Qwatasia has a full-time job as a fraud analyst in Dallas, where she works the third shift—5 p.m. to 2 a.m.—Monday through Friday. But she finds it difficult to live on her salary. Sometimes, she’s short on rent as she waits for her next paycheck to hit.
Qwatasia got a flat tire a few months ago. In the past, she might have put the $187 she needed to fix it on a credit card reserved for emergencies. But this time, she had another option: a cash advance from Dave, a banking app developed by a Silicon Valley startup that endears itself to users with help from its cartoon mascot, a bespectacled bear.
“Dave helped me out, because I could set a date when I would pay him back,” Qwatasia tells me—then corrects herself. “Pay the app back.” She adds, “I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to ask family. You’ve got to stand on your own two feet.”
Qwatasia is hardly alone. Millions of Americans have become regular users of products offering to help them bridge the…