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Personal Loans

Bank of America Personal Loan Alternatives

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

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Sometimes life throws you a curveball, and your salary or savings aren’t enough to cover a big expense like home repairs, college tuition or medical costs. Maybe you want to consolidate your debt or start a small business, but you would have a hard time qualifying for a business loan. That’s when a personal loan can come in handy.

With a personal loan, you borrow a set amount of money that is paid back (usually monthly) with a fixed rate over a set period of time. Most personal loans are unsecured meaning you don’t have to put down a deposit or have collateral such as a car or a home to get the loan. But because unsecured loans are riskier for lenders, they usually charge higher interest rates than they would for a secured loan.

Some major lenders don’t offer unsecured personal loans. For example, Bank of America, the second largest banking institution in the United States, no longer offers personal loans.

But that doesn’t mean you’re out of options — there are plenty of online lenders, credit unions and banks that offer personal loans, including large traditional lenders like Citibank, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, PNC, and SunTrust Bank.

Alternatives to Bank of America personal loans

If you’ve decided that a personal loan is a right fit for your needs, you can find them through local banks, credit unions, and online lenders. To get your best interest rates and terms, shop around. Just be aware that many lenders will do a hard pull of your credit if you apply for a loan, meaning that each credit check could ding your score. Luckily, here at MagnifyMoney, we allow you to review rates, fees, and other terms in our personal loan marketplace. 

You can also use our widget below to compare offers from up to five different lenders on LendingTree’s marketplace by filling out an online form.

LendingTree
APR

As low as 3.49%

Credit Req.

Minimum 500 FICO®

Terms

24 to 60

months

Origination Fee

Varies

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company

Advertiser Disclosure

LendingTree is our parent company. LendingTree is unique in that you may be able to compare up to five personal loan offers within minutes. Everything is done online and you may be pre-qualified by lenders without impacting your credit score. LendingTree is not a lender. Terms Apply. NMLS #1136.



As of 17-May-19, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 3.49% (3.49% APR) on a $10,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected). Terms Apply. NMLS #1136

Online personal loan options

Many online lenders offer competitive interest rates for personal loans, especially if you have good credit. They also usually do just a soft credit pull when you apply, so you can get an interest rate quote without impacting your credit score. However, if you need to borrow a large amount of money, especially over $35,000 (generally the limit for many online lenders), you may need to look elsewhere. And although online lenders will approve loans for people with credit scores as low as 600, they’ll also charge much higher interest rates in those cases.

  • Average rates: As low as 3.49%
  • Term length: 24 to 60 months
  • Borrowing limits: Up to $50,000

Here’s a look at some of the rates and terms for personal loans from leading online lenders:

Company
APR
Terms
Credit Req.
LendingTree

As low as 3.49%

24 to 60

months

Minimum 500 FICO®

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company

Advertiser Disclosure.

Disclaimer


As of 17-May-19, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 3.49% (3.49% APR) on a $10,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected). Terms Apply. NMLS #1136

4.99% - 19.99%*

with AutoPay

24 to 144*

months

Not specified

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure.

*Your loan terms, including APR, may differ based on loan purpose, amount, term length, and your credit profile. Rate is quoted with AutoPay discount. AutoPay discount is only available prior to loan funding. Rates without AutoPay 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 3.49% APR with a term of 3 years would result in 36 monthly payments of $292.98.
SoFi

5.99% - 19.96%*

24 to 84

months

680

Minimum Credit Score

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure.

Fixed rates from 5.99% APR to 19.96% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of May 14, 2020 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, income, and other factors. See APR examples and terms. 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.
Marcus by Goldman Sachs®

6.99% - 19.99%

36 to 72

months

Not specified

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure.

Your loan terms are not guaranteed and are subject to our verification of your identity and credit information. To obtain a loan, you must submit additional documentation including an application that may affect your credit score. Rates will vary based on many factors, such as your creditworthiness (for example, credit score and credit history) and the length of your loan (for example, rates for 36 month loans are generally lower than rates for 72 month loans).Your maximum loan amount may vary depending on your loan purpose, income and creditworthiness. Your verifiable income must support your ability to repay your loan. Marcus by Goldman Sachs is a brand of Goldman Sachs Bank USA and all loans are issued by Goldman Sachs Bank USA, Salt Lake City Branch. Applications are subject to additional terms and conditions. For New York residents, rates range from 6.99% to 24.99% APR.

5.99% - 29.99%

36 or 60

months

640

Minimum Credit Score

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure.

The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit as a yearly rate and ranges from 5.99% to 29.99%, which may include an origination fee from 0.99% - 5.99% that is deducted from loan proceeds. Any origination fee on a loan term 4-years or longer will be at least 4.99%. The loan term and the APR offered will depend on your credit score, income, debt payment obligations, loan amount, credit usage history and other factors. Additionally, the APR offered is impacted by your loan term and may be higher than our lowest advertised rate. Requests for the highest loan amount may result in an APR higher than our lowest advertised rate. You need a minimum 700 FICO® score and a minimum individual annual income of $100,000 to qualify for our lowest rate.

Best Egg loans are unsecured personal loans made by Cross River Bank, a New Jersey State Chartered Commercial Bank, Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender. "Best Egg" is a trademark of Marlette Funding, LLC. All uses of "Best Egg" on this site mean and shall refer to "the Best Egg personal loan" and/or "Best Egg on behalf of Cross River Bank, as originator of the Best Egg personal loan," as applicable. Loan amounts generally range from $3,000-$35,000. Offers up to $50,000 may be available for qualified customers who receive offer codes in the mail. The minimum individual annual income needed to qualify for a loan of $50,000 is $130,000. Borrowers may hold no more than two open Best Egg loans at any given time. In order to be eligible for a second Best Egg loan, your existing Best Egg loan must have been open for at least four months. Total existing Best Egg loan balances must not exceed $50,000. All loans in MA must exceed $6,000; in NM, OH must exceed $5,000; in GA must exceed $3,000. Borrowers should refer to their loan agreement for specific terms and conditions. Your verifiable income must support your ability to repay your loan. Upon loan funding, the timing of available funds may vary depending upon your bank's policies.

To help the government fight the funding of terrorism and money laundering activities, federal law requires all financial institutions to obtain, verify, and record information that identifies each person who opens an account. When you open an account, we will ask for your name, address, date of birth, and other information that will allow us to identify you.

10.68% - 35.89%

36 or 60

months

Not specified

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

9.95% - 35.99%*

24 to 60**

months

600

Minimum Credit Score

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure.

*If approved, the actual loan terms that a customer qualifies for may vary based on credit determination, state law, and other factors. Minimum loan amounts vary by state.
**Example: A $5,900 loan with an administration fee of 4.75% and an amount financed of $5,619.75, repayable in 36 monthly installments, with an APR of 29.95% would have monthly payments of $250.30.

Based on the responses from 11,574 customers in a survey of 210,584 newly funded customers, conducted from 1 Feb 2018 - 1 Aug 2019 95.05% of customers stated that they were either extremely satisfied or satisfied with Avant. 4/5 Customers would recommend us. Avant branded credit products are issued by WebBank, member FDIC.

18.00% - 35.99%

24 to 60

months

Not specified

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Advertiser Disclosure.

Not all applicants will qualify for larger loan amounts or most favorable loan terms. Loan approval and actual loan terms depend on your ability to meet our credit standards (including a responsible credit history, sufficient income after monthly expenses, and availability of collateral). Larger loan amounts require a first lien on a motor vehicle no more than ten years old, that meets our value requirements, titled in your name with valid insurance. Maximum annual percentage rate (APR) is 35.99%, subject to state restrictions. APRs are generally higher on loans not secured by a vehicle. Depending on the state where you open your loan, the origination fee may be either a flat amount or a percentage of your loan amount. Flat fee amounts vary by state, ranging from $25 to $400. Percentage-based fees vary by state ranging from 1% to 10% of your loan amount subject to certain state limits on the fee amount. Active duty military, their spouse or dependents covered under the Military Lending Act may not pledge any vehicle as collateral for a loan. OneMain loan proceeds cannot be used for postsecondary educational expenses as defined by the CFPB’s Regulation Z, such as college, university or vocational expenses; for any business or commercial purpose; to purchase securities; or for gambling or illegal purposes.

Borrowers in these states are subject to these minimum loan sizes: Alabama: $2,100. California: $3,000. Georgia: Unless you are a present customer, $3,100 minimum loan amount. Ohio: $2,000. Virginia: $2,600.

Borrowers (other than present customers) in these states are subject to these maximum unsecured loan sizes: Florida: $8,000. Iowa: $8,500. Maine: $7,000. Mississippi: $7,500. North Carolina: $7,500. New York: $20,000. Texas: $8,000. West Virginia: $14,000. An unsecured loan is a loan which does not require you to provide collateral (such as a motor vehicle) to the lender.
PenFed Credit Union

Starting at 6.49%

36 to 60

months

Not specified

SEE DETAILS Secured

on PenFed Credit Union’s secure website

7.00% - 35.99%

36 or 60

months

620

Minimum Credit Score

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

Your loan amount will be determined based on your credit, income, and certain other information provided in your loan application. Not all applicants will qualify for the full amount. Loans are not available in West Virginia or Iowa. The minimum loan amount in MA is $7,000. The minimum loan amount in Ohio is $6,000. The minimum loan amount in NM is $5,100. The minimum loan amount in GA is $5,000.

The full range of available rates varies by state. The average 3-year loan offered across all lenders using the Upstart Platform will have an APR of 22% and 36 monthly payments of $36 per $1,000 borrowed. There is no down payment and no prepayment penalty. Average APR is calculated based on 3-year rates offered in the last 1 month. Your loan amount will be determined based on your credit, income, and certain other information provided in your loan application. Not all applicants will be approved.

Bank personal loans

In some situations, banks are the lenders that offer the best interest rates, but that’s not always the case with personal loans. Because many personal loans are unsecured, and therefore riskier, banks tend to charge higher rates than credit unions.

As with other types of loans, bank loans generally are geared more toward people with good credit — scores of 680 and above — and the better your credit, the better your interest rate. On the plus side, banks tend to offer higher borrowing limits if you need more money.

  • Average rates*: 6.99% to 20.24%
  • Term length*: 12 to 84 months
  • Borrowing limits*: Up to $100,000

Credit union personal loans

Credit unions offer some of the lowest interest rates for personal loans, and will even approve loans for people with credit scores under 600. Unlike most banks, credit unions are nonprofit, so any profits they make tend to benefit their members in the form of better interest rates or lower fees. To apply for a loan, you’ll need to join the credit union and meet all the requirements for membership.

  • Average rates*: 6.49% to 18%
  • Term length*: 12 to 84 months
  • Borrowing limits*: Up to $50,000

How to compare personal loan offers

When you’re looking at personal loan offers, you should know how much the loan will truly cost you, including the interest rate, the length of the loan and any fees that you’ll have to pay (an origination fee, for example). You’ll likely get better interest rates if your credit score is high and/or you have collateral to secure the loan. However, most personal loans don’t require collateral.

  • APR: In most cases, the better your credit score (740 and above is ideal), the lower the interest rate you’ll receive for a personal loan. Do some comparison shopping to find the loans with the lowest interest rates and best terms.
  • Term length: Most personal loans will have a term between 24 and 60 months, with some as short as 12 months or as long as 84 months. Think about how long you’ll realistically need to repay the loan and how long you want to owe the debt. If you want the option of repaying the loan early, find out if there are prepayment penalties.
  • Fees: The APR isn’t the only factor that determines how much the loan will cost you. Fees can really make a difference. A common fee charged for personal loans is an origination fee, which is charged to cover the cost of processing the loan. Some origination fees are flat amounts while others are a percentage of the amount borrowed.
  • Secured vs. unsecured:A secured loan means you put down collateral such as property to back the loan in case you default. An unsecured loan means there’s no specific asset tied to the loan. Secured loans will have lower interest rates, but you risk losing your collateral — whether it’s your house, car or savings account — if you default on the loan.


Compare Personal Loan Rates

4 alternatives to a personal loan

A personal loan isn’t your only option, and may not be your best option, depending on why you need the money and how you want to pay it back. There are other loans that accomplish similar goals. The important things to know are how much interest you’ll end up paying, how long you’ll be given to repay the loan, what kind of expenses the loan financing can be used toward and what happens if you miss a payment or default on the loan.

1. 0% Intro APR balance transfer credit card

Many credit cards will offer a 0% APR introductory balance transfer offer. This offer, typically lasting anywhere from 6 to 21 months, means you won’t pay interest on your debt for that period of time. Make sure to find out if you’ll be charged balance transfer fees and what the card’s interest rate will be after the introductory period. Take a look at credit cards with introductory 0% APR balance transfer offers at MagnifyMoney’s marketplace

Pros

  • You can consolidate your debt
  • You can potentially move to a credit card with better terms
  • You can pay down debt faster
  • You won’t pay interest for several months

Cons

  • You’ll typically need good credit to qualify
  • You may be charged a balance transfer fee
  • You could end up with a higher interest rate

2. Home equity loan

A home equity loan is a second mortgage that borrows against the equity you’ve built in your home. Like a personal loan, you receive the funding in a lump sum and the loan comes with a fixed interest rate.

Pros

  • You can get lower interest rates because your equity in the home secures the loan
  • Easier to qualify for if you have poor credit

Cons

  • If you can’t repay the loan, you risk losing your home

3. Home equity line of credit (HELOC)

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) also involves borrowing against your home’s equity, but in this case, you’re approved for a certain amount of credit that you can draw from. But you only need to repay, and only pay interest on, the amount you draw. As with a home equity loan, your house is the collateral for the loan.

Pros

  • You can get lower interest rates because your equity in the home secures the loan
  • Easier to qualify for if you have poor credit
  • You only pay interest on the amount you draw from the line of credit

Cons

  • You may be charged several types of fees such as transaction fees, maintenance fees and closing fees
  • If you can’t repay the loan, you risk losing your home
  • Some lines have variable interest rates, meaning your interest rate could go up

4. Peer to peer lending

Banks, credit unions and online lenders aren’t the only financing games in town. Peer to peer lending is when an individual or hedge fund is matched to someone looking for a loan, either through a company or a website. These loans are very similar to personal loans and tend to have competitive interest rates.

Pros

  • Potential for lower interest rates
  • Easy application process

Cons

  • May take longer for approval than from bank or credit union
  • You’ll need to do some legwork to make sure you’re working with a reputable company

Other loans offered by Bank of America

Although Bank of America doesn’t offer personal loans, they do offer other loans that can be used to pay medical expenses, consolidate debt, make home improvements or fund a business. Bank of America’s financing options include a credit card with a 0% percent introductory APR offer for 15 months, a home equity line of credit and an auto loan.

*Accurate as of the date of publishing

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.

Get Personal Loan Offers
Up to $50,000

$

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Personal Loans

What Are Medical Loans and Where Can You Find Them?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Written By

Reviewed By

Medical loans are a type of personal loan used to pay for medical expenses. You’ll likely find them through online lenders, although some banks and credit unions offer personal loans that can be used to cover medical costs.

Loans for medical bills can help you pay for both planned and unexpected health care expenses, such as a scheduled surgery, ER visit or an ongoing prescription cost. They may also be able to help you consolidate medical debt into a more affordable package or pay for charges your insurer doesn’t cover, such as dental or vision services.

Despite these advantages, medical loans can be one of the more expensive ways to pay for medical needs, especially if your credit isn’t good enough to qualify for some of the best loan terms available to you. Before taking out a loan, research all your options and compare costs using our guide below.

What are medical loans?

Medical loans come as unsecured personal loans. That means they don’t require any kind of collateral, such as a house or car, in case you default on paying the loan back.

Lenders have different requirements for medical loans. In most cases, though, you’ll be able to use a loan for standard medical services and equipment, such as surgery, emergency care visits, drugs, physical therapy and long-term rehabilitation. Your loan may also help you cover less common costs, such as those for orthodontics, cosmetic surgery, dialysis and fertility treatments. Often, you can get a medical loan quickly, sometimes the same day you apply.

When you take out a loan for medical expenses, you’re given a lump sum of money that’s then repaid in fixed monthly payments plus interest. To determine your interest rate, lenders usually look at factors such as your financial history, credit score, employment status and monthly expenses compared to income.

Is a medical loan necessary?

Taking care of medical debt is important: If not addressed quickly, it can deeply damage your credit profile.

Still, before taking out a medical loan, review your medical bill for possible errors. Also,

speak with your medical provider about payment options. Some providers, like hospitals, may be able to offer you a payment plan, direct financial assistance or a discount that can be more affordable than paying interest, possibly for years, on a health care loan.

If you don’t have health insurance, you might be able to qualify for government and community programs that can help cover the cost of a necessary medical procedure. On the other hand, if the procedure isn’t urgent, consider delaying it until you’ve saved enough money.

10 reasons a medical loan may be worthwhile

  1. Emergency medical expenses
  2. Medical debt consolidation
  3. Dental work or orthodontics
  4. IVF or fertility treatments
  5. Cosmetic surgery
  6. Weight loss surgery
  7. LASIK surgery or other vision procedures
  8. Hair loss or hair replacement
  9. Chiropractic services
  10. Prescription costs
Medical loans: pros and cons

Pros:

Cons:

  • Access procedures you can’t pay for upfront
  • Consolidate medical debt to make your payments more manageable
  • Refinance medical debt to a lower interest rate
  • Build credit with on-time payments
  • Costly interest and fees
  • Good credit may be needed to qualify
  • Potential to end up in too much debt

What should I consider when comparing medical loans?

  • APR (annual percentage rate): Usually the lower the APR, the more affordable the loan.
  • Fixed vs. variable interest: A fixed rate will stay the same throughout the life of the loan, while a variable rate may change.
  • Loan terms: Longer terms mean smaller monthly payments but perhaps more interest in the end.
  • Eligibility: Your lender may not require a specific credit score but will still consider factors such as credit history, income and how well you pay back other types of debt, such as a credit card or mortgage.
  • Origination fees: You may be charged a loan origination fee equal to 1% to 8% of your overall loan amount. The fee will be deducted from your balance upfront, making the loan more expensive.
  • Loan amounts: Don’t borrow more than you need, but also make sure the lender will loan you enough money to cover your medical expense. Loan minimums may vary by state.
  • Time to funding: Check to see how long it will take to receive your funds and whether the process can be completed online, especially if you need money quickly.

6 medical loan lenders

LenderAPR rangeLoan amount
EarnestAs low as 4.99%$1,000 to $100,000
LightStream5.95% to 20.49%$5,000 to $100,000
OneMain Financial18.00% to 35.99%$1,500 to $20,000
Rocket Loans7.16% to 29.99%$2,000 to $45,000
SoFi5.99% to 19.96%$5,000 to $100,000
Upstart7.00% - 35.99%$5,000 to $30,000

Can you find a medical loan if you have bad credit?

It’s possible to find a medical loan if your credit score is not ideal. In fact, you might be able to qualify with some of the lenders mentioned above.

Here’s why: Rather than focusing just on credit scores, some lenders look at a range of information, such as your income and overall borrowing behavior. For example, Upstart will consider applicants who have a FICO® or Vanguard score as low as 620; however, it will also check to see how much debt you carry relative to income and whether you have any accounts overdue.

In general, if your credit is less than ideal, expect higher interest rates and smaller loan amounts.

3 medical loan alternatives

Payment plan

Most medical providers will work with you to set up a payment plan if you can’t pay your bill upfront. Hospital payment plans are often interest-free, and those that do charge interest may still be more affordable than a medical loan. These plans may not even involve a credit check.

Often, hospitals also offer financial assistance programs that can be used together with a payment plan. These programs provide discounts on medically necessary services for low-income and uninsured patients, which, in turn, can make the payment plan more affordable. The discounts depend on both household size and family income and are based on federal poverty guidelines.

Still, hospital payment plans have one big drawback: Because they are either low-interest or interest-free, they require a faster payback time. Medical loans usually come with loan terms of anywhere from two to seven years, but many hospital payment plans need to be paid off in one to two years. Of course, this can be an advantage if you’re trying to pay off your debt quickly and avoid interest fees, but it means you’ll see higher monthly payments.

Medical credit card

A medical credit card is a credit card for paying medical bills, and you may find them offered by your medical care provider or an independent company. You may be able to use the card to pay off medical bills over a period of years at a more attractive and often fixed rate. In some cases, the card may also come with a 0% APR promotion that lasts longer than for a regular credit card, say 24 months versus the 6 to 18 months now common.

CareCredit is a widely accepted health care credit card. It currently has no annual fee and offers promotional financing to applicants who’ve been approved for credit. You can use the card to pay for medical expenses, say, an emergency hospital visit or monthly prescription charge, as they arise. You can also use it online to access tools for finding doctors and service providers, such as medical specialists, primary care physicians and pharmacies.

Still, accessing a medical credit card that’s both flexible and convenient might not be your most affordable option for tracking medical bills. The CareCredit Card, for example, has a standard cardholder APR of 26.99% variable. That’s high compared to rates charged by some of the medical loans mentioned above.

Introductory 0% APR credit cards

An introductory 0% interest credit card may also help you pay off medical bills interest-free and sometimes over a period of a year or more. With a card like this, you won’t incur any interest charges as long as you pay off your balance before the intro period ends.

Pay attention to the terms of the introductory offer if you’re using a credit card for medical expenses. You’ll want a card with a 0% intro APR on new purchases if you have an upcoming medical expense, while a credit card with a 0% intro APR on balance transfers can help you pay off existing debt. The longer the introductory period, the better.

You’ll need good credit to qualify for an intro 0% APR credit card, and even if you do qualify, you might not be offered a high enough credit limit to cover the cost of your medical expense. If you have good credit, though, it’s worth a try, as these offers can save you money in interest. Some also come with sign-up bonuses or credit rewards that might add up quickly with a large medical charge.

FAQ: medical loans

You’ll have the best chance of qualifying for a medical loan if you have good or excellent credit, which is a FICO score of 670 or above. However, many online lenders accept personal loan applicants with credit scores in the low 600s, and a few even accept applicants with scores in the 500s.

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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Personal Loans

The Ultimate Guide to Personal Loans

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Written By

Reviewed By

Personal loans are a versatile form of credit. You can use them to consolidate other high-interest debts, pay for home improvements and more. Because they usually come with fixed interest rates and repayment schedules, you know exactly how much you need to pay each month and when your debt will be paid in full.

Still, taking on any type of debt is a serious responsibility. This personal loan guide will help you learn more about how personal loans work, which pitfalls to avoid and some alternatives to consider.

Part I: Personal Loans 101

How do personal loans work?

When you apply for a personal loan, you borrow a specific amount of money — most often at a fixed interest rate — for a set amount of time. Then you pay off your balance monthly until it’s paid in full.

The terms of your personal loan will depend on your unique financial situation and your lender. The loans are typically offered in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $50,000, and potentially even higher, depending on the lender. As for the repayment period, the loans’ terms often range from one to five years, but can potentially go up to 15 years for purposes such as home improvement.

Personal loans are unsecured debt, meaning they’re not secured by an underlying investment like a home or a car. For that reason, they usually come with higher interest rates than you might get with a mortgage or auto loan.

To get a real sense of how much a personal loan will cost you, keep an eye on the annual percentage rate, or APR. It includes interest and other costs, which could include an origination fee. An origination fee is a loan processing fee that can typically be 1% to 8% of the loan amount; however, some lenders, such as Lightstream and Discover, don’t charge any origination fees at all.

Pros and cons of personal loans

Pros

  • Interest rates can be lower than credit cards. While interest rates on personal loan offers have risen lately, they can still be a good option for consolidating high-interest credit card debt, especially if your credit is top-notch. The average APR on a personal loan offer from a lender is now 11.81% for borrowers with excellent credit, and 15.61% for those with very good credit, according to recent data from parent site LendingTree; in contrast, companion site CompareCards lists the average APR on all credit accounts is 15.09%.
  • Quick access to funds. Depending on your lender, you may receive funding for a personal loan in just a day or two.
  • Predictable payments and interest. Because personal loans generally come with fixed rates and payment terms, you may not have to worry about your interest rate or monthly payment going up. That makes it easier to budget.

Cons

  • Could lead to overspending. Personal loans can be used for almost any purpose, which could lead you to borrow more than you can afford to repay each month.
  • Higher interest rates than some loan products. For example, if you have equity in your home and good credit, you may be able to get a better rate with a home equity loan or line of credit.
  • Damage to your credit if you don’t pay. Some lenders offer options for borrowers facing financial difficulties, and may work with you if you lose your job or face other financial troubles. However, your credit might be damaged if you ultimately can’t make your payments.

What you may need to qualify for a personal loan

  • Good or excellent credit. If your credit score is 640 or lower, it will likely be more difficult to get approval for a personal loan (although some personal loan companies might still work with you). By contrast, having good credit (a FICO score of at least 670) will give you more borrowing options, and a score of 740 will let you qualify for loans with the best interest rates and terms.
  • Low debt-to-income ratio. Lenders might be hesitant to lend money if your debt-to-income ratio is too high. This ratio is determined by taking your total monthly recurring debt and dividing it by your gross monthly income. For personal loans, lenders usually like to see a DTI ratio of 36% or less. Still, even with a high DTI, you may qualify for a personal loan if your credit score meets a lender’s criteria, and you have both a solid income and credit repayment history.
  • Cosigner or collateral. If you have a bad credit score, you may need a cosigner with good credit or collateral to help you qualify for a personal loan.

How to pick the best personal loan

Here are tips that can help you identify a personal loan that’s right for you:

  • Shop around with different lenders. Gather information on personal loans to compare interest rates and loan terms from various lenders.
  • Read the fine print. Make sure you understand your contract, your monthly payment and all terms and potential fees.
  • Read reviews. Reading reviews of top personal loan companies can help you gauge the quality of each lender and what your experience might be like.

Part II: Common Uses for a Personal Loan

You might be surprised to know just how many uses personal loans can have. According to an April 2020 report from LendingTree, some of the top reasons applicants seek personal loans include:

  • Credit card refinance: 32.0%
  • Debt consolidation: 31.0%
  • Home improvement: 8.5%
  • Major purchases: 5.0%
  • Car financing: 4.3%
  • Business: 1.8%

These numbers don’t mean personal loans are the right choice in every borrowing situation. Here’s some more information about potential uses, along with some pros and cons:

Common uses for personal loans

Debt consolidation

If you’re struggling to pay back several types of debt, a personal loan may let you streamline payments and pay less interest overall. One caveat: if you can qualify for one, a 0% balance transfer credit card could be a less expensive option for combining debt.

Credit card refinance

Personal loans often have lower interest rates than credit cards — just make sure you’ll actually save money after taking into account a loan’s interest rate, origination fee and repayment term.

Home improvement

If you don’t have enough equity in your home to qualify for a home equity loan or line of credit, a personal loan can help finance home improvements. It may, however, come with a higher interest rate.

Major purchase

A personal loan might cost less in interest than a credit card for that big buy of yours. Still, before taking on new debt, consider whether you really need that purchase now — or whether it would be cheaper to save up and pay cash.

Car financing

A personal loan could be an option for buying a car, but it might be easier to qualify for an auto loan, as well as pay less interest and fewer fees (a car loan uses the vehicle as collateral).

Small business financing

If you’re starting a business and aren’t yet earning money, it may be tough to qualify for a business loan. A personal loan can help get your business off the ground. One potential red flag: If your business goes under, you’ll still have to pay back the loan or risk damaging your credit.

Medical expenses

Taking out a personal loan to pay for medical expenses can keep medical bills from going to a collection agency. However, first see if your medical provider provides payment help, as many do. They may be willing to work with you to pay off your balance — and not charge interest.

Part III: Personal Loan Traps and Scams to Avoid

Here are some personal loan traps you should consider:

Advance loan fees

Occasionally, a fraudulent loan company will offer outrageous loans and loan terms with a catch: You must pay upfront fees or “insurance” to qualify.

Look out for lenders who ask you to wire funds via Western Union or MoneyGram — reputable lenders won’t ask you to pay money upfront.

‘No credit check’ loans

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a lender who isn’t interested in checking your credit is a red flag.

Steer clear of ads and websites that promise “Bad credit? No problem” or “We don’t care about your past,” the FTC cautions. These slogans usually signal a scam.

Precomputed interest

Some personal loans might come with precomputed interest, which means they use the original payment schedule to calculate interest, even if you make payments early. This forces you to pay more interest over time, even if you make larger payments or try to pay off your loan early.

Prepayment penalties

Some personal loans tack on a prepayment penalty if you pay your loan off early. And while prepayment penalties aren’t that common, they are unnecessary. Be sure to read through your loan terms to check for a prepayment penalty before you sign the agreement. If you find one, consider opting for another lender.

Part IV: Alternatives to a Personal Loan

Personal loans vs. credit cards

Credit cards can be a great deal if you pay them off monthly, as you have the potential to earn rewards.

Personal loans vs. HELOCs

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a revolving line of credit secured by your home. HELOCs often have lower interest rates than personal loans, and you may be able to deduct the interest if you itemize your taxes. By contrast, interest paid on your personal loan is not tax-deductible.

Personal loans vs. cash-out refinance

A cash-out refinance lets you take out a new mortgage that’s more than what you now owe, and pocket a portion of the loan as cash. It usually comes with a lower interest rate than a personal loan, but with longer terms, so you could end up paying more overall. If you’re opting for a cash-out refinance, check this calculator to determine how much you might be able to borrow, and what your new monthly mortgage payment will be.

Unsecured personal loans vs. secured personal loans

A secured personal loan requires borrowers to use an asset, like a vehicle or certificate of deposit (CD), as collateral. A lender can repossess the asset if the borrower fails to make payments, so interest rates on secured personal loans tend to be lower than those on unsecured loans.

FAQ: Personal loans

The amount you can borrow varies by lender, but generally ranges from $1,000 to $50,000.

Yes, if you use it to consolidate high-interest debts from credit cards or other loans. To get out of debt faster, make sure your new personal loan comes with a lower interest rate than you’re already paying, along with few or no fees.

Your interest rate depends on the type of loan you apply for, how much you want to borrow and the quality of your credit. While each lender is different — for example, some will work with you if your credit isn’t ideal — a FICO score of at least 670 will give you more options.

If you were denied a personal loan due to poor credit, the best thing you can do is work on improving your credit rating. Pay bills on time, pay off debt to reduce the amount of available credit you’re using and avoid opening or closing too many accounts.

Thanks to the internet, you can apply for a personal loan online and from the comfort of your home. You can also compare fees and interest rates from top personal loan companies by visiting this page.

If you apply for a personal loan, a hard inquiry will be placed on your credit report, but any negative hit your score takes will be short-lived. Your credit score will more likely take a larger hit if you borrow too much and can’t repay. On the other hand, repaying your personal loan on time, and ultimately in full, might actually help your score in the long run.

If you’re cash-strapped, this may sound tempting, but most mortgage lenders discourage it. Before approving you for a mortgage, lenders will look at your debt-to-income ratio, so taking on a personal loan to afford a down payment might actually disqualify you in the end.

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