If you need to borrow money, you're likely wondering how to get a loan. You can get a personal loan from an online lender, credit union, or bank -- but how do you choose the best lender? And how do you apply for a loan, once you find the right lender for you? This step-by-step guide will help you navigate the process of getting a personal loan, whether you're looking to finance a pool or start the process of debt consolidation.
There are five steps to applying for a personal loan:
We'll go into these in more depth below.
If you're looking for step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a loan, keep reading -- you're in the right place!
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First, estimate how much money you'll need from a loan. Some lenders only offer small loans (for example, under $1,000 or up to $10,000), and others specialize in large loans (nothing less than $5,000, up to $100,000 or more).
Read more: How much personal loan can I get?
Generally, it's best to borrow the smallest amount possible when you get a loan. You'll pay interest on the amount you borrow -- so if you borrow more, you'll pay more in interest. Get a small loan, and you'll pay less in interest charges.
Most loans have the same monthly payment every month, so you have no surprises. There are a couple things that determine your monthly payments:
Use the calculator below to estimate the monthly payments for different loan amounts, interest rates, and more.
Different lenders have different minimum credit score requirements. Some of the best personal loan lenders will only offer you a personal loan if your credit score is near-perfect. Other lenders specialize in personal loans for bad credit.
Before going through the hassle of applying for a loan, check your credit score. You'll immediately know which lenders to consider -- and which to cross off your list.
Best lenders by minimum credit score
Some credit cards and banks allow customers to check their credit score through the bank or credit card issuer's website. This is usually the simplest way to check your credit score. You can also get your credit score and credit history online for free through a variety of different services.
Raising your credit score can save you hundreds of dollars by helping you score a lower interest rate or a better loan. (If your credit score is already perfect, congratulations -- you can skip this step.)
Here are a few immediate steps you can take to boost your credit score before you get a loan:
The above three steps will help you build a positive credit history. Check our guide to how to build credit fast for more information on raising your credit score before you apply for a loan.
To get a loan that works for you, it's important compare multiple lenders. There are plenty of quick and easy online loans available, as well as loans from brick-and-mortar institutions.
Start by looking for lenders that fit your situation. Some lenders specialize in specific loan types, like renovation loans or medical loans. Others specialize in specific offers, like low-interest personal loans.
Avoid getting a payday loan. These lenders charge extremely high interest rates. If you're looking at payday loans, consider payday loan alternatives first.
Once you've narrowed your search to a handful of lenders, the best way to compare loans is to get pre-qualified. Getting pre-qualified for a personal loan is simple, and doesn't require any commitments on your end.
Only compare loans with similar terms when deciding where to get a loan. Because fees and interest rates can vary so much, it's a good idea to look at different loans' annual percentage rate (APR) when comparing. The APR takes into account both the fees and the interest rate, so you get a better picture of what the loan actually costs.
Note: If you're unemployed, you can still qualify for a personal loan. For information on what counts as income on a loan application, check out our guide to getting a loan while unemployed.
If you're having trouble getting pre-approved for a loan, you can ask a friend or family member with better credit to be your loan cosigner. If you have a cosigner, the lender will consider both you and your cosigner's credit scores and income instead of just yours.
As a result, a cosigner can make it easier to qualify for a personal loan. You also might get a lower interest rate with a cosigner than you would on your own.
Be careful, though. A cosigner shares the responsibility of paying back the loan. That means if you miss a payment, your cosigner's credit score will suffer. And if you don't pay back the loan, the lender can take legal action against your cosigner. Asking someone to cosign on a loan is not something that should be taken lightly.
Most personal loans don't require collateral -- the lender can't take your car, house, or other possessions if you can't pay the loan. (But your credit score and financial health will suffer if you miss payments, so it's best to only take out an amount you can pay back.)
Similar to a cosigner, collateral can help you qualify for a loan if your credit history isn't perfect. Examples of collateral include a car, a house, or a savings account. If you think you may need collateral, you'll need to look for lenders offering a loan type called a secured loan.
After deciding on a lender, it's time to apply for a loan. Most lenders allow you to apply for a loan online.
To start, the lender will need your name, address, Social Social Security number, and details about your income. The lender will check your credit and consider relevant factors, such as how much you earn, to decide if you qualify for the loan. Then, the lender will either deny your loan or approve it.
In some cases, you'll get a decision very quickly -- or immediately -- after submitting your loan application. In other circumstances, the lender may want more info or more time before making their decision. If the lender needs more details or further investigation into your financial situation, you may have to wait several days to hear back to find out if the loan is approved.
Once your loan is approved, you'll have to agree to the interest rate and repayment schedule. Then, you'll sign a promissory note indicating you'll pay back the loan.
At this point, the lender will release the funds to you.
When you get a personal loan, you receive all the money you're borrowing right away (usually deposited into your bank account). Then, you can use the money from a personal loan for anything you want -- from home improvements to paying off credit card debt.
Read more in our guide: How long does it take to get a loan?
There are many personal loan lenders offering loans to people with all different credit scores. Even if you aren't a perfect borrower, you should be able to find a personal loan when you need the funds. The real question is: How can you get a loan that benefits you financially?
Rule number one when you apply for a loan is to only borrow what you need. In addition, make sure you don't take a loan without understanding the terms and you pay back the loan as due. If you follow this basic advice, getting a loan doesn't have to be hard.
Looking for a personal loan but don’t know where to start? Our favorites offer quick approval and rock-bottom interest rates. Check out our list to find the best loan for you.
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