How To Choose The Right Personal Loan For Me?

Last Updated: June 24, 2019
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Personal loans are one of the most versatile credit products in the market. Personal loans can be used for a wide range of items and people are increasingly using them to fund their needs. In this post, we're going to review what personal loans are, how to prepare for them, and what to look for when shopping around for one.

What Is A Personal Loan?

A personal loan is a term loan such as an auto loan or a mortgage, but there is no collateral needed. Most personal loans do not require collateral. Unlike a credit card that can be charged up and paid down, personal loans are paid down over a specific time with a specific payment. They have a fixed term with a fixed interest rate. A personal loan has a wide range of uses.

Prepare Before Apply

If you are looking to take out a personal loan and have some time to prepare for it there are a of couple steps you can take to help you increase your chance of approval and increase your chance of better rate. The first thing you should do is pull your credit report. You can do that at Annual Credit Report. You’re allowed to pull your report for free once every year.

You can use this free service to look at your credit report to see if there are any errors or delinquencies that need to be addressed. The report will not disclose your credit score (on which many lenders base their pricing) but there are a few things you can see. For example, you can review your report to see if you have excessive accounts, excessive utilization, and get an idea of what your debt to income ratio will look like.

Improve Your Credit

Lenders normally do not like to see lots of inquiries, lines of credit, or high utilization on credit reports. If you’re looking to get a personal loan soon, try not to apply for other lines of credit. If there are excessive lines of credit or installment loans, it may be that they can be reasonably paid off – do so if possible. One thing you can review when trying to boost your credit is utilization. Utilization is the amount debt you have on lines of credit, or credit cards, to the amount you’re approved for.

If you can reasonably decrease this amount below 30% it may increase your score (link). You can also review your debt to income ratio. That is the amount of monthly debt you pay off compared to the monthly income you receive. Lenders typically want to see debt to incomes below 40% but many will go up to 50%.

Gather Relevant Documents

If you’re getting close to applying there other things you can do now to prepare. Many personal loan providers will require verification of information that you put on the application. This information may include a copy of your state ID, a copy of your Social Security card, pay stub, or taxes. Some will have other unique requirements such as education verification or proof of assets. Make sure you have those documents on hand when applying because it will increase the speed in which you get your funds. Also some personal loan providers will allow for a co-borrower.

If there is someone that can help you increase your chances of getting approved or of getting a better rate, you should consult them and see if they are okay with applying with you. The advantage of a co-borrower is that if they have better credit, you get a better rate. In many cases, they will also increase the amount of overall income on the application. A co-borrower will increase your chances of getting approved.

Shopping Around For a Personal Loan

Not all personal loan providers are the same. You can go to your local bank or credit union and see if they have a personal loan that will work for you. There are also many online credit providers for personal loans. Spending time shopping around for personal loan providers can save you a significant amount of money and improve your chances of getting a loan.

Most providers will post their minimum requirements to get approved for a loan. There are personal loan providers for those who have poor credit, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t think you can get one. You can, but the interest rate will be very high.

Things To Consider

Below are some things you should consider when shopping for a personal loan.

  • Cost – In general, most borrowers want to borrow the most amount of money for the lowest interest rate. But remember that with personal loans there are many other costs other than just the rate. Many personal loan providers will promote their lowest rate but also have many other associated costs that borrowers should consider. Consider all fees when pricing out your loan. Listed below are typical fees for personal loans.
  • Application fee – This is a one-time fee the provider will charge for applying for a loan. It is not common, but there some lenders that will charge you for applying.
  • Origination Fee– This is the most common fee and tends to be a bigger fee for personal loans. The fee is typically 1-6% that is taken from your loan amount. So if you have a $10,000 loan with a 5% origination fee, you will only get $9,500 in funds. This fee needs to be considered if you need a specific amount because you may need to increase the amount you request to cover this fee.
  • Late Fee/ Return Payment – A late fee is also common for lenders to charge, but some providers won’t. If you have issues with paying on time, pay attention to late penalties.
  • Check Processing Fee – Many providers will charge for processing a payment that is not automatic. If you are uncomfortable with automatic withdrawal, you would want to avoid providers that charge you to process a payment.
  • Prepayment Penalties – This is an uncommon charge.  This a fee for paying off your loan early.

Terms and Payments

The term is the length of time it takes to pay off the loan. Many personal loan providers have limited terms and this should be considered when taking out large amounts. Some providers have a maximum term of 36 months and if you take out $50,000, that will end up being a large payment.

You should look at the max terms the provider has. If you need longer terms to lower your payment, you will want to avoid certain providers.

Uses

Potential borrowers need to be aware of what they can use a personal loan for. Many personal loan providers have restrictions on what their loans can be used for. For example, education or business use is a common restriction for personal loans. Be sure to review that before applying. You do not want to be declined just because you are trying to use the loan for restricted use. The most common use of a personal loan is to consolidate debt.

Personal loans are a great product for paying down and paying off credit card debt. You get a fixed monthly payment for a fixed term so you know exactly how long until you will be out of debt.

Credit Pull

When shopping around you want to avoid many credit pulls because they can negatively affect your credit. You should find 3-6 providers that you think will meet your needs and apply all on the same day. This will avoid having many recent pulls. Lenders do not like to see a lot of credit checks because it makes it appear that you are desperate and taking out a lot of money all at once.

One great service that many online personal loan providers do is a soft credit pull. A soft pull is when the lender checks your credit but doesn’t pull your report or score. It’s kind of like a credit background check to see if you will qualify for a loan. Many providers will do the soft pull and give you preliminary rates and terms you may be approved for under their guidelines. You can use the soft pull from some providers to see if you can get approved and also get an idea of what the cost of the loan will be.

 Benefits and Discounts

There are some personal providers that offer benefits. These can range widely as to what they offer. There are some that offer social benefits like networking events for borrowers. There is one that will plant a tree for every loan issued. Many offer education programs and information to help their borrowers improve their credit and general finances.

There are some with points benefits and if your bank has a rewards program and you get a loan, those points can be used to increase the loan. Be sure to research all the benefits. These benefits should be secondary to the cost of the loan. You may get a benefit for borrowing from a certain provider, but the cost has to come from somewhere. One common discount that should be considered that can significantly lower your cost is autopay. Many providers will reduce your cost of setting up autopay.

Conclusion

Personal loans are a great product if you find the right cost and terms. They can be used to improve your finances or to help you with a large purchase. Make sure you do your homework and research the providers with whom you want to apply. Take advantage of any lender that offers a soft credit pull. There are many lenders and they are not all the same. Please check out our reviews of some of the better known personal loan providers or at the Better Business Bureau.