When an emergency happens and you need a couple hundred bucks, there aren’t a lot of places to turn. Most people don’t have that kind of money to loan a friend, and you can’t usually get a bank to help you with that little of an amount. Your situation may be even worse if your credit cards are maxed out and you have poor credit. That’s why a lot of people turn to payday loans in the first place.

The problem is that payday loans are toxic. They’ve even been deemed illegal in many states (although they’re usually reinvented as some kind of “installment loan,” to skirt the rules). Studies have found that most people end up paying far more than they borrowed in the first place.

The interest rates on payday loans — an average of 391% — are insanely high, and most people are ill-equipped to pay them off when they come due because their financial situation rarely improves within a month’s time. A vast number of consumers end up “rolling over” their loans into another term to try to buy more time, which racks up more fees. Worse, some will take out a second payday loan from another lender to pay off the first one and try to keep themselves afloat.

Is it really possible to escape the payday loan trap once you’re in it? Maybe, but it certainly isn’t likely. It’s often best to try to avoid getting caught up in the cycle of borrowing, repaying and borrowing some more in the first place. You may be able to pawn something for a low-interest loan, take out a new credit card that you vow to pay off right away or ask for an advance on your pay from your boss instead.

What if it’s too late and you’re already trapped? If your debts have become overwhelming, it may be time to consider bankruptcy. You can get your financial slate wiped clean and move on.