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Katie OrmsbyPersonal Loans Expert

Katie enjoys helping readers make sense of Personal Loans options. She's previously written business and shopping features for The Seattle Times and Seattle Met magazine. She has a degree in journalism and political science from the University of Washington.

How Personal Loans Work

Whether you want to consolidate credit card debt, finance home repairs, or pay for a wedding, personal loans can be a great way to meet your financial needs. Most personal loans are unsecured loans, which means they don’t require collateral. Since eligibility is based on several factors like your credit history and debt-to-income ratio, each loan’s terms will vary from situation to situation. No matter your circumstances, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the details before applying for a personal loan.

What Are Personal Loans?

Designed to help you fill the gaps in your financial situation, personal loans can be a resource if you need cash. Interest rates are often lower than credit cards and payday loans. Plus, unlike some types of loans, personal loans allow you to use the funds for nearly any purpose.

Because personal loans are usually unsecured, rates depend on your creditworthiness rather than what you have for collateral. But how do you get the best loan rate possible? And can you get a loan without perfect credit? Personal lending has become highly customized, and many lenders tailor loans to a variety of situations. Let’s take a closer look at personal loans so you can take the next steps without any lingering questions.

Pros and Cons of Personal Loans

Pros
Cons
Can be used for almost anything
There may be an origination fee
Nearly instant access to cash
Regular monthly payments
Often lower interest rates than credit cards
Often higher interest rates than secured loans

How Can You Use Personal Loans?

Personal loans are versatile and can be used for many purposes, including:

Debt Consolidation

If mounting credit card debt or loan payments have you in a little over your head, you’re not alone. In fact, debt consolidation is one of the most common reasons people get personal loans. It can be an effective way to get a lower interest rate and go from multiple monthly payments to a single payment.

Home Renovations

Personal loans don’t require your home as collateral, so they can be an appealing option for financing home improvements. Of course, home equity loans and cash-out refinance loans are other options to consider. Depending on your situation, a personal loan could be the right option.

Unexpected Costs

Every so often, emergency expenses can’t be avoided. For instance, you never know when an unexpected auto repair or medical bill will pop up. Since personal are so flexible, they can be used for a variety of purposes. So, a personal loan may be useful for surprise bills.

Wedding Expenses

Weddings can be expensive. In fact, the average cost of a wedding was $19,000 in 2020. And that cost is expected to climb this year. Fortunately, personal loans are an option. From floral arrangements to venues, a personal loan can help finance upfront costs as you plan your dream wedding.

Recreational boats

Have you been feeling the urge to hit the water? Recreational boat financing is another popular reason folks get personal loans. Whether you’re considering a used boat, yacht, or anything in between, a personal loan could be useful. And if your credit isn’t exactly perfect, you may be able to get a secured personal loan that uses the boat as collateral.

If You’re In Debt, You Aren’t Alone

Struggling with debt is more common than you might think, and you’re certainly not alone. In fact, the average American is more than $90,000 in debt. With high credit card interest rates and multiple payments, even the smallest debt can easily grow. As you can see in the table below, American adults of all ages have debt to pay off.

Average Debt by Generation

Generation
Age Range
Average Debt
Gen Z
18 - 23
$9,593
Millennials
24 - 39
$78,396
Gen X
40 - 55
$135,841
Baby Boomers
56 - 74
$96,984
Silent Generation
75+
$40,925

Source: CNBC

What Factors Affect Personal Loan APRs?

Several factors impact personal loan APRs, including your:

Can You Get a Personal Loan With Bad Credit?

Creditworthiness is determined by examining both your credit score and your employment history. Having a credit score on the lower end of the spectrum doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from receiving a loan. However, those with higher credit scores tend to reap the benefits of lower personal loan rates. If you don’t qualify for a personal loan on your own, then you may be able to get one with a co-signer. Additionally, a co-signer may help you qualify for a lower interest rate.

What’s Considered a Good Credit Score?

Credit Score Rating
Credit Score Range
Excellent
800 - 850
Very Good
740 - 799
Good
670 - 739
Fair
580 - 669
Poor
300 - 579

Source: CNBC

Compare Our Featured Picks

Credible

Credible is a broker that works with a variety of different lenders to find the best unsecured personal loan for you. Their marketplace also gives you access to great credit cards, student loans, mortgages, and a variety of refinancing options for existing debt. With Credible’s state of the art rapid prequalification, you can get a rate quote and have access to lenders that fit your needs in under 2 minutes.

In order to borrow from Credible’s network, you will need to have a credit score of at least 680, making them a great option for people with decent credit history. However, if you’re working on building up your credit, you may need to work on paying off some other debts before considering a loan from one of Credible’s partners. All in all, Credible’s commitment to security, customer service, and variety makes them a great option to consider. Read the full review.

LendingTree

Loan marketplace LendingTree does not provide personal loans directly. Instead, they work by connecting borrowers and lenders around the country so that customers can find loans that fit their needs. LendingTree takes the information you provide—such as loan purpose, amount, and your financial information—before gathering results and matching you with the best lenders for your situation.

One benefit to LendingTree as a marketplace is that they present loan options from traditional financial institutions as well as less mainstream lenders. This does come with some downsides, as there isn’t always a consistent credit score minimum or interest rate. However, LendingTree’s easy application process guarantees that if there’s a loan that will work for you, they can help you find it. Read the full review.

SoFi

Finding a non-bank lender that offers unsecured personal loans can be difficult. Fortunately, SoFi is a financial services company that offers unsecured personal loans for a variety of purposes, terms, and amounts. As an online lender, they come with a complete suite of loan products and money management tools. They also support an easy, remote-only application process.

Keep in mind that SoFi wants its customers to succeed, so their qualifications are a little higher than some other lenders. They ask that all applicants have a credit score of at least 680 and make a minimum of $45,000 a year, which does limit their clientele. Ultimately, SoFi is a respected, online-exclusive, non-bank lender that holds a solid “A” rating with the Better Business Bureau. Read the full review.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do personal loans require collateral?

The majority of personal loans are unsecured loans. So, that means they don’t require collateral. Each lending institution will have its own set of requirements, but personal loans are typically based on your creditworthiness.

What documents do you need to apply for a loan?

When you apply for a personal loan, you’ll need to provide several documents. Personal loan lenders typically like to see your identification, proof of income, tax returns, and credit history. However, it can vary from lender to lender.

What are common personal loan fees?

In addition to paying interest on your loan, there are several fees you may need to cover. Not all personal loan companies charge an application fee, but many apply origination fees. Other fees can include a penalty for early payoff and charges related to late payments.

Are there alternatives to personal loans?

While personal loans can be a useful way to access cash, they aren’t the only option. For example, alternatives include home equity loans and cash-out refinance loans. Of course, personal loans come with certain advantages; chiefly, they generally don’t require collateral.

Can you get a personal loan with a co-signer?

If you have a lower credit score or a short credit history, a co-signer can be a good way to secure a personal loan. Co-signers use their good credit history as an insurance policy, but your loan will also show up on their credit report. So, entering into a co-signer agreement should never be taken lightly.

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

Whether you want to apply for a personal loan to consolidate debt or finance big expenses, it can be a useful way to access cash fast. Of course, there are a few things to keep in mind to get the best online personal loan. In order to set yourself up for future financial success, it’s a good idea to figure out how much you need and only take out that much. You’ll also want to take into account the monthly payment schedule and budget accordingly.

Getting the lowest interest rate depends on several factors, including the credit history you’ve built and your debt-to-income ratio. Personal loans are different from many other types of loans. But the more you know about personal loans, the more prepared you’ll be to negotiate the best repayment terms.