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What Is a Personal Line of Credit?

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what is a personal line of credit

When you need to borrow money, you may think to borrow a personal loan or get a credit card or home equity line of credit (HELOC). But there’s a lesser-known financing option you may not want to overlook: a personal line of credit.

Don’t confuse a personal line of credit with a credit card. It isn’t a piece of plastic you can whip out and swipe at the grocery store. Instead, it’s a line of credit from which you can draw cash that’s often offered by banks and credit unions to existing customers who meet certain requirements. Here’s what you need to know about this financial product.

What is a personal line of credit?

A personal line of credit is a loan you can use and pay back as needed. The terms of the product can vary from one lender to another.

Interest rates: In most cases, personal lines of credit come with variable interest rates. But they can come with a fixed interest rate. You can find rates starting at around 8%, but they may be as high as 20% or more.

Costs: Aside from the interest rate, personal lines of credit may have other costs. Take care to read through the fine print of the terms for these potential fees:

  • Application fees: This is the cost to apply for the account. Many financial institutions don’t charge for applications, but it’s a good idea to double-check.
  • Annual fees: This is a fee charged each year you have the account. For example, Wells Fargo and TD Bank charge $25 annually for personal lines of credit. Some banks will waive fees as long as you have an open bank account. Check the terms for details.
  • Cash advance fees: This fee may be charged each time you withdraw money from your credit line. Many financial institutions don’t charge this fee.

Credit limits: Credit limits for personal lines of credit can vary. Credit limits can be a few thousand dollars to well over $1 million.

Unsecured vs. secured personal lines of credit: What’s the difference?

As you research personal lines of credit, you’ll find that they can come secured or unsecured. An unsecured personal line of credit doesn’t require collateral. A secured personal line of credit, on the other hand, requires collateral and may be backed by the balance in a savings account, certificate of deposit or investment account.

Collateral reduces the risk for the financial institution lending you money. As a result, secured personal lines of credit generally have lower interest rates.

But a secured line of credit comes with a higher risk to you. If you fail to repay your debt, you could lose your collateral. And you may not have access to the collateral you use to secure the credit line until the debt is repaid.

Where you can find a personal line of credit

Personal lines of credit are marketed less widely than other products, but there are several available from small and large banks and credit unions. The first place to shop for a personal line of credit is the financial institution you use for banking.

Some banks, such as Citibank, only take applications from existing customers. Others, such as Santander Bank and TD Bank, will waive fees for their customers.

The requirements to qualify for a personal line of credit vary from one lender to the next. For a Citibank personal line of credit, you need to have a deposit account with a balance over $500 and a, Citibank mortgage or Citi credit card that’s at least 3 months old.

Some financial institutions may not require you to have a checking account to qualify for a personal line of the credit. Be sure to comparison shop to find a personal line of credit that makes sense for you.

How a personal line of credit works

Obtaining a personal line of credit starts with the application.

The creditor may check your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, credit score and credit history. You may have to turn in pay stubs, W-2s, tax documents and other supporting information for the application. If you already have accounts with the financial institution, it may also dig into the history to see if you have any overdrafts or other signs of misuse that could impact their decision.

Once approved, you get the terms of the agreement to sign at a local branch or online. You will likely get access to the funds within a few days.

To use the credit line, you may be able to:

  • Transfer cash from the credit line into a bank account
  • Get an advance from a physical bank location
  • Write a credit check to yourself or someone else

Some personal lines of credit give you a draw period that lasts a couple of years. During this draw period, you can draw up to the credit limit. After the draw period, the repayment term begins, and you need to pay the money back.

A monthly minimum payment is typically required. Wells Fargo’s minimum payment for an unsecured personal credit line is 1%. The Wells Fargo CD or savings secured personal line of credit has a minimum payment that’s 1/120th of your principal balance. Additional fees may apply.

Some personal lines of credit offer an interest-only payment option. With this repayment option, you’re only required to pay the interest incurred on your credit balance for a certain period. Be careful about getting into the low-cost, interest-only payment trap. Making interest-only payments can lead to much larger payments down the line when you need to start repaying principal and interest.

What can a personal line of credit be used for?

You have the freedom to choose how you use a personal line of credit. You could pay for home repairs, education expenses, unexpected bills or debt consolidation.
The benefit of a personal line of credit is that it can cover unpredictable costs. In comparison, a personal loan gives you a set amount of money with a set repayment period.

Who is a personal line of credit best for?

Personal lines of credit are generally for borrowers who have at least decent credit with some savings socked away.

A solid credit history and savings could qualify you for the best rates and avoid the need for you to put up collateral. But even if you’re opting for an unsecured credit line, a bank may ask to see additional verifiable assets.

Citibank extends its lowest interest rates to elite Citigold and Citi Priority customers or regular account holders with balances of over $200,000. To be a Citigold customer, you must maintain a balance of over $200,000 in eligible accounts. Citi Priority customers must maintain a balance of over $50,000 in checking, retirement and investment accounts at Citibank.

The products above are tailored to high-net-worth clients. Borrowers without six figures in the bank may still be able to qualify for a personal line of credit, but the rate and terms may be less competitive. Compare financial institutions to find which one benefits you the most.

Alternatives to a personal line of credit

Not sure if a personal line of credit is right for you? Consider these alternatives:

Personal loan

A personal loan is an installment loan. You can use the funds from a personal loan for a variety of reasons, from car repairs to medical procedures to weddings. Consolidating debt is a popular reason for taking out a personal loan.

These loans can offer a low fixed interest rate on a fixed term. If you’ve had trouble managing credit lines before, a personal loan gives you a set payment to keep up with until the debt is paid off.

Personal loan amounts can range from about $1,000 to $100,000.

How it works

You can apply for personal loans online through banks, credit unions and online lenders. Each will consider your credit, income and other variables to determine your eligibility for a loan. After you’ve been approved for a loan, the funds will be deposited into your bank account.

Who personal loans are best for

Personal loans are a product for almost anyone. There are personal loans available for people with stellar credit, as well as those who have less-than-perfect credit.

The best interest rates are usually given to borrowers with good to excellent credit scores — generally 640 and above. The good news is you can shop for personal loans to check rates without a hard inquiry for most lenders.

HELOC

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is secured by your home. HELOCs usually have a variable interest rate that can start out fairly low if there’s an introductory period. Be sure to ask about introductory rate expirations and rate caps to get a clear picture of costs.

How it works

HELOCs are offered through banks, credit unions and other lenders. You may be able to borrow up to 80 percent to 90 percent of your home equity value.

When you apply for a HELOC, your credit score, DTI ratio and the amount of equity you have in your home will be considered.

Some HELOC products allow for interest-only payments. That could be a perk if you need to settle other obligations. But it does come with the risk that you could be stuck in debt longer than you’d like.

Often, HELOCs have a draw period where you’re able to use the line of credit as needed. You may be able to renew the credit line after the draw period ends. If you don’t renew it, you’ll no longer be able to draw money and the repayment period will begin.

HELOCs may have closing costs, annual fees and prepayment penalties. Take care to read the interest rate and fee terms to avoid any surprises.

Who it’s best for

A HELOC is going to be best for borrowers who have sufficient equity in their home and decent credit. You may need a credit score of at least 620 to qualify. A score of 680 or above could make it easier to get approved.

Like a personal line of credit, a HELOC is a product for borrowers who have a history managing available credit responsibly. But a HELOC is secured by your home. If you fail to repay your debt, you could lose your house.

If you’re interested in shopping for a HELOC, you can compare products at the LendingTree marketplace. (Note: MagnifyMoney is owned by LendingTree.)

Credit card

A credit card is a form of credit with which you’re probably pretty familiar. A credit card is a line of credit you can use on the fly. Some credit cards also offer rewards for transactions. You could, for instance, get cash back or earn miles toward free flights with a credit card.

Credit cards are offered by banks, credit unions and other financial institutions.

How it works

You can apply for credit cards online within a few minutes. Your financial information will be taken into account, including your credit history. If approved, the credit card issuer will provide you with a variable interest rate, spending limit, and any other fees associated with the card offer.

A minimum payment is due each month on your account. Over time, your rate can rise or fall. Depending on the card for which you apply, you may be responsible for paying an annual fee. Expect to pay fees for late payments and cash advances as well.

Who it’s best for

You can find credit cards for bad credit, but the best rewards programs and rates are reserved for those with excellent scores.

One major advantage to credit cards is sign-up promotions. Some cards offer a cash reward or bonus miles for signing up. You could even score an introductory 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for periods of 15 to 20 months. Pay off your balance within that promotional period, and you essentially had a no-interest loan.

Credit cards are best for borrowers who are committed to using plastic and paying it off each month. That’s how you avoid interest charges. If you’ve had a problem with credit cards before, adding a new card to the mix may not be the best idea.

Making the right move for your finances

A personal line of credit has its merits. But you should weigh your options carefully. You may find a personal loan, HELOC or credit card is a better fit.

Ultimately, the right product for you will depend on your goals and financial situation. The best way to find the most competitive product for your needs is by shopping around and considering which products and features matter most to you.

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.

Taylor Gordon
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Taylor Gordon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Taylor here

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Here’s Why You Should Avoid Cosigning a Loan for a Friend

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements 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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You’re in a tricky situation: your friend, who you love and care about deeply, has come to you asking for your help getting a loan that they desperately need. You know the loan could benefit your friend, but you’re also unsure of the risks behind cosigning a loan.

The most important step you can take is to learn why cosigning a loan for a friend is rarely a good idea. That way, you can understand why you probably should avoid it.

Should you cosign a loan for a friend?

In general, you may want to avoid cosign a loan for a friend. Here’s why:

  • You become legally responsible for the loan. In the eyes of the lender, the full loan amount is 100% yours. That means if your friend doesn’t make payments, the two of you will be held responsible.
  • Your credit score could be affected. Should your friend miss even one payment, your credit score could be negatively impacted since the loan is considered to be in your name too. And if the borrower defaults on the loan completely, it could impact your credit score even more.
  • You could damage your friendship. Consider the risks to the relationship with the person you are cosigning a loan for if they are unable to pay back the loan. Is the risk of ruining your friendship worth it?
  • You could lose personal property. If a loan — such as a personal loan — requires any collateral, such as your car, house or other personal asset, you are at risk of losing your property should your friend default on the loan.

Reasons why you may or may not choose to cosign a loan

Here’s a more comprehensive look at reasons why you might choose not to cosign a loan:

  • You can’t afford the loan. You should not take the risk on of cosigning a loan unless you can afford to pay the loan in its entirety. Otherwise, you could liable in court or even have your assets seized as part of your state’s collection practices.
  • You need a loan for yourself. If you know you will need your own loan soon, cosigning a friend’s loan could prevent you from being eligible for a loan for yourself.
  • You’re concerned about your credit score. If you’ve had a history of bad credit, are trying to build up your own credit or just don’t want to see your credit score negatively affected, you need to be aware that cosigning a loan could hurt your own credit score if your friend misses payments or defaults on the loan all together.
  • Your friend has a history of bad financial decisions. You should know why your friend needs a loan. It’s within your right to decide that you won’t cosign a loan if you don’t agree with how they’ll use loan funds. If your friend tends to rack up debt, you’re also free to explain to your friend that you don’t feel confident they need the added debt.

That being said, there may be a few circumstances where it is acceptable to cosign a loan for a friend. For example:

  • You can afford to pay the loan completely. If you cosign a loan, you are agreeing to be responsible for the loan amount in the event that your friend is unable to pay it. So, if you can afford to pay off the entire loan amount and are willing to do so, you could cosign a loan with less risk of hurting your own finances. Aside from the money you’d be out for the loan amount, of course.
  • The loan is for both of you. If you are purchasing something together, cosigning a loan might be a logical move, as you will both be utilizing the item or asset. For family members, a parent might choose to cosign a loan so their child could potentially consolidate student loan debt at a lower interest rate.
  • You’re willing to take on the risk. Maybe you feel like your friend has no other options, this is a necessary step and you are fully aware of the risks involved. In that case, cosigning a loan is a personal decision that only you can make.

How to protect yourself when cosigning a loan

If you do decide to cosign a loan with a friend or someone else, you should also take steps to protect yourself as much as possible before the loan is enacted. You can minimize your risk by taking actions such as:

  • Don’t put down personal assets as collateral. If you’re willing to cosign on a loan, you shouldn’t wager more than that. Using your home, car or other personal asset as collateral only increases your risk.
  • Establish expectations in advance. You should sit down with your friend to establish expectations for the loan and repayment. It’s helpful if you can set out a plan in writing about the consequences if your friend misses payments or is unable to fully repay the loan.
  • Stay on top of the loan. Although it is recommended that you keep close tabs on the borrower to ensure that they are repaying the loan on time each month, you could also ask the creditor to inform you of any missed or late payments automatically. If the lender has an online system, you and your friend could also share the account information. That way, you could easily log into your account to review payment information.
  • Try negotiating loan terms. Rules will vary by lender and state, but you may be able to negotiate what you’re responsible for as a cosigner, such as limiting your liability to the loan principal balance instead of the full principal and interest amount. You can also try to negotiate responsibility for late fees, attorney fees or accrued court costs.

Other ways of helping your friend

Outside of cosigning a loan for your friend, there may be other ways that you can help, such as:

  • Assisting with a down payment. Perhaps you can’t afford to take on the risk of cosigning an entire loan for your friend, but you may be able to help them put together a down payment so that they may qualify for a conventional loan.
  • Lend them the money directly. To ensure that you would not be legally responsible for your friend’s debt and to avoid possible damage to your own credit score, you could consider lending your friend the money they need directly, either as a lump sum or in installments. It is advisable to get all loan terms in writing and to have the loan contract notarized if you do choose to DIY a loan.

The bottom line

Although you may want to cosign a loan with a friend to help them, taking on the legal responsibility of someone else’s debt is usually not a good idea for most people. Agreeing to become a cosigner means you run the risk of being liable for the loan amount and the possibility of your own credit score taking a negative impact.

You should carefully consider the risks you are willing to take and take steps to minimize them before agreeing to cosign a loan for a friend. In most cases, unless you can fully afford and are willing to pay off the entire loan amount, the cons do outweigh the risk of cosigning on a loan for a friend.

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.

Chaunie Brusie
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Chaunie Brusie is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Chaunie here

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Should You Use a Personal Loan to Build Credit? What to Consider

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements 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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If you’ve been trying to build up your personal credit, you may have considered using a personal loan. Taking out a personal loan could show creditors that you can responsibly handle different kinds of debt and follow the terms to which you and your lender have agreed.

But how successful you are depends on your ability to pay the loan back within the given term limits. Here’s what you should consider before taking out a personal loan to build credit.

Pros vs. cons: Using a personal loan to build credit

There are both pros and cons to taking out a personal loan in an attempt to increase your credit score:

Pros

  • Add to your credit mix: A personal loan could help you diversify your credit mix, which accounts for 10% of your FICO score.
  • Stay current on payments: You could use a personal loan to refinance a debt or consolidate debts to a lower interest rate. Doing so could help ensure you stay current on payments, which positively impacts your credit.
  • May not have to put down collateral: An unsecured personal loan doesn’t require you to put up collateral to secure the loan. That means your house or other assets can’t be taken away if you default.
  • Lower your credit utilization ratio: A personal loan can also lower your credit utilization ratio if you pay off your credit card balance with your loan and keep the card open. Credit utilization is important factor in your FICO score, and it is basically the amount you owe divided by the total amount you have available to you. Personal loans don’t count toward it.

Cons

  • Fees, fees, fees: Depending on your credit score, you could be paying hefty interest fees over the length of the loan, in addition to any other fees your lender charges, such as prepayment penalties, late fees and origination fees.
  • Could increase your debt-to-income ratio: Taking out a personal loan could change your debt-to-income ratio. This could make future lenders less likely to let you borrow funds until some, or even most, of your personal loan is paid off.
  • Strict payment schedule: Personal loans are often issued for a period of between 24 to 60 months and offer little flexibility when it comes to adjusting payments. So if you lose your job or face other financial struggles, your lender may be unwilling to work with you to reduce or delay payments.

Is using a personal loan to build credit right for you?

A personal loan might make sense for you if your goal is to diversify your credit mix or lower your credit utilization ratio by paying off a credit card. It’s also a good option if you plan to use the funds at a lower interest rate to pay off other debt that’s charging you a higher interest rate.

A personal loan to build credit might not be a good option if you’re already struggling with paying off debt, if you have no prior credit history or if you could get a credit card with a lower rate of interest instead. If you can’t get a reasonable interest rate, a personal loan might not be a good choice, said David Gokhshtein, a New York-based member of the Forbes Finance Council.

“In most cases, people in this scenario already have lower credit scores, leading to very high interest rates they could be paying off indefinitely,” he said. “If the debt gets sent to a collection agency, it will further damage the person’s credit score.”

That said, it’s important you have a clear picture of your financial situation. Consider the following questions:

  • Is your credit score good enough to qualify for competitive interest rates?
  • Can you afford the cost of a personal loan?
  • Is taking out debt and repaying it with interest worth it to build your credit?
  • Do you have a good use for the funds?

Answering these questions could help you decide whether or not to move forward with this option.

How to take out a personal loan

The first thing you should do if you decide to get a personal loan is to check your credit score. A FICO score of 700, on a range that spans 300 to 850, indicates you have good credit and would be likely eligible for a variety of loan offers, including a personal loan at a reasonable rate of interest. Because FICO scores are seen as an accurate reflection of your creditworthiness, lenders rely on them in 90% of all decisions.

You’ll want to research your options for lenders before committing to a loan, as well. You can use MagnifyMoney’s personal loan marketplace to compare lenders. You may also look to local banks or credit unions.

If possible, apply for preapproval from your top lenders of choice. Preapproval will allow you to see rates and terms you might qualify for with a soft credit check, which won’t affect your credit score.

Consider the following when weighing your loan options:

  • Rates
  • Fees
  • Conditions
  • Lender perks, such as support in case of job loss

Once you decide on a lender, you can submit to a hard credit check to see your final rates and terms. Depending on the lender, you could get loan funds within a few business days.

Others strategies to improving your credit

Consider the following ways to build credit without accumulating any additional debt:

Get a credit builder loan. With this type of loan, the money you borrow is deposited into an interest-bearing account. As you make payments on the debt, your payments are reported to the credit bureaus. Once you pay off your debt, the loan funds and the interest they earned are released to you.

Charge only what you can pay in full each month. If you have a credit card, you could use to work on your credit. Just make sure you pay off the card in full each month. “It is imperative to create and use a simple budget to make sure you follow this rule,” said Freddie Huynh, the San Francisco-based vice president of credit risk analytics at Freedom Financial Network. “Being able to pay your bills on time is the most important factor in the calculation of your credit score, accounting for 35 percent.”

Review your credit reports regularly for accuracy and correct any errors you find. You can access credit reports from each of the three main credit reporting agencies once a year for free at www.annualcreditreport.com. “If any report shows any inaccuracy, follow the directions on each agency’s website to correct it,” Huynh said.

The bottom line

Carefully consider your options before taking out a personal loan. You should have a clear idea of how you’ll use the loan funds and what the total cost of the loan will be. Most importantly, if your credit has been damaged by poor financial habits in the past, you need to consider whether or not a personal loan is only a temporary solution to a larger problem.

“My biggest concern with anyone considering a personal loan to pay off high interest credit cards is that they are focusing on the symptom, not the cause,” said Todd Christensen, the Boise, Idaho-based education manager at Money Fit by DRS. “If the borrower is disciplined, it might make sense; otherwise, debt management through a nonprofit credit counseling agency could make more sense.”

While a personal loan can be one part of the credit building or repairing process, it’s not your only possible solution. In fact, Christensen said taking out a personal loan could be part of a multi-pronged strategy to boosting your credit. Still, a personal loan on its own could help depending on your finances — given that you properly research lenders, stay disciplined during repayment and take extra care of your money throughout the process.

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.

Barbara Balfour
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Barbara Balfour is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Barbara here

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