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How Does a Credit Card Cash Advance Work?

Brittney Myers
David Chang, ChFC®, CLU®
By: Brittney Myers and David Chang, ChFC®, CLU®

Our Credit Cards Experts

Eric McWhinnie
Check IconFact Checked Eric McWhinnie
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Credit cards are accepted more places than ever before, but there are still a few places where you may need cash. If you're in a bind, a credit card cash advance can seem like a good way to get quick cash. But should you do it?

The reality is that credit card cash advances can be very expensive -- and they often cost a lot more than you initially realize. Although they can occasionally be better than the alternative, you should consider a credit card cash advance only as a last resort. Here's what you need to know before you use a credit card cash advance.

How to get a credit card cash advance

A credit card cash advance is essentially a short-term loan that you can access through your credit card. This means you are borrowing money from your card issuer, and one of the advantages is that you don't need to apply for a separate loan or go through any credit checks. You need to have available credit on your card to be able to use this feature.

At its most basic, a credit card cash advance is like taking out a small loan from your credit card issuer -- a small, but very expensive loan (more on that below). The maximum amount you can borrow is usually a percentage of your credit limit, which varies depending on the card issuer and other factors. 

Your credit card cash advance limit will typically be lower than your credit limit, with a typical limit falling between 20% to 50% of your total spending limit. For example, if you have a $5,000 credit limit on your card, your cash advance limit will likely be less than $2,500. Cardholders with higher credit scores tend to have higher spending and cash advance limits.

You can get a credit card cash advance at a regular ATM, provided you have your cash advance PIN. In most cases, you'll need to proactively request your cash advance PIN from your issuer. Some issuers may provide your cash advance PIN through your online account, but you may need to call. The card issuer will likely send your cash advance PIN by mail if you make the request by mail or phone.

Alternatively, you can visit a bank that accepts cash advances or use a convenience check that your card issuer sends you. The process is usually straightforward, and the funds are available almost instantly. However, you need to be aware that cash advances come with significant fees and interest rates, which can add up quickly if you don't repay the amount promptly.

Before you even consider a credit card cash advance, make sure your credit card issuer actually allows them. You can see if your card can be used for a cash advance by checking your cardholder agreement.

In addition to getting a credit card cash advance through an ATM, you can also use what's known as a convenience check. Often sent in the envelope with your card, convenience checks can be used just as you would a personal check (we offer a quick guide to writing a check if you're from the cards-only era).

The high costs of a credit card cash advance

The allure of credit card cash advances is no mystery; when you need quick cash, the convenience of hitting an ATM with your credit card is no small thing. But you should be aware of all of the costs before you start punching in PINs.

As soon as you get a cash advance with your credit card, you start getting charged -- and from two directions. First, the transaction itself will come with a cash advance fee. This fee will generally be a percentage of the cash advance amount, with 3% to 5% fees being typical.

In addition to the transaction fee, cash advances will accrue interest fees, just as regular purchases do. Unlike when you make regular purchases, however, cash advances have no grace period.

No grace period means the cash advance will start collecting interest as soon as you complete the transaction. Unfortunately, this means you'll have to pay interest on the cash advance even if you pay off all the cash you withdrew when your statement comes.

Not only does interest start accruing immediately, but many credit cards also charge a higher APR on cash advances than they do on purchases and balance transfers. In fact, the APR for a credit card cash advance can easily be 5% to 10% higher than the normal purchase rate.

This means that the longer you take to repay the cash advance, the more costly it becomes. Therefore, it's essential to have a repayment plan in place and avoid using a cash advance unless it's a last resort.

It's also worth noting that you won't earn any kind of credit card rewards on your cash advance. Nor will a credit card cash advance count toward the spending requirement for a sign-up bonus.

Cash advances that aren't actually cash

We've focused mostly on credit card cash advances that involve actively choosing to withdraw cash as a loan from your credit card account. But that's not the only type of transaction that your credit card may qualify as a cash advance.

Many credit card companies will code certain purchases as a cash advance if they consider the purchase to be a cash-equivalent transaction. This means that you're purchasing something that acts like cash.

For example, if you use your credit card to make a bet at a casino or race track, your issuer will likely consider that purchase to be a cash advance. Other types of purchases that may be termed as cash-equivalents can include money orders, lottery tickets, traveler's cheques, cryptocurrency, and certain gift cards.

How to pay off a credit card cash advance

As we discussed above, a credit card cash advance starts accruing interest -- at a high rate -- as soon as the transaction hits your account. This means you should repay the cash advance as soon as you possibly can, as in "don't even wait until your credit card bill comes" soon.

If nothing else, endeavor to make more than your minimum required payment each month as you work to repay your cash advance. Otherwise, you may be collecting interest on that advance for a long time.

You see, your cash advance balance is separate from other balances you carry on your credit card, including your purchase balance and the amount you owe on any balance transfers. The card issuer can apply the minimum payment amount to any of your balances, and it typically chooses the one with the lowest interest rate.

So, making only the minimum payment means the whole of your payment can be applied to reduce your purchase balance -- while your more expensive cash advance balance doesn't decline at all.

If you pay more than the minimum payment, though, the CARD Act -- a consumer protection law passed in 2009 -- the game changes. Creditors are required to apply any amount in excess of your minimum payment to the balance with the highest interest rate, which is likely to be your cash advance.

When should you get a credit card cash advance?

Generally speaking, the transaction fee, immediate interest, and high APRs associated with a credit card cash advance mean you should avoid them if at all possible. However, in some cases, it may actually be the best option.

There may be some reasons why you may need to use a credit card cash advance, such as unexpected bills or other emergencies. However, you should only use this option if you have no other alternatives. 

For example, if you need a small amount of quick cash and are considering a payday loan, a credit card cash advance may be the better choice. Predatory short-term loans will almost always be more expensive than a credit card cash advance.

And a credit card cash advance is certainly a better choice than being evicted for not paying your rent, or defaulting on another credit account. Additionally, if you're abroad and you need fast access to cash, taking a credit card cash advance can be a lifesaver.

Before you use a cash advance, it's crucial to read and understand all the terms and conditions, including the fees and interest rates. You should also consider the impact of the cash advance on your credit score and avoid borrowing more than you can realistically repay.

Alternatives to a credit card cash advance

While some situations may call for a credit card cash advance, it should never be your first option. Depending on your needs, you may have other choices that make more sense.

For one thing, you should explore whether you can use your credit cards to make a purchase, rather than a cash advance. 

Most businesses accept credit cards these days, including many utility and rental companies. While they may charge a processing or convenience fee, it should still be cheaper than a credit card cash advance.

Alternatively, low-interest personal loans can be a good way to get the cash you need. They can be especially useful for any large purchases you may need to pay off over a year or more. Personal loans often have lower interest rates and longer repayment terms than credit card cash advances. 

Another option could be to ask family or friends for a loan. This may be an uncomfortable conversation to have, but it could save you money. Lastly, consider selling unwanted items or picking up a temporary side job to earn some extra cash. These alternatives may take more effort or require some sacrifices, but they could be a smarter financial decision in the long run.

Still have questions?

Here are some other questions we've answered:


  • Cash advances are a type of short-term loan that allow you to borrow a certain amount of money using your credit card. Many people confuse it with a regular transaction, but it is not. Cash advances work differently and have different terms. They are usually associated with higher fees and interest rates compared to regular transactions. 

  • Cash advance fees and other costs can vary from lender to lender, but typically include a percentage fee based on the amount of the advance, as well as interest charges that accrue daily until the balance is paid off. In some cases, there may also be additional fees for things like late payments or borrowing above a certain limit. 

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