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Personal loans can help you finance some of life’s large purchases without the astronomical interest charges that generally come with using a credit card. Personal loans are typically used for personal expenses — like a home renovation, wedding or even debt consolidation. They also typically carry a lower interest rate compared to credit cards, so they are usually an attractive financing option for someone who wants to avoid large interest charges.
Regardless of how you hope to use a personal loan, it’s always important to do your research to make sure it suits your financial needs. There’s a ton of information out there and parsing through it all can feel overwhelming.
So, Select gathered a list of the most-Googled questions about personal loans and asked expert Leslie Tayne, a financial attorney and Founder and Director of Tayne Law Group, to provide answers. Here’s everything you need to know:
How do personal loans work and how do you apply for one?
Personal loans are what’s known as installment credit. This means it’s a type of loan that must be repaid over a set period of time. It’s different from revolving credit, like credit cards, which involves the ability to borrow more money as you keep making payments.
“You’ll be approved for a lump sum amount,” Tayne said. “Each month, you’ll pay back portions of the loan in equal, fixed payments for a set period of time. The terms are generally based on your credit score.”
Interest charges will also be included in your monthly payment. The interest rate you pay is one of the terms that will be based on your credit score. Generally, the better your credit score is, the more favorable your loan terms will be. This could mean having a longer period of time to repay the loan and even waived origination fees.
But before you can get approved for a personal loan, you’ll need to go through an application process.
“The process can be completed over the phone, online, or at a bank,” Tayne said. “You’ll fill out the application form and the lender will run a credit check. “Once you are approved, the lender will deposit the funds directly into your checking account.”
“It’s challenging but you can still get approved for a personal loan with bad credit — you might just pay a higher interest rate,” Tayne said. “Some lenders do have a minimum required credit score, so loans from these lenders won’t be available to someone with bad credit.”
You can always double check any credit score requirements with the lender before you apply. Payoff Personal Loan, for example, requires a FICO score of 640 or higher for approval. Some lenders may list their requirements on their website but if you can’t find them, it doesn’t hurt to ask the lender directly.
Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
0% to 5% (based on credit score and application)
Early payoff penalty
5% of monthly payment amount or $15, whichever is greater (with 15-day grace period)
According to Tayne, if you have bad credit you may also sometimes need a co-signer, or you may need to provide collateral to secure the loan. Securing the loan with a personal item, like a house or a car, means that the lender can seize that asset if you fail to make your loan payments.
If you have a lower credit score, you may also consider a lender that doesn’t charge any extra fees. An origination fee is calculated as a percentage of the loan amount and it can reduce the total loan balance you actually receive.
So if you’re looking at lenders that charge an origination fee, you might have to adjust the amount of money you’re requesting to accommodate for the cost of the fee. Otherwise, you might consider some lenders that don’t charge an origination fee at all, like LightStream or Discover, for example.
Of course, there are a ton of different options out there so comparing offers is one of the best ways to make sure you’re getting a personal loan with the best interest rate and payment terms. You can use this comparison tool from Even Financial to determine your top offers. The service is free, secure and won’t affect your credit score if you don’t apply for a loan.
Editorial note: The tool is provided and powered by Even Financial, a search and comparison engine that matches you with third-party lenders. Any information you provide is given directly to Even Financial. Select does not have access to any data you provide. Select may receive an affiliate commission from partner offers in the Even Financial tool. The commission does not influence the selection in order of offers.
What is the benefit to obtaining a personal loan?
“There are some benefits to obtaining a personal loan, but it is often dependent on what your credit score is,” Tayne explained. “If you have a great credit score and can secure a low-interest loan, you can use the loan to make a large purchase that would have otherwise been paid for with a credit card.”
Credit cards tend to carry higher interest rates compared to personal loans, which means you’ll pay more overall when using a credit card to finance a purchase. So according to Tayne, using a personal loan with a lower interest rate essentially reduces the cost of the item. Of course, the best way to make sure your personal loan carries as low of an interest rate as possible is to make sure you maintain a good credit score.
At times, though, a credit card with a 0% APR period could potentially be a more affordable alternative to a personal loan. This is because you won’t pay any interest on the credit card charges for the specified introductory period. The Chase Freedom Flex℠ card, for example, lets you make purchases interest-free for the first 15 months (after, 14.99% to 23.74% variable). But for other options, Select rounded up some other credit cards with interest-free intro offers lasting 15, 18 and even 20 months.
Earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including Target® or Walmart® purchases) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year, 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%), 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on dining and at drug stores, 1% cash back on all other purchases
$200 cash back after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening
0% for the first 15 months on purchases
14.99% to 23.74% variable
Balance transfer fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Foreign transaction fee
Is personal loan interest tax deductible?
Some of your expenses can be deducted from your gross income to reduce the amount of taxes you’ll owe. In this situation, you’ll pay interest on your personal loan and you may be wondering if the interest you pay is tax deductible, similar to the home mortgage interest deduction.
According to Tayne, interest paid on a personal loan is generally not tax deductible. However, it may depend on the purpose of the loan. If you’re using it to cover business or education expenses (like paying tuition), then the interest may be tax deductible. But if you’re using the loan to cover a wedding or a home renovation, the interest charges are generally not tax deductible.
But before writing anything off, consult with your accountant to see what may and may not be tax deductible.
How much of a personal loan can I get?
“That is dependent upon what the lender is willing to give you based on your credit history,” Tayne said. “Lenders may usually approve you for up to $100,000, but it depends on your income and credit score.”
If you aren’t sure how much a particular lender will approve, it doesn’t hurt to ask prior to submitting your application.
“The rates can be anywhere from 9% to 14%,” Tayne explained. “However, there are some lenders with considerably lower rates. Sometimes, you can even get a reduced interest rate by setting up autopay and having your monthly payments made automatically.”
Autopay reduces the likelihood that you’ll make a late payment or miss a payment altogether. This is why some lenders are willing to give you a lower interest rate when you make monthly payments through autopay.
Lenders will also usually list the interest rate range available for their personal loans on their websites. But if you can’t find it online, you can always schedule an appointment with them to ask prior to submitting your application.
How long does it take to be approved for a personal loan?
According to Tayne, it can take anywhere from one to seven days to be approved for a personal loan. Applicants can reduce the likelihood of any delays in the approval process by making sure they provide accurate information when filling out the application form.
“There’s good debt and bad debt but it depends on what you’re doing with the loan and how it’s impacting you,” Tayne said. “Borrowing money you’re paying interest on will cost you more than paying in cash. It can be easy to finance an expense with a personal loan in some circumstances. And if it fits into your overall financial goals, then it’s a good thing. But if it’s a situation where you’re trying to push a round button into a square hole, then it might not be a good fit for you.”
She also explained that borrowers tend to take on personal loans with good intentions, but they later realize that it doesn’t fit within their budget. Or, external circumstances might also affect a borrower’s ability to manage their loan balance; a borrower who took out a loan last year but was laid off due to the pandemic might suddenly have a hard time paying back their loan — even if their budget previously allowed for some extra wiggle room.
You can’t control external circumstances like a pandemic. But when it comes to the things you can control, make sure you’re making the decisions that make sense for your financial situation. Think about if you really need the money and make a plan for how you’ll pay it back. And it always helps to have an emergency fund incase things do go awry.
Can personal loans build your credit?
Personal loans can certainly help you improve your credit history. But there are also some instances where they can hurt you.
“If you don’t already have a lot of credit history, a personal loan can help you build positive payment history,” Tayne said. “And if you’re using the loan to pay off your credit cards, they can reduce your credit utilization rate. This can reflect positively on your credit report. But if the loan is only adding to your debt then it isn’t likely to help you build credit.”
Personal loans can be a great tool to help you build credit history or finance a large expense without paying high interest charges. However, like any other financial tool, they’re most advantageous when you have a plan for how you’ll use them.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.