1. Finance
  2. Loans
  3. Best Personal Loans
  4. How to get a personal loan

How to get a personal loan in 6 steps

A guide to getting the funding you need

Author pictureAuthor picture
Author picture
Written by
Author picture
Edited by

Find Personal Loans near you

Check Your Personal Loan Rates It's free and won't impact your credit score

signing for a personal loan

You can use personal loans for nearly any purpose, such as consolidating higher interest rate debt, making improvements or repairs to your home or funding a large purchase. They’re often much quicker to get than other loans, making them a desirable financing option. Also, in many cases, you don’t have to pledge any assets to the lender as collateral (e.g., your home or car).

Before getting a personal loan, you should review your budget to ensure you can easily afford the payment. Plus, you should shop around for the best rates and terms. Then, once you’ve selected the loan you want, carefully review the details to avoid surprises. For instance, look out for things like prepayment penalties, which can make paying off the loan early unaffordable.

Key insights

  • Personal loans are installment loans repaid in fixed installments of principal and interest.
  • Review your budget before getting a personal loan to make sure you can easily repay it.
  • Compare offers with multiple lenders to find the best possible rates and terms.
  • Pay the loan back on time once you get it to build or maintain a positive credit history.

What is a personal loan?

A personal loan is a type of installment loan that consumers can use for almost any purpose, such as paying bills, consolidating debt or funding a large purchase. You’ll usually repay these loans in equal installments of principal and interest (P&I) over a relatively short term (12 to 60 months). Loan amounts vary but commonly range from $1,000 to $50,000 (up to $100,000).

Personal loans are usually unsecured, meaning you don’t have to pledge any assets to your lender (like your house or car) to get the loan. However, some lenders also offer secured personal loans. Secured personal loans are often easier to qualify for than unsecured ones and may have lower rates and larger loan amounts.

While the qualifications vary by lender, some even offer personal loans to people with poor-to-fair credit. Personal loans can be a good way to pay off higher-interest-rate debt more quickly at a much lower rate. Recent research from the Federal Reserve showed that average rate on a 24-month personal loan in early 2023 was 11.48%, versus 20.92% for interest-bearing credit cards.

Keep in mind, though you can use most personal loans for virtually any purpose, some lenders have restrictions. For example, you may not be able to use the loan to pay for higher education costs or make investments (buy stocks or bonds). If you’re unsure if you can use the funds for your intended purpose, you can check with your lender when you apply.

» MORE: Personal loan vs. personal line of credit

6 steps to getting a personal loan

If you’re interested in getting a personal loan, the first step is to check your credit score to see what you can get. You should also evaluate your budget to see how much you can afford and consider the type of loan you want to get (secured or unsecured).

Once you’ve established these basics, you can compare offers with multiple lenders, review the rates and terms and apply for the loan you want to get.

Many lenders will allow you to see if you qualify with no credit score impact, as they use a soft credit check. This makes it easy to shop for the best possible rates and terms. Once you decide to proceed, they’ll confirm the details by pulling a hard credit check. Each lender sets their own qualifications, so the ability to see what you can get without hurting your credit score is helpful.

Ultimately, your lender will “want to know that you will pay off the loan on time and in full,” said Gates Little, the president of The Southern Bank Company. “Typically, a score over 760 will have little problem securing a personal loan, but aim to move your score above 725 to access more options,” Little explained. This will also help you get the best rates.

However, having a low credit score doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get approved. Little mentions that you may be able to get around a low credit score by securing the loan with collateral (for example, offering your lender assets like cash, a car or your house) or even using a cosigner who has good credit.

Additionally, some lenders offer loans to people with little-to-no credit or low credit scores without the use of compensating factors like collateral or a cosigner. For instance, they consider your entire financial situation rather than just your credit score. Some might even use alternative data to approve you (rent payments or cell phone bills) rather than your credit score.

Before getting any type of loan, it’s important to evaluate your budget and see how much you can afford. Lenders want to make sure you can afford to repay the loan. One of the ways they do this is by evaluating your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, which compares how much debt you have to your income.

Although DTI ratios vary by lender, a good rule of thumb is to keep the ratio to 43% or lower, although some lenders may approve you with a DTI as high as 50%. Regardless of how much you can get approved for, Little noted that it’s important to only apply “for an amount that makes sense for your financial situation.” Be realistic about how much you can afford.

As you’re evaluating how much you can afford, the three main factors used to calculate your monthly payment include the loan amount, interest rate and repayment term. For example, let’s say you got a $5,000 loan with an annual percentage rate (APR) of 11.48% and a 24-month term (the recent average interest rate reported by the Federal Reserve). You would pay $234.16 a month for this loan.

However, remember that you’ll pay more interest over time with a longer term, as the loan will be outstanding for longer. So, a best practice is to choose the shortest term you can easily afford.

As mentioned, there are two primary types of personal loans – secured and unsecured. Unsecured loans are generally better for those with good credit, as they’re harder to qualify for than secured loans. You may be able to qualify for an unsecured loan with poor-to-fair credit; however, you’ll typically pay a higher interest rate than you would for a secured option.

Lenders are taking on less risk with a secured loan since they can take the assets you pledge as collateral to repay the loan if you don’t pay as agreed. Easier qualifications, better terms and lower rates reflect the lower risk. In many cases, repayment terms are longer and loan amounts are larger with secured loans.

Besides these two options, some lenders specifically say they offer debt consolidation loans. If you get this type of loan, it can be unsecured or secured. The main difference is that some lenders who offer debt consolidation loans make it easier to distribute the loan proceeds to your existing lenders by doing it for you.

» MORE:  Types of personal loans (2023)

You can get personal loans from banks, credit unions and online lenders. As you’re shopping around, consider your credit score, budget and the type of loan you need. If you’re unsure what your credit score is, consider pre-qualifying to see what you can get. You can use the pre-qualification you get from one lender to compare offers from others.

You can get pre-qualified or preapproved online, over the phone or in person if you're working with a local bank or credit union. While many lenders use soft credit checks, some lenders may pull a hard credit inquiry, which can temporarily lower your credit score.

If you’re applying for preapprovals with multiple lenders, we suggest submitting all applications within the same month to minimize the effect on your credit score.

Besides the interest rate, pay attention to the loan’s APR and fees. While some lenders don’t charge any fees for their personal loans, others do. As such, the loan’s APR is a much better way to compare offers versus the loan’s interest rate.

Some of the most important things you should review before getting a loan are:

  • Interest rate: This is the rate used to calculate how much interest you owe at each payment period. The rate you can get will vary depending on what’s happening in the economy, the type of loan you get (secured versus unsecured) and your credit score.
  • Fees and APR: Some lenders charge application or origination fees to cover the costs of making the loan. The loan’s APR considers these fees and the loan’s interest rate.
  • Repayment term: This is how long you have to pay off the loan. While terms commonly range from 12 to 60 months, they could be as few as six months or even 84 months or longer with a secured loan. While longer repayment terms will yield lower payments, keep in mind that you’ll pay more in total interest costs.
  • Prepayment: One way to save interest is by paying off your loan early. However, some lenders charge a prepayment penalty, which can make paying off the loan early.
For most lenders, the pre-qualification and loan application processes are essentially the same. You’ll usually apply online. Even if you visit a bank or credit union branch in person to apply, most have you complete an online application while you’re there. You’ll typically need to include:  
  • Name
  • Birth date
  • Tax identification number
  • Contact information
  • Job history and employer
  • Details about your income and existing debt

It may take as few as several minutes to see if you’re pre-qualified, but it might take up to several days. Once you’re pre-qualified or preapproved (some lenders use these terms interchangeably), the lender will let you know the rates and terms you can get.

If you decide to proceed, you’ll select the option you want and provide any additional information to the lender. For instance, you may need to provide your lender pay stubs, tax returns, bank account statements, and collateral documentation (for example, a copy of your car’s title). Also, you’ll usually need to agree to a hard credit check if the lender hasn’t already pulled one.

Depending on how quickly you provide the information and how fast your lender processes the loan, you may receive funding as soon as the same day. However, getting funded could take several days or up to a week. You can speed up the process by being as thorough as possible on the application and promptly responding to your lender’s requests.

What to do after you get your personal loan

After you get a personal loan, it’s important to use the money for its intended purpose and make timely payments. Setting up auto payments with your lender is one way to ensure you’re always making payments on time. Not only can this give you peace of mind that you won’t forget about the payment, but some lenders may even offer a rate discount if you use auto pay.

You should also ensure you’re using the funds as intended. Some lenders will deposit the funds directly to your bank account, even if the loan’s purpose was to consolidate higher-rate debt. It’s up to you to use the funds to pay off your other debt. If you’re not disciplined enough to do this on your own, look for a lender who will pay off your existing debt for you.

Additionally, Kendall Meade, a financial planner with SoFi, said: “If you use a personal loan to consolidate credit card debt, it is very important to stop using the credit cards. I have seen many people consolidate their debts into a loan but then continue to run the credit cards back up. Now they have double the payments and may not have the option to consolidate again.”

» MORE: How to use personal loans for your wedding

What to do if your loan wasn’t approved

Not all personal loans are approved, as each lender has different requirements. For instance, you might be declined due to your income level, credit score or credit history. Also, the lender might not offer the loan you want (e.g., the loan amount or terms are too high or low). If declined, you can apply with another lender or search for an alternative.

As long as you don’t have something severely negative on your credit (e.g., active bankruptcies, collections, repossessions) and you have enough income to cover your debt, you might be able to get approved with another lender. Shopping around can also be a way for you to find the best possible rates and terms. Just ensure the lender uses a soft credit check to pre-qualify you.

Ensuring a soft credit check during the pre-qualification process is important because it won’t affect your credit score. This is especially helpful if you’re applying for a loan you’re not sure you’ll be able to get (or you’re unsure if you even want the loan).

If you have severe credit issues, you might want to work on getting them resolved before you try to get a loan. Non-profit credit counseling agencies provide free financial reviews and can even help with budgeting. Plus, your credit counselor might be able to help you develop a plan to quickly repay your higher-rate debt in full.

Some other alternatives to a personal loan you might consider include:

And depending on your situation, a business loan, 401(k) loan, car loan or peer-to-peer lending might work out.

Check Your Personal Loan Rates

It's free and won't impact your credit score


    How fast can you qualify for a personal loan?

    You may be able to qualify for a personal loan in as short as a few minutes or hours. However, it could take several days if the lender has to review your application manually. The better qualified you are (you have good credit and sufficient documented income), the quicker you can get qualified for a personal loan.

    What hurts your chances of getting a personal loan?

    Two of the biggest factors hurting your chances of getting a personal loan are low credit scores or problems with your credit history. Additionally, not having enough income to reasonably repay your debt can hurt your chances of getting approved. All of these factors affect the lender's view of your willingness and ability to repay the loan and are important criteria used to approve your loan.

    What is the lowest credit score needed to get a personal loan?

    The lowest credit score needed for a personal loan varies by lender. Some lenders have no requirements but take a holistic view of your willingness and ability to repay the loan. Some even consider alternative credit data (like utility bills). Lenders may want credit scores of at least 580 if they lend to borrowers with bad-to-fair credit or 670 if they require good credit.

    What is Regulation Z?

    Regulation Z is part of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) that protects consumers when they use consumer credit, like installment loans. It requires lenders to make certain disclosures, including the APR, to loan applicants. The lender must provide these disclosures in writing.

    Is it safe to apply for a personal loan online?

    It’s safe to apply online for personal loans as long as you use a reputable lender with a secure website. Never give out personally identifiable or financial information unless you know the company is legitimate. Look for scam red flags like copycat names, misspellings or typos on the website or even requests for advance fees.

    If you believe you’re a victim of identity theft, some of the places you can report it are to the three major credit reporting agencies, your bank or credit card issuer (if it affected any of these accounts) and online with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by visiting IdentifyTheft.com.

    Bottom line

    Applying for a personal loan can be a quick and easy process, especially since many lenders allow you to apply online. Two of the most important steps before applying for a personal loan are evaluating your credit score and budget.

    Your credit score helps determine whether you can get approved and the rates you’ll receive, while your budget establishes how much you can afford. No matter what personal loan or other type of financing you choose, make sure you can easily afford the payment.

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. Federal Reserve, "Consumer Credit - G.19." Accessed June 11, 2023.
    2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "Fraud and scams." Accessed May 25, 2023.
    3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "Privacy." Accessed May 25, 2023.
    4. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What is a payday loan?" Accessed May 25, 2023.
    5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What's a credit inquiry?" Accessed May 25, 2023.
    6. Federal Trade Commission, "Identify Theft." Accessed May 25, 2023.
    7. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), "Report Identity Theft." Accessed May 25, 2023.
    8. IRS, "Frequently Asked Questions on Gift Taxes." Accessed May 25, 2023.
    9. IRS, "Gift Tax." Accessed May 25, 2023.
    10. IRS, "Instructions for Form 709 (2022)." Accessed May 25, 2023.
    11. USA.gov, "Identity theft." Accessed May 25, 2023.
    12. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Credit Scoring Alternatives for Those Without Credit.” Accessed May 25, 2023.
    13. Federal Reserve, “Regulation Z Truth in Lending.” Accessed June 9, 2023.
    Did you find this article helpful? |
    Share this article