Last updated on March 4, 2024.

If you are struggling to make ends meet or pay for an emergency, this guide can help you with safe and affordable options to high-cost loans. It includes ways to lower your bills and find other sources of income, as well as lower-cost loans. Most of these options do not require you to take on more debt.

HOT TOPIC! Student Loans: Ongoing policy changes have significantly expanded the options available to borrowers to reduce monthly payments and prevent excessive interest from accumulating. Go to the Student Loans section of this guide to learn more.

TIP! Be on the lookout for mail or email from your student loan servicer, and start to set aside money now to cover this monthly expense. Go to the Student Loans section of this guide to learn more.

211 – New Chicago/Cook County Hotline
Residents of Chicago and suburban Cook County now have access to a free hotline to help them with their essential everyday needs. The 211 system can connect residents to essential health and social support services and information during times of non-emergency crisis. Call 2-1-1 (open 24/7) or visit their website at (311 is still active for non-emergency city services.)

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

Capital Good Fund’s Financial Coaching Department 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 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, Rob Mayo, Amy Eisenstein, Vanessa Rangel, Gordon Mayer, Meegan Dugan Adell, Winston Berkman-Breen at Student Borrower Protection Center, and Bob Palmer at Housing Action Illinois for their work on this project.