Travel packages

Fast cash can be expensive. Here are some alternatives.

If you’ve got more bills than money, the usual advice is to trim expenses and find additional income. But some ways of raising cash can be a lot more expensive than others. Here are four that should be avoided, if possible, and what to consider instead.

Beware raiding a retirement plan

Premature withdrawals are usually expensive and can leave you with too little money in retirement. You typically must pay penalties and income taxes on the distributions, plus you give up all the future tax-deferred compounding that money could have earned.

You may have other options. If you’re still employed, you could borrow from your 401(k) or halt retirement plan contributions temporarily to free up money. If you have a Roth IRA, you can withdraw an amount equal to your contributions without owing taxes or penalties.

Don’t skip health insurance

You may be healthy now, but you’re just one bad accident or illness away from catastrophic medical bills.

If you don’t have access to health insurance through work, check the Affordable Care Act exchanges at HealthCare.gov. Premiums have been lowered for most people this year and coverage can be free for many, including people who get unemployment benefits this year.

You also can lower premiums by opting for a high-deductible plan. That means paying thousands of dollars out of pocket if you get sick or injured, but at least you won’t face the kind of five- or six-figure bills that could bankrupt you.

Beware high-cost loans

Among the most expensive ways to borrow are payday loans, car title loans and loans that don’t require a credit check. High-cost loans make it easy to slip into a cycle of debt.

If you need help paying bills, start by checking 211.org, a clearinghouse of government and charitable resources.

If you can’t pay a loan, ask the lender about hardship options.

If you have a credit card, consider a cash advance. These typically incur double-digit interest rates, but high-cost loans typically have triple-digit rates.

Don’t stiff the IRS

If you can’t pay your tax bill, it can be tempting not to file a return. But failing to file carries much higher penalties than failing to pay, says CPA Neal Stern. In addition, there is no statute of limitations on audits when you fail to file. The IRS can come after you years later.

The IRS has payment plans that allow you to pay your bill over time. You also could charge a tax bill to a credit card or consider getting a personal loan to pay what you owe, Stern says.

Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.”

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