Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Updated on Thursday, November 15, 2018
Personal loans are the fastest-growing consumer debt in America, according to Experian.
Where a mortgage goes toward buying a home and an auto loan goes toward the purchase of a car, a personal loan can be used in myriad ways. This article will define small personal loans and walk you through a variety of ways to use and get them.
What is a small personal loan?
A small personal loan is defined as anything between $1,000 and $5,000, according to LendingTree, which owns MagnifyMoney. Because small personal loans usually have low interest rates for those with good credit and can be paid back over a relatively short amount of time (two to three years), they allow borrowers quick access to money that can be used at their discretion, unless otherwise specified.
When used wisely and paid back on time, small personal loans can reduce stress, help solve financial problems and build credit. If you’re in need of a few thousand dollars to cover an expense, a small personal loan is worth considering.
“When you have little to no credit history, a small, unsecured loan with a short term that is quickly repaid can help build a positive credit history,” said Tricia Cook, branch manager for First Utah Bank.
Small personal loans are commonly used to help consolidate debt into one manageable payment, but can also be used to pay for medical, dental or veterinary bills, remodels or home repairs, weddings or funeral costs and unexpected expenses, to name a few.
“Usually, small personal loans are applied for in emergency situations, for example, your roof is leaking and you need $5,000 to replace it before winter,” Cook said. “My experience at the bank has shown that small personal loan applications rarely feel like they are planned for and the applicant is desperate for money right now.”
Where to get a small personal loan online
Once you’ve determined you need a small personal loan to cover an expense, you’ll want to start shopping and comparing lenders.
LendingTree’s small personal loan comparison tool can point you in the right direction. Using it, you’ll input basic information about yourself and what you’re looking for in a loan. The tool may then spit out loan offers from up to five different lenders based on your creditworthiness for you to consider.
As low as 2.49%
Minimum 500 FICO®
24 to 60
LendingTree is not a lender. 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. Terms Apply. NMLS #1136.
As of 17-May-19, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 2.49% (2.49% APR) on a $20,000 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
As you begin your search, consider these online lenders:
Upstart offers loans with interest rates low as 7.86% and terms of up to five years. Upstart can be a good choice for small personal loans because it can lend as little as $1,000, depending on the state in which you live. Upstart can also be a good choice because it assesses more than credit score and credit history when determining a rate. It looks at the borrower’s education, area of study and work history for a more holistic picture of the borrower and their ability to repay. If you have a strong education and work history, you’ll likely benefit from a loan with Upstart. Upstart also allows you to pay off your loan on your terms without penalizing you.
Minimum Credit Score
36 or 60
Up to 8.00%
Upstart is an online lender created by ex-Googlers.... Read More
Avant can be a smart option for those with a low credit score looking for a quick loan. If you qualify, funds can be accessed in as little as one business day. The minimum credit score required for an Avant loan is 580. If your credit score is hindering you from receiving a loan elsewhere, Avant may a good option for you. The minimum loan available is $2,000, with interest rates starting at 9.95% and terms up to 60 months.
Minimum Credit Score
24 to 60**
Up to 4.75%**
Avant is an online lender that offers personal loans ranging from $2,000 to $35,000. ... Read More
*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 $5,700 loan with an administration fee of 4.75% and an amount financed of $5,429.25, repayable in 36 monthly installments, would have an APR of 29.95% and monthly payments of $230.33.
Based on the responses from 7,302 customers in a survey of 140,258 newly funded customers, conducted from August 1, 2018 - August 1, 2019, 95.11% 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.
LendingClub can offer small loans starting at $1,000 with interest rates as low as 8.05%. LendingClub offers loans to borrowers whose credit scores vary, but their minimum credit requirements are not specified. If you’re looking for a small loan and have a strong credit history, this may be a smart option for you as you’ll likely get lower interest rates. But if you’re looking to receive your funds almost immediately, LendingClub may not be the best option as it takes about a week to receive your money.
36 or 60
3.00% - 6.00%
LendingClub is a great tool for borrowers that can offer competitive interest rates. The loan application process is done online and only takes a few minutes to complete without hurting your credit. The loan processing time can take a while and you might not get approved if you have missed payments in the past.
Best Egg may be the online lending platform for you if you’re looking for a fast and easy loan application process. Funds are deposited in as little as a day, and Best Egg offers APRs as low as 5.99% to those who qualify. Best Egg analyzes three years’ worth of credit history and requires a 640 minimum credit score, so it may not be the best option for those with poor credit. Best Egg offers terms for up to five years and will loan as little as $2,000.
Minimum Credit Score
36 or 60
0.99% - 5.99%
People looking for a process that is fast and straightforward can’t go wrong when applying through Best Egg for a personal loan. ... Read More
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% - 6.99% 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.
*Trustpilot TrustScore as of June 2020. Best Egg loans are unsecured personal loans made by Cross River Bank, a New Jersey State Chartered Commercial Bank, Member FDIC. “Best Egg” is a trademark of Marlette Funding, LLC. All uses of “Best Egg” 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. The term, amount and APR of any loan we offer to you will depend on your credit score, income, debt payment obligations, loan amount, credit history and other factors. Your loan agreement will contain specific terms and conditions. The timing of available funds upon loan approval may vary depending upon your bank’s policies. Loan amounts range from $2,000–$35,000. Residents of Massachusetts have a minimum loan amount of $6,500 ; New Mexico and Ohio, $5,000; and Georgia, $3,000. For a second Best Egg loan, your total existing Best Egg loan balances cannot exceed $50,000. Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) range from 5.99%–29.99%. The APR is the cost of credit as a yearly rate and reflects both your interest rate and an origination fee of 0.99%–6.99% of your loan amount, which will be deducted from any loan proceeds you receive. The origination fee on a loan term 4-years or longer will be at least 4.99%. Your loan term will impact your APR, which may be 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 APR.
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.
Small loans from credit unions
Getting a small loan from a credit union is another option besides shopping for one online. Credit unions are regulated and insured nonprofits. They are often community-focused.
A credit union is a good place to get a small loan because you can become part of the credit union community, build relationships with the members and potentially get lower interests rates on your small loan.
When applying for a loan, credit unions will assess many factors, such as your credit report and ability to pay back the loan. When obtaining a loan from a credit union, come prepared with your Social Security number, proof of income and personal identification.
Small loans from banks
Small loans can ease financial stress when used wisely. Working with a bank to get a small personal loan is a smart idea because the federal government heavily regulates banks. These regulations aim to protect the borrower from getting in too much debt.
Before granting you a loan, the bank will look at your financial history to assess how much money they can reasonably lend you. This will help ensure you are not in over your head when you get the money.
“The ability-to-repay rule [under the Truth in Lending Act] ensures that banks have looked at your current income and your current debt and are able to prove that you have the ability to repay the full balance, not just the monthly minimum payments,” Cook said. “A bank cannot lend to you in a way that would make you overextended.”
When shopping for a small loan from a major bank, you may consider local options such as Citibank or Wells Fargo. But you can review the best personal loans here.
Alternatives to a small personal loan
When you need to borrow money and do not wish to obtain a personal loan or cannot get one due to poor credit, there are a variety of other ways to get a loan. Here are four alternatives to a small personal loan from a bank or credit union.
1. Credit card
Using a credit card to make a purchase or pay off an expense is a viable option if you’re able to pay back the amount charged in full (and on time).
“Credit cards can be smart to have when you are smart with your spending and paying your bill to a zero balance each month,” Cook said. “People get into trouble when they use a credit card and buy things they truly can’t afford, even when the payments are split up over a few months.”
Most credit cards offer at least a 21-day grace period and will not charge interest in that time frame. After that period, if the balance is not paid in full, the cardholder will be charged interest on the remaining statement balance. Credit card interest averages 15%, so if you cannot pay it back quickly, a small personal loan is a better option as the interest rate is much lower and the monthly payment is fixed.
2. Pawnshop loans
Pawnshop loans allow the borrower to take an item — often jewelry or electronics — to a pawnshop to be evaluated as collateral in exchange for quick cash.
“A pawnshop is a good choice if you want to sell something quickly and take the cash,” Cook said. “But if you truly intend to get your merchandise back, you’re in essence paying for that item twice. Ask yourself: ‘How much will I have paid for my belonging when I’m done?’”
The borrower typically has up to 90 days to repay a pawnshop loan — plus fees and interest, which can be upward of 200%. Pawnshop loans do not require a credit check, can be obtained quickly and do not negatively impact a borrower’s credit score if they are not paid back on time. While pawnshops are regulated by 15 federal laws, keep in mind that the interest rates incredibly high and you will likely lose your collateral should you default on the pawnshop loan.
3. Advance on paycheck
A payroll advance is a type of unsecured loan that allows an employer to release the employee’s pay ahead of time. Paycheck advances are usually used to cover an unexpected expense that must be paid immediately. If you can cover an expense with your upcoming paycheck but need it early, asking about an advance on the paycheck is worth considering.
Policies around paycheck advances differ by company, so it’s best to discuss terms with your HR department to see what options are available. But if using your entire advanced paycheck to cover an unexpected expense will disrupt your monthly budget, a small personal loan may still be your best option.
4. Borrowing from friends
Borrowing money from friends or family has its pros and cons. The upside of borrowing from a friend is you can set your own terms, negotiate interest rates (if any) and determine the repayment schedule. Friends or family who act as a lender may be more lenient with borrowing terms compared to a bank or credit union.
But asking someone close to you to borrow money can be awkward and potentially cause a strain on that relationship. Money can be a sensitive subject. When borrowing from a friend, ensure that both parties agree to the loan terms and are comfortable with the situation.
Avoid payday loans
Payday loans are short-term loans with incredibly high interest rates. Interest rates vary by state but can be upwards of 700% in some instances. Unless paid off in full on time, payday loans should be a last resort and avoided in most cases.
“The advice I’d give anyone is to stay away from a payday loan,” Cook said. “There is no one watching out for the borrower’s best interest. For example, you’ll see an ad that quotes their interest rate of 5%, which sounds good compared to the bank at 13%, but they fail to explain what’s in the fine print — that it’s 5% a month, not 5% APR (annual percentage rate).”
When you’re in need of a small personal loan, know that you have many options available to you.