When it comes to healthy financial habits, tapping your income ahead of payday is an old-school red flag.
However, a growing number of companies, including Walmart, are giving advances by offering what's now called "accelerated pay."
As a perk, roughly 12% of companies include accelerated pay as another way of luring job candidates as wages remain relatively stagnant across the board, according to Michelle Armer, chief people officer at CareerBuilder.
"It's not a loan," said Jeanniey Mullen, chief innovation and marketing officer at DailyPay, one such payroll provider. DailyPay's clients include Kroger, McDonald's, Boston Market and Berkshire Hathaway, according to the company.
"There's no reason that payroll has to be done once a week or once a month," Mullen said. Through the app, workers have real-time access to earned wages. Like an ATM, DailyPay charges a flat transaction fee of $2.99.
To be sure, accelerated pay is not the same as a payday loan, which is generally considered the absolute worst way to borrow money in a pinch. Often offered through storefront payday lenders or even online, those short-term loans, generally for $500 or less, can come with an interest rate that easily runs into the triple digits – in addition to a "finance charge" or service fee.
Many states set a maximum amount for payday loan fees ranging from $10 to $30 for every $100 borrowed. Still, a two-week payday loan with a $15 fee per $100 borrowed is the equivalent of an annual percentage rate of almost 400%, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The reality is that over three-quarters of all full-time workers are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a report from CareerBuilder.
For many Americans, one unexpected expense can still result in a significant setback, even as the country experiences a prolonged period of economic growth.
While household income has grown over the past decade, it has failed to keep up with the increased cost of living over the same period.
"If somebody is having a short-term emergency, this can help," Armer said, "but it's not something that should be overused or abused."
"It makes sense that the technology is there that you can access money that you've earned almost in real time," said Douglas Boneparth, a certified financial planner and president of Bone Fide Wealth.
However, "what it tends to do is make bad discipline worse," he added.
A better solution is to master your cash flow, Boneparth said.
First, look at your spending over a 12-month period to "understand how money is coming in and where it's going to go." From there you can build a budget that accounts for your expenses and builds in some savings, he advised.
Most financial experts recommend stashing at least a six-month cushion in an emergency fund to cover anything from a dental bill to a car repair — and more if you are the sole breadwinner in your family or in business for yourself.
"Personally, I would like to see six to 12 months," Boneparth said.