At a Glance

If you’re wondering where to get a personal loan, know that there are multiple options available, each with pros and cons depending on your personal situation. In this article, learn more about the best place to get a personal loan, what to avoid, and tips for comparing your options.

Where to get a personal loan

When researching personal loan options, you’ll find there are different types of lenders, including online lenders, credit unions, and banks. Weigh the pros and cons of each when deciding which is right for your situation:

Personal loans from online lenders

There are many online lenders available today, typically with fast and convenient customer service support and online applications. In some cases, they can tell you almost immediately whether you qualify or not. This makes the process of applying and receiving funds faster and easier.

Online lenders may also be a better option for those with poor credit scores. However, interest rates can vary significantly, so be sure to compare multiple lenders to find the best rate.

Pros

  • Application and approval process happens quickly.
  • Convenient online customer service support.
  • Funds are available quickly.
  • Can qualify with poor or no credit.

Cons

  • Many charge origination fees.
  • Interest rates can vary significantly.
  • No in-person support available.

Personal loans from credit unions

If you’re a member of a credit union, this can be a great option for getting a personal loan. If you’re not a member but you meet the membership criteria to join, you can do so, but you typically need to then open an account. Examples of membership criteria include:

  • Working in a certain industry
  • Living in a certain geographical area
  • Having a family member who is a member, or eligible to join

Credit unions are nonprofit and member-owned institutions, so they typically offer lower interest rates and fewer fees. They also may be willing to work with members who have poor credit by considering additional aspects of your finances when making the approval decision.

Pros

  • Competitive interest rates
  • Lower fees
  • Work with those who have poor credit
  • In-person support

Cons

  • Must be a member of the credit union
  • Some charge origination fees

Personal loans from banks

Banks have both in-person and online support and options, which makes them convenient regardless of which you prefer. While banks offer competitive interest rates, they are typically higher than other options and borrowers likely need a higher credit score to even qualify.

Pros

  • Discounted rate if you currently bank with them
  • Can offer competitive interest rates
  • Funds can be received within a few business days
  • In-person and online customer support

Cons

  • May need to be an existing customer
  • Good or excellent credit required for low rates
  • Not all banks offer personal loans
  • May charge some fees
  • Stricter lending guidelines

Why to avoid payday and title loan lenders

Some types of lenders have expensive, unfair, and even abusive practices and loans they force on borrowers. These include payday lenders and title loan lenders.

  • Payday lenders claim that payday loans are a great way to have funds between paychecks. Like a personal loan, you’d borrow a lump sum and pay it back (along with fees) on your next payday. However, if you don’t pay it back on time, the loan term can be extended, creating a cycle of debt that’s difficult to escape. The fees can also be extensive.
  • Title loan lenders offer small, short-term loans in exchange for the title to your vehicle. To get the title back, you must pay the loan off (plus fees) within 30 days. If you don’t, the lender will take your vehicle.

Using these lenders, you can risk being charged outrageous fees, losing your vehicle, or getting stuck in a debt cycle that’s virtually impossible to get out of, even if you’re a responsible borrower. When shopping lenders, make sure to avoid these red flags:

  • High APRs and fees, some of which can even get into the triple digits.
  • Short repayment terms, even as short as two weeks.
  • Lack of transparency and information on the company website, including APRs, terms, and amounts.
  • Easy approval process, including no credit check options.
  • Pressure to take out the loan.

Tips for comparing personal loan lenders

When shopping for a personal loan lender, there are factors to consider beyond interest rates and monthly payments. Other items to compare include:

  • APR, which includes the interest rate and any extra fees and can be a better apples-to-apples comparison between lenders.
  • Loan term, typically ranging from 12 to 84 months. A shorter term means fewer payments, but they may be a higher cost. Longer terms mean lower monthly payments, but you’re paying more in interest over the life of the loan.
  • Customer service, including ratings and reviews from current and previous customers.
  • Other features, such as automatic withdrawal payment options, grace periods, or others.
  • Fees, like origination fees, early payoff penalties, and others.

Be sure to compare different banks, credit unions, and online lenders in your area, and get prequalified if possible for the most accurate estimates of what your term and rates will be with each lender.

Then, apply with the lender who meets all of your expectations and requirements.

How to prequalify for a personal loan

Most lenders allow you to prequalify for a personal loan online, with the process sometimes only taking a few minutes. And because prequalifying triggers a soft credit check, which doesn’t affect your credit score, you can prequalify with different lenders to get the most accurate estimates of options.

In most cases, simply:

  1. Enter the amount of money you want to borrow.
  2. Provide information about the purpose of the loan.
  3. Share your credit score and other personal information needed such as employment status, income, and address.
  4. Get your estimated rates and loan terms.

Keep in mind that getting prequalified for a loan doesn’t mean you’ll be approved for the actual loan, and your interest rate and other loan terms can change once you’re approved. However, getting prequalified can just give you an accurate estimate for comparison purposes.

How to apply for a personal loan

There are a few steps to applying for a personal loan:

  1. Check your credit score. Knowing this information can be helpful when prequalifying for a loan, and if you know your score needs improvement, you can take steps to do so prior to applying for a loan. This can help you get the best interest rates.
  2. Get estimated rates using a personal loan calculator. This gives you a starting point when researching different lenders and comparing estimated rates based on your desired loan amount, term, and credit score.
  3. Get prequalified when you can.
  4. Compare lenders and review loan terms, paying particular attention to APRs, terms, fees, customer service ratings and reviews, and types of loans you’d qualify for.
  5. Apply once you’ve decided on a lender. You’ll typically need proof of identification, address, employment and income, as well as bank account information, personal information, and information about the loan.
  6. Accept the loan and finalize loan documents once you’re approved. The funds will then be deposited into your bank account within a few business days.

FAQs

How to increase your chances of getting approved for a personal loan?

There are a few factors within your control to help increase your chances of getting approved for a personal loan. First, if your credit score is below 640, take steps to improve it. The better your score, the greater your chances of being approved and you’ll qualify for a lower interest rate. You can also have a cosigner help you with the loan, or choose a secured personal loan, which uses collateral (like a house or car) to help you get approved. Also be sure to shop around for your best options.

How hard is it to qualify for a personal loan?

If you have a good to excellent credit score, proof of employment and income, and a low debt-to-income ratio, it is not difficult to qualify for a personal loan. You can still qualify without these things, or with a poor credit score, but you may need a cosigner or collateral to do so.

Alternatives to personal loans

Other types of loans you can consider likely depend on what you need the funds for. For example, you can use:

  • Auto loans when purchasing a new vehicle.
  • Student loans to help for college and graduate school.
  • Mortgage loans if you’re purchasing a new home.
  • Debt consolidation loans designed specifically for consolidating debt.

Additionally, home equity loans (HEL) or a home equity line of credit (HELOC) allows you to borrow up to a percentage of the equity in your home for any purpose.