If you have taken all possible steps and still need help, you should consider a lower-cost, short-term loan. Here are some affordable loan options—all of which charge 36% annual percentage rate (APR) or less.

woman handing money

Your Bank

Visit your bank’s website or call to find out whether they offer emergency loans or loans specifically tailored to those experiencing a COVID hardship. If you don’t have a bank account, visit Bank On Chicago if you live in Chicago. If you live outside Chicago, visit Bank On Illinois. A financial coach can also assist you with opening a bank account.

With a Bank On certified account, you will not be charged overdraft fees, but some BankOn accounts lack certain account features – like access to affordable loans – that are available only with a bank’s other accounts. Capital One no longer charges overdraft or non-sufficient fund fees on any of its accounts. Not a Bank On account, PNC’s Virtual Wallet account has a feature called Low-Cash Mode that gives customers more time to fund their account to avoid an overdraft situation and, for each transaction that would overdraw the account, allows customers to elect whether the bank should clear the payment or reject it.

Bank Loans

CIBC Bank has an affordable (12.45%  APR) personal loan called the EasyPath Personal Loan. Even if you are not a CIBC customer, you can apply for the loan by visiting one of CIBC’s branches.

Huntington Bank offers a line of credit to eligible account-holders called Standby Cash. The line of credit is up to $1,000 and is interest- and fee-free if the customer enrolls in automatic payback of the loan.

US Bank offers personal loans to both customers and non-customers who have a minimum credit score of 660. The interest rate ranges from 5.99% to 18.49% APR.

Bank of America recently launched Balance Assist, a small-dollar loan for its customers. The loan is up to $500 in increments of $100 and charges only a flat $5 fee regardless of loan amount. The loan is repaid in three months by automatic deductions from your checking account. Note: Balance Assist is not available to customers with the “SafeBalance” account, which features no overdraft.

CDFI, Nonprofit, or Credit Union

Consider a loan from a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) or credit union:

  • Capital Good Fund, a non-profit CDFI, offers a crisis loan that charges 5% APR, with no payments of principal or interest for the first three months.
  • Jewish Free Loan Chicago, a non-profit, offers no-interest loans to people of all backgrounds in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties. There are other eligibility criteria, including purpose of the loan, income, and a guarantor – apply online.
  • Great Lakes Credit Union serves Lake, Cook, McHenry, Kane, DuPage, Kendall, Will & Kenosha counties. They offer a Cash-in- a-Flash loan, a $500 personal loan with no credit check at 33.5% APR (this rate includes the application fee). Call 800-982-7850.
  • Self-Help Credit Union offers a variety of different banking and loan products for people with good credit or those who want to build their credit. Call 800-966-7353.
  • KCT Credit Union serves DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, McHenry, and Cook (west of Route 83) counties. They offer unsecured and secured personal loans to help borrowers consolidate debt, build credit, and more. Call 847-741-3344.
  • Community Plus Federal Credit Union serves Champaign, Ford, and Piatt counties. Borrowers who have been members for six or more months may qualify for their emergency loan with no credit check at 18% They also offer free financial counseling. Call 217-893-8201.
  • Members “First” Community Credit Union serves Adams, Brown, Pike, and Schuyler counties. They offer personal loans with APRs as low as 7.99%. Call 217- 223-4377.
  • SIU Credit Union serves 26 counties across Southern Illinois. They offer a personal loan with competitive interest rates. Call 618-457-3595.
  • St. Louis Community Credit Union serves St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, and Jersey counties in the Metro East region. Their Works for Me personal loan is open to applications from members and non-members with APRs as low as 10.49%. (Note: for non-members an application will involve a hard credit inquiry.) Call 314-534-7610.
  • Unified Homeowners of Illinois Federal Credit Union serves all homeowners in Illinois. They offer personal loans up to $600 at 18% APR on a 12-month term, available to new and existing members. Call 773-283-9340.

Online Loan

Not all online lenders are affordable. However, members of the American Fintech Council (AFC) adhere to responsible lending standards that include charging at or below 36 percent APR. All of the following are AFC members.

Personal Loans

  • Lending Club offers personal, business, auto, and education loans. Online or call 888-596-3157.
  • Prosper offers loans up to $40,000 for emergencies, major events, debt consolidation, or purchases. Online or call 866-615-6319.
  • Best Egg offers personal loans for major events, purchases, or debt consolidation. Online or call 855-282-6353.

Banking and Loans

  • SoFi offers accounts, personal loans, credit cards, student loans, home loans, business loans, and investment options. Online or call 855-456-SOFI (7634)

For Purchases

  • “Buy Now, Pay Later” can be an affordable option if you are able to manage the monthly or biweekly payments. If you don’t stay on top of the payments and miss a payment or pay late, you could end up in a cycle of unaffordable debt, which could wreak havoc on your overall finances.
  • Affirm offers financing for smaller and larger purchases.

Business Loans and Lines of Credit

You can compare different loan products at Nerd Wallet, but we cannot guarantee that a loan that appears on Nerd Wallet is consumer friendly.

Paycheck Advance/Early Wage Access

If you are employed, consider asking your employer for an advance on your next paycheck. If you’re not comfortable with that, there are several apps that offer Early Wage Access (EWA) products. Earnin and MoneyLion are among the most well known. Some of the EWA apps are tricky to navigate – they might try to make you pay a “tip” when you borrow and make it difficult to opt out of the tip, and they might charge you a fee to receive your money immediately. If you are cash-strapped and use these products, we recommend that you tip zero and, if at all possible, skip the optional fee for an immediate payment. Based on our experience, the money should hit your account in less than three business days.

Bottom line: If you pay no tip and no “immediate deposit” fee, you can obtain free payday advances from these apps. But, because the advances are repaid at the beginning of your next pay period, they may cause you to get stuck in a cycle of re-borrowing.

Watch Out for Scams!

Scam artists are always looking for ways to cheat you, but COVID-relief programs have triggered an avalanche of scams and rip-offs.

  • If you receive a call or text from someone you don’t know about COVID relief, Social Security, student loans, loan forgiveness, car warranties, or other benefits, there is a high probability the caller is a scammer. Look up the number for the company or agency on your own and contact them directly if you are concerned about whether the call is legitimate.
  • Emails that want you to click on a link, open an attachment, or provide personal information are highly risky.
  • Beware of any company offering “credit repair,” “debt management,” or “debt settlement.” These types of services are frequently rip-offs.

For more information about scams, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website.

Lending Circles

In a lending circle, a small group of people chip in every month and lend money to one another at no interest. Lending circles are formed between 6-12 people and loan amounts range from $300-$2,400. Each month, a new member of the lending circle receives the loan until everyone in the group gets their chance. Loan payments are reported to the credit bureaus to help participants build credit.

This option is not suitable for immediate needs or emergencies. A lending circle requires group planning, and you may not be able to predict when it will be your turn to get the loan. However, it may be helpful for large, planned purchases. You can learn more and apply.

Credit Card Advance

Cash advances from credit cards can be easy but are expensive unless you pay them back soon. Check the credit card’s website or contact the credit card company to find out about available options.

Prefer Talking to a Live Person? Ask a Financial Coach.

Capital Good Fund’s financial coaching hotline provides one-on-one financial advice to any Illinois resident. Starting at $15 per month, the nonprofit can create a plan with you and can advocate on your behalf with creditors. They also offer a credit-builder program for $5 per month. Call 866-584-3651 (English or Spanish).

Working Credit NFP is a nonprofit that offers free financial counseling to help you build your credit, understand the credit system, and create a plan to reach your financial goals. Their credit building counseling program includes unlimited one-on-one support and coaching for 12 months for free. Sign up online (English and Spanish).

Man getting advice

The City of Aurora’s Financial Empowerment Center provides free, high-quality, one-on-one financial counseling to low-and moderate-income residents of the Aurora region. Learn more.

Many credit unions also offer free or low cost financial coaching. Check with your local credit union to learn about their offerings, and check the list under Option 3: Lower Cost Loans if you need help finding a credit union.


This resource guide is produced in partnership with New America Chicago, Woodstock Institute, and Financial Inclusion for All Illinois.

Special thanks to all the hardworking nonprofits, socially-conscious lenders, and community partners who are helping restore wealth in our communities. Your work is so important! Thanks also to Jane Doyle, Brent Adams, Amy Eisenstein, Vanessa Rangel, Gordon Mayer, Meegan Dugan Bassett, Bob Reddy, Joe Wilkes, LuLin McArthur, and Lauren Monaco Grossman for their work on this project.