You can get personal loans, typically unsecured, in amounts ranging from $1,000 to more than $50,000. And with a good credit score, you’ll likely be able to snag the most affordable interest rates, too.
Here are some things to consider while searching for a personal loan:
With unsecured personal loans, credit is key
Personal loans interest are typically higher than rates on secured loans, or loans backed by property. Because these rates depend on your creditworthiness, having a good credit score can also make it easier to find a low APR.
Credit unions, which are not-for-profit, tend to offer the most affordable rates for personal loans. They may also be willing to help you out if you have less-than-perfect credit. They are your best shot if you are looking for a small loan.
Peer-to-peer lenders which offer investor-funded loans to consumers with good credit, sometimes offer even lower rates than credit unions to borrowers with excellent credit. Compare the rates you find online with those from your bank or credit union.
Borrowers with average credit will find plenty of options, along with higher rates. Some lenders will consider additional factors such as your job history or earnings potential in making their underwriting decisions.
With poor credit, you may have an easier time finding a personal loan if you have a cosigner or own property you can use as collateral. If you do find a cosigner, keep in mind that he or she will be on the hook for your missed payments. Do your best to honor your agreement and protect both your credit scores. Rates on these loans from alternative lenders will be considerably higher, as much as 36% APR if your credit is at the bottom of their underwriting guidelines.
Yet that’s downright cheap compared with payday lenders or the most unscrupulous tier of online loan companies, since they usually offer loans with upward of 300% APR and may try to charge you unnecessary fees.
What you need to apply for a personal loan
To apply for a personal loan, you’ll typically need to provide some documents which are:
Identification – passport, driver’s license, state ID or Social Security card
Verification of address – utility bills, recent mail or copy of lease
Proof of past income – W-2 forms, pay stubs, bank statements or tax returns.
You may also be asked for this information:
Social Security number
Monthly debt obligations (rent, student loans, etc.)
Employer’s name, work address and phone number
Address, email, phone number
Date of birth
Mother’s maiden name
College name and major
You’ll need to specify the amount of money you want to borrow and you may also be asked by some lenders to choose how much time you need to repay it (typically two to five years), after providing this information. Keep in mind that the longer you pay back your loan, the more you’ll have to shell out for interest payments. You can keep your costs low, if you borrow only what you need.
How to find the lowest rates on personal loans
You need to do these before agreeing to a deal:
See if you qualify for a 0% credit card. You can probably get a credit card that has 0% interest on purchases for a year or longer, if you have good credit and that may be less expensive than taking out a personal loan.
Consider a secured loan instead. If you have a house, consider using it as collateral in order to get lower rates. A home equity loan or home equity line of credit can often be cheaper than an unsecured personal loan. Keep in mind that using your home as collateral means that if you default, you could lose your home.
Pay off as much of your credit card balance as you can before you apply. The outstanding balance on your credit card — counts against you when a lender runs a credit check,even if you pay it off at the end of the month and never pay interest.
Shop around. Your local bank or credit union may have great rates, especially if you have a long relationship. But online lenders are offering very competitive rates, especially for borrowers without top-notch credit. (See “Where to Get a Personal Loan.”)
What to watch out for with personal loans
You could find out the hard way that you agreed to less-than-desirable terms if you ignore the print in your personal loan agreement. Look for these gotchas before signing your contract:
Prepayment penalties. Always look for the words “no prepayment penalty” on your loan terms when you apply because most online lenders do not charge prepayment penalties or exit fees for paying off the loan before a certain date.
Scam artists. Check out the Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission to make sure the organization is legitimate before you sign up for any loan, particularly online. If you borrow from a lender who has a record of unfair practices or charges usurious rates, you may have a hard time getting out of debt.
Accidental overdrafts. Many online lenders ask for automatic withdrawals from your checking account, or offer a lower APR for choosing this option instead of paying by check. If you link your loan to your checking account for automatic payments, you might be in danger of overdrawing your account and paying an overdraft fee — usually, about $35. To avoid accidentally draining your bank account, consider setting up a low balance alert with your bank
Final thoughts. Taking out a personal loan can help you relieve your debt load and cover unexpected costs, but take stock of your options before settling on one choice. Find the lowest rates, borrow only what you need and repay your debts on time.