What’s the difference between a personal loan and a credit card?

Credit card or personal loan? The answer depends on what you’re buying and how you intend to pay it back.

When you’re in the market to make a major purchase but don’t have all the cash on hand, borrowing funds can be a viable route. It usually comes down to two options: credit cards and personal loans. Both have pros and cons, but choosing the one that best suits your financial situation could save you money in the long run.

Prosper Personal Loan

Prosper Personal Loans

You could borrow up to $35,000 for a variety of purposes, with rates starting from 5.99%.

  • Recommended Credit Score: 640 or higher
  • Minimum Loan Amount: $2,000
  • Maximum Loan Amount: $35,000
  • Loan Term: 3 or 5 years
  • Turnaround Time: 1-3 business days
  • Simple online application process
  • No prepayment penalties

    How do personal loans and credit cards work?

    Personal loans and credit cards are both types of credit that you have to repay with interest. However, there are some differences between the two.

    • Personal loans come in a lump sum. You have a predetermined amount of time to pay them off, usually between one and seven years. On top of interest, you might also have to pay application, origination, monthly or prepayment fees.
    • Credit cards are a revolving form of borrowing, so they can theoretically last a lifetime. There’s a cap on how much you can borrow each month and you have to make at least a minimum monthly payment on your balance. Many credit cards charge annual fees but also come with interest-free grace periods, balance transfers and rewards.

    Main differences between personal loans and credit cards

    Personal loanCredit card
    Interest rateGenerally 2.19%-36.00%Generally 13.99% to 22.99%
    Repayment termsMonthlyMonthly
    Borrowing limitCan be up to $100,000Can be as high as $50,000
    Funds disbursementOne lump sum upon approvalRevolving credit on card
    (cash advances available as well)

    Compare personal loan lenders and credit card providers

    Rates last updated November 20th, 2017

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    Unfortunately, none of the personal loan providers offer loans for that credit score. If you are in urgent need of a small loan, you might want to consider a short term loan.
    Name Product Product Description Min. Credit Score Max. Loan Amount APR Requirements
    Laurel Road Personal Loans
    Get a personal loan with no application or origination fees and a rate discount for autopay.
    From 5.5% (fixed)
    Must be a US citizen or permanent resident with a valid I-551 card
    Even Financial Personal Loans
    Get matched to the best loan offer instantly from top online consumer lenders.
    From 4.99% (fixed)
    Must have a minimum credit score of 580+. Must be 18+ years old and be an American citizen or permanent resident.
    Prosper Personal Loan
    Borrow only what you need for debt consolidation, home improvements, special occasions and more — with APRs based on your credit score.
    From 5.99% (fixed)
    Must be 18+ years old, an American citizen or US permanent resident and have a 640+ credit score.
    SoFi Personal Loan Fixed Rate (with Autopay)
    Borrow up to $100,000 with a competitive APR and no fees.
    Good to excellent credit
    From 5.49% (fixed)
    You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and 18 years or older.
    LendingPoint Personal Loans
    Get a personal loan with reasonable rates even if you have a fair credit score in the 600s.
    From 15.49% (fixed)
    Must have a fair credit score of 600 or better and verifiable income. Must live in a state where LendingPoint services.
    LendingClub Personal Loan
    A peer-to-peer lender offering fair rates based on your credit score.
    From 5.99% (fixed)
    You must be over 18 years of age, a permanent resident of the US or an American citizen and have a steady source of income.

    Compare up to 4 providers

    Rates last updated November 20th, 2017
    Name Product APR for Purchases ( Purchase Rate ) Intro APR for Balance Transfer Annual fee Product Description
    Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®
    16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99% variable
    0% Intro APR for 12 months (with whichever is greater: $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
    $0 annual fee for the first year ($89 thereafter)
    Enjoy 40000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit toward an eligible travel purchase.
    HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard®
    13.99%, 17.99% or 23.99% variable
    0%% Intro APR for first 15 months from account opening (with whichever is greater: $10 or 4% balance transfer fee)
    Earn unlimited 2% cash rewards on purchases made within 6 months of account opening, then 1.5% thereafter.
    Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
    15.99% variable
    0% Intro APR for for the first 15 billing cycles (with whichever is greater: $5 or 3% balance transfer fee)
    $195 ($95 for each Authorized User added to the account)
    Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
    HSBC Gold Mastercard®
    11.99%, 15.99% or 19.99% variable
    0%% Intro APR for first 18 months from account opening (with whichever is greater: $10 or 4% balance transfer fee)
    0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 18 months from Account opening. Then a variable APR of 11.99%, 15.99% or 19.99% will apply.
    Indigo® Platinum Mastercard®
    23.9% variable
    $75 annual fee for the first year ($0 to $99 thereafter)
    With this card you get a 23.9% variable APR.
    Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa®
    16.99% to 24.99% variable
    $0 to $75 first year annual fee for the first year ($0 to $99 thereafter)
    Good credit not necessary. Rebuild and grow your score with this card.
    Credit One Bank® Unsecured Visa® for Rebuilding Credit
    16.99% to 24.99% variable
    $0 to $75 first year annual fee for the first year ($0 to $99 thereafter)
    A tool for rebuilding your credit.
    First Access Visa Card
    29.99% variable
    $75.00 for first year. After that, $48.00 annually.
    The First Access Card is a true VISA® credit card that does not require perfect credit for approval. Complete our easy online application now and get a response in as little as 60 seconds!
    Simmons Bank Visa® Platinum
    9.25% variable
    The Simmons Bank Visa® Platinum Card offers multiple perks, including one of the lowest available APRs on the market.
    Credit One Bank® Cash Back Credit Card
    16.99% to 24.99% variable
    $0 to $75 first year annual fee for the first year ($0 to $99 thereafter)
    Reward spending while boosting your credit score and earn 1% cash back on all eligible purchases.
    Simmons Bank Visa® Platinum Rewards
    11.25% variable
    Excellent Credit Required - Applicants that do not have excellent credit will not be approved

    Compare up to 4 providers

    Pros and cons of a personal loan


    • Lower interest rates than credit cards
    • Repayment schedule means your debt comes with an end date
    • Can be cheaper in the long term
    • No temptation to overspend


    • Minimum loan term means that you’ll carry the debt for more than a year
    • Can be inflexible (may not offer early repayments)
    • Can take longer to apply for

    Suitable for

    • Large one-off purchases like cars or home improvement
    • Large debt consolidations
    • Borrowing over a long period of time

    Pros and cons of a credit card


    • Immediate spending
    • Can come with rewards
    • Convenient option if you need a constant cash flow
    • Balance transfer for debt consolidation
    • Interest-free grace period


    • Usually carry higher interest rates
    • Only requires a minimum repayment each statement period, which means your debt can accrue interest indefinitely

    Suitable for

    • Smaller purchases
    • Small debt consolidations
    • Everyday shopping or retail purchases to earn reward points
    • Spending amounts that you can be paid back within the interest-free introductory period

    personal-loan-vs-credit-card2Personal loans vs. credit cards: Which one is right for you?

    There is no single answer to this question. While a credit card might be the right choice in one situation, a personal loan might be more suitable in another, and in a third situation, neither might be appropriate. Here are some questions to ask to help decide which credit product might best meet your needs:

    • What do you need the funds for? If you need money for a one-off expense, such as a large purchase, then a personal loan may be suitable. If you want continued access to credit, then a credit card may be more suitable.
    • How do you manage your repayments? As mentioned in the point above, credit cards are an ongoing form of credit, while personal loans have an end-date. If either a personal loan or credit card will work for your needs, you may want to consider how disciplined you are with repayments. If you think you may be tempted with the credit line sitting there, then a more structured repayment schedule, such as that offered by a personal loan, may be worth considering.
    • Are you consolidating debt? It’s important to consider your options carefully. How much debt do you have and does it include loans and credit card accounts? Make sure you will be able to bring across all your accounts to consolidate – for instance, only certain providers allow you to balance transfer loans to a credit card. You also have the option of consolidating your credit card to a personal loan, which can help you save.
    • How much are you looking to borrow? Credit card limits differ, as do personal loan limits. Generally, with an unsecured personal loan you can apply for up to $100,000. You may be able to a high credit limit with a credit card but you will generally need to meet stricter eligibility criteria.

    How to compare personal loans and credit cards

    • Interest rates. If you compare interest rates, generally personal loans are cheaper. The true cost is reflected in the APR, as you need to consider any fees as well.
    • Fees. Personal loans may come with an application fee or origination fee, among other fee types. Credit cards usually just have the annual fee, if there’s a fee at all.
    • Your financial situation. If you have good control over your spending and you regularly follow your budget, then a credit card could be suitable and even help you earn money through rewards and cash back. On the other hand, a personal loan offers the structure some people may need to repay debt timely.

    Using a personal loan or credit card to consolidate debt

    Debt consolidation involves merging multiple debts into one loan or credit card. It simplifies your monthly payments and could save you money if you find a lower interest rate. There are two main ways to do this: With a debt consolidation loan or a balance transfer credit card.

    • Debt consolidation loans are term loans used to pay off any kind of debt at a lower interest rate. Your lender either gives you the money to pay off your debt, or — more likely — asks for your payment information to do it for you.
    • Balance transfer credit cards allow you to transfer all of credit card debt to onto a new card with a lower rate. They usually charge a one-time transfer fee, on top of annual fees, and often offer introductory rates that can be as low as 0%.

    Bottom line

    Personal loans and credit cards are two forms of borrowing that both offer attractive benefits and some notable drawbacks. Which you choose is ultimately up to you, and many people have used both at different points for different purposes. Be sure to compare your options to make an informed decision.

    Frequently asked questions

    This is the time between when you put a charge on your credit card and when that balance begins accruing interest. If you pay off your balance in full each month, you can avoid credit card interest altogether.

    An unsecured loan is one that doesn’t require collateral. The lender gives you the loan amount without securing one of your assets. Read our guide on unsecured loans to learn more.

    There’s no such thing as a guaranteed personal loan or credit card. Your chances of approval may be higher, but be sure to read the provider’s other eligibility criteria to make sure you qualify.

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    US Personal Loans Offers

    Learn about our information service
    Prosper Personal Loan

    Borrow only what you need for debt consolidation, home improvements, special occasions and more — with APRs based on your credit score.

    LendingClub Personal Loan

    A peer-to-peer lender offering fair rates based on your credit score.

    SoFi Personal Loan Fixed Rate (with Autopay)

    Borrow up to $100,000 with a competitive APR and no fees.

    Upstart Personal Loans

    This newer service looks beyond your credit score to get you a competitive-rate personal loan funded by accredited investors.