Interest Rates for Beginners
If you’re planning your financial future, you may be wondering, “How does interest work?” Learn what interest is, how it’s calculated, and how it adds up.
Early Paycheck Request: How to Access Your Money in Advance
Early Paycheck Request: How to Access Your Money in Advance
Explore the benefits of early paycheck requests with fintech apps like EarnIn. Avoid mandatory fees and achieve financial flexibility and security.
What to Do If You Need Cash Quickly
What to Do If You Need Cash Quickly
If you’re in a tight financial spot and need cash quickly, your options include using apps like Earnin, working odd jobs, selling possessions, and more.
How Do Credit Card Balance Transfers Work?
How Do Credit Card Balance Transfers Work?
How do credit card balance transfers work? Learn their benefits and how they compare to other financial tools for optimal debt management.
How to Make a Cash Deposit: All You Need to Know
How to Make a Cash Deposit: All You Need to Know
We’ll share all the details on making a cash deposit. Learn how to deposit money at a bank and about depositing large amounts of cash.
What is an Installment Loan, and How Can it Help You?
What is an Installment Loan, and How Can it Help You?
What is an installment loan? Learn the benefits and drawbacks, and learn how its structured repayment helps you manage your finances.
Early Direct Deposits: How to Get Paid Early
Early Direct Deposits: How to Get Paid Early
Explore early direct deposits, how they work, and ways to optimize your financial journey. Get paid ahead with trusted online banking solutions.
The Cash Rewards Program That’s Actually Rewarding
The Cash Rewards Program That’s Actually Rewarding
EarnIn's cash rewards program offers real benefits to users. Learn more about how it works and how you can start EarnIng rewards on our blog.
Everyday Fees You Should Be Avoiding
Everyday Fees You Should Be Avoiding
From ATM fees to subscription services, everyday fees can take a toll on your finances. This article explores fees you should be avoiding and how to do it.

EarnIn is a financial technology company not a bank. Subject to your available earnings, Daily Max and Pay Period Max. EarnIn does not charge interest on Cash Outs. EarnIn does not charge hidden fees for use of its services. Restrictions and/or third party fees may apply. EarnIn services may not be available in all states. For more info visit

Download on the App Store
4.7 +189K ratings
Download on Google Play
4.6 +200K ratings