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Consolidated Credit – Debt Relief Review

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Managing your money can be difficult. But when life throws you curveballs, that’s when financial trouble can arise. Of course, bad financial habits can also erode your financial security over time.

No matter how you came upon your debt issues, you have options for managing them. A nonprofit such as Consolidated Credit can help you explore and pursue those options. Here’s a comprehensive review of Consolidated Credit to help you understand how it may be able to help you with your debt.

What is Consolidated Credit?

Consolidated Credit is a not-for-profit company dedicated to helping people improve their financial lives. Since launching in 1993, the company has helped 6.5 million people. Thanks to the company’s dedication to its customers, the company has earned an A-plus rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Although Consolidated Credit is based in Plantation, Fla., it helps people nationwide, including in Puerto Rico, and serves both English and Spanish speaking populations in the United States.

Consolidated Credit offers a wide range of services to help people struggling with debt. Some of its services include credit counseling, corporate financial wellness programs, counseling for first-time homebuyers and debt management plans. All Consolidated Credit counselors are Certified Personal Finance Counselors. Its counselors are trained to help people better understand how to eliminate their debt as fast as possible.

Breakdown of Consolidated Credit services

If you’re considering working with Consolidated Credit, it’s important to understand whether you’ll qualify to work with them. Most of Consolidated Credit’s services are free, but its debt management plan carries some fees.

This table explains the fees and limitations associated with Consolidated Credit’s debt management plans. It also shows other critical information about the company as a whole.

Services offered

Credit counseling, debt management plans, homebuyer counseling, reverse mortgage counseling, corporate financial wellness.

Minimum debt required

More than $1,000

Credit check

Yes, but no impact on credit (soft credit inquiry)

Expected time to debt payoff

Generally 36 to 60 monthly payments

Initial consultation fees

Free initial consultation.

Initial setup fees

Initial setup fees vary by state, but will be similar to your monthly fees.

Cancellation fees

No cancellation fees.

Service fees

Up to $79 per month. On average, $40 per month).
Consolidated Credit may waive fees for high-need individuals.

Types of debt accepted- debt management plans

Unsecured debts (credit cards, most personal loans, medical debts less than 1 year old). Debts in collections (charge-offs) may be allowed in the debt management plan. Some payday loans or cash advances can be consolidated.

Service limitations- debt management plans

Once you enroll in a debt management plan, you must make the payments as agreed. Failing to make the payments could lead to more fees, penalty interest, or being sued.

Consolidated credit does not allow Federal Student Loans, auto loans or mortgages into its debt management programs. However, it has foreclosure prevention services for people struggling with their house debt.

Accreditations

Member of the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA).

All counselors are Certified Personal Finance Counselors.

Housing counselors certified by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Ratings

A-plus rating with the BBB.

Free tools and resources

A consultation with a credit counselor at Consolidated Credit is free. Other free resources include ebooks, videos, webinars and in-person seminars.

Customer service

If you enroll in a debt management plan, you’ll work with a specific counselor who will help you through the process.

Who’s eligible?

  • Consolidated Credit offers credit counseling services to people in the U.S. and in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico). If you live in the U.S. and owe debts to creditors in the country, you may qualify for Consolidated Credit services.
  • To qualify for Consolidated Credit’s debt management program, you need to go through a free credit counseling session. A certified personal finance counselor will help you decide whether Consolidated Credit’s debt management program is right for you. They will also help you review options for DIY debt consolidation.

Consolidated Credit advertises that people with poor credit and people with huge balances are most likely to benefit from a debt management plan. If most of your debts are in collections, you may have to pursue debt settlement options. On the other hand, if you still have good credit, debt consolidation might be the right approach for you.

What are the benefits and risks of Consolidated Credit?

Benefits

Risks

Not for profit company

Credit cards are frozen during debt management plan.

Free initial consultation

Cannot take out new credit cards during repayment.

Consider a variety of debt payoff options.

Some complaints about customer service

Debt management plan reduces interest rates and fees.

Must make timely monthly payments.

Highly rated customer service

How much does Consolidated Credit cost?

Consolidated Credit offers free credit and personal finance counseling. During an initial 30 to 60 minute consultation, a Certified Personal Finance Counselor will analyze your debts, your budget and your credit score. If the counselor recommends a debt management plan and you choose to enroll, these are the fees you can expect.

Service

Cost

Initial setup fee (debt management plan)

Varies by state

Monthly fee (debt management plan)

On average, $40 per month, but can be as high as $79 per month

In certain situations, Consolidated Credit may waive the debt management plan fees for a limited or extended period of time.

In addition to its debt counseling services, Consolidated Credit offers several services for current and aspiring homeowners. Its services include free home buying and mortgage readiness classes and information on home retention and foreclosure prevention for people struggling with their mortgage. Seniors looking for education and counseling about reverse mortgages may speak with a HUD certified counselor.

Consolidated Credit also offers several free online resources for people looking for financial education. Its free eBooks and videos cover a range of topics including marriage and money, the financial costs of children and more.

How long does the program take?

When you sign up for a debt management plan at Consolidated Credit, you can expect to make payments for about three to five years before you’ve paid off your debts.

Consolidated Credit is not a debt settlement company. It will not help you negotiate for lower balances on your debts. However, the company will negotiate a lower interest rate (usually 0% to 11%) and for lower fees. By lowering your interest rate, Consolidated Credit may be able to cut your payments down by 30 to 50%. Over the course of three to five years, you will pay off the entire balance that you owe.

Is Consolidated Credit safe to use?

Consolidated Credit is a not for profit company, with a solid reputation. It’s been in business for 25 years with an A-plus rating with the BBB, and it hasn’t had any legal actions taken against it.

Although most online reviews of Consolidated Credit are positive, some customers have issued complaints. Many of the complaints stated that Consolidated Credit improperly managed a debt payoff plan, and the result of the mismanagement was negative marks on a credit report or late fees.

On top of that, all of Consolidated Credit’s counselors meet the Uniform Debt Management Services Act accreditation standards. That means all counselors are qualified to help you with your debt management strategy, and they have expertise in helping you with debt management services.

How do I sign up for Consolidated Credit?

  • People looking for a free a counseling session from Consolidated Credit can reach out to the company online or via the phone. People who want to talk with a credit counselor right away can call Consolidated Credit at 1-844-861-9479.

Those who want more time to gather information, can gather information at their own pace by filling out Consolidated Credit’s debt analysis tool. Once you’ve filled in all the necessary information, a credit counselor will reach out with recommendations on the best way for you to attack your debt.

What to expect after signing up for Consolidated Credit

Here’s how Consolidated Credit’s process works:

  • Step 1: During your first credit counseling session, a certified personal finance counselor will review your debts, your budget, your credit score and your options for debt relief. The counselor will help you understand whether your debt relief options.
  • Step 2: If the counselor does not think a do-it-yourself option for debt relief will work for you, they may recommend a debt management plan. The counselor will disclose the fees associated with the plan, and you can choose whether to enroll in it.
  • Step 3: During the payoff period, you will not be able to use your credit cards. You also cannot open any new credit card accounts. In most cases, you should be able to apply for an auto loan or mortgage during the payoff period.
  • Step 4: Anyone who chooses to enroll in a debt management plan will stop making payments to their creditors, and start making a monthly payment to Consolidated Credit. Consolidated Credit will distribute the payment among your creditors.
  • Step 5: After 36 to 60 monthly payments (less if you can add extra money to your payments), your debt will be paid off.

Alternative methods to pay down debt

Debt management plans are one method that you can pursue debt relief, but they aren’t the only option. In some cases, you may be able to pay off your debts faster using a DIY payoff plan. In other cases, your debt may be so overwhelming that bankruptcy or debt settlement makes more sense. Review these five options to see if one fits your needs better than a debt management plan.

Debt consolidation

Debt consolidation loans allow you to refinance all your existing credit card balances into a single loan (usually an unsecured personal loan). By refinancing all of your debt, you’ll deal with just one monthly payment instead of several. In most cases, a debt consolidation loan will also lower your interest rate, so you’ll pay less interest over time.

You may be able to explore personal loan offers from lenders using this tool from LendingTree. You’ll input information about yourself and what you need out of a loan. Afterward, you’ll see what lenders have to offer you.

Pros

  • Usually have fixed interest rates.
  • Fixed time to payoff debt.
  • Lower interest rates than most credit cards.
  • Likely to increase credit score, when paid as agreed.

Cons

  • Loan may have an origination fee.
  • Interest rate savings not guaranteed.
  • Retain access to credit cards (which could lead to more debt).
LendingTree
APR

5.99%
To
35.99%

Credit Req.

Minimum 500 FICO

Minimum Credit Score

Terms

24 to 60

months

Origination Fee

Varies

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Balance transfer credit card

People with high credit scores may qualify to transfer their existing credit card debt to promotional 0% APR balance transfer credit card. These credit cards offer a 0% APR on balance transfers for a limited period of time. After the promotional period ends, your interest rate will increase. Most of the time, borrowers need to pay a balance transfer fee (up to 5% of the balance) when using a balance transfer credit card.

Pros

  • Lowest possible interest rate.
  • Usually increases credit score (by decreasing credit utilization).
  • Opportunity to transfer balances again if you cannot pay off balance during the promotional period.

Cons

  • Interest rates increase following the promotional period.
  • Increases available credit, which could lead to more debt.
  • Balance transfer fees may slow down repayment.

Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is the legal process that helps consumers and businesses resolve debt issues when they cannot handle their debt obligations. Most consumers will pursue Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you cannot handle your debt load, you may want to speak to a bankruptcy attorney.

Pros

  • Complete relief from debts (following liquidation or repayment).
  • May be able to keep some or all assets.
  • Addresses most forms of debts.
  • Decisions are final.

Cons

  • Hurts credit score
  • You may not be able to take out a mortgage for up to two years following bankruptcy.
  • Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan may last three to five years.
  • Can be expensive (high attorney’s fees and legal fees).

Debt settlement with an attorney or debt settlement company

Debt settlement is the practice of renegotiating the terms and balances of debts that are in or near default. Sometimes debt settlement companies will advertise that they can negotiate for repayment terms that are “pennies on the dollar” compared to what you owe.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) warns that working with a debt settlement company may be risky — it can lead to higher fees, penalty interest rates and other problems. Settling debt is also likely to have tax implications. Hiring an attorney that specializes in debt settlement may lead to less risk. You can find consumer advocacy attorney by searching the database at the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Pros

  • May eliminate a portion of your debt.
  • Working with an attorney reduces your risks of legal repercussions.
  • Allows you to avoid working directly with creditors or collections agents.

Cons

  • May hurt credit score.
  • May lead to more fees and penalty interest rates.
  • Can be expensive.
  • Debt settlement often has tax consequences.

DIY debt settlement

People with debts in collections may be able to settle their debts on their own. Settling debts means negotiating the terms or balances of a loan. In general, collections companies will reduce the balance that you owe in exchange for a payment guarantee.

If you wish to pursue debt settlement on your own, the CFPB advises you to learn about the debt in collections, create a realistic budget for paying off the debt and negotiate with collectors.

Pros

  • No fees or expenses.
  • May eliminate a portion of the debt you owe.
  • Can help you avoid bankruptcy.

Cons

  • May not successfully negotiate for an affordable plan.
  • May accidentally revive a time-barred debt.

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Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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What Is the Statute of Limitations on Debt?

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Are debt collectors hounding you over debts that fell into collections years ago? Before you throw up the white flag and prepare to make a payment, do a bit of research first. Even if you legally owe the debt, the debt collector may not be able to sue you to collect on it — that’s because debt collectors only have a limited time to file a suit against you. Once this time frame — known in “legalese” as a “statute of limitations” — expires, collectors cannot file a lawsuit against you to recoup the debt.

In fact, making a payment on a debt after the debt’s statute of limitations has run can do more harm than good, which we’ll explain this guide.

What is the statute of limitation on debt?

The statute of limitations on debt is the length of time that debt collectors have to sue you to collect old debts. Once the statute of limitations passes, debt collectors lose a bit of their power. Collectors who cannot sue you cannot win a court order for repayment. Without a court order, collectors can’t garnish your wages or place a lien against your property — they can only collect what you agree to pay.

Of course, establishing the statute of limitations on an old debt can be tricky. You might want to consult a consumer debt attorney or credit counselor who is familiar with your state’s legal codes and can help you suss it out. As a leg-up, we’ve provided a map above with all the statutes of limitations by types of debt for all states in the U.S.

You can find nonprofit credit counseling agencies through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and a consumer law attorney through the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NAC).

“There are all sorts of factors involved in establishing the statute of limitations. When was your last payment? What are the records on it?” explained Ira Rheingold, executive director of NACA.

Just because a lender can’t legally sue you for a debt doesn’t mean it will stop them from trying, and you may get served with a lawsuit anyway. In that case, Rheingold advises consumers to seek legal help right away.

“If you are served with a court complaint about a debt, the worst thing you can do is ignore it,” he added. “The best thing you can do is find an attorney to help you.”

Time-barred debts: Defined

If a debt has passed the statute of limitations in your state, it is considered a time-barred debt. You legally still owe time-barred debts, and collectors can still attempt to collect the debts by calling you or mailing you letters.

However, these collection attempts don’t have any teeth because you can’t be taken to court for them. Even so, many consumers feel as if making a payment is the best way to get the debt collector off their back, or they may feel as if making a payment is the best way toward improving their credit.

Both of these assumptions, unfortunately, are wrong and could do more harm than good for your financial picture.

When old debts become ‘zombie debts’

Think carefully before you make a payment on an old debt — in some states, a small debt payment, or even an agreement to pay a time-barred debt, can reset the statute of limitations. That’s one reason why debt collectors will keep calling to collect on debt even after the statute of limitations has passed, encouraging debtors to make even a tiny payment to their account.

So much as a $1 payment on a time-barred debt can restart the clock on the statute of limitations. When a formerly time-barred debt comes back to life, it is called a Zombie debt.

“Once a debt is revived, collectors may have the right to sue you again,” said Rheingold.

If collectors contact you about old debts, don’t let them talk you into bringing a time-barred debt back to life. These are steps you should take before making any agreement with a debt collector.

What to do if a debt collector calls you about an older debt

Ask if the debt is time-barred/beyond the statute of limitations

The debt collector must answer truthfully if they know whether a debt is time-barred. However, a debt collector may not know the answer or may decline to answer the question. If you’re not sure whether a debt is time-barred, act as if it is until you can get professional counsel. An attorney or a credit counselor can help you make the right choice about whether to repay the debt.

Do not agree to a payment plan

Even a promise to repay an old debt could reset the statute of limitations. Before agreeing to any sort of repayment plan, talk to a nonprofit credit counselor or an attorney.

Do not make a partial payment on the debt

Making a small payment towards your debt may reset the statute of limitations on debt.

Write a cease and desist letter

Consumers can write to debt collectors to ask collectors to cease all forms of communication. You can use these templates to help you write to collectors. Once you write to the collectors, you shouldn’t hear from them again.

Seek legal help if necessary

In the event that a debt collector sues you, don’t ignore the lawsuit. If you don’t show up in court, the collector will likely win a default judgement against you. If you’re sued, seek legal help from a consumer advocacy attorney. People who cannot afford legal help can seek out free legal assistance from local Legal Aid.

Learn more: Should I pay off old debts or new debts first?

Although paying off time-barred debts isn’t necessary or helpful in most cases, it can feel urgent. Calls from debt collectors may push you to prioritize old debts over new debts. But if you must decide between paying current debt accounts and paying off old debts, it makes sense to focus on current debts.

Here’s why: Unfortunately, paying off old debts, especially time-barred debts, is usually not the best use of your money. Once a debt falls into collections, the damage to your credit score is done. Over time, the negative effect of the collections account will lessen. On the other hand, paying your current debts on time and in full will help you build your credit score.

Paying off old debts probably won’t help your credit much

Once an account falls into collections, the damage to your credit is as bad as it gets. Only time and adding good information on your credit report, like on-time payments on new accounts, will help your credit score recover. Remember: old debts will fall off your report after the 7-year mark, and if the debt has passed its statute of limitations, the collections agency can no longer sue you legally.

Paying off the old debt won’t remove it from your credit report

Unpaid debts remain on your credit report for seven years after they’ve gone into collections. Even if you pay the old debt, lenders will see that the debt went into collections.

In some cases, a new lender may recommend that you pay off an old account, so you can take out a new loan. In that situation, Rheingold recommends consulting a credit counselor first — “If paying off a debt would actually help your credit score, you might want to take care of it, but I would talk with a credit counselor first.”

Even if your old debt is still collectible (meaning you can be sued for it), you’ll want to address new debts before old debts. Only start addressing old debts if you have extra cash in your budget.

Ways to handle old debts that are not yet time-barred

One method for dealing with debts in collections is to negotiate a settlement offer. Depending on the age of your debt and your financial situation, many debt collectors will settle a debt for pennies on the dollar.

When it comes to settling old debts, Rheingold warns that consumers should watch out for debt settlement companies. Debt settlement companies negotiate settlement offers for consumers that have debts in collections. After a successful settlement, the company charges you a percentage of the savings or a percentage of the original debt.

However, although debt settlement seems like a valuable service, debt settlement companies are not experts in debt law, and their actions could lead to reviving a time-barred debt. Even worse, the company’s actions may leave you owing more than you owed in the first place.

If you wish to deal with old debts, and you have the financial means to pay them off, consider consulting with a non-profit credit counselor or a debt settlement attorney before engaging with collectors.

Different types of debt, different statute of limitations

The time at which a debt becomes time-barred depends on several factors, including the type of contract governing debt. These are the five types of contracts that may govern debt.

Oral contracts

Oral contracts are spoken agreements between two parties. Simply promising to repay an old debt could create a new oral contract.

Written contracts

Most debts are loans with written contracts. The statute of limitations on written contracts will govern most debts.

Open-ended accounts

In some states, open-ended accounts (including credit cards or retail credit cards) are treated differently than other forms of debts with written contracts. In those states, a unique statute of limitations governs open-ended accounts.

Installment sales contracts

Some debts, such as auto loans taken out from a dealership, may be governed by the Universal Commercial Code (UCC), rather than a state’s contract law. If a debt is considered an installment sales contract rather than a written contract, the UCC’s statute of limitations governs that debt.

Promissory notes

Promissory notes are written contracts in which the person paying a debt “promises” to pay the debt; many mortgages are promissory notes. In general, the statute of limitations on promissory notes is longer than the statute of limitations on other types of contracts.

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Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Understanding Debt Relief Programs

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Nobody seeks out illness, job loss, divorce or any other financial catastrophe, but sometimes things happen. Many people will accumulate overwhelming debt loads as a result of such hardship. If the burden of your debt is too much for you to afford, what can you do? The worst thing to do is jump into a debt relief program without educating yourself.

In this guide, we’ll explain the risks and benefits of the most common types of debt relief programs.

Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 bankruptcy, also known as liquidation bankruptcy, offers comprehensive debt relief. In liquidation bankruptcy, a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee sells certain assets (called unprotected assets), and the proceeds are used by the trustee to repay your creditors. Following the distribution of funds, the court discharges the remaining eligible debts. That means you no longer owe the debt and collectors cannot contact you about the debt. Debts that the court won’t discharge include: income tax debt that’s less than three years old, child support or alimony payments, student loans and fees and penalties owed to the government.

Although Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires selling off your valuables, filing may not leave you penniless. Filers can keep protected assets, such as personal items and money in retirement accounts. Most states allow filers to keep a small amount of cash and some amount of equity in vehicles or homes.

Who is a good candidate for Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is available to anyone earning less than the median monthly income for a family of your size in your state. If you earn more than the median income, you may qualify for Chapter 7 bankruptcy through “means testing.” The means test shows whether you have enough income to cover a debt repayment plan that Chapter 13 bankruptcy requires.

Being eligible for Chapter 7 bankruptcy doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for you. Some people have too many unprotected assets to make Chapter 7 bankruptcy a reasonable option. Chapter 7 bankruptcy may force people into selling paid off cars, tools for operating their business or other important assets. In those cases, Chapter 13 bankruptcy or other types of debt relief may be a better option.

— Read our article on when to consider bankruptcy

How much will you pay for Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

The amount you’ll pay for Chapter 7 bankruptcy depends on a variety of factors, including where you live and the complexity of your case.

You can expect to pay $1,100-$1,200* in attorney’s fees when you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, according to Lois R. Lupica’s Consumer Bankruptcy Fee Study. Filers must also pay filing and court fees, which adds several hundred dollars to the cost of bankruptcy. In general, all fees have to be paid before your attorney will file your case.

*Numbers adjusted for inflation.

How does bankruptcy affect your credit score?

Following bankruptcy, your credit score will drop, but it’s not necessarily a death sentence. Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years after filing, but your credit score can recover. You can take steps to grow your credit score immediately following Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

In some cases, bankruptcy filers choose to reaffirm debts as part of the bankruptcy agreement. That means they agree to continue paying certain loans (such as a car loan or mortgage) as agreed. Making those payments can increase your credit score over time. Making timely payments on a secured credit card can also help you rebuild your score.

Filing for bankruptcy becomes less significant as time passes and you continue to display positive financial management on your credit report.

Risks of bankruptcy

  • Lower credit score: Following bankruptcy, you can expect to see your credit score drop. The lower score may make borrowing inaccessible for several years.
  • Can’t take out a mortgage: Bankruptcy makes you ineligible to take out most mortgages. Following bankruptcy, you’ll have to wait two years to take out an FHA mortgage and four years for a conventional mortgage. — Read how to get a mortgage after bankruptcy here.
  • Loss of property: Chapter 7 bankruptcy means you may have to sell off assets, which could put you in a precarious financial situation. “In Florida, you only get a $1,000 vehicle allowance. The fact that you need a vehicle to get to and from work isn’t factored into the equation,” Shawn Yesner, a bankruptcy and debt relief attorney practicing in the Tampa Bay area, told MagnifyMoney.
  • Problems with professional licensing: Leslie Tayne, a debt management attorney practicing in the New York City and Long Island area, helps clients avoid bankruptcy through debt settlement. Many of her clients are financial professionals who could face trouble renewing their license if they filed bankruptcy. “In cases like that,” Tayne told MagnifyMoney, “the last thing you want is to file bankruptcy. Something happened that caused this person to get in over their head, but they shouldn’t lose their livelihood because of it.”

Benefits of bankruptcy

  • Automatic stay: The courts grant all bankruptcy filers an automatic stay against collections activities. This means that all collections activity against you has to stop right away.
  • Discharge most debts: People with very few assets (or only protected assets), can expect to have eligible debts discharged without paying anything except attorney’s fees and filing fees.
  • Quick resolution: On average, Chapter 7 bankruptcy resolves within 115 days. Within a few months of filing bankruptcy, you can expect to move on with your life.

Other types of bankruptcy

Aside from Chapter 7 bankruptcy, many consumers file Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to keep all of your assets, but it comes with a downside. Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves a debt payment plan that lasts three to five years. On top of that, the fees for Chapter 13 bankruptcy can be much higher than the fees for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

6 things to do before filing for bankruptcy

  1. Talk to a lawyer for free: Before deciding to file bankruptcy, talk with a few bankruptcy attorneys. Many bankruptcy attorneys offer a free consultation to determine your eligibility and give you estimates of the fees.
  2. Explore alternatives: Bankruptcy is one option, but it’s not always the best choice. Before committing to bankruptcy, you may want to talk with a certified credit counselor about other options.
  3. Understand the costs: You’ll need to come up with $1,000 or more to pay for your bankruptcy fees.
  4. Find low-cost help: In some counties, you may be able to find free or low-cost legal help through Legal Aid.
  5. You can’t declare bankruptcy again for eight years: Bankruptcy is a form of last resort for debt relief. If you opt to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you won’t be able to declare bankruptcy again for another eight years.
  6. Discharged debt is taxable: Bankruptcy may relieve you of your debts, but you will have to pay income tax on the amount of debt that is discharged. You may owe the IRS more than usual when you file taxes at the end of the year.

— Read our guide on when to file bankruptcy

Debt management plans

A debt management plan is a new payment schedule for paying off existing debts. These plans are created and administered by nonprofit credit counseling companies. Under the plan, credit counselors will consolidate your credit card debts, unsecured personal loans and bills in collections into a single, monthly payment. You’ll pay the credit counseling agency instead of paying creditors directly.

The credit counseling agency doesn’t just consolidate debt, it works to reduce your monthly payment. The agency may be able to reduce interest charges, get old fees waived and even extend the length of time you have to pay a loan. “Most of the time, people see smaller monthly payments when they go on a debt management plan,” said Robby Dunn, vice president of counseling at the nonprofit company, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo.

What happens to credit cards?

In general, when you agree to a debt management plan, your creditors close down your lines of credit. This means that you cannot use your credit cards during the repayment plan. Dunn told MagnifyMoney that some people keep one credit card with a low balance off the debt management plan. This allows people to keep a source of credit available for emergencies.

Will a debt management plan help my credit score?

When you start a debt management plan, you’ll have to close every credit card account you have, even accounts that are in good standing. This reduces your length of credit history and results in an immediate drop in your credit score; however, most people can regain the lost points in six to twelve months.

What happens if I miss a payment?

It’s imperative that you stick to your repayment plan and don’t miss any payments. Your credit counseling agency won’t be able to pay your creditors if you don’t pay them, which doesn’t leave you with many good options. “It’s important to understand that your creditors aren’t likely to be empathetic toward you. They expect to get paid,” said Dunn.

Creditors that don’t get paid may drop out of the debt management plan and report that you’re no longer paying as agreed. The creditors may also attempt to collect your debts through other means.

Risks of debt management plans

  • Debts not reduced: Unlike other forms of debt relief, debt management plans don’t reduce the amount you owe. Instead, these plans reduce your interest charges and fees.
  • Difficulty getting new credit: Closing your current credit accounts may lead to a short-term drop in your credit score. On top of that, lenders may see that you’re repaying your debts through a credit counseling agency, which may affect their willingness to extend various types of credit.
  • Lower credit score: The goal of a debt management plan is to help you clear debt without declaring bankruptcy. Unfortunately, the plan may yield a lower credit score when you close down so many accounts.

Benefits of debt management plans

  • Lower fees: Compared with bankruptcy or debt settlement, debt management plans are a low-fee option. Traditionally, nonprofit companies charge a small setup fee (less than $100 in general) and a monthly service charge ranging from $25-$50. The CFPB recommends asking credit counseling companies about setup or monthly fees before you work with the company.
  • Avoid bankruptcy: By sticking with your debt management plan and making the agreed-upon monthly payments, you can avoid bankruptcy and pay off the full balance of your debt.
  • Reduce monthly payments: The debt management plan generally comes with lower monthly payments.

Things to know before accepting a debt management plan

  • How long the plan takes: Clearing all your debts through a debt management plan could take as long as five years. A credit counselor can walk you through the specific length of your debt payoff plan.
  • No debt forgiveness: Credit counselors don’t negotiate for loan balance reductions. Even on a debt management plan, you’ll still owe the balance of your debt and interest charges.
  • Work with a nonprofit: For-profit debt management companies generally charge higher fees than nonprofit companies. You can find certified nonprofit financial counselors from the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA) or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).
  • Credit counselors help you consider other options: Debt management plans are important tools offered by credit counselors, but they shouldn’t be the only option. “Our main goal is to educate clients on what their options are. We try to help them see the advantages and disadvantages of each option,” explained Dunn.

Debt settlement

Many people confuse nonprofit credit counseling companies with for-profit debt settlement companies. Debt settlement companies do not offer credit counseling services, and instead, work to help you pay off debts that are already in collections.

How does debt settlement work?

When you settle a debt, you agree to pay a creditor a portion of the debt you owe. In exchange, the creditor won’t sue you for the remaining balance. Most of the time debt settlement companies can only help you settle the debt that’s in collections.

Debt settlement companies will negotiate with creditors on your behalf. Although these companies work for you, the amount you ultimately pay depends on the creditor, your income, how long you’ve owed the debt and the type of debt you owe.

For example, credit card lenders may be more willing to settle your debts than business lenders. Additionally, debt settlement attorneys may be able to reduce the amount you owe on private student loans, but that’s not possible with federal student loans. Yesner estimates that most credit card companies settle for an average of 30%-35% of the debt amount owed, but he’s quick to point out that the range varies widely case to case.

It’s a good idea to have a solid understanding of the debt settlement process before you start working with a debt settlement company or attorney. If you don’t have upfront cash savings — a requirement for some companies — they may want you to set up a dedicated savings account to pay fees and funds. Legally you will own the funds in this account and have complete control over the account at all times.

Other companies may be willing to work with you to negotiate new payment plans. Tayne explained that she negotiates installment plans on behalf of her clients. Through her negotiations, she aims to reduce the interest rates to 0% and reduce the principal balance to a manageable amount; however, that’s not always possible to achieve.

Debt settlement companies may also ask you to change how you’re handling your creditors. If you’re paying debts as agreed, a debt settlement company may advise you to stop paying your debts.

How are debt settlement companies paid?

The fee structure of a debt settlement attorney or company will heavily affect your overall costs. “You only want an attorney that works on contingency. They should be compensated based on how much money they save you,” Tayne said. Contingency fees (fees based on a percentage of savings) incentivize your attorney to negotiate the amount you owe as low as they can. If the fee isn’t based on a negotiated savings rate, it will be based on a percentage of your overall debt load prior to negotiations.

Debt settlement companies cannot legally charge you any money unless they have successfully negotiated at least one debt for you. You must pay your creditor before the debt settlement company can collect its fee.

How does debt settlement affect my credit score?

There’s no doubt that settling your debts will affect your credit score; however, exactly how much it affects your score is difficult to estimate. Once an account is in collections, settling the debt will not cause any further damage to your credit score. However, defaulting on an account that’s on a debt settlement plan could cause substantial harm to your credit score.

“In most cases, [your credit score] will go down, but it won’t go down permanently. In some cases, settling debts could actually raise your credit score. If you have a score in the low 600s with all your accounts in default, you might see it go up right away,” said Tayne.

Risks of debt settlement

  • Legal risks: Your creditors may sue you if you default on your debts.
  • Debt load could grow: When you default on your debts, your creditors may charge you late fees or higher interest rates. Even when working toward settling a debt, your total debt balance could still grow.
  • No guarantees: Most of the time, debt settlement companies don’t have prearranged agreements with your creditors. That means that the company cannot tell you how much you’ll ultimately owe, nor can they tell you how long the settlement process will last.
  • Amount forgiven is taxable: When you settle a debt for less than you owe, the IRS considers the forgiven amount income. That means you’ll pay state and federal income tax on the forgiven amount (in most cases).

Benefits of debt settlement

  • Reduce the amount you owe: When you settle a debt in collections, you’ll only pay a percentage of what you originally owed.
  • Avoid bankruptcy: Settling debts can keep you out of bankruptcy courts. Negative information will remain on your credit report for seven years, but your credit score may recover more quickly from debt settlement than bankruptcy.
  • No fees without successful negotiation: It is illegal for debt settlement companies to charge you a fee if they fail to change the terms of your debt. You’ll only pay if the company negotiates your debt.

What are the risks to not paying creditors?

Strategically defaulting on debt may sound reasonable, but it can expose you up to a variety of risks. When you stop paying your bills, your creditor may charge you higher fees and interest. If you can’t successfully settle the debt, you’ll owe more than you did before.

Defaulting on debt will lead to negative marks on your credit report. Negative information will stay on your credit report for seven years. Settling already-defaulted debt won’t harm your credit any further; however, defaulting on a current debt account could cause your credit score to take a big hit.

Finally, your creditors may sue you if you default on a debt. Due to legal risks, Tayne recommends working with a debt settlement attorney rather than a debt settlement company. “You need someone who understands how to handle the legal risks appropriately,” she said. “It’s not enough for a company to say ‘We have an attorney on staff.’ It’s better to know that an attorney will handle legal matters.”

Things to know before settling debt

  • How are fees determined: Debt settlement companies can collect fees using two methods; they can charge you a percentage of your total debt load, or they can charge based on a percentage of savings.
  • You won’t get any guarantees: Debt settlement companies cannot promise you how long the negotiations will take, nor can they guarantee the settlement amount. Representatives offering promises are engaging in illegal activity and you should not work with them.
  • Creditors could sue you: If you fail to make payments as agreed, a creditor could sue you. After a creditor wins a suit against you, they can collect a judgment against you, which could include garnishing your wages or putting a lien on your property.
  • Creditors may offer standard settlements: Some creditors have adopted standard policies about settling debts in collections. You may be able to settle your debts on your own.

Can I settle debt on my own?

Creditors may be more willing to work with individuals than debt settlement companies, but settling debts on your own presents its own risks.

The CFPB sets out a three-step process for negotiating settlements with your creditors. The process recommends understanding your debts, proposing a solution and negotiating a realistic agreement. During the final step, the CFPB recommends enlisting the help of an attorney or credit counselor to help you with the negotiations. “Settling a debt sounds simple; you simply call up a creditor and work out a settlement. In reality, it can be a lot of work. It can take three or four hours just to start talking with the right person,” explained Tayne.

“You’re probably smart enough to do this on your own. The real value that I bring is that I do this day in and day out. Sometimes it’s just more efficient to pay someone else,” added Yesner.

That said, if money is tight, settling debts on your own could be the right option for you. Below we explain how to work through your own debt relief program.

DIY debt relief

Making your own debt relief plan may seem overwhelming, but it is possible to find debt relief without paying for outside help. Use the following tips to be successful with your own debt relief plan.

Put a stop to creditor harassment

A DIY debt relief plan requires executing a well-thought-out plan. This isn’t easy if you’re constantly hounded by calls from debt collectors. Put a stop to creditor harassment instead of sending your money to the most threatening collector.

The CFPB provides sample letters that can help you deal with debt collectors. These letters can stipulate when and how a debt collector can contact you. While collectors can still sue you, they cannot legally contact you.

Know what you owe

Once you have the creditors at bay, the first step in resolving your debt is knowing what you owe. Specifically, you will need to know how much money you owe, who owns the debt, the interest rate on the debt, the minimum monthly payment on the debt and whether the debt is in good standing. You can find most of this information from your credit report (which you can get for free from AnnualCreditReport.com).

You can find the exact amount you owe and the interest rate on current debts from the most recent billing statements from your lenders.

Make a plan for “good standing” debt

Debts in collections may seem like the most pressing matter, but most of the time you’ll want to deal with current accounts first. Once a debt is in collections, it has already damaged your credit score. Only time (and adding good credit information to your report) will fix the damage.

Unless a creditor sues you, you’ll want to put your money toward debt that’s still in good standing before dealing with debts in collections. This guide offers step-by-step guidance on how to eliminate credit card debt as fast as possible.

It’s important to note that dealing with current debts isn’t always a matter of making minimum payments on all your loans. If you have student loans, you may want to consider opting into an income-driven repayment plan. These plans will reduce your monthly payments, so you can put more money toward high-interest credit card debts.

For credit card debts, unpaid medical bills and other related debts, you may want to consider a debt consolidation loan. Debt consolidation loans are unsecured personal loans with fixed interest rates and fixed repayment schedules. They allow you to roll all your payments into a single payment, reduce your interest rate and (in some cases) increase your credit score.

Debt consolidation loans are an effective option for people who have enough income to support the monthly loan payments.

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Settle debts in collections

Once you’ve paid off your debts that are in good standing (or you’re easily able to make your monthly payments), you may want to work toward paying off bills in collections. Paying off bills in collections won’t improve your credit score, but it can help you avoid lawsuits.

Before you reach out to your creditors, you’ll want to create a budget that shows you how much you can put toward debt that’s in collections each month. A certified credit counselor could help you create a budget if you need help. A credit counselor or a consumer advocacy attorney may also be able to advise you if the statute of limitations on your debt has expired. When the statute of limitations on debt expires, debt collectors can no longer sue you to collect.

If you determine that you still want to pay off your debt in collections, you can propose your payoff plan to your creditor. Do not put any money toward debts in collections unless you get a payoff agreement in writing.

Enlist help as needed

Although a DIY debt relief plan is a low-cost way to get rid of debt, you may need help. If a creditor or debt collector sues you, you’ll want to contact a consumer advocacy attorney. Don’t ignore lawsuits, or your creditor may win a judgment against you.

Additionally, credit counselors that work for nonprofit companies may be able to help you understand your best options, such as through the FCAA or NFCC.

Watch out for debt relief scams

If you choose to work through overwhelming debts on your own, you could run into some scams. The following are red flags that someone or some company might be trying to scam you:

  • Charging advance fees for debt settlement: Debt settlement companies cannot charge you any fees unless they successfully help you settle a debt. Do not work with a debt settlement company that charges upfront fees.
  • For-profit credit counseling: The vast majority of credit counseling companies are not for-profit companies. The nonprofit status allows credit counselors to consider a range of payoff options instead of pushing clients toward solutions that help the company maintain the highest profits. Generally, it’s more beneficial to work with nonprofit credit counseling companies than for-profit credit counseling companies.
  • Companies making guarantees: Do not work with any company that makes guarantees or promises about debt relief. Whether you’re trying to settle debts, declare bankruptcy or reduce your monthly payments, a company cannot promise that your creditors will work with them. The best a company can do is determine whether you’re a good candidate for their services.
  • Pushy companies: No single debt relief plan is perfect for everyone. Don’t work with companies that push one option without helping you understand why that option is best for you, while also providing you with alternatives.

What to avoid when facing overwhelming debt

  • Sending money to the loudest collection agency: A good debt payoff plan deals with current debts before dealing with debts in collections. Do not send money to the debt collectors because they harass you. Instead, use a written request that tells the collector when and how they can contact you.
  • Ignoring lawsuits: Contact a lawyer who can help you understand the best options for your situation if you receive notice of a debt collection lawsuit. Ignoring the lawsuit won’t make it go away, and could make your financial situation worse.
  • Making partial payments: If you don’t have the money to pay all your monthly bills, don’t make matters worse by sending partial payments to all your creditors. Partial payments are considered just as bad as not sending a payment at all. Instead, send full payments to as many creditors as possible to keep more debts out of collections and help you rebuild your credit score.

The bottom line: When should you consider debt relief?

If you’re struggling to make your monthly debt payments, or you’re overwhelmed by calls from collection agents, you’re a good candidate for some sort of debt relief. Seeking advice from a bankruptcy attorney or a certified credit counselor is a good place to start. When you know more about your debt relief options, you can make a plan to get back on track financially.

Even if you’re making on-time payments on most of your debts, you may still benefit from a debt relief plan. Those with debts in good standing may find relief from debt management plans, consolidating your debts or by taking advantage of promotional balance transfers.

Whether you’re struggling to make payments, or you’ve already defaulted on your debts, debt relief could be right for you. The sooner you start your research, the sooner you’ll get yourself back on the right financial foot.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Average Credit Card Debt in the U.S. in 2018

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Even as household income and employment rates are ticking up in the U.S., credit card balances are at all-time highs. And as the Fed raises rates, credit card rates rise in tandem, meaning consumers could pay billions in extra interest charges.

We’ve updated our statistics on credit card debt in America to illustrate how much consumers are now taking on.

  • Americans paid banks $104 billion in credit card interest and fees in 2018, up 11% from the prior year, and up 35% over the last five years, as Fed rate increases have been passed on to consumers. MagnifyMoney analyzed FDIC data through March, 2018 for each bank whose deposits are insured by the FDIC.
  • With potentially four Fed rate hikes left to come this year, we estimate the increase in interest and fees paid in the coming year will once again be above 10%, putting Americans on track to pay over $110 billion. Our analysis of the impact of Fed rate hikes found credit card rates are the most sensitive to Fed rate hikes, rising more than twice as fast as mortgage rates.
  • Average APRs on credit card accounts assessed interest are now 15.5%, up nearly 300 basis points in five years, according to the Federal Reserve.

  • Total revolving credit balances are $1.04 trillion as of May, 2018. The figure, reported monthly by the Federal Reserve, is the total amount of revolving credit balances reported by financial institutions, the overwhelming majority of which are credit and retail card balances, according to the CFPB. As of March 2018, non- card-related revolving balances such as overdraft lines of credit were approximately $73 billion according to our analysis of the FDIC data used by the Federal Reserve to calculate total revolving balances.

  • Americans carry $687 billion in credit card debt that is not paid in full each month. This estimate includes people paying interest, as well as those carrying a balance on a card with a 0% intro rate. We based the estimate on a CFPB study of credit card account data that found 29% of total credit card balances are paid off each month, implying 71% of credit card balances revolve each month. We applied the percentage to the Federal Reserve’s revolving credit balance data less $72 billion in non-credit card revolving debt to reach $687 billion in credit card balances carried over month to month.
  • 44% of credit card accounts aren’t paid in full each month, according to the American Bankers Association. Those that don’t pay in full tend to have higher balances, which is why the percentage of balances not paid in full (71%) is higher than the percentage of accounts not paid in full (44%).
  • The average credit card balance is $6,348 for individuals with a credit card, according to Experian. This excludes store credit cards, which have an average balance of $1,841. Both figures include the statement balances of individuals who pay their balance in full each month.

Credit card use

  • Number of Americans who actively use credit cards: 175 million as of 2018, according to Transunion
  • Average number of credit cards per consumer: 3.1, according to Experian. That doesn’t include an average of 2.5 retail credit cards.
  • Number of Americans who carry credit card debt month to month: 70 million.

Credit card debt

The following estimates only include the credit card balances of those who carry credit card debt from month to month — they exclude balances of those who pay in full each month.

  • Total credit card debt in the U.S. (not paid in full each month): $687 billion
  • Average APR: 15.54% (also excludes those with a 0% promotional rate for a balance transfer or purchases)
    • This estimate comes from the Federal Reserve’s monthly reporting of APRs on accounts assessed interest by banks.

Credit card balances

The following figures include the credit card statement balances of all credit card users, including those who pay their bill in full each month.

  • Total credit card balances: nearly $1.04 trillion as of May 2018, an increase of 5% percent from the previous year. This includes credit and retail cards, and a small amount of overdraft line of credit balances.
  • Average credit card balance: $6,358, according to Experian (excludes retail credit cards, which have lower balances. The average consumer has $1,841 in balances on retail cards and we estimate combining all consumers with retail or credit card debt the average is approximately $5,000 per individual). All averages include those who pay their bill in full each month.

Who pays off their credit card bills?

According to the American Bankers Association, as of the end of 2017, accounts that are paid in full versus carrying debt month to month comprise the following mix of open credit card accounts:

  • Revolvers (carry debt month to month): 44 percent of credit card accounts
  • Transactors (use card, but pay in full): 29.5 percent of credit card accounts
  • Dormant (have a card, but don’t use it actively): 26.5 percent of credit card accounts

Delinquency rates

Credit card debt becomes delinquent when a bank reports a missed payment to the major credit reporting bureaus. Banks typically don’t report a missed payment until a person is at least 30 days late in paying. When a consumer doesn’t pay for at least 90 days, the credit card balance becomes seriously delinquent. Banks are very likely to take a total loss on seriously delinquent balances.

Delinquency rates peaked in 2009 at nearly 7%, but in 2018 they have remained below 3%. 

Debt burden by income

Those with the highest credit card debts aren’t necessarily the most financially insecure. According to the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, the top 10 percent of income earners who carried credit card debt had nearly twice as much debt as average.

However, people with lower incomes have more burdensome credit card debt loads. Consumers in the lowest earning quintile had an average credit card debt of $2,100. However, their debt-to-income ratio was 13.9 percent. On the high end, earners in the top decile had an average of $12,500 in credit card debt. But debt-to-income ratio was just 4.8 percent.

Income Percentile

Median Income

Average CC Debt

CC Debt: Income Ratio

0%-20%

$15,100

$2,100

13.9%

20%-40%

$31,400

$3,800

12.1%

40%-60%

$52,700

$4,400

8.3%

60%-80%

$86,100

$6,800

7.9%

80%-90%

$136,000

$8,700

6.4%

90%-100%

$260,200

$12,500

4.8%

 

Although high-income earners have more manageable credit card debt loads on average, they aren’t taking steps to pay off the debt faster than lower income debt carriers. In fact, high-income earners are as likely to pay the minimum as those with below average incomes. If an economic recession leads to job losses at all wage levels, we could see high levels of credit card debt in default.

Generational differences in credit card use

In 2017, Generation X surpassed the baby boomer generation to have the highest credit card balances. Experian estimates that on average, Generation X has a balance of $7,750 per person, 21.94% more than the national average ($6,354). Boomers carry nearly as much as Generation X with an average balance of $7,550.

At the other end of the spectrum, millennials, who are often characterized as frivolous spenders and are too quick to take on debt, have nearly the lowest credit card balances. Their median balance clocks in at $4,315. The youngest generation, Gen Z, has the smallest average balance of $2,047 per person.34

How does your state compare?

Using data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Consumer Credit Panel and Equifax, you can compare median credit card balances and credit card delinquency.

State

Credit Card Debt Per Debtor

Credit Card Debt Per House

Alabama

$3,710.56

$7,198.48

Alaska

$5,879.85

$11,406.91

Arizona

$4,299.70

$8,341.42

Arkansas

$3,289.01

$6,380.69

California

$4,569.51

$8,864.85

Colorado

$4,898.56

$9,503.20

Connecticut

$5,171.89

$10,033.47

Delaware

$4,338.88

$8,417.42

Florida

$4,318.35

$8,377.59

Georgia

$4,727.46

$9,171.27

Hawaii

$5,330.46

$10,341.09

Idaho

$3,791.84

$7,356.18

Illinois

$4,412.71

$8,560.65

Indiana

$3,624.05

$7,030.65

Iowa

$3,169.16

$6,148.17

Kansas

$3,854.05

$7,476.85

Kentucky

$3,457.67

$6,707.88

Louisiana

$3,767.91

$7,309.75

Maine

$3,905.56

$7,576.78

Maryland

$5,287.61

$10,257.96

Massachusetts

$4,720.53

$9,157.83

Michigan

$3,458.51

$6,709.51

Minnesota

$4,257.26

$8,259.08

Mississippi

$3,204.95

$6,217.60

Missouri

$3,763.46

$7,301.11

Montana

$3,732.83

$7,241.69

Nebraska

$3,594.46

$6,973.25

Nevada

$4,263.19

$8,270.59

New Hampshire

$4,943.44

$9,590.27

New Jersey

$5,361.06

$10,400.47

New Mexico

$4,185.93

$8,120.71

New York

$4,969.84

$9,641.50

North Carolina

$4,124.04

$8,000.63

North Dakota

$3,756.19

$7,287.00

Ohio

$3,738.95

$7,253.56

Oklahoma

$4,038.90

$7,835.47

Oregon

$3,881.17

$7,529.48

Pennsylvania

$4,209.21

$8,165.86

Rhode Island

$4,376.34

$8,490.10

South Carolina

$4,187.65

$8,124.04

South Dakota

$3,608.28

$7,000.07

Tennessee

$3,903.24

$7,572.28

Texas

$4,937.00

$9,577.78

Utah

$3,775.21

$7,323.92

Vermont

$4,199.77

$8,147.56

Virginia

$5,404.32

$10,484.38

Washington

$4,568.09

$8,862.09

West Virginia

$3,381.36

$6,559.84

Wisconsin

$3,410.29

$6,615.96

Wyoming

$3,944.72

$7,652.76

 

State

Silent

Boomers

Gen X

Millennials

Gen Z

Alaska

$5,456

$9,495

$8,995

$4,464


$1,518


Alabama

$3,511

$6,461

$6,485


$3,324


$1,455




Arkansas

$3,194

$5,995

$6,197


$3,240


$1,803


Arizona

$4,149

$6,967

$6,778


$3,575


$1,555


California

$4,232

$7,050

$6,578


$3,654


$1,596


Colorado

$4,004

$7,499

$7,439


$3,833



$1,514


Connecticut

$4,091

$8,179

$8,046


$3,716



$2,567


Dist. of Columbia

$5,486

$7,976

$7,393


$4,596



$2,814


Delaware

$4,147

$7,128

$7,144


$3,285



$1,608


Florida

$4,311

$7,047

$6,615


$3,639



$1,837


Georgia

$4,356

$7,517

$6,972


$3,540


$1,835


Hawaii

$4,386

$7,073

$7,355


$4,203


$1,657


Iowa

$2,367

$5,297

$6,163


$2,857


$935


Idaho

$3,477

$6,147

$6,332


$3,193


$928


Illinois

$3,641

$7,054

$7,040


$3,537


$1,556


Indiana

$3,137

$5,998

$6,174


$3,003


$1,402


Kansas

$3,187

$6,514

$6,930


$3,292


$1,421


Kentucky

$3,044

$5,727

$6,080


$3,082


$1,372


Louisiana

$3,679

$6,598

$6,561


$3,425


$1,971


Massachusetts

$3,481

$7,017

$7,022


$3,479

$1,882


Maryland

$4,341

$7,994

$7,458


$3,671


$1,749


Maine

$3,107

$6,054

$6,531


$3,375


$1,286


Michigan

$3,436

$6,049

$6,113


$2,971


$1,523


Minnesota

$3,025

$6,299

$6,898


$3,244


$1,338


Missouri

$3,265

$6,333

$6,757


$3,279


$1,346


Mississippi

$3,218

$5,634

$5,718


$3,043


$2,011


Montana

$3,285

$5,977

$6,868


$3,385


$1,506


North Carolina

$3,481

$6,566

$6,710


$3,397


$1,486


North Dakota

$2,141

$5,362

$6,646


$3,326


$1,467


Nebraska

$2,717

$5,909

$6,498


$3,136


$1,388


New Hampshire

$3,582

$7,140

$7,443


$3,519


$1,666


New Jersey

$4,126

$8,011

$7,882


$3,928


$2,241


New Mexico

$4,373

$6,906

$6,534


$3,532


$1,207


Nevada

$4,733

$6,993

$6,357


$3,700


$1,185


New York

$3,906

$7,127

$7,234


$3,986


$2,495


Ohio

$3,313

$6,383

$6,530


$3,135


$1,465


Oklahoma

$3,484

$6,789

$6,900


$3,493


$1,641


Oregon

$3,618

$6,502

$6,481


$3,245


$856


Pennsylvania

$3,282

$6,550

$7,059

$3,457


$1,545


Rhode Island

$3,524

$7,162

$7,313


$3,371


$1,786


South Carolina

$4,019

$6,537

$6,559


$3,281

$1,375


South Dakota

$2,584

$5,710

$6,900

$3,250


$1,531


Tennessee

$3,388

$6,309

$6,505


$3,308


$1,737


Texas

$4,350

$7,591

$7,119


$3,779


$1,945


Utah

$3,364

$6,411

$6,713


$3,070


$932


Virginia

$4,132

$7,956

$7,968


$3,985

$1,692


Vermont

$3,681

$6,197

$6,547


$3,297


$2,511


Washington

$3,947

$7,365

$7,190


$3,500


$1,355


Wisconsin

$2,740

$5,673

$6,289


$2,914


$992


West Virginia

$2,914

$5,573

$6,158


$3,238


$1,166


Wyoming

$3,523

$6,356

$6,889

$3,663

$1,442

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Personal Loans

RocketLoans Personal Loan Review

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Disclosure : By clicking “See Offers” you’ll be directed to our parent company, LendingTree. You may or may not be matched with the specific lender you clicked on, but up to five different lenders based on your creditworthiness.

APR

5.98%
To
29.99%

Credit Req.

640

Minimum Credit Score

Terms

36 or 60

months

Origination Fee

1.00% - 6.00%

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Rocketloans is a digital finance business that is part of the Quicken Loans family. ... Read More

RocketLoans personal loan details
 

Fees and penalties

  • Terms: 36 or 60 Months
  • APR Range: 5.98%-29.99%
  • Loan amounts: $2,000-$35,000
  • Time to Funding: Same day funding for up to $25,000
  • Hard pull/soft pull: Soft Pull to see offers. Hard credit pull once you submit an application..
  • Origination fee: 1.00% - 6.00%
  • Prepayment fee: None
  • Late payment fee: $15 per occurrence
  • ACH return fee/Returned check fee: $15 per occurrence

Eligibility requirements

  • Minimum credit score: 640 (Using a FICO® 9 model)
  • Minimum credit history: 2 years
  • Maximum debt-to-income ratio: 40% excluding mortgage and 70% including mortgage
  • Minimum income: $24,000 annually (from any source)

Rocket Loans does not lend in North Carolina, Iowa, West Virginia or Nevada. You must be at least 18 years old to apply for the loan (19 in Alabama and Nebraska). Your credit score, existing debt load, or income may disqualify you from a loan from RocketLoans. Your loan rates will be based off of your income, your credit history, your debt-to-income ratio, homeownership and the size of the loan.

You may be required to submit documents to verify the accuracy of your information (such as pay stubs or tax forms).

Applying for a personal loan from RocketLoans

From start to finish, applying for a personal loan from RocketLoans takes just a few minutes.

Before you can see any offers, RocketLoans requires you to enter your personal information, including your name, address, Social Security number, phone number, employment status, income and homeownership status. RocketLoans uses this information to do a “Soft Pull,” which will allow it to analyze your credit history, debt-to-income ratio, and overall debt burden. The credit pull will not show up on your credit report.

After a minute or two, RocketLoans presents a list of personalized loan offers. The offers include the loan amount monthly payment, length, interest rate (Autopay rate) and the APR (which includes the funding fee). As long as you’re able to provide income and address verification, RocketLoans will underwrite the loan with the terms presented.

*Terms may differ from above example

After choosing a loan option, RocketLoans will verify your identity and income information. It may request that you submit documents (pay stubs, driver’s license, tax returns etc.). RocketLoans will also have you log into the bank account where you want to receive the funds. The company does this to make sure it sends funds to the right place. During the verification process, RocketLoans will do a hard credit inquiry. This hard credit pull could impact your credit score.

Once RocketLoans verifies all of your information, you’ll be instructed to sign the loan documents online. Then, RocketLoans will transfer the loan to your bank account via an electronic, automated clearing house transfer (ACH transfer). Funds up to $25,000 may be available the same business day, but funding could take up to three business days based on your bank’s rules.

Pros and cons of a RocketLoans personal loan

Pros:

Cons:

  • Fast: RocketLoans has an easy online application that minimizes the need to find extra documentation. If you qualify, you could receive the funds the day you apply.
  • 24/7/365: RocketLoans doesn’t take days or evenings off. Their loan offers are fully underwritten, so you can apply and be approved for a loan at your convenience. Loan funding only happens on business days.
  • Individualized offers: RocketLoans only shows individualized offers. You don’t have to wonder what your interest rate will be — RocketLoans will show multiple offers based on your ability to repay.
  • Originations fees: Personal loans from RocketLoans carry a 1.00% - 6.00% origination fee. In contrast, many digital lenders have no origination fees.
  • Moderate to high interest rates: Borrowers with excellent credit can see rates as low as 5.98%, but other lenders offer better rates. Some borrowers can face interest rates as high as 29.99% APR.
  • Limited options for repayment terms: Borrowers can choose between 36 or 60 month payback periods. Other lenders offer more repayment options based on a borrower’s ability to repay.
  • Poor credit borrowers may not qualify. With a minimum FICO score requirement of 36 or 60, people with poor credit may not qualify.

Who’s the best fit for a RocketLoans personal loan?

So long as you’ve shopped around and compared offers from several personal loan lenders, you’re ready to make an educated decision about which lender is right for you. RocketLoans makes it easy to shop because you can get individualized offers based on your personal information before you even have to apply.

In the end, RocketLoans may not offer the best rates or terms, but it will give you a point of comparison. Plus, checking your rates on RocketLoans won’t hurt your credit. After you check your rate, you can compare RocketLoans’ offers with rates from other lenders. Since you know from our review that RocketLoans carries a 1.00% - 6.00% origination fee, which is paid upfront, you should look for loans that not only offer a better rate but don’t carry an upfront fee. If you can’t find a better deal elsewhere, RocketLoans may be the best option for you.

People who need their loan funded fast will find RocketLoans most valuable. The application process takes just a few minutes (especially if you have pay stubs or tax documents handy). Once your loan is approved (which can happen almost immediately), RocketLoans will send the funds to your bank. Depending on your bank’s rules, you can gain access to the funds the same day.

Alternative personal loan options

LightStream

LightStream is the online personal lending branch of Suntrust Bank. It sets itself apart by offering no-fee loans (including no late fees and No origination fee). Loans from Lightstream carry some of the best interest rates on the market, with rates ranging from 3.34%–16.99%. People with excellent credit can borrow $5,000–$100,000 from LightStream for 24 to 144 months.

APR

3.34%
To
16.99%

Credit Req.

660

Minimum Credit Score

Terms

24 to 144

months

Origination Fee

No origination fee

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on LendingTree’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure

LightStream is the online lending division of SunTrust Bank.... Read More


Your APR may differ based on loan purpose, amount, term, and your credit profile. Rate is quoted with AutoPay discount, which is only available when you select AutoPay prior to loan funding. Rates under the invoicing option are 0.50% higher. Subject to credit approval. Conditions and limitations apply. Advertised rates and terms are subject to change without notice. Payment example: Monthly payments for a $10,000 loan at 3.34% APR with a term of 3 years would result in 36 monthly payments of $292.31.

SoFi

SoFi is another online-only lender with decent interest rates (6.99%–14.99% for fixed-rate loans and 6.40%-12.70% on variable-rate loans) and No origination fee. Personal loans from SoFi have terms ranging from 36 to 84 months. SoFi is one of the only lenders that offers “unemployment protection” on all personal loans. Borrowers who lose a job will be allowed to temporarily stop payments (for up to 12 months). SoFi also offers nontraditional perks to its members including free career coaching and networking events.

SoFi
APR

6.99%
To
14.99%

Credit Req.

680

Minimum Credit Score

Terms

36 to 84

months

Origination Fee

No origination fee

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure

SoFi offers some of the best rates and terms on the market. ... Read More


Fixed rates from 6.99% APR to 14.99% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 6.26% APR to 14.10% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of November 30, 2018 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. See APR examples and terms. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 6.26% APR assumes current 1-month LIBOR rate of 2.33% plus 4.175% margin minus 0.25% AutoPay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull.

See Consumer Licenses.

SoFi Personal Loans are not available to residents of MS. Maximum interest rate on loans for residents of AK and WY is 9.99% APR, for residents of IL with loans over $40,000 is 8.99% APR, for residents of TX is 9.99% APR on terms greater than 5 years, for residents of CO, CT, HI, VA, SC is 11.99% APR, and for residents of ME is 12.24% APR. Personal loans not available to residents of MI who already have a student loan with SoFi. Personal Loans minimum loan amount is $5,000. Residents of AZ, MA, and NH have a minimum loan amount of $10,001. Residents of KY have a minimum loan amount of $15,001. Residents of PA have a minimum loan amount of $25,001. Variable rates not available to residents of AK, TX, VA, WY, or for residents of IL for loans greater than $40,000.

Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi's underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

Prosper

Prosper is a peer-to-peer lending place that offers 36 or 60 months fixed-rate personal loans for $2,000–$40,000. Rates at Propser range from 6.95%–35.99% APR which includes the cost of a closing fee (also known as an origination fee). People with good or excellent credit may find better rates from other lenders, but people with bad credit have a chance to be approved for a loan at Prosper.

APR

6.95%
To
35.99%

Credit Req.

640

Minimum Credit Score

Terms

36 or 60

months

Origination Fee

2.41% - 5.00%

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on LendingTree’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure

Prosper is a peer-to-peer lending platform that offers a quick and convenient way to get personal loans with fixed and low interest rates. ... Read More


For example, a three-year $10,000 loan with a Prosper Rating of AA would have an interest rate of 5.31% and a 2.41% origination fee for an annual percentage rate (APR) of 6.95% APR. You would receive $9,759 and make 36 scheduled monthly payments of $301.10. A five-year $10,000 loan with a Prosper Rating of A would have an interest rate of 8.39% and a 5.00% origination fee with a 10.59% APR. You would receive $9,500 and make 60 scheduled monthly payments of $204.64. Origination fees vary between 2.41%-5%. APRs through Prosper range from 6.95% (AA) to 35.99% (HR) for first-time borrowers, with the lowest rates for the most creditworthy borrowers. Eligibility for loans up to $40,000 depends on the information provided by the applicant in the application form. Eligibility is not guaranteed, and requires that a sufficient number of investors commit funds to your account and that you meet credit and other conditions. Refer to Borrower Registration Agreement for details and all terms and conditions. All loans made by WebBank, member FDIC.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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College Students and Recent Grads

Understanding Student Loan Interest Rates

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

iStock

Looking into student loans to pay for college or graduate school? Before you take on debt, it’s important to understand how the interest on student loans work, so you can make smart decisions before you borrow and when it comes time to repay the debt.

Understanding how student loan interest works

When you take out a student loan, the lender charges interest as a fee for borrowing the money. Interest on student loans isn’t a flat fee. Instead, interest on student loans is expressed as a percentage of the unpaid loan amount. Right now, federal direct unsubsidized loans for undergraduates carry a 5.05% annual interest rate. That means the lender charges 5.05% of the unpaid loan balance per year.

When interest on a student loan goes unpaid, the balance of the loan grows over time. For example, during college many students “defer” student loan payments. In general, during deferment, the bank continues to charge interest, so the balance grows over time. A student who borrows $5,000 at a 5.05% interest rate at the start of their freshman year of college will owe $6,119 4 1/2 years later when they start making payments. Generally, any unpaid interest is added to the principal balance once the loan enters the repayment period.

Even though interest rates on student loans are expressed as an annualized interest rate (such as 5.05% per year), interest on federal student loans is determined by a daily interest rate. A 5.05% annual interest rate translates to a 0.0138% daily interest rate.

Once you start making standard monthly payments on the loan, the balance of the loan and dollar amount of interest being charged each day drops. For example, on a 10-year repayment plan, the $5,000 loan that grew to $6,119 loan from the previous example will have a $63 monthly payment.

After making the first payment, the principal balance will fall by $39.30 — the other $25.75 goes toward paying interest. By contrast, with the last payment, $64.78 goes toward balance reduction, and just $0.27 goes towards paying interest.

Many people have heard stories of student loan borrowers who have faithfully made regular payments for decades but have barely made a dent in their balance or owe more money today than when they graduated from college. This doesn’t happen when borrowers make payments based on standard repayment plans. However, it can happen when federal loan borrowers opt for income-driven repayment plans. Under these plans, the monthly payment is based on a person’s income, not on a repayment schedule. That means that the required monthly payment could be less than the amount of interest that the lender charges on the loan. In that case, the balance of the loan grows over time, and the amount of interest charged grows, too.

Variable vs. fixed interest rates

All federal student loans disbursed since July 1, 2006, have fixed interest rates, meaning the interest rate will never change. By contrast, some private lenders offer variable-rate loans. Variable-rate loans are loans where the interest rate may change over time. In general, variable interest rates are set based on an index rate such as the LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rates). When the LIBOR increases, the variable interest rate on a student loan increases. When it decreases, the interest rate on a student loan decreases. The interest rate on a variable-rate loan could change as often as once a month.

As the interest rate on a variable-rate loan changes, the minimum monthly payment changes, too. A higher interest rate will mean a higher monthly payment, and a lower interest rate will mean a lower monthly payment.

Some variable-rate loans will have maximum interest rates. That means, no matter how high the index rate goes, the lender will not charge more than the maximum rate.

The primary advantage of fixed-rate loans are that borrowers will know exactly how much they owe each month, which makes it easy to budget for. However, most private lenders set higher interest rates for fixed-rate student loans compared with variable-rate loans. That means that borrowers could end up paying more in interest over time.

The lower starting interest rates mean that some people may save money by opting for a variable-rate loan. But variable-rate student loans are riskier than fixed-rate loans. The changing interest rates could mean that borrowers have to make large monthly payments and pay more in interest over the life of a loan.

When should borrowers choose a fixed-rate student loan?

No wiggle room in budget: Fixed-rate student loans are an ideal choice if you don’t have a ton of wiggle room in your budget. You may pay a bit more — but you might not — and you don’t have to worry about your monthly payment increasing.

Long repayment periods: Fixed-rate loans also tend to make sense if your repayment plan will last several years. By contrast, variable rate loans are riskier when you face longer repayment periods. Longer repayments mean that you’ll face a higher risk that the rate will increase significantly from where you first took out the loan.

Small rate difference between fixed- and variable-rate loans: Variable-rate loans often have lower prices, but you get that lower price by taking on more risk. If the interest rate you’ll pay on a fixed-rate loan is just a tiny bit more than the interest rate on a variable-rate loan, the peace of mind is probably well worth the financial cost. Plus, if interest rates fall, you may be able to refinance to a lower, fixed rate in the future.

When should borrowers choose variable-rate student loans?

Expect rapid loan payoff: Borrowers who plan to aggressively pay back loans (and cut years off of standard repayment plans) can take advantage of lower interest rates in the early years of the loan. Even if interest rates rise over time, people who aggressively pay back loans in the early years will save enough in interest to compensate for the higher rate in the later years.

Rate difference between fixed- and variable-rate loans: Most of the time, variable-rate loans are less than 1% cheaper than fixed-rate loans. This offers some savings. But depending on your borrower qualifications (credit score, debt-to-income ratio, etc.), you may qualify for a much better variable-rate loan. If you personally qualify for a much lower rate on a variable rate loan (compared with a similar fixed-rate loan), you can expect to save a lot of cash over the life of a loan, even when student loan interest rates start to rise.

Federal student loan interest rates

Congress sets interest rates on federal student loans. Once you borrow the money, the interest rate on the loan will not change because federal student loans have fixed interest rates, but not all federal student loans have the same interest rates. For example, direct unsubsidized and subsidized loans for undergraduates carry a 4.45% interest rate for the 2017-18 school year. The same loan for graduate or professional students is 6%. PLUS loans, which are available for parents and graduate students, have a 7% interest rate. For federal student loans disbursed between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019, rates are as follows: 5% for undergraduate loans, 6.6% for graduate and professional unsubsidized loans and 7.6% for PLUS loans borrowed by parents or graduate and professional students.

How does interest work during deferment?

Many students defer payment on their student loans while they are studying or for select other reasons, such as unemployment or active-duty military service, if their loans offer such flexibility (some private loans and all federal loans do).

During deferment and the grace period following graduation, you will not make payments on your student loans, but interest continues to accrue on the loan. Interest that accrues during deferment is added to the balance of the loan, so your principal loan balance grows during deferment.

However, the U.S. Department of Education helps reduce the burden of interest by paying interest on subsidized loans while the borrower is enrolled in school at least halftime, during deferment and during the grace period that follows graduation. Subsidized loans include direct subsidized loans, federal Perkins loans and the subsidized portions of direct consolidation loans and FFEL consolidation loans.

It’s important to note that deferment is not the same as forbearance. Forbearance is a period of reduced or suspended payments a lender may grant to a borrower going through financial hardship. During forbearance, interest continues to accumulate and will capitalize (be added to the principal balance).

Current interest rates and fees on federal student loans

The table below shows the interest rates and fees on federal student loans for the 2018-19 school year. It’s important to note that some loans have a loan fee. These fees are a percentage of the principal balance, taken from the disbursement and paid to the bank. For example, a $5,000 loan will actually be a $4,946.70 disbursement to you (assuming the 1.066% loan fee).

Federal loan type

Borrower type

Interest rate

Loan fee

Does interest accrue during deferment?

Direct unsubsidized

Undergraduate

5.05% (for loans disbursed between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019)

1.066% (for loans disbursed between Oct. 1, 2017 and Sept. 30, 2018)

1.062% (for loans disbursed between Oct. 1, 2018 and Sept. 30, 2019)

Yes.

Direct unsubsidized

Graduate or professional students

6.60% (2018-19)

1.066% (2017-18)

1.062% (2018-19)

Yes.

Direct subsidized

Undergraduate

5.05% (2018-19)

1.066% (2017-18)

1.062% (2018-19)

No.

Direct consolidation

Past borrowers

Weighted average interest rate of all loans being consolidated, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent.

None.

Generally yes. The subsidized portions of the loan do not accrue interest during deferment.

PLUS

Parents, graduate students and professional students

7.6% (2018-19)

4.264% (2017-18)

4.248% (2018-19)

Yes.

Private student loan interest rates

Private student loans can be a double-edged sword for students and their parents. The private student loan marketplace allows a greater level of borrowing, and some people find better interest rates in the private loan marketplace. However, private student loans generally do not offer the safeguards of federal student loans.

For example, many private loans don’t offer forbearance or deferment (except in-school deferment), and they may have very high student loan interest rates. Unlike federal student loans, most private student loans don’t have income-driven repayment plans, and the interest rates on private student loans aren’t set by legislation. Instead, interest rates on private loans are determined by a variety of factors:

  • Your credit score (or the score of a cosigner)
  • Your income (or the income of a cosigner)
  • Employment status
  • The length of repayment
  • Fixed- or variable-rate terms
  • Rates charged by other lenders

Many private lenders require a cosigner (someone who promises to make payments if you can’t) if you don’t have a high enough income or credit score to qualify for the loan.

Interest rates on private student loans have a much greater variety than federal student loans. For example, some student loan refinancing companies offer interest rates as low as 2.57%. However, some lenders charge interest rates that exceed credit card interest rates.

Borrowers who are considering private student loans should research the costs and have a plan to make the required monthly payment once they graduate.

Student loan interest rate vs. APR

When it comes to student loan borrowing, borrowers should understand both the interest rate and the APR (annualized percentage rate) on a loan. The Federal Truth in Lending Act requires lenders to disclose a loan’s APR. APR measures the annualized cost of all finance charges (including interest and transaction fees) if you make all your payments on time. By contrast, the interest rate on a loan is simply the annual cost of borrowing the money, and does not include other fees.

When you pay off student loans early, you will reduce the total interest you pay on the loan. However, finance charges (such as loan fees or origination fees) are not reduced by paying off the loan early.

Lowering your student loan rates

When it comes to any type of borrowing, paying less in interest means you’ll have more money to put elsewhere. Student loan borrowers should consider methods for reducing the interest rate on their loan, and methods to pay less interest overall. These are just a few options to consider.

Lowering your student loan interest rates

Fill out FAFSA: If you’re a traditional student (generally under 24 years old with limited work/life experience), federal student loans likely offer the lowest possible interest rates on student loans. To qualify for federal aid, you and your parents must fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA may also be required for merit-based aid at your university.

Get a cosigner: Borrowers in the private marketplace may find that a cosigner helps them qualify for a reduced rate. Its common for grandparents or parents to cosign private student loans, but cosigners must exercise caution. If a borrower can’t make their monthly payments, the cosigner has to step up and make the payments, otherwise both borrowers’ credit scores will suffer from the impact of missed payments.

Refinance: Following graduation, borrowers (especially those with high incomes or good credit scores) may be able to reduce their student loan interest rates by refinancing with private loans. However, borrowers must be careful when refinancing. Private lenders generally do not offer income-driven repayment plans or other safeguards that can help borrowers who experience unemployment, underemployment or low incomes. Plus, debts that are refinanced with private lenders will not qualify for federal student loan forgiveness programs.

Enroll in automatic payments: Many private lenders offer borrowers a rate discount when the borrower sets up automatic monthly payments.

Reducing total interest paid

Reducing interest rates aren’t the only way to free up cash. Borrowers may also use other methods to reduce the total amount of interest they put toward loans.

Borrow as little as possible: The less you borrow during school, the less interest that will accrue on the loans. Students may be able to minimize borrowing during school by working, applying for scholarships and grants, and using savings. This may sound obvious, but it’s important to point out, because the amount you’re approved to borrow may exceed what you need, resulting in unnecessary debt and, as a result, unnecessary interest payments. Budget carefully and borrow only what you need.

Pay more than the minimum: The more money you put toward your loans each month, the faster you’ll pay them off. Extra principal payments are especially helpful in the early life of the loan when a large portion of the standard payment goes to interest. When you put extra money toward your loan, be sure that the additional payment goes toward repaying the principal. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers guidance on how borrowers can make sure their lender processes their payments correctly.

Combine income-driven repayment with student loan forgiveness: A lot of times, income driven repayment plans reduce monthly payments only to have the loan balance grow over time. However, if you qualify for a student loan forgiveness program, the lower payment is a huge advantage. Not only will you reduce your cash outflow during the repayment phase, once you complete the requirements for loan forgiveness, you may qualify for forgiveness without any incurring tax penalties. (However, some loan forgiveness requires you to pay income taxes on the forgiven amount.) Different loan forgiveness programs have different requirements, so be sure you qualify before planning to use this strategy.

Pay interest during school: Many students are cash-strapped during their studies, but putting money toward interest may go a long way toward keeping loans at a manageable level. Making interest-only payments during college allows students to keep loans at a set level instead of allowing the lender charge interest on interest once the loan enters repayment and unpaid interest is capitalized (added to the principal loan balance).

Refinance to a shorter term: Borrowers who have sufficient cash flow can reduce their total interest payment by refinancing their student loans to a shorter term. Sometimes a shorter term means a better interest rate. But, even without a lower rate, a faster repayment means that less money goes to interest overall. For example, a borrower with a $10,000 loan at 3.5% will pay $1,866.21 in interest over the life of a 10-year loan. If that borrower refinances to a five-year loan (also at 3.5%) the total interest is cut in half to just $915.03.

This page was updated July 17, 2018 to reflect changes to federal student loan rates and fees.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
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Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Small Business

18 Options for Small Business Loans in 2018

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Historically, business lending involved a massive time commitment, high costs and a high risk that a business wouldn’t get all the funding it needs. Online lenders have completely changed the business lending landscape, making it possible to get funding in as little as a few days in some cases. That being said, borrowing from one of these newer online lenders means working with a company you may not be familiar with, which may pose some challenges.

If you’re a small business owner looking for a loan, this guide can help you decide which type of loan best suits your needs. It will also help you compare some of the best lenders and small business loan marketplaces, so you can apply with confidence.

5 ways to use a business loan

Business financing tends to be more complex than consumer finance, so it pays to understand how business lending works.

Businesses typically look for financing during start-up or expansion phases, but businesses may need financing for more mundane reasons. These are a few common reasons businesses seek financing.

Starting a business: More than half of all start-ups use personal savings to start their business, but in many cases personal savings alone aren’t enough to pay for start-up costs. That means many companies need to consider taking out a start-up loan (or finding other means of finance). Antara Dutta, a volunteer mentor and former president of the Delaware chapter of SCORE (the nation’s largest network of volunteer expert business mentors), explained, “Start-up companies need enough money to cover at least twelve months of expenses. It usually takes at least twelve months to get to break even, and we usually say about 18 months to get to the point of earning a profit.”

Managing cash flow: Seasonal businesses may need to seek financing to pay for inventory and materials to complete a project or to stock a store. Other businesses experience a gap between when they pay their bills and when customers pay them. Business owners who cannot cover cash flow needs from personal or business savings may require financing. Invoice factoring or a line of credit may provide the right financing solution for businesses that need to pay bills.

Expanding operations: Businesses looking to expand often need a loan to cover certain costs. Although profitable businesses should consider using business savings, a loan can help a business achieve faster growth. Dutta recommended, “When you’re expanding operations you may be in a good position to refinance any existing debts. Combining debts can allow you to get better terms on all your debts.”

Refinance existing debt: A business that has debt may be able to refinance to cut back on interest or reduce monthly payments. This will strengthen their financial position, and allow for more growth, more profitability or better cash flow.

What to know before you borrow

When it comes to finding the right loan for your business, you’ll have to weigh multiple priorities to find the right loan for your business. These are a few areas business owners should consider when applying for a loan:

Know exactly how much you need to borrow: Whether you’re starting a new business or you’re expanding current operations, you need to explain how much money your business needs, how the business will use the proceeds and how the business will pay back the loan.

Understand the cost of capital: The cost of capital is how much it costs to borrow money. The most common measure for this is APR, although you may see other terms being used. Business owners may struggle to maintain profitability when the cost of capital is too high.

Ask about repayment terms: Unlike most consumer loans, business loans can have a variety of repayment schedules. You may have to make daily, weekly or monthly payments. Be sure you understand how the repayment schedule will affect your cash flow and ability to make timely payments during the repayment period.

Collateral requirements: Business loans may require you to put up certain assets as collateral against the loan. Collateral reduces the lender’s risk because the lender can automatically seize the collateral to recoup their losses. A bank’s collateral requirements aren’t limited to just business assets. Oftentimes, business owners have to use personal assets (like home equity) to guarantee the loan.

“Banks need to know that you’re going to pay them back,” Dutta told MagnifyMoney. “So they might need some collateral, especially for start-ups or high-risk businesses. A lot of times, you’ll have to take out a second mortgage to cover your collateral.”

How much funding you’ll receive: Most start-up companies (69%) who apply for a loan experience a financing shortfall, according to a 2017 small business survey by the Federal Reserve Board of New York. This means the business is approved for a smaller loan than what the company needed. When applying for a loan, it’s important to understand that you may struggle to get enough financing.

How long it will take to get the funds: According to one Harvard Business School working paper, time to funding for business loans ranged from an average of less than five days for short-term lines of credit to more than 45 days for SBA-guaranteed loans. Most online lenders focus on high speed lending, but business owners may have to make sacrifices in other areas (such as cost or repayment terms) to find fast underwriting.

Are pricing and terms transparent? Small business owners often have a tough time comparing prices and payback terms on products from nontraditional (online) lenders. To be sure you’re getting a fair deal, look for clear pricing and terms, including an estimated monthly payment, an APR calculation and whether you face prepayment penalties. If a lender has adopted the SMART Box pricing approach, you can find all this information in your schedule of fees.

18 options for online small business lenders

LendingTree*
LendingTree is an online marketplace for business loans. It has one of the largest networks of lenders in the U.S. Business owners can submit one simple form for business financing, and LendingTree will match the owner with real offers from several lenders. This gives business owners the power to pick the best deal for their business.

  • Financing options include: Term loans, SBA loans, working capital loans, equipment financing, business lines of credit, accounts receivable financing and business credit cards.

*LendingTree is MagnifyMoney’s parent company.

National Funding
National Funding is a non-traditional lender that’s been in business since 1999. The company specializes in lending smaller dollar loans (less than $100,000) to businesses that are underserved by banks. National Funding often takes less than a day to underwrite loans. Loans from National Funding are fixed-interest loans, but the company offers discounts of up to 7% to customers that pay off their loans early.

  • Financing options: Short-term loans, equipment financing, merchant cash advances
  • Short-term loans:
    • Four to 24 months
    • daily or weekly payments
    • $5,000-$500,000
  • Equipment financing:
    • Two to five years
    • Monthly payments
    • Up to $150,000
  • Funding in under 24 hours

RapidAdvance
RapidAdvance is an alternative business lender that’s been issuing loans for more than a decade. The company has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and most customers appreciate the company’s quick and thorough customer service. RapidAdvance helps business owners get funding fast, but its loans tend to carry very high-interest rates.

  • Financing options: Short-term loans, unsecured lines of credit
  • Must be in business two years, with at least $5,000 per month in revenue
  • $5,000-$500,000 (lines of credit up to $500,000)
  • Loan terms up to 18 months
  • Interest rates starting from 11.00%` APR (fixed simple interest rates)
  • Funding in three days or less

OnDeck
OnDeck is an online business lender and a leader in transparent pricing. It is a member of the Innovative Lending Platform Association, which is an industry coalition that has adopted the SMART Box™ to increase transparency in pricing. OnDeck offers both term loans and lines of credit. Most OnDeck customers will have fair or better personal credit scores (above 600 FICO scores).

  • Financing options: Short-term loans, unsecured Business lines of credit
  • Short-term loans:
    • Three to 12 months
    • Fixed simple interest (you pay all the interest, even if you pay off the loan early)
    • Daily or weekly payments
  • Longer term loans
    • 15 to 36 months
    • Compounding interest rate (you pay less when you pay off the loan early)
    • Daily or weekly payments
  • Lines of credit:
    • Up to $100,000
    • Fixed weekly payments
    • Only pay interest on what you draw
  • Funding in under 24 hours

Credibly
Started in 2010, Credibly (originally RetailCapital) is a small business lender with a focus on using technology and customer service to make business underwriting easier and better. Credibly focuses on short-term lending, and it differentiates itself by having reasonable interest rates (9.99%-36%*) on 18- and 24-month loans.

  • Financing options: Working capital loans and “business expansion loans” (short-term loans with weekly repayment options)
  • Working capital loans
    • Six to 17 months
    • $5,000-$250,000
    • Interest expressed as interest rates (not expressed as an APR*)
    • Daily repayments
  • Business expansion loans
    • 18 or 24 months
    • $5,000-$250,000
    • 9.99%-36% annualized interest rate.
    • Interest rates set as a factor fee. Paying off the loan early will not reduce interest payments.
    • Weekly repayments
  • Funding in 48 hours on average

Finance Factory
The Finance Factory is a one-stop shop for all things related to business financing. It is an online lending marketplace that matches small business lenders to small business borrowers. Because it is a network, it offers a huge range of business loan products including start-up loans, SBA loans, lines of credit, unsecured business loans and more. Some of the products have very low-interest rate loans (however, the underwriting times aren’t as fast as other lenders).

  • Financing options: Start-up funding, SBA loans, business express loans, revenue-based loans, equipment financing, franchise financing
  • Most loans range from $5,000-$500,000 (revenue-based advances from $10,000 to $1 million)
  • Interest rates vary by product from 0%+ on start-up loans, to 6%-8% SBA loans and other rates based on credit and business history
  • Up to 25 years
  • Funding time varies based on loan type. Some loans can be funded in less than 48 hours, but other loans, like SBA loans, may take a month or two.

Seek Capital
Seek Business Capital is a business lending broker that helps business owners navigate the complex business funding world. Seek Capital will use information that you provide to create a funding estimate which is a range of funding amounts, rates, and payback terms that a business owner can expect to procure. Business owners who are happy with the estimate can apply for loans, and Seek Capital will have the loans funded in one to three business weeks. Seek Capital does charge broker fees, so businesses should be careful to compare Seek’s offers and fees with other competitors.

  • Unsecured business loans
  • $5,000-$500,000
  • Same-day loan estimates, three weeks to funding

The Business Backer
Despite major innovations in the world of online business lending, The Business Backer believes that financing is still all about relationships. To help businesses qualify for better interest rates, The Business Backer gives business owners the opportunity to share the story of their business and the circumstances leading them to apply for a loan.

The Business Backer funds some of its own loans, but they also have a network of lending partners. The network means that borrowers can use a single application to apply for multiple types of financing.

  • Financing options include: SBA loans, business line of credit, long-term loans, short-term loans, equipment financing, commercial real estate loans, start-up loans
  • Start-up loans
    • Up to $150,000
    • 8%-20% APR
  • Short-term loans
    • Up to $200,000
    • 14%-51% Annualized Interest Rate
    • Four to 18 months
    • Daily, weekly or monthly payback
    • Fixed interest with early payment discounts available
  • Business line of credit
    • $5,000-$150,000
    • 1- to 3-year terms
    • 18%+ interest rate
  • Funding in as little as 48 hours (though this can vary by loan type)

LoanMe
LoanMe is a business lender that specializes in lending to businesses that don’t qualify for loans from banks, and businesses with urgent cash needs. Interest rates on loans from LoanMe are higher than those from traditional banks, but terms range from two to ten years. Also, unlike many other lenders, LoanMe uses traditional interest formulas. That means the faster you pay off the loan, the less interest you’ll pay.

  • Funding options: Term loans
  • $3,500 – $250,000
  • Loans from 6 to 120 months with monthly repayments
  • Interest rates from 19.37% – 168.00%
  • Same-day funding available

Elevation Capital
Elevation Capital is a lender that offers alternative loan products (especially unsecured short-term loans) to business with as little as three months of revenue history. Elevation’s unique underwriting style means that business owners with poor credit may be able to qualify for a loan.

  • Financing options: Not available
  • Payback terms: Not available
  • Interest Terms: Not available
  • Up to $500,000 in loans
  • Funding in as little as 24 hours.

Reliant Funding
Reliant Funding was founded in 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis. It boasts of over $1 billion in lending to small businesses, and an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. Reliant focuses on speed of funding, and underwrites using current business performance rather than personal or business credit history.

  • Term loans ranging from six to 18 months
  • Loans up to $250,000
  • Fixed simple interest rates- (you’ll pay the same amount of interest, no matter how quickly you pay off the loan)
  • Daily payment schedules
  • Same day loan approvals and funding

SmartBiz
smartbiz is an online marketplace for SBA-guaranteed loans. SBA-guaranteed loans are known for slow turnaround times (with an average of 45 days to funding), but SmartBiz streamlines the process. Their computer algorithm can help determine whether you’re SBA loan-eligible before you complete the complex application. Businesses that qualify can complete their application through the SmartBiz website and may receive funding within seven days of completing their loan application.

  • Funding options: Commercial real estate loans, SBA-guaranteed working capital loans
  • Commercial real estate loans
    • $500,000 – $350,000
    • Terms up to 25 years
    • Interest rates ranging from 6.75%–9.99%
  • Debt refinance and working capital loans
    • $30,000 to $350,000
    • Terms up to 60 months
    • Interest rates ranging from 6.75% – 9.99%
  • Funding as fast as seven days after application is complete (but it may take longer)

Funding Circle
FundingCircle is one of the nation’s first peer-to-peer (P2P) business lending companies. It specializes in low interest-rate term loans for established businesses. Applications for the loans can take as little as 10 minutes if you have all the required financial documentation ready. Funding Circle is a signatory of the Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights which means that business owners can expect clear and transparent terms from Funding Circle.

  • Funding options: Term business loans
  • Loans from $25,000 – $500,000
  • Terms ranging from 6 to 60 months
  • Interest rates from 4.99%–27.79%
  • No prepayment penalties
  • Funding in five days or less

Fora Financial
If your business grosses at least $12,000 per month, and you need cash fast, Fora Financial could provide a viable loan solution for you. The company provides unsecured short-term loans with funding in as little as 72 hours. Business owners who are looking into these loans should read the fine print carefully. Fora offers partial discounts for early repayment. Early repayment discounts are not equivalent to the interest savings you would receive if you paid off a traditional loan early. This means that loans from Fora may be substantially more expensive than traditional loans if you pay the loan early.

  • Financing options: Unsecured short-term loans
  • $5,000-$500,000
  • Terms up to 15 months
  • Fixed simple interest with partial discounts for early repayment.
  • Funding in as little as 72 hours

LendingClub
Lending Club is a P2P lender that specializes in affordable term business loans for business owners that have fair credit (or better). Businesses must have been in business at least 12 months and have revenue in excess of $50,000 annually.

  • Financing options: unsecured term loans, secured term loans
  • Loans above $100,00 require a blanket lien on all business assets
  • Loans from $5,000–$300,000
  • Payback terms from 12 to 60 months
  • Interest rates ranging from 9.77% – 35.71%
  • Funding takes an average of 7 days

Headway Capital
Headway Capital is a lender that specializes in small business lines of credit with fixed simple interest rates. This means that Headway charges interest as soon as the funds are drawn, and businesses pay the funds back through weekly or monthly payments.

The Headway Line of Credit may be a good solution for businesses that cannot qualify for traditional credit lines, but need the flexibility that a line offers. To qualify for a Headway line of credit your business must have been operating for at least 12 months with at least $50,000 in annual revenue.

  • Financing options: Line of credit
  • Credit limits: Up to $50,000
  • Repayment periods: 12 to 24 months
  • Fixed simple interest (interest charged when you withdraw and does not compound over time).
  • Weekly or monthly repayments

BlueVine Capital
BlueVine Capital is a company that’s creating innovative working capital solutions for small businesses. They currently offer business lines of credit and invoice factoring options that allow businesses to only pay for financing when they need it. Business owners need a 600 credit score to qualify for a business line of credit and a 530 credit score to qualify for an invoice factoring option. Businesses also need at least $10,000 in monthly revenue to qualify for either option.

  • Financing options: Line of credit, invoice factoring
  • Line of credit
    • Weekly payments
    • $5,000-$5 million
    • Interest rates from 6.9%
  • Invoice factoring
    • $20,000- $5 million
    • Invoice due date must be less than 13 weeks
    • 85%-90% advance rates
  • Funding within 24 hours for first advance, and faster afterward

StreetShares
StreetShares is a newcomer in the P2P lending space. It specializes in moderate interest rates and fast lending. Military members and veterans are especially valued customers, and StreetShares makes sure to give veterans special treatment.

  • Financing options: Term loans, lines of credit, invoice factoring
  • Term loans
    • Three to 36 months
    • $2,000- $100,000 limits
    • Weekly repayments
    • No prepayment penalties
  • Line of Credit
    • $5,000- $100,000
    • Weekly repayments
    • Three to 36-month paybacks
    • No prepayment penalties
  • Invoice factoring (contract factoring)
    • Advance rates up to 90%
    • Monthly factor fees as low as 1%
  • Funding in as little as a few days

LEARN MORE: Types of small business loans

Small businesses operate in every industry, with revenues ranging from less than $100,000 per year to over $100 million per year. On top of that, business have varying levels of profitability and business credit quality. With such diverse business circumstances, it’s not surprising that there are dozens of business loan options.

These are the most common loans for businesses.

#1 Term loans aka short-term, unsecured, secured and equipment loans

Term loans are an umbrella category of business loans comprised of several different types of loans. In general, a term loan is repaid over a fixed period of time, usually by making even payments on a fixed schedule.

Here are the main types of term loans available to small business owners:

Short-term loans

What they are: Short-term business loans have payback periods ranging from three months to two years. Business owners make fixed payments on the loans until they are paid off.

How they work: After approving a loan, lenders deposit funds directly in a business’s bank account. Then, business owners make regular payments to pay off the loan.

General terms offered: Short-term loans often require daily or weekly payments. Many short-term loans have fixed simple interest rates. This means that you will pay the same amount of interest and fees whether you pay off the loan early or on time. The interest rates on short-term loans can be very high.

Most of the time, short-term loans are not secured by any collateral. However, there are important exceptions to this rule. For example, invoice financing (where invoices serve as collateral) can be set up as a short-term loan arrangement.

Speed: Online lenders specialize in short-term lending, and most can fund loans within 72 hours.

Who should use them: Business owners should be careful when taking out short-term loans. The daily payment schedules may make it difficult to maintain positive cash flow while the loan is being repaid. Short-term loans offer funding fast, but they aren’t a sustainable way to fund a business.

Unsecured term loans:

What they are: Unsecured term business loans are loans that are not backed by any underlying asset like your home. Unsecured business loans may require a personal guarantee, which is a promise to repay the loan regardless of business performance.

How they work: When funding on an unsecured term loan, a lender gives a business owner a lump sum of cash to be used for the business. The lender generally doesn’t restrict how the business uses the loan. In exchange for the upfront cash, the business commits to ongoing payments until the loan is repaid.

General terms offered: Unsecured business loans range from short-term loans (such as the loans explained above), to loans lasting up to several years. They may require business owners to make fixed daily, weekly or monthly payments. Except in the case of short-term loans, business owners will generally save money by paying off unsecured term loans early.

Speed: The time it takes to receive funds depends on the type of lender you work with. Online lenders offer funding in as little as three days, but larger lenders may take a week or more.

Who they are best for: Unsecured loans offer excellent protections for borrowers and are ideal to fund riskier ventures. If the business defaults on payments, the lender will have to go through proper collection channels before collecting any assets from the business owner. However, this protection comes at the cost of higher interest rates.

Secured term business loans

What they are: Secured term business loans are term loans that are directly secured by some collateral. That means if the business fails to pay its loan, the lender can immediately seize the underlying asset. Two in five (42%) business loans are secured by business assets (such as equipment, inventory, buildings or land), but an almost equal number (39%) are secured by personal assets, such as a personal vehicle, cash reserves or home equity, according to the Federal Reserve small business credit survey.

How they work: When business owners take on a secured loan, they receive an upfront sum of cash. The lender may limit how the business can use the cash (for example to purchase equipment). The business will make fixed monthly payments until the loan is paid off.

General terms offered: Most of the time, secured business loans have terms longer than two years. The interest rates on secured loans tend to be lower than rates on unsecured loans.

Speed: Like unsecured term loans, midterm loans tend to take several weeks to fund, but the time for funding will vary by lender.

Who should use them: Secured term loans are riskier for business owners since defaulting could lead to the loss of personal assets. However, they are a good choice for a stable business that has the cash flow to support the new loans.

Equipment loans

What they are: An equipment loan is a loan that’s backed by the equipment you purchase for the business. Business equipment would generally include heavy machinery, vehicles, computer servers, farm equipment and more.

How they work: In general, business owners put 10%-20% down on an equipment purchase, and finance the rest using the equipment loan. The business owner will make monthly payments on the loan (in most cases). If the business defaults on the loan, the lender may repossess the equipment and sell it to recoup its losses.

General terms offered: Down payment requirements generally range from 10% (on an SBA 504 loan) to 20% or more. Payback periods usually range from five to 10 years).

Speed: Business owners who complete an equipment loan application should expect to receive funding in under one week.

Who should use them: Businesses with good credit history are approved for equipment financing more than 90% of the time. If your company needs new equipment, an equipment loan is likely the best way to finance it.

#2 SBA-guaranteed business loans:

What they are: SBA-guaranteed business loans are loans that are partially guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. In most cases, the SBA will reimburse banks up to 85% of the loan value if a business owner defaults on the loan. The SBA limits the interest rate that can be charged on these loans, so SBA loans tend to have low-interest rates relative to other forms of business financing.

How they work: To qualify for an SBA loan, business owners must put up personal or business assets as collateral for the loan. In general, the collateral must cover at least 20%-25% of the loan value.

General terms offered: SBA loans are term loans with monthly payments. The interest rates on SBA loans vary by product, but SBA 7a loans (with terms less than seven years) have maximum interest rates ranging from 7%-9% depending on loan size.

Equipment and inventory loans have terms ranging from seven to ten years. Real estate loans may have terms up to 25 years.

Speed: Compared with other loans, SBA loans tend to have slow funding times. The fastest turnaround time is likely from SmartBiz, which claims it can fund loans as fast as seven days after the application is complete. However, the average time to funding for SBA loans tends to be much longer. Industry experts estimate that most SBA loans take at least a month to fund, and could be much longer.

Who should use them: With great interest rates and limited collateral requirements, an SBA loan makes a great choice for any business owner who has the time to wait for funding. These can be especially helpful for starting or expanding a business.

#3 Business lines of credit

Business lines of credit allow business owners to draw from a predetermined credit limit to meet business needs. After drawing down on the line of credit, business owners will make regular payments to pay it off. Business owners only pay for money they borrow, which makes lines of credit a cost-effective financing option for seasonal businesses.

These are a few lines of credit your business might consider:

Unsecured lines of credit

What they are: Unsecured lines of credit are business lines of credit that don’t require any specific form of collateral.

How they work: An unsecured line of credit allows business owners to draw on a line of credit to meet business needs. The business can continue to draw up to the credit limit. When the business repays the line, the credit limit is replenished.

General terms offered: Unsecured lines of credit have a drawdown period (where the business owner can draw from the credit limit). The drawdown period is usually a year long. After that, businesses must renew their line of credit or begin repayment. Generally, the business owner has to make minimum monthly payments during the drawdown period. The interest rates on unsecured lines of credit can be as low as 6.25%, but can be far higher.

Speed: Time to access funding will vary by lender. Large lenders may be able to approve your loan within a week and have funding to your business shortly thereafter.

Who should use them: Unsecured lines of credit are a low-cost, short-term financing solution for mature businesses. Business owners must have a plan to repay the credit line, or they may end up defaulting.

Asset-based lines of credit:

What they are: An asset-based line of credit is a line of credit that’s backed by an asset. The assets are usually outstanding invoices and equipment or real estate.

How they work: Some businesses have a long gap between when they produce work and when they receive payment for it. These businesses may need access to cash to bridge the gap between the time they spend money and when they receive payments. An asset-based line of credit allows businesses to draw on a line of credit that is secured by outstanding receivables and equipment. The business is free to draw on the line up to the credit limit. Once the business repays the loan, the credit limit is restored.

General terms offered: Most lenders will extend asset-based lines of credit for short terms (under a year). Having short terms on the line of credit gives the lender repeated opportunities to evaluate the strength of the line of credit. To qualify for an asset-based line of credit, you generally have to work in the B2B space, and have large receivables.

Speed: Establishing an asset-based line of credit generally takes a week or more.

Who should use them: Asset-based lines of credit are ideal for businesses with long collection cycles such as custom manufacturers and other businesses that sell on terms.

#4 CAPLines

What they are: CAPLines are SBA-guaranteed lines of credit designed to meet cyclical or short-term working capital needs. Businesses may need to show the expected costs of their projects or contracts to qualify for a CAPline.

How they work: Businesses apply for a CAPLine based on the projected costs of an expansion or larger product. When approved, a business can draw on the line up to the credit limit. When the business repays the credit line, the credit limit is restored.

General terms offered: Maturities on these lines of credit top out at 10 years. Currently CAPLines have interest rates ranging from 7%-9% APR.

Speed: Speed will vary by lender.

Who should use them: CAPLines are an appealing option for established businesses with short-term or seasonal borrowing needs.

Frequently asked questions

Lenders consider a variety of factors when underwriting business loans. More than nine in 10 start-ups (92%) rely on the owner’s personal credit score to obtain business financing, according to the Federal Reserve.

On top of business and personal credit, lenders also need to evaluate your business’s financial prospects during underwriting. Banks lean heavily on the information in your last two years of tax returns. “Banks need to see that you have revenue in excess of your expenses, or you’re not likely to be approved,” Dutta told MagnifyMoney. “Some business owners show losses year after year to minimize their taxes, but that means they won’t be able to get a loan when they need it.”

Start-up companies may need to submit a business plan and a detailed sales model to show how they will earn the revenues to pay back a loan. The plan will show the bank that you have a plan to fix problems should they arise.

The application process for business loans varies by lender.

Most online lenders have simple applications that take just minutes to complete. You’ll provide basic information about yourself and your company. On top of that, you’ll upload documentation to show the financial state of your company (for example, three months of bank statements or two years of tax returns).

Local banks, some of the biggest providers of loans to small business owners may have a more complicated lending process. It’s common for banks to require a detailed business plan with an application. Dutta recommended, “Before taking out a loan, you’ll want to get help from an industry-specific accountant who can help you make a business plan. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money if you’re taking on a big amount of debt. If you can’t afford [an industry-specific accountant], of course, get free help from SCORE. Just be sure to customize any templates you use to meet your needs.”

Following the 2008 financial crisis, small business lending took a dive, and it hasn’t fully recovered. Finding business funding remains a challenge for many business owners.

Small businesses tend to have the hardest time getting financing. In 2015, just 54% of businesses with less than $100,000 in annual revenue were approved for loans. By comparison, businesses earning between $1 million – $10 million in annual revenue saw an approval rate of 81%.

Approval rates for business funding also depend on your firm’s credit quality and where you apply. Firms with good credit (low credit risk) that applied at small banks were approved for business loans 78% of the time in 2016. Firms with medium or high credit risks had the best odds of being approved by an online lender. However, even with online lenders, just 45% of high-risk businesses managed to gain approval.

As of 2014, the average business owner who needed a loan, spent 33 hours looking for financing options, but the actual time to get a funding depends on the loan you’re considering. For example, SBA-guaranteed loans take up to several months to underwrite. On the other hand, online lenders in the business space can often underwrite and fund loans in a matter of days.

The cost of a loan varies based on the type of loan, the collateral required and who issued the loan. For example, loans from prominent online lender OnDeck had an average interest rate of 42.5% annualized, but borrowers often faced even worse interest rates when they took on financing from online lenders.

On the other hand, some forms of business financing can be very cost effective. Interest rates on most SBA loans are under 10% APR, and some lenders boast rates as low as 4.99% on fixed-term loans.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Reviews

SoFi Money Checking Account Review

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

SoFi Money review
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SoFi, the financial institution known for low rates and low fees on student loans and mortgages, is making a foray into consumer checking accounts. SoFi Money™, SoFi’s forthcoming checking account, will offer a high-yield checking account with no account fees.

The new account isn’t yet available to the public, so you’ll have to join a waitlist if you want to sign up.

In the meantime, we looked at every aspect of SoFi’s new checking account offering to see how it stacks up to competitors.

What sets Money apart from the competition is that SoFi clearly wants this account to be a one-stop shop for both savings and checking. Basically, the SoFi Money account will offer an interest rate that’s much higher than the rate on most checking accounts. This means you can keep your savings in your checking account rather than a savings account. This sounds convenient, but it’s not always the best idea.

Some people may manage to save more money when they separate their money into a different account, even if the account doesn’t have a great interest rate. And you can certainly find savings accounts with higher yields than the 0.92% APY SoFi Money is offering.

We dug into the details that are available at this time to see who should consider replacing their current checking account with SoFi Money.

SoFi Money vs Ally and Capital One 360

The SoFi Money account offers an excellent blend of low fees and high interest rates, but it won’t be perfect for everyone. We’re highlighting a few accounts that shine where the SoFi Money account is a bit weaker.

“I see SoFi Money’s biggest competition being from Ally and Capital One. Both offer free online interest checking accounts with lots of perks,” said Ken Tumin, editor of DepositAccounts.com, another LendingTree-owned site.

“Their checking account rates may be a little lower than SoFi’s checking account for most balances, but they also offer savings and money market accounts which offer much higher interest rates. Savings and money market rates have risen much more than checking account rates since the Fed began raising interest rates.”

Bank

APY (Checking)

APY (savings)

0.92%

N/A

Pros:

  • No monthly fee
  • No overdraft fees
  • High APY on checking
  • 6 monthly ATM reimbursements include international ATMs

Cons:

  • No savings accounts
  • No free ATM network
  • 1% foreign transaction fee when you use your Visa® Debit Card


0.20% on account balances up to $49,999.99.



0.75% on account balances from $50,000 to $99,999.99.




1% on account balances of $100,000 or more.

1.00%

Pros:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Overdraft line of credit available (opt-in only)
  • Free Capital One® and Allpoint® ATM use
  • Instant transfer between Capital One checking and savings

Cons:

  • Low APY on checking
  • No ATM reimbursement
  • $9 NSF fee
  • $35 overdraft fee per item (only if opted into “Next Day Grace”)


0.10% on account balances up to $14,999.99.



0.60% on account balances of $15,000 or more.

1.45%

Pros:

  • Up to $10 ATM reimbursement
  • Free use of Allpoint® ATMs
  • High-yield savings
  • Instant transfers between checking and savings (including free transfers to protect against overdrafts)

Cons:

  • $25 overdraft fee (one per item)
  • Up to 1% foreign transaction fees
  • ATM reimbursement only available in the United States

What’s exciting about the SoFi Money account

No account fees. This will be a huge benefit to people who tend to keep low balances or live paycheck to paycheck, as fee-free accounts are few and far between among traditional big banks these days. With SoFi Money, you won’t pay a monthly maintenance fee and you won’t have to worry about paying non-sufficient funds fee (NSF) or overdraft fees either. You’ll also get free checks, free automatic bill pay and free mobile funds transfers. Very few banks offer this level of “fee free,” and those that do often offer paltry interest rates.

High yield without complicated account requirements. Some high-yield checking accounts require account holders to maintain minimum balances, use their debit card a certain number of times or set up direct deposit. SoFi has no such requirements. The interest rate on the account is currently 0.92% APY, and it is a variable interest rate that is subject to change. In a rising rate environment, you could easily see that rate go up over time, as many other banks have been raising their rates in response to the rising federal funds rate.

Up to $1.5 million in FDIC insurance. One of the unique features of the SoFi Money account is in its design. Money kept in the SoFi Money account is actually “swept” into one of six program banks. All six banks give account holders up to $250,000 in FDIC insurance, so SoFi Money™ holders get up to $1.5 million in total FDIC insurance. While not many people will need that much insurance, it is a notable feature.

ATM fee reimbursement. SoFi doesn’t charge any ATM fees, but SoFi also isn’t part of an ATM network. That means other banks may charge you to make a withdrawal from your SoFi Money™ that bank’s ATM. To help soften that blow, SoFi says it will reimburse account holders for up to six ATM fees per month, even on international ATMs. After that, you have to pay for other bank’s ATM fees out of your own pocket. What’s interesting with this perk is that there’s no dollar amount tied to that reimbursement. They say they’ll reimburse you for six ATM fees, no matter what those fees add up to. In contrast, other banks may reimburse for ATM fees up to a set dollar limit, like $10 at Ally.

Membership with SoFi. Opening a SoFi Money account makes you a member of SoFi. SoFi isn’t an exclusive club, but it provides its members with unique services like career coaching, local networking events and an entrepreneurship accelerator. If you’re looking to grow in your career, spruce up your resume, network with local career-minded individuals or just put a face with your bank, SoFi provides events that can help you out.

Digital first banking. Most people will interact with their SoFi Money account through the digital app. The app will include mobile banking features such as bill pay, photo check deposit, and mobile cash transfers. Although SoFi promises a digital-first experience, it remains to be seen if they can deliver. SoFi had a rocky update to its current app at the end of 2017, but has resolved the issues. Hopefully, the addition of SoFi Money to the SoFi app goes smoothly.

No account minimums. You do not need to maintain any particular balance to avoid fees or to earn interest.

Free checks. Plenty of SoFi Money account holders will forgo physical checks altogether, but those that need them can request checks for free.

SoFi Money features that aren’t so great

There isn’t much not to like about SoFi Money™, to be honest. But there are a couple of areas where we think other banks do it better. Although, considering the few fees SoFi charges, plus the relatively high APY it offers, some of these shortcomings might be fine to overlook, depending on how you use your account.

Six free ATM uses per month: SoFi isn’t part of a network of ATMs, which means that account holders will get hit with other banks ATM fees every time they visit an ATM. SoFi will refund up to six ATM fees every month as long as the ATM has a Visa, Plus or NYCE logo. This is a decent benefit since SoFi will even refund fees from international ATMs.

However, some banks including Axos Bank (domestic ATMs only), the Summit account at Aspiration Bank, Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking® account and Fidelity® Cash Management Account offer unlimited refunds on other banks ATMs (plus have a network of ATMs).

Interest rates: The SoFi Money account currently has a 0.92% APY yield. This rate is far higher than most checking account rates, but you can find checking accounts with higher interest rates (particularly if you have less than $20,000 in your account) elsewhere. However, finding high-yield checking accounts with as few eligibility requirements and fees will be tough. SoFi still has an edge there.

1% foreign transaction fee: Like most checking accounts, SoFi charges a 1% foreign transaction fee whenever you use your debit card to make a purchase in a foreign currency. Although this is common, some banks waive this fee.

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What’s in the fine print?

  • 1% foreign transaction fee. Whenever you use your SoFi Money Visa® Debit Card to pay for something in a foreign currency, you’ll pay a 1% fee to have the transaction converted to U.S. dollars. This is even true when you use the card to withdraw cash from an international ATM. This is a standard rate that few banks waive.
  • Standard fees for ingoing and outgoing wire transfers (actual fees not yet announced).
  • To open up a SoFi Money account, you must be 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • ATM fee refunds capped to six refunds per month. With a cap this high, most people won’t run into charges, but it could be a limiting factor for some people.

Accounts with better interest rates

Smaller banks that have “reward” checking accounts offer superior interest rates to the rates offered by SoFi. These banks limit their high interest rates to a subset of balances. They also require account holders to meet certain account usage requirements (such as debit card use minimums or direct deposits). Despite these requirements, these checking accounts may be superior savings vehicles.

For example, people with low checking account balances should consider an account at America’s Credit Union rather than SoFi. America’s Credit Union offers a 5.00% APY on balances up to $1,000. (After that, rates drop to .10% on balances between $1,000.01 and $15,000 and .25% on balances over $15,000.01). This account doesn’t have any monthly service fee, but it doesn’t offer any ATM refunds. Plus, earning the high interest rate requires you to meet several standards including 10 monthly uses of the debit card, at least $15,000 in loans or deposits with ACU, and at least $500 in direct deposits monthly.

Still, with a massive 5% APY on the first $1,000, many people can earn more interest by checking with America’s Credit Union. You can learn more about the details, requirements and limitations of America’s Credit Union here.

People with larger account balances (up to $20,000) may prefer holding their account at Consumers Credit Union. This account has no monthly service fees, unlimited ATM reimbursement and high-yield accounts. You’ll earn 3.09% APY on balances up to $10,000, 3.59% APY on balances up to $15,000 and 4.59% APY on balances up to $20,000.

Consumers Credit Union requires account holders to meet four requirements to earn interest. The requirements include making 12 point-of-sale debit purchases (without using a PIN number), having a direct deposit or bill pay, signing onto the online banking system once per month and signing up for eStatements. The requirements may be annoying, but the interest is shockingly high. Learn more about the account here.

Accounts that reimburse all ATM fees worldwide

One of the drawbacks to the SoFi Money account is the limit of six ATM fee reimbursements per month. If you’re a heavy ATM user (especially while abroad), it’s worth noting that some accounts offer unlimited ATM fee reimbursement even on international ATMs.

The Charles Schwab High Yield Checking account is probably the best example of this feature. Not only will you receive unlimited ATM reimbursements, you’ll also avoid paying any foreign transaction fees. However, this account has an APY of 0.15% compared with SoFi’s 0.92% APY.

Similarly, the Summit account at Aspiration Bank has unlimited reimbursement on ATMs worldwide. This account also offers a 1.00% APY on accounts with balances over $2,500 (.25% APY on smaller balances). However, you will still pay a 1.1% foreign transaction fee, and Aspiration charges a number of other fees, including not-sufficient funds fees.

Accounts with no foreign transaction fees

The 1% foreign transaction fee on SoFi Money accounts isn’t an onerous fee, but some major banks waive this fee. Once again, the Charles Schwab High Yield Checking account waives all foreign transaction fees. It also offers unlimited reimbursements on ATM fees worldwide. This is likely the premier account for international travelers, but it offers a paltry .15% APY.

Capital One 360 also waives all foreign transaction fees on its checking accounts. However, these accounts carry a number of other fees and a lower interest rate than the SoFi Money account. Plus, Capital One won’t reimburse ATM fees charged by other banks.

Final take on SoFi Money

SoFi Money is a checking account that will make a lot of sense for a lot of people. It’s one of the simplest accounts, and it offers unique benefits. The blend of low fees and higher interest rates should appeal to plenty of people. It’s an account that beats out most checking accounts from large banks, and it beats out accounts from most smaller banks, too (especially on the low-fee front).

If SoFi manages to implement the account without messing up its app, this account will quickly become a favorite account among people seeking accounts that don’t charge unnecessary fees.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Best of

RANKED: The Best Tax Software of 2018

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

If you’re like most Americans, you dread filing your taxes. You have to track down the right forms, deal with the IRS and try to remember all your deductions and credits. That’s why so many people turn to online tax software to help file taxes. Great tax software simplifies the filing process without draining your wallet. But choosing the right software can be as much work as filing your taxes.

To help you choose the right software, we’ve tested 10 of the leading online tax software packages.

We’ve ranked each software on the following criteria: usability, helpfulness of support articles, availability of audit support and accessibility of tax and technical support. Then, we compared these criteria to the price to determine which software package is best for your situation.

Which tax software fits your needs? Find out below.

Best tax software of 2018

Best bargain for tax software: H&R Block More Zero

Of the 10 tax software packages we reviewed, only two allow all users to file state and federal taxes for free (Credit Karma Tax and DIY Tax). Unfortunately, Credit Karma suffers from bugs and inadequate technical support, and DIY Tax suffers on usability. This year’s best bargains offer the most functionality for the lowest price.

H&R Block More Zero H&R Block More Zero offers the best free software for the most users in 2018. Not only can you file free online, you can also use the H&R Block Tax Prep app to complete your filing.

Users who qualify for the More Zero package will find an easy-to-use Q+A interface, robust knowledge articles and free technical support alongside free state and federal filing. The More Zero software allows users to import their W-2 and 1099-INT forms. Plus, you can deduct student loan interest, property and real estate taxes and mortgage interest. On top of these deductions, you’ll be free to claim most major credits including the Earned Income Tax Credit, The Child Tax Credit and Dependent Care Credits. Among the top tax filing services, this is the most expansive free option available.

Unfortunately, not all users will qualify for H&R Block’s More Zero offer. If you need to declare investment income, self-employment income or you need to itemize beyond home ownership, H&R Block will charge you.

Runner-up: FreeTaxUSA

FreeTaxUSA offers free federal tax filing, but state filing costs an additional $12.95 for all users. FreeTaxUSA offers a question-and-answer interface, and in-software calculators that make it easy enough for beginners to file their taxes. FreeTaxUSA supports most major forms, so even people with rental properties, self-employment income or credits to claim get the same prices.

FreeTaxUSA doesn’t have as many import options, but it does allow you to import your previous returns (even from a competitor) to make comparisons easier. Plus, all users get email support for tax questions and technical support. For people who don’t qualify for H&R Block’s More Zero offer, FreeTaxUSA offers a bargain-priced alternative.

Best for Simple Filing: TurboTax Absolute Zero

Simple filers are W-2 employees who claim the standard deduction. You don’t earn money on the side, and your only other income comes from bank interest or dividends. You typically file as single or married filing jointly, and you want filing your taxes to take as little time as possible.

TurboTax Absolute Zero If you earn less than $100,000, and you don’t need to itemize your taxes, TurboTax Absolute Zero is likely the best software. You can use the highly-rated TurboTax app to snap pictures of your W-2 and file your taxes from your home. The Absolute Zero service supports student loan interest deduction, the saver’s tax credit and child-related tax credits.

Runner-up: H&R Block More Zero

H&R Block’s More Zero offers free state and federal filing for qualified users. Since H&R Block doesn’t limit their More Zero package to people earning less than $100,000, this is a great software for simple filers with higher incomes. With More Zero, you can claim all the deductions and credits that TurboTax offers, plus you can itemize your homeownership expenses.

The H&R Block user experience isn’t quite as easy to navigate as TurboTax’s (and it’s app isn’t as highly rated), but it is still an excellent choice for many filers.

Best for Maximizing Deductions and Credits: TaxSlayer Classic

Charitably-inclined people, most homeowners, parents who pay for child care, and people who qualify for the earned income tax credit may want to maximize deductions and credits.

TaxSlayer Classic TaxSlayer Classic offers federal filing for $17 and state filing for $22. The software offers a clean interface with a straightforward interview style for filing. For maximizing deductions and credits, you’re not likely to find a better software for the price. TaxSlayer gives you access to technical support, but you need to upgrade to ask tax-related questions.

Runner-up: FreeTaxUSA Free

FreeTaxUSA uses an interview-style interface to help users maximize deductions and credits. Unlike most software packages, FreeTaxUSA doesn’t force you to upgrade to itemize deductions or search for all major credits. You will pay nothing for federal filing and $12.95 per state. The interface is clean, and the interview questions aren’t stuffed with jargon. Even first-time filers should feel comfortable using the software.

FreeTaxUSA doesn’t have the same visual appeal or super-simple navigation of top competitors, but it offers a decent user experience at a fraction of the price of some of the top competitors.

Easiest for New Filers: H&R Block More Zero

Filing taxes for the first time can be intimidating, but a great tax software can put new filers at ease. When making recommendations for new filers, we prioritized the simplicity of the user interface and easy access to tax professionals.

H&R Block More Zero Many new filers will qualify for H&R Block’s More Zero free federal and state filing. H&R Block offers an easy-to-use interface that will make sense for first-time filers, plus it has lots of easy to understand articles and help buttons.

If you’re not feeling confident that you completed your taxes correctly, you can opt for the $49.99 Tax Pro Review. The certified tax professionals can review your return and offer expert guidance to be sure it’s done properly.

Runner-up: Credit Karma Tax

New filers who need to itemize their taxes, have self-employment income, capital gains or rental income won’t qualify for H&R Block More Zero. For these categories, Credit Karma Tax offers a free alternative for new filers. If you run into issues using Credit Karma Tax, you can chat with a live tax product professional. Plus, qualified filers can get an interest-free federal tax refund advance loan of up to $1,000 using Credit Karma’s Early Bird Advance.

Unfortunately, this recommendation has to come with a warning. Credit Karma has struggled with tech-related issues this year, and its customer service is overburdened. If you run into issues, you may want to consider an alternative option.

Best Audit Protection: FreeTaxUSA Deluxe

The IRS has the right to audit anyone, but people who have tax profiles that differ from the norm are more likely to get audited. No tax software (or accountant) can prevent you from getting audited, but some services will give you help during an audit. The best audit assistance from a tax software includes personal help from a tax specialist or an accountant. When you purchase audit assistance, you can expect that a tax specialist will help you understand IRS instructions if you get audited. They will also help you write responses to IRS notifications, and develop a plan to prepare for the audit.

FreeTaxUSA Deluxe FreeTaxUSA Deluxe costs $6.99 for the software, and an additional $0 for federal filing and $12.95 for state filing. The Deluxe upgrade doesn’t change the underlying software, but Deluxe users get an audit assistance guarantee. If you’re audited you’ll get personal assistance from a tax professional. The tax professional will help you understand IRS directions, and help you prepare for your audit. While the software isn’t quite as easy to use as major filing services (like H&R Block or TurboTax), the audit assistance is the lowest price on the market.

Runner-up: TaxSlayer Premium

TaxSlayer Premium uses an interview style and info bubbles to guide users through their returns. In addition to the excellent user experience, TaxSlayer Premium (and Self-Employed) offer audit assistance. If the IRS audits you, a trained tax professionals will help you prepare for the audit, and understand what the IRS needs from you. TaxSlayer Premium costs $35 for federal filing and $22 for state filing. TaxSlayer costs more than FreeTaxUSA, but it offers a slightly better user experience.

Best for Investors: H&R Block Premium – Online Version

If you buy and sell stocks, bonds, or options outside of your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, you need a tax software that can handle all your information. The best tax software for investors allows you to connect directly to your brokerage accounts. It should easily differentiate between dividend income, and short and long term capital gains.

H&R Block Premium H&R Block Premium online software costs $54.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state filing. Although this is more expensive than other software services, the price is justified. H&R Block connects directly to your brokerage account to calculate the tax you owe. Connecting to your brokerage not only saves you time (a must if you’re an active trader), it can save you money too. H&R Block calculates your cost basis for you. This makes it possible for the software to accurately calculate gains and losses and differentiate between short and long term capital gains. H&R Block offers an easy way for investors to accurately calculate what they owe (and not pay a penny too much).

Runner-up: TurboTax Premier

TurboTax offers an exceptionally strong user experience for stock market investors who need to report stock sales, mutual fund sales or deal with Employee Stock Purchase Plans. TurboTax connects to thousands of brokerages, and they make it easy to accurately report your income. Plus, they calculate your cost basis in a stock which can minimize your taxes. TurboTax Premier online software costs $59.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state filing. It’s a little bit more expensive than H&R Block, but it also offers a slightly better experience for investors.

Best for real estate investors: TurboTax Premier

Taxes for real estate investors can be confusing. Real estate investors can deduct tons of expenses, and they need a great software to help them calculate their deductions. In particular, a great tax software needs to help you depreciate your property, find and deduct real estate expenses and calculate amortization expenses.

To determine the best software, we prioritized features like helpful support articles, intuitive depreciation and amortization calculators and access to expert tax support.

TurboTax Premier TurboTax Premier costs $59.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state. TurboTax has robust calculators and easy to understand articles that help users minimize their taxes. The step-by-step instructions make TurboTax a top choice for both new and experienced real estate investors. On top of that, QuickBooks users can upload their expenses directly to TurboTax, and TurboTax will do the hardest work for you.

Runner-up: TaxSlayer Premium

TaxSlayer Premium costs $35 for federal filing and $22 for state filing. The real estate portion of TaxSlayer has real estate calculators that are still simple enough for most real estate investors. If you get confused, or you’re not sure how to classify an expense, you can speak to a tax specialist who can guide you to the right decisions.

TaxSlayer doesn’t allow you to import any real estate forms, and the step-by-step guidance isn’t as robust as TurboTax’s. However, TaxSlayer costs 40 percent less than TurboTax and comes with audit assistance. For the right real estate investor, TaxSlayer could be a bargain.

Best for the self-employed: TaxSlayer Classic or Self-Employed

Are you a freelancer or contractor? If so, you may need help deducting many business-related expenses. This means that taxes can get messy in a hurry. The best tax software for self-employed people makes it easy to claim business deductions. It will also offer robust explanations that will help you understand amortizing equipment expenses and whether you qualify for a home-office deduction.

TaxSlayer Classic TaxSlayer Classic uses a simple interview filing system that makes it easy for the self-employed to declare their income and minimize deductions. TaxSlayer Classic supports all forms needed to minimize deductions. At a cost of just $17 for federal filing and $22 for state filing, TaxSlayer offers a top software experience at a reasonable price. If you prefer to get help from a professional (and get audit assistance), you can upgrade to TaxSlayer Self-Employed for $55 (federal and state filing included).

Runner-up: TurboTax Self-Employed

TurboTax makes it easy for those who are self-employed to find deductible expenses using its interview-style interface. It offers dozens of articles that can help self-employed folks understand their taxes better. Self-employed filers who use QuickBooks for their bookkeeping can effortlessly import their expenses. Once you import your data from QuickBooks, TurboTax does the work of categorizing expenses, and deducting them.

TurboTax Self-Employed is one of the most expensive tax software options online; it costs $89.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state filing. It comes with a complimentary one-year subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed accounting software (offer not valid if you’re a QuickBooks subscriber already on a payment plan).

Best for getting your return fast: Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma Tax is offering an “Early Bird Advance” of up to $1,000 for qualified filers. The advance comes on a prepaid debit card (American Express Serve® Card).

Credit Karma Tax Technically, the advance is an interest-free loan issued through Credit Karma’s bank partner, MetaBank. If you accept the advance, the IRS will send your full refund to MetaBank. MetaBank will repay the loan using the refund, then send the remainder to you.

Credit Karma Tax is a completely free filing service, and it has a decent user interface. Unfortunately, it has had several technical glitches this year, and Credit Karma has struggled to respond in a timely manner. If you run into trouble, you may want to try a different filing service.

Runner-up: TurboTax Self-Employed

TurboTax makes it easy for those who are self-employed to find deductible expenses using its interview-style interface. It offers dozens of articles that can help self-employed folks understand their taxes better. Self-employed filers who use QuickBooks for their bookkeeping can effortlessly import their expenses. Once you import your data from QuickBooks, TurboTax does the work of categorizing expenses, and deducting them.

TurboTax Self-Employed is one of the most expensive tax software options online; it costs $89.99 for federal filing and $36.99 for state filing. It comes with a complimentary one-year subscription to QuickBooks Self-Employed accounting software (offer not valid if you’re a QuickBooks subscriber already on a payment plan).

Best for small businesses: TurboTax Business

Sole proprietors and single-member LLCs can also use tax software for self-employed filers. As long as the software supports a Schedule C, it will work for your small business needs.

If you’re part of a partnership, a corporation or a multi-member LLC, then you need more than the standard tax software that we reviewed above.

Corporations need software that supports Form 1120. S Corporations (with more than one member) need tax software that supports Form 1120S. Partnerships and multi-member LLCs need software that supports Form 1065.

If you need business tax software, consider one of these options.

TurboTax Business

Total cost:

  • $159.99 for federal software (up to five federal e-files)
  • $49.99 per state software
  • $19.99 per state e-filing fee.

TurboTax Business offers the same interview-style interface that consumers love, but it offers increased functionality. Small-business owners can use it to create unlimited W-2 forms and 1099-MISC forms.

H&R Block Premium and Business

Total Cost:

  • $79.95 for federal software (up to five federal e-files)
  • $39.95 per state (first state free)
  • $19.95 per state filing.

H&R Block offers an excellent interview-style user interface with increased functionality such as creating employee forms. On top of this, you can chat with a live tax expert after you purchase the software. This software supports the major forms for businesses, estate and trusts and nonprofit organizations.

TaxAct for Small Businesses

Total costs:

  • $97 State and Federal Bundle
  • $60 Federal filing only

TaxAct has a slightly more stripped-down user interface than H&R Block or TurboTax, but business owners can easily complete everything they need to do. TaxAct comes with unlimited tax support from a professional when you purchase the product.

Tax Software Pricing, Plans, and Insights

1040.com

1040.com - Tax Software Pricing According to 1040.com, tax filing should be smart and simple. 1040.com is on point by offering free live chat and email-based technical support. They also have support articles that are approachable and informative. Simple filers will have an easy time using 1040.com. Plus if you qualify for a 1040EZ (meaning you have W-2 income and no dependents and you don’t need to itemize), you can get completely free filing.

Unfortunately, people with more complex filing needs will find 1040.com unusable. It doesn’t have built-in calculators that real estate investors or stock market investors need to file accurately. The higher-priced levels don’t offer the functionality to justify the price.

If you qualify for the free edition of 1040.com, consider using it, but other filers will need to walk away.

 

Free$24.95$44.95
Price$0 Federal
$0 Free
$24.95 Federal
$19.95 State
$44.95 Federal
$24.95 State
Best For1040EZ (No Dependents, income under $100,000)Itemizers, people with children, stock market investorsSelf-employed, real estate investors, people with income

Superlatives: None

Credit Karma Tax

Credit Karma Tax Credit Karma Tax offers free federal and state filing for all users. Even though Credit Karma is completely free, it supports almost all major forms, so you can be confident that it has what you need.

Credit Karma’s refund dashboard shows you how income, deductions and credits influence your tax refund. In addition to the helpful refund tracker, Credit Karma offers an Early-Bird Advance. Early filers may qualify for an interest free loan of $500, $750 or $1,000 on a Serve card. Right now, Credit Karma is the only free online filing service that offers refund advances. Credit Karma also offers 24/7 live chat support from tax specialists.

As far as free filing services go, Credit Karma Tax looks great on paper. Even though it did away with the interview-style navigation, it still has a decent user interface. Unfortunately, during testing, we found a few bad gateways, and the default settings “hide” certain forms from users which makes navigation difficult. Credit Karma Tax doesn’t allow users to import forms (other than prior year tax returns and W-2 forms), which can be a pitfall for active traders and real estate professionals.

Adding to those negatives, Credit Karma seems to struggle with their tech support. Users can request tech support via email, but Credit Karma has posted that response time may be delayed due to the high volume of help requests.

Superlatives: Best for getting your refund fast, runner-up easiest for new filers

DIY Tax

DIY Tax DIY Tax offers 100% free federal and state filing for everyone. The software is accurate, and it allows you to import your prior year’s taxes for your reference.

However, DIY Tax has a cluttered user interface. With so much jammed on every page, you might miss something important while filing. Real estate investors and small business owners need to be careful with this platform, since the depreciation and amortization calculators can be confusing. The software offers free technical support via live chat or email, but they push Liberty Tax Service offices for tax support (Liberty Tax is their parent company). As you file, you will see ads for their offices in the software. Often, these ads include a coupon for an office visit. Remember, filing in a Liberty Tax office isn’t free.

Superlatives: None

eSmart Tax

eSmart Tax eSmart Tax and DIY Tax are the same software package. However, you have to pay for eSmart Tax. Why would you pay? The Deluxe and Premium packages offer unlimited phone or email support from tax specialists, which can prove helpful. But in most cases, eSmart Tax isn’t a great option.

 

FreeBasicDeluxePremium
Price$0 Federal $29.99 State$24.95 Federal
$35.95 State
$38.95 Federal
$35.95 State
$49.95 Federal
$35.95 State
Best For1040EZHomeowners, people with dependents, sole proprietors, freelancers without inventory and with less than $5,000 in expensesStock market investors with dividend income, self-employed people with home office deductions or inventory expensesStock market investors with capital gains or losses, real estate investors, people who sold a home in the previous years

Superlatives: None

FreeTaxUSA

FreeTaxUSA Deluxe FreeTaxUSA isn’t actually free, but it’s one of the best bargains in the tax software market. The software guides users through an interview process that makes filing easy. The interface is clean, so you don’t have to worry about missing something important. FreeTaxUSA makes it easy to import your tax return from a competitor, so you can review year-to-year changes in your taxes. You can also chat with tax and technical specialists if you run into issues. This kind of support makes FreeTaxUSA stand out among other bargain priced software services.

FreeTaxUSA offers two pricing tiers. At either level, you’ll pay at least $12.95 for state filing, and you can upgrade to a Deluxe software package for an additional $6.99. The Deluxe upgrade gives you priority support (meaning you get to cut in line if you need tax help). Upgrading also gives you access to a tax specialist if you’re audited.

 

FreeDeluxe
Price$0 Software fee
$0 Federal
$12.95 State
$6.99 Software fee
$0 Federal
$12.95 State
Best ForAll major schedules supportedAnyone who wants audit support

Superlatives: Best Audit Protection, best bargain for self-employed workers

H&R Block Online

H&R Block H&R Block is one of the biggest names in tax software for good reason. People with complex tax returns will love the value that H&R Block offers. H&R Block offers unlimited technical support to all filers, and phone and chat tax support for those who pay. H&R Block’s More Zero option is one of the most inclusive free filing options on the market. Homeowners, parents, and savers with W-2 income can maximize their refund using the free option.

H&R Block offers easy navigation, helpful interview questions, and robust articles that can help you untangle even the most complex filing situation. You can also import information from your brokerage account which makes filing capital gains taxes a snap. If you run into issues, you can either ask a tax professional, or you can upgrade to the $44.99-$89.99 Tax Pro Review. With a Tax Pro Review, an H&R Block Tax Professional will review your return before you file, and fix any errors.

The only disappointment is that H&R Block online filing customers do not get a guarantee of audit assistance. To get audit assistance from H&R Block you must purchase a desktop software or visit one of the offices.

H&R Block’s software isn’t quite as easy to use as TurboTax, but it’s a bit less expensive. In particular, freelancers and self-employed people with basic expenses will see huge value since they can purchase the Premium edition.

As an added bonus, you can get up to a 5% boost on your refund if you choose to have your refund loaded to an Amazon gift card.

 

More ZeroDeluxePremiumSelf-Employed
Price$0 Federal
$0 State
$49.99 Tax Pro Review
$34.99 Federal
$36.99 State
$79.99 Tax Pro Review
$54.99 Federal
$36.99 State
$89.99 Tax Pro Review
$74.99 Federal
$36.99 State
$89.99 Tax Pro Review
Best ForHomeowners, parents, people with W-2 incomeStock market investors dividend income only, self-employed with basic expenses, other itemizersReal estate investors, self-employed with less than $5000 in expenses and no inventory, stock market investors with capital gainsSelf-employed people, Uber drivers

Superlatives: Best bargain, easiest for new filers, best for investors, runner-up best for simple filing

OLT.com

OLT.com OLT.com offers bargain basement pricing, and it supports all major filing situations. Unfortunately, the low price shows in the interface. It’s cluttered, difficult to navigate and doesn’t allow many imports. OLT.com has a large volume of support articles, but it stuffs the articles with confusing tax-jargon.

The one bright spot for this software is the $7.95 Premium upgrade that brings audit support and tax help from a professional. Even with this value, we don’t recommend OLT.com for most situations. This year, you can find a better software at lower prices.

 

FreePremium
Price$0 Federal
$9.95 State
$7.95 Federal
$7.95 State
Best ForAll major schedules supportedAnyone who wants audit support

Superlatives: None

TaxAct

TaxAct TaxAct uses a question-and-answer style to guide you through your taxes. It offers helpful articles, and you can receive phone and email support from tax and technical professionals. If you want audit assistance from TaxAct, you must upgrade to the expensive Premium level.

If you’re a stock market investor, you can use TaxAct’s stock market assistant to help you minimize your capital gains taxes. This feature becomes available at the self-employed level. It’s a helpful tool, but not as good as connecting directly to your brokerage accounts.

For the most part, TaxAct simplifies tax filing, but it costs more than it should. TaxAct costs nearly as much as industry leaders H&R Block and TurboTax, but it does not provide the same value.

 

FreePlusSelf-EmployedPremium
Price$0 Federal
$0 State
$29.95 Federal
$37 State
$44.95 Federal
$37 State
$59.95 Federal
$37 State
Best For1040EZ, 1040AItemizers, stock market investors with only dividend income, real estate investorsSelf-employed, stock market investors with capital gains and lossesPeople seeking audit defense

Superlatives: None

TaxSlayer

TaxSlayer TaxSlayer has an incredible user interface and helpful support articles. When it comes to itemizing deductions or finding credits, it is one of the easiest to use tax software packages on the market. In addition to a great software experience, TaxSlayer also premiered refundNOW in 2018. Qualified filers can get an interest-free advance of up to $1000 from TaxSlayer’s partner bank, River City Bank. The tax refund comes either via a prepaid debit card or a direct deposit.

Unlike most tax software, TaxSlayer supports all forms on its second-tier Classic level. If you’re a real estate investor or a self-employed worker, this means that you can complete your return at a low price. Their Premium and Self-Employed levels gives you access to live chat support, audit protections and help from tax professionals.

When you’re comparing prices at TaxSlayer note that Classic, Premium and Self-Employed offer the same software but have different support features.. The Classic level doesn’t include help from tax professionals or audit assistance, which are included with Premium or Self-Employed levels. Premium and Self-Employed are virtually identical except for their pricing. The Self-Employed option is $2 cheaper if you have to file both state and federal taxes, but Premium is $20 cheaper if you only need to file federal taxes.

 

Simply FreeClassicPremiumSelf-Employed
Price$0 Federal
$0 First State ($22 each additional)
$17 Federal
$22 State
$35 Federal
$22 State
$55 (Federal and State included)
Best For1040EZAll others (itemizers, stock market investors, real estate investors, self-employed, etc.)People who want audit assistance or help from a tax professional and DO NOT need to file a state returnPeople who want audit assistance or help from a tax professional and MUST file a state return

Superlatives: Best for maximizing deductions and credits, best for self-employed, runner-up best audit protection, runner-up best for real estate investors, runner-up best for getting your refund fast

TurboTax

TurboTax If you’re looking for the Cadillac of tax software, TurboTax again takes the prize. Their interface is easy to navigate, and it offers superior usability for real estate investors, self-employed workers and stock market investors. Paying customers who get stuck can get help from technical professionals. TurboTax takes their support seriously. With your permission, support staff can “draw” on your screen to guide you through tough situations. However, technical support isn’t tax support. If you need help from a tax professional, you have to upgrade to the overpriced $149.99 TurboTax Live option. This gives you on-demand support from a tax professional, and a tax pro will review your taxes before you file.

1040EZ filers get to use TurboTax Absolute Zero for free, but all other filers will pay a far higher price. If you’re just looking to itemize your taxes, TurboTax isn’t worth the price, but active traders, real estate investors and self-employed people may find that the price is worth it.

Unfortunately, TurboTax premium pricing means that some offerings are not worth the money. If you want audit support from TurboTax you have to purchase TurboTax Max. The price of audit support. TurboTax’s MAX costs $44.99 which is a lot higher than audit support from other companies.

 

Absolute Zero*Deluxe*Premier*Self-Employed*TurboTax Live*
Price$0 Federal
$0 State
$39.99 Federal
$36.99 State
$59.99 Federal
$36.99 State
$89.99 Federal
$36.99 State
$149.99 Federal
$36.99
Best For1040EZ/ 1040AItemizersInvestors, real estate investorsSelf-employedPeople who want a review from a CPA

*Anyone can upgrade to TurboTax’s MAX for $44.99.

Superlatives: Best for simple filers, runner-up best for investors, best for real estate investors, runner-up best for self-employed

Tax software FAQs

The IRS sends 90% of refunds within three weeks of receiving the return. The sooner you file, the sooner you can expect your return.

You can check on the status of your refund starting 24 hours after e-filing using the “Where’s my refund?” page from the IRS. You can also check on your refund status using the IRS2Go app.

Tax-related identity theft is the no. 1 reported form of identity theft. However, most theft isn’t the direct result of using online software. Any time you apply for a credit card or use online banking, your information enters the digital world. If this information gets stolen, you’re at risk. Nobody can eliminate the possibility of identity theft, but you can work to protect yourself.

Part of protecting yourself involves only giving out your information on trusted websites. When you file your taxes, you provide all your personally identifiable information to a software service. You need to know whether or not that information is safe.

Every software company that we reviewed is an authorized IRS e-File provider. This means that these sites comply with the security and business standards set forth by the IRS.

None of the software packages we reviewed will sell your personal information to a third party. They require you to use multi-factor authentication. This makes it difficult for hackers to access your personal information. These websites are as secure as possible, but they are not 100% safe.

If you think you’ve been the victim of tax fraud, contact the IRS immediately at 1-800-908-4490 to work with their resolution specialists. You will need to file an identity theft affidavit that explains that someone filed taxes in your name.

If you don’t want to use tax software, you can choose a paper filing option. Each state requires you to mail your check to a different office.

You can also use the IRS’s free electronic fillable forms. However, these offer limited guidance and can be difficult to use. With so many other free options, these should be a last resort.

Finally, you can hire a professional tax preparer to do your taxes for you. Be sure that the person you hire is in the Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications.

An accountant can save you time, headache, and in some cases, money. Tax professionals must follow the tax code, but their specialized knowledge helps them pick up on deductions or credits that you might miss on your own.

In general, the more complex your tax return, the more you may want to hire an accountant. If you choose to hire an accountant, be sure that they are an authorized tax return preparer. They should sign your return as an authorized preparer.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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Advertiser Disclosure

Mortgage

Taking out a Mortgage for a Manufactured Home

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

iStock

Looking to buy a place to call home without taking on massive debt? A manufactured home may be the least expensive way to buy a house that meets your family’s needs. The average sales price of a new manufactured home was just under $75,000 in August 2017, according to the Manufactured Housing Survey. That’s less than a quarter of the median price for a new single-family home, which was $314,200 in August.

“More people are turning to manufactured housing to deliver homes that fit their needs and wants, at prices they can afford,” according to Patti Boerger, VP of Communications for the Manufactured Housing Institute. On average, manufactured homes cost about $51 per square foot — that’s nearly half the price of a traditional site-built home, according to 2015 Census data.

However, the inexpensive house often comes with an expensive loan. According to research from the CFPB, between 2001 to 2010, two-thirds (65%) of all manufactured home owners used the expensive chattel loan option to pay for their mortgage. While chattel loans provide a viable solution for buying a manufactured home, many homeowners have lower cost financing options. This is especially true for the two-thirds of manufactured homeowners who own their lot.

Manufactured, modular or mobile? What’s the difference?

Many people use the terms manufactured, modular and mobile homes interchangeably, but there are some distinctions. For a home to be a manufactured home, it must meet Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards set up by the Housing and Urban Development department (HUD) in 1976. Homes that meet the standards receive a certification called a HUD tag. HUD tags make the home eligible for a variety of financing including Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured loans. Fabricated homes built prior to 1976 cannot be HUD certified, so the HUD department calls them mobile homes.

Modern manufactured homes can either be attached to a permanent foundation (like a concrete slab or pier footings) or a temporary foundation (such as a ground and anchor foundation). Homes attached to a temporary foundation could accurately be called mobile homes since you could move them. However, even moving a mobile home is a massive task.

Modular homes are a type of manufactured home that is delivered to the site in multiple pieces. These homes must meet the local standards of site-built houses rather than the Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards.

Despite the differences, many companies manufacture and install both manufactured and modular homes.

How to finance a manufactured home

iStock

While taking out any mortgage is a huge undertaking, manufactured home mortgages can be especially confusing. Borrowing options for manufactured homes aren’t only limited by your credit, down payment and income qualifications. The home you buy also influences which loans are available to you.

These are the steps you’ll need to take when buying a manufactured home, according to a loan officer who specializes in manufactured-home financing.

Buying a used manufactured home

Buying a used manufactured home is a bit like buying a used car from a private seller. You can get a great deal, but you need to complete due diligence before buying.

  1. Decide whether to buy the lot: Nearly two-thirds of manufactured homeowners own the lot where their home is located. Buying both the lot and the home means you may qualify for conventional mortgages. Homebuyers who plan to rent their lot will only qualify for chattel loans.
  2. Check for the HUD tag: The home needs to have a HUD tag indicating that it meets safety standards. The tag is a metal plate that you should be able to find on the outside of the manufactured home. If you can’t find the physical HUD tag, ask the owner to request a Letter of Label Certification from the Institute for Building Technology and Safety.
  3. Check title history: Every manufactured home has a unique serial number that can be used to look into past ownership information. As a buyer, you’ll want to look into statements of location to determine whether the home has moved in the past. The exact site for searching manufactured home history varies by state. However, the most likely candidates include your state’s department of transportation, department of housing, or register of deeds websites.If you find that a home has moved from its original location, the home won’t qualify for a traditional mortgage (like an FHA, conventional, or VA loan).
  4. Compare loans options: Use the information you gathered in the previous steps and the guide below to help you determine the best loan for your situation. Whether you choose a traditional loan or a chattel loan, you can compare rates from multiple lenders to get the best deal.
  5. Property appraisal: Once you qualify for a loan, your lender will appraise your manufactured home. The lender will also send inspectors to check on the home’s foundation and confirm that it meets current standards.
  6. Close on loan: If the property meets the required standards, you may proceed with the loan closing process.
  7. Transfer title: Following the loan closing, the title will be transferred to you. At this point, you may have to convert the home from personal property to real property (more on that later). Your closing attorney or lender can help you with the conversion.

Buying new

Buying a new manufactured home means you can buy the exact home you want. It also opens up more opportunities to qualify for traditional mortgages (if you also own your lot).

  1. Find lot: Whether you plan to rent a lot or buy one, you’ll need to find a location for a home. Some people will place a new home on land they already own.
  2. Start home design process: In some cases, you may pick a manufactured home right off of a vendor’s lot, but many people choose custom designs for their homes.
  3. Determine loan options: Home manufacturers may point you toward certain lenders, but don’t be afraid to shop around. Comparing multiple lenders often yields a better deal. If you plan to buy land, you can consider using a conventional mortgage.
  4. Property assessment: Before a bank will allow you to close on a conventional loan, they will require a property assessment. This assessment will determine whether the site can hold a proper foundation.
  5. Close on loan: Once the property passes inspection, you’ll close on your home loan. If you’re taking out a conventional mortgage, your initial loan may be a construction loan, but it will convert to a mortgage once the manufacturer completes the home.
  6. Home delivered to property: After the loan closes, the manufacturer will deliver and install the home on the property.
  7. Title property: Once the home has been delivered, you’ll need to title the property. If you’ve taken out a traditional mortgage, you’ll have to title the property as real property.

Choosing the best mortgage for your manufactured home

Traditional mortgages such as FHA loans, conventional mortgages and VA loans offer financing up to 30 years with (potentially) low fixed rates. However, they also have more stringent buying criteria. Chattel loans have higher interest rates and shorter payoff periods, but the criteria for borrowing is a bit looser.

You can use the information below to determine what loan may fit your situation best.

 

Chattel Loans

FHA Loans

Conventional Mortgage

VA Loans

VA Loans for Manufactured Homes

Overall

Best for borrowers who want to buy the home only, and place it in a rented lot.

Best for borrowers with a small down payment who want to buy a manufactured home and the lot.

Best for borrowers with a large down payment who want to buy a manufactured home and the lot.

Best for military members who want to buy a manufactured home and the lot.

Best for military members who want buy a manufactured home and rent a lot.

Credit score required

Ability to pay criteria

500, but banks have minimum underwriting standards

620

Credit score standards set by lender

Credit score standards set by lender

Down payment required

5% (10% for borrowers with credit scores 500 or below)

Credit score between 500-579: 10%



Credit score at or above 580: 3.5%

5% (10% for people with thin credit)

None

5%

Interest rates

Average 6.79% in 2014 (most recent data available)



Between 0.5-5.5% higher than traditional loans

Average 4.22%

Average 4.25%

3.97%

Varies by lender

Upfront financing fee

Up to 2.25% (can be financed)

1.75% (can be financed)

None

1.25-3.3% depending on your military status, homebuying experience and down payment (can be financed)

1%

Mortgage insurance

Up to 1%

0.45-1.05%

0.5% annually

None

None

Mortgage limits

Home only: $69,678


Lot only: $23,226


Home and lot: $92,904

Generally, $294,515 for single-family units, but it varies by location, and you should check the limits in your area

Generally, $453,100

Generally $453,100

Value of home and lot

Mortgage term limits

20 years for home only



20 years for single-section home and lot



15 years for lot only



25 years for a multi-section home and lot

Up to 30 years

Up to 30 years

Up to 30 years

15 years for lot only



20 years for single-wide home



20 years for single-wide home and lot



23 years for a double-wide home



25 for a double-wide manufactured home and lot

Titling requirements

Personal Property

The house must be titled as real property, and you must own the lot where the house is located.

Must own land (or be part of a co-op), and home must be titled as real property.

The house must be titled as real property, and you must own the lot where the house is located.

Personal or real property

Foundation requirements

Foundation anchors or permanent foundation

Permanent foundation (including pier and footing)

Permanent foundation (foundation anchors may be appropriate depending on the manufacturer’s requirements)

Continuous slab or load-bearing piers and footings.

Foundation anchors or permanent foundation

Minimum size

400 square feet

400 square feet

600 square feet

None

400 square feet (single wide), 700 square feet (double-wide)

Can home move?

Yes

Only from manufacturers to permanent foundation (even if purchasing used).

Only from manufacturers to permanent foundation (even if purchasing used).

Must be permanently affixed and titled as real property.

Yes

Where to compare lenders

Manufactured Housing Institute

HUD FHA Lender Search

LendingTree mortgage comparison*

LendingTree VA mortgage comparison*

Manufactured Housing Institute (Call to ask about VA loans)

*LendingTree is MagnifyMoney’s parent company.

Personal property versus real property titling

When it comes to financing a manufactured home, one of the most important considerations is how you plan to title the home. Buyers can choose to title a manufactured home as personal property which is how you title a boat, RV or vehicle, or real property which is how you title a traditional home.

In most parts of the country, you have had a permanent foundation to title your loan as real property. Some states require you to own your lot while others allow you to title your home as real property on leased land. You can find out the exact titling requirements in your state by working with the register of deeds in your county.

How you title your property will have a tremendous effect upon your total ownership experience. These are the seven ways titling may affect your experience:

Upfront taxes: When you purchase real property you pay transfer taxes, but when you purchase personal property you pay sales tax. The sales tax rate is generally higher than the transfer tax fee. Some states have sales tax exemptions for manufactured home buyers.

Property tax rate: Real property may be taxed at a higher rate than personal property in your state. If you title as real property, you may pay higher property taxes every year you own your home.

Default process: If you choose to title your home as personal property, your lender can repossess your home if you default. The default process will be governed by the Uniform Commercial Code, so you don’t have the full rights and protection of a property owner. People who title their home as real property have the right to a full foreclosure process which may give them time to get out of default before losing their home. Foreclosure laws vary by state.

Loan modifications: People who are in danger of losing their home often look for loan modifications to make their home affordable again. The largest home loan modification program is the Making Home Affordable Program, which outlines criteria for Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP) loan modifications. HAMP modifications are only available to manufactured homeowners who own their lot and home and have both classified as real property.

Rights of joint owners: Titling your home as personal property also has disadvantages if your spouse defaults on a debt. In some states, manufactured homes that are classified as personal property may be seized for a default on debt, even if the home is owned by both spouses and the default was the responsibility of just one spouse. On the other hand, homes classified as real property do not face that problem.

Borrowing options: If you title your home as personal property, you have the option to take out an FHA chattel loan, a personal loan or owner-held financing solutions. When you opt to title your home as real property you gain the option to take out FHA loans, conventional mortgages, VA loans and other government-backed mortgages. These mortgages tend to be lower cost and have more protections.

Advantages of manufactured homes

Manufactured homes are no longer the boxy trailers of a few decades ago. Buyers can now select a range of new features that are attractive to new buyers including fully-functional kitchens, open layouts and attractive roofs. These features come at about half the price per square foot of site-built homes.

Much of the cost savings come from the manufacturing process itself, which ensures that home building isn’t subject to costly weather delays, and the standardized parts make it easier to build.

In addition to lower construction costs, manufactured homeowners often have lower utility bills than site-built homeowners due to the small size of manufactured homes. Older manufactured homes are notorious for having poor energy efficiency, but manufactured homes built after 1994 are subject to current HUD energy standards for manufactured homes. Some home manufacturers are taking energy efficiency a step further by manufacturing Energy Star-certified manufactured homes which are at least 15% more efficient than manufactured houses built to code.

Disadvantages of manufactured homes

Despite the cost and energy advantages, manufactured homes have drawbacks. Manufactured homeowners who do not (or cannot) choose to title their home as real property has decreased rights if they default on their loan. When titled as personal property, manufactured homes may be repossessed or taken as part of another debt settlement suit (depending on state laws). Manufactured homeowners who don’t own their land may miss out on a wealth-building opportunity since the land may appreciate while home structures tend to depreciate in value.

Finally, the mortgages available for manufactured homes may be more limited than those for site-built homes. In particular, many manufactured homeowners have to rely on high-priced chattel loans rather than mortgages for site-built homes.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

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