What to Know about Credit Card Cash Advances

By Janet Siroto · August 12, 2022 · 10 minute read

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What to Know about Credit Card Cash Advances

Sooner or later, most of us hit that moment where we need some cash — and fast. Maybe a major car repair or medical bill arrives, you get laid off, or you simply overspend for a period of time: All are ways that you can unfortunately find yourself in a hole financially.

A particularly expensive (or unlucky) month might make a credit card cash advance seem appealing. But before you go ahead and get a bundle of bills from your credit card issuer, read up on the consequences of doing so.

Here you’ll learn:

•   How to get a cash advance from a credit card

•   Why people use cash advances

•   The costs involved in getting cash from your credit card

•   How personal loans vs. cash advances compare

Can You Get Cash Back from a Credit Card?

Yes, it’s possible to get a cash advance on a credit card. But just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.

A credit card cash advance is a stopgap for a financial emergency that can come with high costs to a person’s immediate financial situation. Furthermore, if not paid back quickly, it may also affect their credit history in the long term.

While a cash advance is certainly easy (it’s similar to making an ATM withdrawal), there are typically better and more affordable options for most financial needs.

A credit card cash advance is used to get actual cash against a credit card account’s cash limit, which might be different from the credit limit. It’s essentially a loan from the credit card issuer. Here’s how it usually works:

•   You put your credit card into an ATM, enter the card’s PIN, and choose an amount to withdraw. The cash is then dispensed for you to use as you see fit.

•   If you don’t know the card’s PIN, a cash advance can be completed by going into a bank or credit union with the credit card and a government-issued photo identification.

•   A cash advance check directly from the credit card company — sometimes included with mailed monthly billing statements — can also be used to get a cash advance.

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Why Do People Use Cash Advances?

Why use a cash advance from a credit card? The bottom line: convenience and speed. ATMs are plentiful in most towns, and it takes just a few minutes to complete the process of getting a cash advance at an ATM. There’s no approval process required either.

Some people may assume they don’t have enough time to access other kinds of credit. This isn’t always true, however. For instance, funds obtained through an unsecured personal loan are sometimes available in just one to five days after approval of the loan.

As fast and simple as a credit card cash advance may seem, however, there are significant costs involved. We’ll go into those costs next. Realizing the financial impact of these withdrawals may encourage a person to look elsewhere for funds.

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Cost of Withdrawing Cash from a Credit Card

A cash advance is an expensive way to borrow money. To put it in perspective, they’re just a step up from payday loans (which typically have much higher interest rates than credit card cash advances, extra fees, and short repayment terms).

The cost of getting a cash advance from a credit card can be quite high because they are treated differently than regular credit card purchases. Here’s a closer look at how these expenses can pile up.

Cash Advance Fee

It’s typical for credit cards to have a fee specifically for cash advances. This fee can be anywhere from 3% to 5% of the total amount of the cash advance. This fee is added to the account balance immediately — there is no grace period.

Higher APR

The average APR, or annual percentage rate, a credit card issuer typically charges for a cash advance is quite a bit higher than normal purchase charges. Currently, the average credit card interest rate on purchases ranges from 15% to 19%. But what is the APR for a cash advance? The rate is likely to be between 17% and a whopping 29%, according to recent research.

What’s more, unlike interest charged on regular purchases, there is no grace period for the interest to start accruing on a cash advance. It starts accumulating immediately and increases the account balance daily.

ATM Fee

Getting a credit card cash advance from an ATM may also mean incurring an extra fee charged by the ATM owner, if that’s not the financial institution that issued your credit card. These fees can range from $1.50 to $3.50 or even up to $10. As you see, the ATM fee can increase the charges for a cash advance, which often add up quickly.

Payment Allocation Rules

If you’re thinking that a cash advance can be paid off first and then the interest rate will revert to the lower rate charged on regular purchases, guess again. While federal law dictates that any amount more than the minimum payment made must go toward the highest interest rate debt, the minimum payment amount is typically applied at the credit card issuer’s discretion. This might well work in the card issuer’s favor, not yours.

A Hypothetical Scenario

You might be wondering just what a cash advance looks like in actual dollars and sense, so let’s consider this scenario. Say a person is carrying a credit card balance of $1,000 with an APR of 20%.

Perhaps they are trying to financially survive a layoff and need funds, so they find out how to get a cash advance on their credit card and take out $1,000 with a 25% APR. When they receive the billing statement, they pay $1,000 toward their credit card balance.

The minimum payment due amount of $35 is applied to the regular purchases that are accruing interest at a rate of 20%. The remainder, $965, is applied to the cash advance balance that’s getting charged a 25% interest rate.

In order to completely get rid of that 25% APR, the account holder would have to pay the full $2,000 balance.

The cash advance will only be paid off when the entire credit card balance is paid in full, which means they could be setting themselves up with higher interest charges for a long time to come.

Waiting until the next monthly statement is available will just increase the amount due. Every day the cash advance accrues interest, it costs the cardholder more money. The faster the balance is paid off, the less interest will accrue.

Using a credit card interest calculator can be enlightening when figuring out how much purchases or cash advances will really cost with interest applied and how much time it might take to pay them off.

Personal Loans vs Cash Advances

Now you understand how to get a cash advance from a credit card and the expenses involved. So what are the alternatives to this kind of a cash advance? Ask friends or family for a loan? Find ways to make money from home?

While those options are certainly acceptable, an unsecured personal loan might also be an option for some people. These loans can allow you to get funds at a lower interest rate that you can use to pay off your high-interest debt. Here’s how they usually work:

•   An application for a personal loan online can typically be completed in minutes and, if approved, the borrower may possibly get the funds within a couple of days. Personal loans can be used for a variety of reasons.

•   Some common uses for personal loan funds are debt consolidation, wedding expenses, unexpected medical expenses, and moving expenses, to name a few. It’s even possible to use a personal loan to pay off that credit card cash advance, which may cost you a lot less in the long run.

There are several benefits to personal loans that are worth knowing about:

•   Personal loans are likely to offer a more manageable interest rate on the money borrowed than the typical interest rate on a credit card cash advance. Of course, the personal loan’s interest rate will depend on the borrower’s creditworthiness, but it’s likely to be lower than the one tied to a credit card cash advance.

•   When personal loans are used to pay off a cash advance, they can simplify a person’s debt. With a single personal loan, there is only one interest rate to keep track of, as opposed to juggling two high interest rates: one for the cash advance and one for regular purchases charged to the credit card.

•   Credit card debt is revolving debt, which means that the borrower’s credit limit can be used, repaid, then used again, as long as the borrower is in good standing with the lender. A personal loan, however, is installment debt, and has fixed payments and a fixed end date. Unlike the revolving debt of a credit card, the funds from a personal loan can only be used once, and then they have to be repaid.

Personal Loans and Credit Scores

Another upside of choosing a personal loan over a credit card cash advance is that responsibly managing a personal loan might positively impact the borrower’s credit score.

One factor that goes into calculating a FICO® Score is the percentage of available credit being used, the credit utilization ratio, and it accounts for 30% of a person’s total score.

In the hypothetical scenario above, if the borrower had a $3,000 credit limit on their credit card, by using $2,000 of their total available credit, their credit utilization rate would be a whopping 66% (if that one credit card was the only account appearing on their credit report).

It’s fairly typical that credit card users continue to make charges on their accounts, which is likely to keep their credit utilization ratio high.

Installment debt, such as a personal loan, is looked at in a slightly different way in credit score calculations. Making regular payments on an installment loan may carry slightly greater weight than might someone’s credit utilization rate in calculating their credit score. Thus, making regular payments on a personal loan is likely to demonstrate responsible borrowing as the balance is paid down.

As you’ve now learned, considering a variety of funding sources when you need money fast is a smart money move. When you do so, a credit card cash advance may well be seen as a last-resort maneuver.

The Takeaway

Life can certainly deliver some unexpected financial challenges now and then — moments when you need cash quickly, for instance, but don’t have any available. While a cash advance from your credit card may seem like a fast, simple solution, tread carefully. There are significant costs associated with this withdrawal which could leave you with more long-term debt than you’d like. It’s probably wise to explore your options first.

While money management can be tricky at times, partnering with the right financial institution can help improve your financial life. For example, when you open an online bank account with SoFi, you’ll find convenient tools to track your spending and grow your savings (which might help you build an emergency fund). What’s more, when you open a Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll enjoy a competitive APY and you won’t have to pay any account fees.

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FAQ

What is a credit card cash advance?

A credit card cash advance is a quick, convenient way to access cash using your credit card. You insert it into an ATM or visit a bank branch to obtain the cash. However, this will likely involve your owing significant fees and being assessed a considerable interest rate on the money you have borrowed.

What are the costs of a credit card cash advance?

A credit card cash advance will involve a fee that’s typically 3% to 5% of the total loan amount. In addition, there may be an ATM fee of several dollars. The money that you are advanced begins to accrue interest right away, and this usually is at a higher rate than your rate on purchases. What is a cash advance APR usually? Between 17% and 29%.

What is the difference between a credit card cash advance and checking account withdrawals?

A credit card advance is significantly different from a checking account withdrawal. With a credit card advance, you are quickly getting access to cash from your credit card issuer. It is a form of a loan, and your interest rate will likely be between 17% and 29% until it’s fully repaid. With a checking account withdrawal, you are accessing your own money, so there’s no interest fee involved, though you might be charged a few dollars if you use an out-of-network ATM for the transaction.


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