Personal loans have been growing in popularity as Americans look for flexible and affordable ways to cover some of life’s biggest expenses, whether they’re consolidating debt or financing a home improvement project, paying for a wedding or buying an RV. Nearly 22% of U.S. adults have a personal loan, according to credit bureau Experian.
If you’re looking for a personal loan, this comparison tool provided by Even Financial will help you find one that’s right for you. You’ll be asked 16 questions, including your annual income, date of birth and Social Security number in order for Even Financial to determine the top offers for you. The service is free, secure and does not affect your credit score.
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.
There’s a lot to think about when you take out a personal loan. Ahead, Select walks you through the questions you might have before you apply.
- What is a personal loan?
- What are the current personal loan interest rates?
- How does my credit score affect the rate I get?
- How do I know I’m getting the best interest rate?
- How do I apply for a personal loan?
- Here is Select’s top pick for the best personal loan
Personal loans are a type of installment loan that can help you finance major purchases such as an engagement ring or home repair and/or consolidate high-interest debt.
Unlike credit cards which have revolving limits, personal loans deliver a one-time influx of cash, which borrowers then pay back plus interest (and sometimes additional fees) over regular, monthly installments for the lifetime of the loan (known as its term). Once your personal loan is paid off, the account is closed.
Personal loans often come with fixed interest rates that are lower than the APR offered by many credit cards, thereby making them a more affordable option.
Personal loan APRs, at the time of writing this article, average 9.46% for two-year loans, according to the Fed’s most recent data.
Interest rate, sometimes referred to as APR, is the monthly charge customers pay to the banks for the money they borrow. APR stands for “annual percentage rate,” and it is expressed annually (for instance, 12.29% APR means you pay that amount over 12 months). However, interest is actually broken down into smaller chunks and paid every month on top of your principal payment.
There are two kinds of APRs:
- Fixed-rate APR: With a fixed rate APR, you lock in an interest rate for the duration of the loan’s term, which means your monthly payment won’t vary, making it easier to plan your budget.
- Variable-rate APR: Variable rates fluctuate based on the Fed’s prime rate and can go up and down over the lifetime of your loan.
Most of the personal loans we recommended on our best-of list come with fixed-rate APRs. Your monthly payment stays the same for the loan’s lifetime, and as the balance goes down more of your monthly payment is actually applied to the principal (and less goes to interest).
In a few cases, you can take out a variable-rate personal loan. If you go that route, make sure you’re comfortable with your monthly payments changing if rates go up or down.
How does my credit score affect the rate I get?
Banks look for reliable borrowers who make timely payments. Financial institutions will review a borrower’s credit score, along with other information such as income, payment history and/or cash reserves when deciding the interest rate.
When banks lend money to borrowers with low credit scores, they tend to charge higher interest rates to essentially cover the costs in case some of those borrowers don’t pay the money back.
According to the CFPB, there are five risk profile categories that help lenders choose who gets the best interest rates and the worst:
- Deep subprime: Credit scores below 580
- Subprime: Credit scores between 580 and 619
- Near-prime: Credit scores between 620 and 659
- Prime: Credit scores between 660 and 719
- Super-prime: Credit scores of 720 or above
It’s not always cut and dry (other factors like income, co-signers and collateral can make a difference), but knowing your credit score can give you a sense of the interest rate you’ll qualify for.
Super-prime borrowers (scores 720 and up) will usually get the best rates, while anyone with a credit score 580 and below will likely struggle to qualify for a loan and get hit with higher fees when they do.
How do I know I’m getting the best interest rate?
Fortunately, you can usually shop around before deciding on the best loan for your budget.
Go to different lenders’ websites and submit your information for prequalification. Find out which loans you prequalify for and get a better sense of how much you could borrow, what your interest rate might be and the term of the loan.
Submitting an application to prequalify for a loan is usually considered a “soft pull” and doesn’t count as a hard inquiry on your credit report, so you don’t need to worry about dinging your credit score. Read the fine print to be sure, as most sites explain this upfront.
You’ll probably need the following information to do a soft pull:
- Name, date of birth, address and (for most loans) social security/tax ID number
- Annual income (including salary, wages, tips, bonuses and other forms of income)
- Basic financial information (rent/mortgage payment, other major bills)
- Requested loan amount and ideal term length
How do I apply for a personal loan?
There are four steps to apply for a personal loan:
- Decide how much money you need and make a payoff plan.
- Prequalify and compare offers.
- Gather documents and submit information.
- Wait for approval and funding.
LightStream, the online lending arm of SunTrust Bank, offers low-interest loans with flexible terms for people with good credit or higher.LightStream is known for providing loans for nearly every purposeexcept for higher education and small business. You could get a LightStream personal loan to buy a new car, remodel a bathroom, consolidate debt, cover medical expenses or pay for a wedding, according to the company’s website.
You can receive your funds on the same day, if you apply on a banking business day, your application is approved and you electronically sign your loan agreement and verify your direct deposit banking account information by 2:30 p.m. ET.
LightStream offers the lowest APRs of any lender on our list, ranging from 2.49% to 19.99% APR when you sign up for autopay. Interest rates vary by loan purpose, and you can view them on LightStream’s website before you apply. Auto loans start at 2.49% and debt consolidation loans currently begin at 5.95% APR. This is subject to change as the Fed rates fluctuate.
If you select the invoicing option for repayment, your APR will be one half of a percentage point higher than if you sign up for autopay. The APR is fixed, which means your monthly payment will stay the same for the lifetime of the loan. Terms range from 24 to 144 months — the longest term option among the loans on our best-of list.
LightStream does not charge any origination fees, administration fees or early payoff fees.
*Your LightStream loan terms, including APR, may differ based on loan purpose, amount, term length, and your credit profile. Excellent credit is required to qualify for lowest rates. Rate is quoted with AutoPay discount. AutoPay discount is only available prior to loan funding. Rates without AutoPay are 0.50% points higher. Subject to credit approval. Conditions and limitations apply. Advertised rates and terms are subject to change without notice. Payment example: Monthly payments for a $10,000 loan at 3.99% APR with a term of three years would result in 36 monthly payments of $295.20.