Financial Hardship Loans: What Are They and How Can You Apply?

By Anna Davies · February 22, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Financial Hardship Loans: What Are They and How Can You Apply?

Some people may have emergency savings to dip into or family or friends who can help them out if the unexpected happens. But for those who can’t access such resources, help may come in the form of a hardship loan, a type of loan offered to help people get through financial challenges, such as unemployment or medical debt.

Taking out a hardship loan can offer the cushion needed until a person’s financial prospects brighten. There are a variety of hardship loans to consider, from personal loans to home equity borrowing, and each has its own application requirements.

What Is a Hardship Loan?

A hardship loan doesn’t have an official definition, but many personal finance institutions may offer their own version of hardship loans. At its core, a hardship loan is a loan that can help you get through unexpected financial challenges like unemployment, medical bills, or caregiving responsibilities.

What Can You Use a Hardship Loan For?

As one of the types of personal loans, a hardship loan typically works much like any standard personal loan. The borrower receives a lump sum of money to use as they need, with few limitations. Potential uses could include:

•   Rent or mortgage payments

•   Past-due bills

•   Everyday expenses like groceries and transportation

•   Medical needs

A hardship loan could overwhelm already strained finances, however. Debt in any form will have to be repaid eventually, with interest, even in the case of hardship loans.

Hardship Borrowing Options

When you’re experiencing financial difficulties, you may feel the need to make a quick decision. But assessing your options can help you find the best solution for your needs and financial circumstances. Here are some options you may consider when looking for financing during times of hardship.

Personal Loans

A personal loan allows you to borrow a lump sum of money, typically at a fixed interest rate, that you’ll then repay in installments over a set amount of time. Unlike a credit card, which is revolving debt, a personal loan has a set end date. This allows you to know exactly how much interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan (a personal loan calculator can always help with that determination, too).

The common uses for personal loans are wide-ranging. In addition to using a personal loan to help cover current expenses, you could also use personal loans to consolidate high-interest debt that you may have incurred, whether due to hardship or other reasons.

Typically, personal loan interest rates are lower than credit card interest rates, making them an attractive alternative to credit cards. When it comes to getting your personal loan approved, expect lenders to look at your credit history, credit score, and other factors.

Credit Cards

Some people also may use credit cards to cover hardship expenses. While this strategy can help in the moment, it can lead to larger bills over time.

For instance, a credit card that offers a 0% annual percentage rate (APR) could allow you to minimize interest charges throughout the promotional period. However, you’ll need to ensure the balance is paid in full before the introductory period ends. Otherwise, you could start racking up interest charges quickly, adding to your financial challenges.

Peer-to-Peer Lending

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is becoming more common as people seek out nontraditional financing. P2P loans are generally managed through a lending platform that matches applicants with investors.

While it may offer more flexibility than a traditional loan, a P2P lending platform still looks at an applicant’s overall financial picture — including their credit score — during the approval process. Like a traditional loan, a P2P’s loan terms and interest rates will vary depending on an applicant’s creditworthiness.

Generally, lenders in the P2P space will report accounts to credit bureaus just as traditional lenders do. So making regular, on-time payments can have a positive effect on your credit score. And, conversely, making late payments or failing to make payments at all can have a negative effect on your credit score.

Recommended: Understanding How P2P Lending Works

Home Equity

If you own your home, you may consider borrowing against your home’s value. You could do this in the form of a home equity loan, a home equity line of credit (HELOC), or by refinancing your mortgage through a cash-out refinancing option.

With a home equity loan, you’ll pay back the amount borrowed (with interest) over an agreed-upon period of time. While a home equity loan is offered in a lump sum, a HELOC is a revolving line of credit that can allow you to withdraw what you need. However, HELOCs often have variable interest rates, which can make it challenging to plan for repayment.

With a cash-out refinance, on the other hand, you’d refinance your current mortgage for more than what you currently owe, allowing you to get a bit of extra cash to use as you need. This process replaces your old mortgage with a new one.

In all of the options outlined above, if you can’t pay back the loan or follow the agreed-upon terms, there’s the potential that you may lose your house.

401(k) Hardship Withdrawal

It also may be possible to withdraw funds from your retirement plan. Under normal circumstances, a penalty typically is incurred for early withdrawal. There’s a chance the penalty will get waived due to certain types of financial hardship, but exceptions are limited.

Additionally, making a hardship withdrawal from your retirement account means a missed opportunity for these funds to grow. This could potentially put your retirement goals at a disadvantage or later require you to come up with an alternative catch-up savings strategy. In other words, really pause to think it through before using your 401(k) to pay down debt or put toward current expenses.

Alternative Options

While you can use personal loans for a variety of financial needs, there may be other options to consider depending on your situation. For example, if you’re a single parent, you might consider seeking out loans for single moms or dads who have sole financial responsibility for their household. Here are some other options you might explore:

•   Employer-sponsored hardship programs: If you’re facing financial hardship, ask your employer if they have an employee assistance program (EAP). Financial assistance might be offered to help employees who have emergency medical bills, who have experienced extensive home damage due to fire or flood, or who have experienced a death in the family. Employees will likely have to meet specific qualifications to receive EAP funds.

•   Borrowing from friends and relatives: Asking for an informal loan from a friend or family member is certainly an option for getting through financial hardship, although not one that should be considered lightly. Having clear communication about each party’s expectations and responsibilities can go a long way to keeping a relationship intact. Consider having a written loan agreement that outlines details about the loan, such as the amount, interest rate (even if it’s nominal), and when repayment is expected.

•   Community-based resources: There may be specific grants within your community available for people with emergency financial needs. Organizations like help individuals find the assistance they need. Community-based social services organizations also may be able to make referrals to other organizations as needed.

•   Government programs: Federal and state governments list resources on their websites for individuals seeking financial hardship assistance. Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for certain government programs that could help reduce expenses for food, childcare, utilities, housing, prescription medication, and others.

The Takeaway

Researching all of your options for financial relief is a wise move. You might find help from government or community resources, your employer, or a friend or family member. Or, you might consider options such as a financial hardship loan, a home equity loan, or a P2P loan.

If you’re looking for financial help in the form of a hardship loan, a SoFi personal loan could be a good option for your unique financial situation. SoFi personal loans offer competitive, fixed rates and a variety of terms. Checking your rate won’t affect your credit score*, and it takes just one minute.

See if a personal loan from SoFi is right for you

Photo credit: iStock/staticnak1983

*Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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