Personal loans are borrowed lump sums that you pay back, with interest, to the lender. Though the money can be used for almost anything, some common uses for personal loans include covering medical bills, paying for home repairs, and consolidating debt.
When you don’t have the savings to cover an important purchase or bill, a personal loan is usually a better alternative to credit cards. We’ll take a closer look at what personal loans can be used for, their drawbacks and benefits, and alternative ways to pay for unexpected expenses.
9 Reasons to Take Out a Personal Loan
Personal loans may be used for just about anything “personal,” meaning it’s not a business-related expense. Here are some of the most popular reasons people take out different types of personal loans.
Debt Management and Consolidation
Refinancing or high-interest debt consolidation into better loan terms is one of the most common uses for a personal loan — and one of the most financially savvy. Credit card debt carries some of the highest interest rates out there. Credit cards also typically have variable rates, making it challenging to create a predictable budget to pay down outstanding debt.
Rates for personal loans, on the other hand, tend to be lower than credit card APRs. This can save borrowers a lot of money in interest over the long term. And the fixed payback schedule of a personal installment loan may help borrowers avoid falling into a vicious cycle of revolving debt that can continue indefinitely.
You don’t have to be drowning in credit card debt to benefit from consolidation. For borrowers with multiple loans, consolidating debt with one personal loan can be a useful financial tactic — if the borrower qualifies for good loan terms.
Bottom line: Personal loans can help streamline multiple high-interest debt payments into one payment. Plus, loans tend to have lower rates than credit cards. This could help borrowers save money in interest over time.
Recommended: Where to Get a Personal Loan
According to Zola, an online wedding planning site, the average cost of a wedding in 2023 is around $29,000. Unfortunately, many young couples have not saved up enough to pay for their entire wedding themselves. (In many cases, the days when a bride’s parents footed the entire wedding bill are over.)
A personal loan, sometimes referred to as a wedding loan when used for this purpose, can cover some or all of a well-budgeted wedding. Personal loans tend to offer much lower interest rates than credit cards, which some newlyweds may use to fund their big day.
However, before you go this route, think long and hard about whether you really want to start out your married life in debt. Consider if you can actually afford to pay off the loan in a timely manner. If not, it might be better to cut back on your wedding budget, or take more time to save up for the big day.
Bottom line: A wedding loan can help pay for some or all of the wedding costs, which could help you avoid having to use a credit card or tap into your savings.
Unexpected Medical Expenses
When a medical emergency occurs, it’s important for your main focus to be on a healthy outcome. But the financial burden can’t be ignored. Being able to pay for out-of-pocket expenses with a low-rate personal loan may relieve some stress and give you time to heal.
It’s no secret that the cost of medical care in America can be sky-high, especially for the large portion of Americans who have high-deductible health plans. The situation is even more challenging for those who don’t have health insurance coverage at all. When paying out of pocket, even a seemingly simple procedure, like casting a broken leg, can cost a shocking $7,500, according to Healthcare.gov.
Bottom line: Medical emergencies happen. Using a personal loan to help pay for bills and expenses could provide peace of mind.
Recommended: How to Pay for Medical Bills You Can’t Afford
A low-interest personal loan (also known as a relocation loan) may help defray some out-of-pocket costs associated with moving. According to the American Moving & Storage Association, a local move can set you back $1,250 on average. Moving 1,000 miles or more typically costs $4,890.
And these figures only account for the move itself. As anyone who has relocated knows, hidden costs can and do often pop up, from boxes and storage space to cleaning fees and lost security deposits.
There are also expenses that come with a new home. Most new rentals require upfront cash for a deposit, sometimes totaling three times the monthly rent (first, last, and security). Opening new utility accounts may also require a deposit.
And don’t forget about replacing household items left behind. Even basics like soap, light bulbs, shower curtains, and ketchup can easily total a few hundred dollars.
Lastly, miscellaneous costs can arise during the move itself, such as replacing broken items. Even with insurance, there’s usually a deductible to pay.
Bottom line: Whether you’re relocating across town or across the country, expenses can pile up quickly. A relocation loan can help you pay to move and set up your new home.
💡 Quick Tip: SoFi lets you apply for a personal loan online in 60 seconds, without affecting your credit score.
Many people have life insurance to cover their own funeral. But what if Mom, Dad, or Grandpa didn’t plan ahead? If the deceased did not plan appropriately to finance their death, and life insurance doesn’t cover the bill, a personal loan can be a quick, easy solution for the family.
Basic costs for a funeral include the service, burial or cremation, and a memorial gathering of friends and family. The median cost of a funeral service with a viewing and burial is $7,848, while the cost of a funeral with cremation is $6,971.
Bottom line: When a loved one passes away, paying for the funeral may be the last thing on your mind. If you need help financing the arrangements, a personal loan could provide a fast and simple solution.
Home Improvement Expenses
Many renters and homeowners feel that annual or biannual itch to spruce up their living space. That might mean a fresh coat of paint, upgraded appliances, or a kitchen remodel. Depending on the level of your project, the cost of home remodel can come in anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars.
If you’re making upgrades that will improve a home’s value, the cost may be made up when selling the house later. Using a personal home improvement loan can help you focus on the renovation instead of fretting about costs. Plus, if you get an unsecured loan, you won’t have to worry about putting your home equity on the line as collateral.
Bottom line: Taking out a home improvement loan is one way to help fund a home improvement project.
Whether your plans involve pregnancy, adoption, in vitro fertilization (IVF), or surrogacy, growing a family can be expensive.
The average cost of a complete IVF cycle, for example, starts around $15,000 and can go up from there, depending on the center and your medication needs. Meanwhile, giving birth costs an average of $18,865, and insured women typically pay $2,854 of that amount.
Once your baby arrives, you’ll need money to pay for diapers, clothing, formula, and other supplies. A personal loan can help you cover the expenses without having to dip into your savings or emergency fund.
Bottom line: When you’re looking to add a new member to the family, a personal loan can provide peace-of-mind financing.
You get a flat tire. The transmission fails. The brakes go out. When your car breaks, chances are you can’t afford to wait to have it fixed while you pull together the necessary funds. A personal loan can help you cover the cost of the repair, which can be significant.
On average, consumers spend around $548 per year fixing their cars, according to Cox Automotive, which owns Kelley Blue Book. Of course, you could spend much more, depending on the work being done. If you’re replacing a failed transmission, for instance, you can expect to pay between $2,900 and $7,100 for a new one.
Bottom line: Car repairs are rarely planned. If you need money quickly to fix your car, you may want to consider a personal loan. Depending on the lender, you may be able to get same-day funding, but it could also take up to one week to get the money.
Ready to take the plunge and book that bucket list trip? A personal loan is one way to help finance a dream vacation, and the interest rate could be lower than a credit card’s.
Bottom line: If you’re planning an expensive getaway and don’t have the cash you need at the ready, a personal loan can help you pay for the trip. Note that you may be paying off the loan long after the trip.
What Personal Loans Should Not Be Used For
While personal loans can be used for almost anything, there are some restrictions. In general, here are things you should not use a personal loan for:
• A down payment on a home. Buying a home? In general, you’re not allowed to use personal loans for down payments on conventional home loans and FHA loans.
• College tuition. Most lenders won’t allow you to use personal loans to pay college tuition and fees, and many prohibit you from using the money to pay down student loans.
• Business expenses. Typically, you are not allowed to use personal loan funds to cover business expenses.
• Investing. Some lenders prohibit using a personal loan to invest. But even if your lender allows it, there may be risks involved that you’ll want to be aware of.
Recommended: Personal Loan Glossary
Pros and Cons of Taking Out a Personal Loan
As you’re weighing your decision, it may help to take a look at the overall pros and cons of personal loans:
|Fast access to cash
|Can be used a variety of purposes
|Potential fees and penalties
|Lower interest rates compared to credit cards
|Credit and income requirements to qualify
|No collateral required for unsecured personal loans
|Applying might ding your credit score
Deciding Whether to Take Out a Personal Loan
Wondering whether a personal loan makes sense for your situation? Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make your decision.
• Figure out how much you’ll need to borrow. Remember, you’ll be on the hook for repaying a significant amount of money including interest. There might be hidden fees, too.
• Make a repayment plan. Going into debt should never be taken lightly, so it’s important to set a realistic strategy to repay the debt.
• Check your credit score. Your credit history and score will have a significant impact on the loan terms, and interest rates and qualifying criteria will vary from lender to lender.
• Explore your options. Before applying with a lender, shop around for the interest rate and terms that best fit your needs.
Keep in mind that there may be situations when taking out a personal loan might not make sense. Here are a few instances:
• You can’t afford your current monthly payments. If making the monthly payments on your existing debt is a challenge, you may want to reconsider whether it’s a good idea to take on any more debt right now.
• You have a high amount of debt. Shouldering a high amount of debt? Taking out a personal loan could put a strain on your finances and make it more difficult for you to make ends meet or put money away for savings. Plus, carrying a lot of debt could increase your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), which lenders look at in addition to your credit score and credit report when reviewing your loan application.
• You have a “bad” credit score. A less-than-stellar credit score could reduce your chance of getting approved for a personal loan. If your credit score is considered “bad,” which FICO defines as 579 or below, then you may want to hold off on taking out a personal loan and instead work on your credit. You can help raise your score by paying your bills on time, paying attention to revolving debt, checking credit reports and scores and addressing any errors, and being mindful about opening and closing credit cards.
Recommended: Can a Personal Loans Hurt Your Credit?
Alternatives to Personal Loans
Considering alternative ways to pay for expenses or big-ticket items that don’t involve personal loans? Here are three to keep in mind:
Credit cards offer a line of credit that you can use for a variety of purposes. This includes making purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances. You can borrow up to your credit limit, and you’ll owe at least the minimum payment each month.
A credit card may make sense for smaller expenses that you can pay off fairly quickly, ideally in full each month.
💡 Quick Tip: If you’ve got high-interest credit card debt, a personal loan is one way to get control of it. But you’ll want to make sure the loan’s interest rate is much lower than the credit cards’ rates — and that you can make the monthly payments.
Home equity line of credit
If you have at least 20% equity — the home’s market value minus what is owed — you may be able to secure a home equity line of credit (HELOC). HELOCs commonly come with a 10-year draw period, generally offer lower interest rates than those offered by a personal loan, and you can borrow as much as you need, up to an approved credit limit. However, you may be required to use your home as collateral, and there’s a chance your rate might rise.
HELOCs might be an option to consider if you plan on borrowing a significant amount of money or if you expect to have ongoing expenses, like with a remodeling project.
If you need money — and no other form of borrowing is available — then you may want to consider withdrawing funds from your retirement plan. A 401(k) loan doesn’t come with lender requirements and doesn’t require a credit check. However, you may face taxes and penalties for taking out the money. Each employer’s plan has different rules around withdrawals and loans, so make sure you understand what your plan allows.
Borrowing from your 401(k) could be a smart idea in certain situations, like if you need a substantial amount of cash in the short term or are using the money to pay off a high-interest debt.
When it comes to weddings, funerals, cross-country moves, and other big-ticket items, a personal loan is typically a better alternative to high-interest credit cards. Other common uses for personal loans include debt consolidation, medical bills, home improvement, family planning, and vacation.
Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.
What is interest?
Interest is the money you’re charged when you take out a loan from a bank or earn for leaving your money in a bank to grow. It’s expressed as a percentage of the total amount of the loan or account balance, usually as APR (Annual Percentage Rate) or APY (Annual Percentage Yield). These figures estimate how much of the loan or account balance you could expect to pay or receive over the course of one year.
How important is credit score in a loan application?
Credit score is one of the key metrics lenders look at when considering a loan applicant. Generally, the higher the credit score, the more likely lenders are to approve a loan and give the borrower a more favorable interest rate. Many lenders consider a score of 670 or above to indicate solid creditworthiness.
Can I pay off a personal loan early?
Most lenders would likely welcome an early loan payoff, so chances are you can pay off a personal loan early. However, if an early payoff results in a prepayment penalty, it may not make financial sense to pay off the loan ahead of schedule.
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
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