It seems like there’s never a good time to be low on funds, but the holidays are an especially difficult time for individuals in need. With gift giving expenses piling up, slower workloads for daily wage earners, and weather-related and seasonal cutbacks in some jobs, many consumers have sought financial relief from a variety of sources.

But one area that still confounds consumers is in understanding credit offers, especially ads that promise instant credit or guaranteed approval. The ads themselves can come across as being a little on the sleazy side, which tends to instantly warn people away, but there can also be benefits to the process.

  • Know the source. Is this offer coming from a well-known, established financial institution? It’s important to remember that there are legitimate internet-based banks, and they’ve been able to offer tremendous deals and consumer-centric interest rates to their customers because they don’t have the overhead involved in operating physical locations. You just have to do your homework in figuring out if one of these institutions is legitimate or is a scam.
  • Read the fine print. When you see an offer that promises an immediate response and a guarantee that you’ll be approved, you must read the fine print. Many of these offers are actually nothing more than secured lines of credit, meaning you’ll be required to submit a payment and your “credit” limit will be for that amount. Interestingly, you’re still required to make payments on the loan, despite having put down a large deposit, which you should get back in full when you close the account. Other offers of this kind have also turned out to be payday loans, which again are viable sources of instant funds in an emergency, but will often incur high interest rates.
  • If you do find an instant credit offer with good terms, one that you feel confident about, remember that there should not be any type of processing fee or loan application fee, even if it will be later applied to your balance owed. Any fee associated with a financial institution’s credit offer should cause you to question its legitimacy.

One of the most important things to remember about instant credit offers is that they require a lot of your personal information in order to apply; this is true of any credit card or loan, so don’t be put off by being asked for your Social Security number, birth date, mother’s maiden name, and other identifiable data. However, you must never give that information to a source that you cannot verify, and that does not have a well-documented reputation for honest business. You run the risk of turning your data over to a potential identity thief, and instead of helping your current financial difficulties, you might be opening the door for even more problems.

So, is instant credit for you? Know the facts and do your homework before signing anything or offering your personal information. If you have doubts, call the ITRC 24-hour toll-free call center with questions: 888-400-5530.