Guide to Prime Loans

By Anna Davies · June 12, 2024 · 7 minute read

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Guide to Prime Loans

Generally speaking, the better your credit score, the better your potential loan rates and offers may be. The reason is that your credit score tells lenders how much risk you pose as a borrower. A good credit score may qualify you for what’s known as a prime loan.

Here, what a prime loan is and how it works.

Understanding a Prime Loan

To understand a prime loan, it can help to understand the prime rate. The prime rate is established by banks as the interest rate given to its best customers, generally large corporations that borrow and repay loans on a regular basis This number is based on the federal funds rate set by the Federal Reserve.

The prime rate is a critical financial benchmark. Banks and other lenders typically use it to set interest rates for various consumer products, including credit cards, personal loans, personal lines of credit, auto loans, and home loans. Lenders will use the prime rate as a baseline, then add a margin on top of the prime rate to determine a loan’s interest rate. How much more a borrower will pay above the prime rate will depend on their creditworthiness.

Many loans are based on the prime rate, so it can be a good rate to track if you’re in the market for any type of lending product. For example, if you’re considering a fixed-rate loan, like a mortgage or a personal loan, and the prime rate is currently low, you may be able to lock in a lower rate for the life of your loan. If you’re considering variable-rate debt, like a credit card or home equity line of credit (HELOC), your rate might start low but go up over time if market rates rise. If market rates decline, on the other hand, your rate could go down.

Prime Loan Borrowers

The term “prime” is also used by lenders to refer to high quality in the consumer lending market — including borrowers, loans, and rates. Prime loans generally have a competitive interest rate and are offered to borrowers who have a low default risk and good or better credit scores. The opposite of prime is subprime, a term for riskier loans with a higher interest rate.

According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), borrowers with a credit score of 660 to 719 are generally considered prime borrowers. Those with scores above 720 are considered “super-prime” borrowers, and will receive even more favorable interest rates.

Here are the five credit score categories for borrowers:


Credit Score

Deep subprime Below 580
Subprime 580-619
Near-prime 620 to 659
Prime 660 to 719
Super-prime 720 or above

Knowing your credit score can help you assess the category you will fit in.

Prime Loan Rates

As of May 20, 2024, the current official prime rate is 8.50%, according to The Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ’s) Money Rates table, which aggregates prime rates charged throughout the U.S. and in other countries. The prime rate is typically three percentage points higher than the federal funds rate, set by the Federal Reserve.

Each bank has the ability to set its own prime rate, but most base it off the national average listed under the WSJ prime rate.

Prime rates for consumer loans, however, aren’t the same as the “prime rate” that is used for a bank’s top corporate customers. Since consumers generally do not have the same resources as large companies, banks typically charge them the prime rate plus a surcharge based on the product type they want and their qualifications as a borrower. For example, a credit card interest rate might be the prime rate plus 10%.

How Does the Prime Loan Rate Affect You?

The prime loan rate affects everyone. From buying a car to buying a house to opening a credit card, the benchmark prime loan rate will have an influence on how much interest you’ll pay. You may be more vulnerable to prime loan rate fluctuations if you have a lot of variable interest loans, like credit card debt. As the prime rate climbs, so too might the APR of your cards. When you see a prime rate hike, it can mean that your APR will quickly rise as well.

Conversely, when the prime rate falls, some people use that time to refinance a mortgage or lock in a rate for a loan, like a personal loan or an auto loan.

Because the prime rate affects credit cards, some people who carry a high credit card balance who have good credit may consider using a personal loan to consolidate their credit card debt. This is one popular use for personal loans and can potentially help you save money on interest, depending on the rates offered.

What Is the Difference Between a Prime Loan and Subprime Loan?

Prime rates for consumer lending products are what lenders charge individual borrowers with good or better credit scores. Borrowers with lower credit scores are considered subprime borrowers and can apply for subprime lending with higher (or subprime) rates. Here’s a closer look at the differences between prime vs. subprime loans.

Interest Rates

Interest rates are one of the most obvious differences between a prime and subprime loan. But even within the prime lending category there may be subcategories that receive different interest rate offers. For example, a prime borrower with a credit score near super-prime territory may receive more favorable rates than a borrower whose credit is close to subprime.

Recommended: 8 Reasons Why Good Credit Is So Important

Repayment Periods

A subprime borrower may also have fewer options when it comes to repayment periods. They may have a shorter repayment period at a higher interest rate than a prime borrower.

Down Payments

A prime borrower may have a low, or no, down payment required for a loan. But subprime borrowers may have to make a substantial down payment to qualify for a loan. This is especially true for loans like car loans or mortgages.

Loan Amounts

Prime borrowers may have access to greater loan amounts than subprime borrowers.


Non-prime borrowers may also have to pay more loan fees than a prime borrower. This may be due to the types of loans they can access. If they can’t get a loan from a traditional bank, a subprime borrower may seek payday loans or other loans that come with sky high interest rates and fees.

Recommended: How Does a Subprime Personal Loan Work?

What Do You Need To Qualify for a Prime Loan?

You generally need a credit score of 660 higher to qualify for a prime loan. If your score is 720 or above, you may qualify for super-prime loans. That said, a lender will typically look at more than your credit score to determine whether you qualify for a prime or better loan. Other factors that can impact your loan rates and terms include your income, employment status, and how much debt you currently carry.

Recommended: Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI): How to Calculate It

The Takeaway

The prime rate is out of your control. But you do have some control over the actual interest rate you’ll pay for a loan. One key factor is your credit score. If you’re not currently considered a prime borrower, building your credit before you apply for new credit can help you have the most competitive loan options, whether you’re researching mortgages, credit cards, or personal loans.

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.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.


What does prime mean in loans?

The term “prime” is used in consumer lending to refer to high quality borrowers, loans, and rates. Prime loans generally have a competitive interest rate and are offered to borrowers who have a low default risk and good or better credit scores. The opposite of prime is subprime, a term for riskier loans with a higher interest rate.

Is there a difference between prime loans and subprime loans?

Yes. Prime loans come with competitive interest rates and favorable terms and are generally offered to people whose credit scores are in the 660 to 719 range. (Borrowers with credit scores above that are considered super-prime borrowers and may be given even better rates and terms.) Borrowers with lower credit scores are considered subprime borrowers and may only be able to access loans with high interest rates and less favorable terms.

What is the current loan prime rate?

As of May 20, 2024, the current official prime rate is 8.50%, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Money Rates table.

Photo credit: iStock/Imagesrouges
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