Personal loans can help you finance anything from home improvements to car repairs, debt consolidation, unpaid bills and even a vacation. But when searching for the best personal loan, the most important factor is you. Your own unique situation – including your past and present financial situation – will determine what you need in a loan and a lender.
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Types of personal loans
This is your standard personal loan, where you receive a lump sum of money that you repay over a fixed period of time.
You aren’t required to put collateral, such as your home equity or your car, on the line to qualify for an unsecured loan. However, lenders tend to see these loans as risky – they’re left with nothing if you can’t pay it back, therefore rates tend to be higher than secured loans.
A term loan that comes with a set interest rate that doesn’t change throughout the life of the loan.
A term loan that comes with an interest rate that is subject to change while you’re repaying your loan. Typically, interest rates on variable rate loans can start off lower than their fixed-rate cousins, but they aren’t guaranteed to stay that low.
Get access to a revolving amount of funds – similar to a credit card but with a higher limit and typically lower expenses. Great for funding continuous projects that might come with unexpected expenses. You are only charged for the money you actually borrow from a line of credit, which means you only pay on interest on the borrowed amount.
Once you’ve figured out what type of loan you’re looking for, it’s time to compare loans and apply. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a loan:
Annual percentage rate. The APR is the interest accrued across an entire year rather than the monthly charge. Different interest rates and loan amounts will impact the APR of your loan, so compare providers based on this number.
Fees. Some lenders charge a monthly service fee, administrative fee or other large fees when you borrow. Find out what each lender plans on charging then narrow down your selection. Remember that some of these fees may be included in the APR.
Term. While interest rates and fees are important, they’re not the only factor you should consider. The term of your loan will determine how long you have to pay back the money – but it will also determine the total cost of your loan and how much your weekly, bi-weekly or monthly repayments are.
Customer reviews. How do real customers rate the lender online? Reading up on the experiences of others will demonstrate to you how a business handles customer complaints and problems.
Additional perks. Check if the lender offers any additional perks that might stand out to you, including penalty-free early repayments or an easy-to-use mobile app.
How to get a competitive rate
Lenders typically look for the following features before giving a borrower the most competitive rates they offer.
High credit score. Having a good or excellent credit score is one of the most important factors in getting a competitive rate – usually a score over 650 is necessary to be eligible, however even this score likely won’t get you the best rate.
Strong credit history. Your credit score should reflect your credit history to an extent, but lenders like to see that you have a long history of paying off several different types of debt on time.
High income. Most personal loan providers have minimum income requirements to qualify, but you’ll generally need an income that is much higher than the cutoff to get the best rate.
Low debt-to-income ratio (DTI). Your debt-to-income ratio can often best indicate your ability to take on another repayment. Typically, lenders don’t want to work with anyone with a DTI higher than 43%, and the lower your DTI, the better.
What to watch out for
While personal loans can help you through financial hardships, you need to be aware of some important things.
Read the fine print. Before signing the loan contract, take the time to read the fine print and remember to look for ongoing fees, prepayment fees and late payment fees. Read the loan contract from start to finish and ask the lender any questions if you’re unsure of something.
Check that the lender is licensed. There are a number of online credit brokers and providers who operate illegally and continually scam people. If you wish to safeguard your information, it’s best to do your research to avoid any untrustworthy lenders.
Don’t take on a loan you can’t afford. Just because you qualify for a large loan doesn’t mean you have to take out the maximum amount you’re offered. For example, if you only need $10,000, there’s no need to get a $15,000 loan. You’ll pay unnecessary interest for extra cash that you don’t need.
Tips to pay off your new loan
Choosing to tackle repayments head-on can save you time, money and stress. Here are some of our best tips to help you focus on paying off your new loan on time, every time.
Put away your repayments. If your bank doesn’t charge you for opening an extra savings account, utilize it. Stick your loan repayments into this account so you don’t have to worry about not having enough in your regular everyday bank account.
Make an extra payment or two. Making an extra payment on your loan can help you pay down the principal balance faster and cut down the total amount of interest you’ll pay. Before making an early repayment, make sure you won’t be charged any prepayment fees.
Round up your interest. Rounding to the nearest whole number – for instance, $335.98 to $350 – will only cost you a bit more each month, but can quickly help you make a difference on the total amount of debt you owe. Again, make sure prepayment penalties won’t cause you to deal with any additional fees.
Check out refinancing. If you take out a loan for an extended period of time and make your repayments on time for a couple of years, you’ll improve your credit score, which means you may have the opportunity to refinance your loan and get a better interest rate. Refinancing could reduce the total cost of your loan.
At the end of the day, the best personal loan* will depend on your own personal needs and financial situation. Before you decide which lender to apply with, learn more about personal loans in our comprehensive guide and discover how smart borrowing can change the way you finance your needs and wants.
Frequently asked questions
No, a legitimate lender should not ask you to pay any funds upfront. In many provinces, it is actually illegal for a lender to request any money upfront. If a lender charges an origination or processing fee for a loan, they will typically deduct it from the loan amount. If a lender is asking for a prepaid card loaded with funds or for you to pay loan insurance, you should look elsewhere for a loan – it’s likely a scam. You should also be aware that loan insurance is never required.
Fixed interest rates stay the same throughout the entire term of the loan, while variable interest rates may change during the term of the loan. Variable rates fluctuate alongside economic conditions and the prime rate, and are typically displayed as a set number + the prime. For example: 2.5% + the prime rate.
You’ll always know what your weekly, bi-weekly or monthly repayment will be with a fixed interest rate, while your monthly repayments could fluctuate with a variable interest rate.
Not exactly. Your likelihood of approval for a personal loan may be greater with an excellent credit score, but there’s no such thing as a guaranteed personal loan – or any type of guaranteed loan for that matter. Before applying for a loan, be sure to consider the lender’s other eligibility requirements, such as having a steady income and meeting any age and residency requirements.
Aliyyah Camp is a writer and personal finance blogger who helps readers compare personal, student, car and business loans. Aliyyah earned a BA in communication from the University of Pennsylvania and is based in New York, where she enjoys movies and running outdoors.
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