Where to get cash right now

Closeup of dollar bill

Just when you need money the most, it seems like it's always the hardest to come by.

The rent is due. The utility bill is already late, and the radiator on your car just went out.

Where can you turn to cover critical bills when you simply don't have enough money in your wallet, or your checking account?

Before you even think about turning to a costly payday loan store, consider these alternatives.

Alternative 1. Look to your credit cards.

If you have a credit card that earns rewards points, consider cashing them in. You may not realize that you can redeem many of your airline rewards for other things like gas, clothes, dining and entertainment.

You can also sell your miles for cash at some Web sites like Award Traveler.

We'd never recommend it at other times, but getting a cash advance on your credit card will cost less than a payday loan. (You'll pay an annualized interest rate of 20% to 25%, compared with 300% to 500%.)

If your credit card issues cash advances, it's usually as simple as going to your nearest ATM and putting in your card. Just be sure you first check with your credit card company on the rates and terms.

Also, don't be tempted by what seems like easy money. While a cash advance on your credit card is a better alternative than a payday loan, it's still expensive and should only be used in a time of emergency.

Alternative 2. Sell your stuff.

Let's start with gold. It's been trading at about $44 per gram, and if you're willing to part with some jewelry, it can help you with a cash deficiency. As a general rule of thumb, the lower the karat, the less gold there is; 24 karat gold is 100% gold.

Selling your gold should be done very carefully. Do your homework and get second, even third opinions. The best places to start are pawn shops and jewelers, followed by the mail order route.

Also, just about anything around your home can be sold on eBay or Craigslist. Books, CDs, old albums, collectibles, furniture and bikes can all move quickly. You'd be surprised by what people are looking to buy.

Alternative 3. Ask friends or family.

Most people don't ask friends or family for help because they're embarrassed. But you'll often find that those who have the money are willing to lend a hand.

If you're uncomfortable borrowing or lending money on a handshake, consider a written agreement that states the terms of the loan, the interest (if there is any) and how and when you're expected to pay it back.

Having something in writing will make it a lot easier on the both of you and will help ensure that a loan doesn't ruin the friendship.

If the loan is more than a few hundred bucks, say $500 and over, you might want to use a Web site such as Lendingkarma.com which lets you document the loan and track payments.

Alternative 4. Ask your employer.

If you have proven yourself to be a reliable employee, you may be able to get an advance on your salary or a loan from your employer.

Larger companies often offer loans, which you can then repay through small, regular payroll deductions.

It doesn't hurt to ask.

Alternative 5. Visit your bank or credit union.

If you have a decent credit score, check stubs and a documented work history, you may be able to land an unsecured personal loan.

Many banks and credit unions offer unsecured personal loans and lines of credit of up to $20,000. With a loan, your bank will write you a check and set up a regular repayment plan. With a line of credit, you can tap it as needed.

It's not a bad idea to open a line of credit even if you don't need it right now. You don't have to use it, and it will be there in case of an emergency down the road.

These loans carry interest rates of 10% to 20%, depending on your credit, and while that's not cheap, it's a better option than a payday loan store. You can usually get access to the money immediately.

In some cases, you can get smaller amounts from your bank. Wells Fargo offers a service called Direct Deposit Advance, which is sort of like a payday loan but a little bit cheaper.

For every $20 that is advanced, the fee is $2. So, a $500 advance would cost you $50.

Just think of this kind of loan as a last resort.

Alternative 6. Borrow from strangers.

You don't have to go to a bank or credit union to get a loan. You may be able to find an individual willing to invest in you. It's happening through peer-to-peer lending Web sites such as Lending Club, Prosper and Loanio, where borrowers connect with individuals who have money to invest.

You can ask for a loan for just about anything at these sites, from debt consolidation to tuition, but understand that a better pitch increases you chances of getting the loan.

You can make your pitch for a loan to pay for pretty much anything -- debt consolidation, tuition, wedding expenses. Loan limits vary, and you can have cash within two to three weeks of posting your loan request.

The fee runs about 1% of the loan total, and interest rates run from 7.5% to 15%.

Alternative 7. Boost your take-home pay.

If you get a tax refund every year, it's only because you're letting the government take too much money out of your paycheck.

Adjusting your deductions could boost your take-home pay. All you need to do is file a new W4 form with your manager or human resources department and increase the number of allowances you're claiming.

Each allowance you claim decreases how much tax is withheld from your check every week -- and increases your take-home pay. But you can't just make up how many deductions you want to take; there are some restrictions.

Try an online calculator to help figure it out.

There's a simple one at Kiplinger.com, or you can go the more complicated route with the IRS.

Just be careful when adjusting your deductions. If your employer ends up taking out too little, you could be zapped with a big surprise tax bill at the end of the year.