Personal loans are installment loans that are not secured with any time of collateral. Other types of loans, such as mortgages and auto loans, allow lenders to seize your house or car if you don’t make your payments.

You can use personal loans for nearly any purpose. However, be prepared to tell the lender why you need the loan.

Common reasons for borrowing money through personal loans:

When you don’t have the cash in hand for a large or emergency expense, a personal loan helps to pay for whatever it is that you need. Additionally, this type of loan can improve your credit when used to consolidate high-interest debt or to add a credit line to your name.

As with any loan, it is important to make payments on time or your credit could suffer.


How a Personal Loan Can Help Your Finances

Depending on your situation, you can benefit when you get a personal loan. In many cases, it’s possible to get approved for a personal loan quickly. Usually, you'll have access to the borrowed funds soon as the next business day. (If you choose a peer-to-peer loan, it can take a few weeks to get your money.)

How much you receive depends on your credit rating, and what the lender is willing to provide.

The amount you can borrow

Some lenders call personal loans “signature loans” and only offer up to $5,000. Online lenders might offer as much as $15,000 to $100,000. If you choose a P2P lender for your personal loan, you might qualify for as much as $35,000. However, your situation might not allow you to access the maximum offered by the lender.

When you get a personal loan from a bank, there is a chance that you will be able to borrow at a lower rate than you might be charged for a credit card. This saves you money on interest charges. Many P2P lenders also offer lower rates than you find with credit cards. However, with a P2P loan, you might not be funded, and then you get nothing. If you need cash fast, a P2P loan usually isn’t the best choice.

Managing finances easier

With a personal loan, you always know what to pay each month. So, it can be easier to plan your budget around your payments. You also know the end date for the loan, so you have something to look forward to. For consumers who want to use a personal loan to pay off debt, this can be very comforting. Consolidating your debt down to one payment can save you money on interest over time, as well as make it easier to manage all of your debt.

Balance transfer credit cards are often used for debt consolidation purposes as well. For smaller balances, they can work -- you may even find deals with long periods of 0% APR. Just note that your credit limit may not be as high as what you'd get with a personal loan.

Build your credit

A personal loan can boost your credit score. Your credit score is based, in part, on the types of loans you have. A personal loan is an installment loan, which means it adds variety to your credit profile if you mainly have revolving credit (like credit cards). As long as you make payments on time and in full, and you don’t have a lot of other debt, a personal loan might be able to help your credit.

Interest Rates and Credit Scores

Credit score chart

Because personal loans are unsecured, they tend to come with higher interest rates -- sometimes higher than credit cards. Like with most loans, your APR on the loan will depend on your FICO credit score and other factors, such as your annual income and monthly housing expenses.

Ideally, you have good credit to ensure that your loan application is approved with a low interest rate. You may still be able to qualify for a personal loan with bad credit, but you could end up with a higher interest rate. Every lender could have a minimum FICO credit score before even considering your application.

Credit Score Ranges and Quality

Credit Score Ranges Credit Quality Effect on Ability to Obtain Loans
300-559 Very Bad Extremely difficult to obtain traditional loans and line of credit. Advised to use secured credit cards and loans to help rebuild credit.
560-649 Bad May be able to qualify for some loans and lines of credit, but the interest rates are likely to be high.
650-699 Average/Fair Eligible for many traditional loans, but the interest rates and terms may not be the best.
700-749 Good Valuable benefits come in the form of loans and lines of credit with comprehensive perks and low interest rates.
750-850 Excellent Qualify easily for most loans and lines of credit with low interest rates and favorable terms.

FICO Credit Score Factors and Their Percentages

FICO credit score factors Percentage weight on credit score: What it means:
Payment history 35% Your track record when it comes to making (at least) the minimum payment by the due date.
Amounts owed 30% How much of your borrowing potential is actually being used. Determined by dividing total debt by total credit limits.
Length of credit history 15% The average age of your active credit lines. Longer histories tend to show responsibility with credit.
Credit mix 10% The different types of active credit lines that you handle (e.g., mortgage, credit cards, students loans, etc.)
New credit 10% The new lines of credit that you've requested. New credit applications tend to hurt you score temporarily.

Read More: Personal Loans Frequently Asked Questions

Benefits and Drawbacks

It is an unsecured loan. So, you don’t have to put up any assets as collateral. You can borrow the funds for a wide range of reasons (as long as it doesn’t violate the lender’s terms.) Personal loans can diversify your credit mix, which is good for your credit score. The loan’s interest rate is likely to be higher than the interest rate on secured loans. The application process may take longer compared to other loans.


What to Expect When Applying for a Personal Loan

Personal loans are available through many different lenders, including banks, credit unions, online lenders, and peer-to-peer lending platforms. Be careful of predatory lenders that may take advantage of cash-strapped borrowers by hitting them with extremely high interest rates or fees.

In order to apply for a personal loan, you will need to share personal information. Your name, date of birth, and address are required. You will also need to share your Social Security number for identification and so that the lender can check your credit history. In many cases, you also need to provide income information.

It’s difficult to get a personal loan with no job. In some cases, it’s possible to secure a small personal loan with no job. But for the most part, lenders want to know that you will be able to make your monthly payments. You might also need to provide other documentation of income. If you are self-employed, you might need to provide tax returns to show that you have regular income and can afford the personal loan.

Not everyone is approved for a personal loan. If you want to be approved, your best chance is to have good credit, and show that you have income.

Personal Loans Origination Fees by Lender

Lender Name Origination Fees Ranges of Borrowing Amounts Available Terms
Santander Bank None $5,000 - $35,000 2 - 5 year
Upstart 2.8% - 8.0% $1,000 - $50,000 3 - 5 year
Lending Club 1.0% - 6.0% $0 - $40,000 3 - 5 year
Discover Bank None $2,500 - $35,000 3 - 7 year
Avant 1.50% - 4.75% $2,000 - $35,000 2 - 5 year
Citibank None $1,000 - $50,000 3 - 5 year
SoFi None $5,000 - $100,000 3 - 7 year
Wells Fargo None $3,000 - $100,000 1 - 5 year
USAA None $2,500 - $100,000 2 - 7 year
TD Bank None $2,000 - $50,000 1 - 5 year
Marcus None $3,500 - $30,000 3 - 6 year
Citizens Bank None $5,000 - $50,000 3 - 7 year
M&T Bank None $2,000 - $25,000 1 - 5 year
Prosper 1.0% - 5.0% $2,000 - $35,000 3 - 5 year
American Express None $3,500 - $25,000 1 - 3 year
One Main Financial Varies by state $1,500 - $25,000 2 - 5 year
RocketLoans 1.0% - 6.0% $2,000 - $35,000 3 - 5 year
PNC Bank None $1,000 - $25,000 6 mo - 5 year
Best Egg 0.99% - 5.99% $2,000 - $50,000 3 - 5 year
Earnest None $2,000 - $50,000 1 - 3 year

Getting the Best Rate on a Personal Loan

Having good credit is the best way to get the best deal on a personal loan. You can get a personal loan with bad credit, but you probably won’t qualify for the best interest rates. You might end up paying a rate that is as high as a credit card rate – or even higher. If you are strapped for cash, however, a personal loan can help you manage your cash flow and get out of a tight situation, even with the high interest rate.

If you have a good credit score, you can qualify for a lower interest rate, whether you apply for a personal loan at a bank, or whether you use an online resource. When you repay your loan on time, your credit score improves, and that can mean more savings down the road when you next need a loan.

Be sure to review personal loans from multiple lenders to compare APRs, borrowing limits, credit score minimums, and terms.

Related: MyBankTracker Personal Loans Expert Reviews 

Bottom Line

A personal loan can be a great tool to help you smooth your cash flow and get out of a pinch. You can also use a personal loan to consolidate debt at a lower interest rate. Avoid applying for a loan that is larger than you afford. If you can’t make payments, you could end up ruining your credit and in a worse position than you are in now.

Comments & Questions

Ask a Question