Americans are not good at saving, and studies have shown that only about 40% of the U.S. population could cover an unexpected expense of $1,000 or more. That could happen pretty easily, as few health insurance policies have deductibles less than that. That means at some point in your life you may be faced with having to come up with a significant amount of cash quickly. Putting such a tab on a credit card or taking out a personal loan can be pricey because of high interest rates. But there are alternatives that will cost you a lot less.
Loan from 401(k)
Most 401(k) retirement plans allow loans; however, financial experts would counsel you against using them. That’s because you lose the compound earnings you would get from the money you take out, and, if you leave work either voluntarily or involuntarily while the loan is still in effect, you have to pay it all back at once or risk paying a tax penalty. However, doing a 401(k) loan is preferable to taking out a high interest loan. A 401(k) loan is essentially interest free, because you pay interest to yourself. Most 401(k) plans do charge fees for loans, so keep that in mind.
Home equity loan
If you own your own home, you may be able to borrow against the equity to help cover an emergency cost. This is a good solution because interest rates on home equity loans are much lower than those on personal loans or credit cards. Keep in mind, though, that there are drawbacks. You have to pay hundreds or even thousands in fees, and if you fail to pay back the loan, it could cause your lender to foreclose on your home.
Structured settlement lump sum payment
If you are receiving a structured settlement from a lawsuit judgment, you could sell it for a lump sum of money to cover your emergency. This can get you a significant amount of cash fast, without any interest costs involved. However, companies that buy structured settlements charge a steep premium — somewhere around 10-20% is common. That means if you have $100,000 left in payments due on your structured settlement, you may have to give up $10,000-$20,0000 to get the money now.
Any option to get cash to cover an emergency will have benefits and drawbacks. It’s important to carefully evaluate each option before making a decision.