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How Does a Subprime Personal Loan Work?

By Caroline Banton · February 22, 2023 · 10 minute read

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How Does a Subprime Personal Loan Work?

Subprime personal loans provide financing to people with poor credit who cannot qualify for a conventional prime-rate loan. Borrowers who have poor credit have a higher risk of defaulting on loans, so lenders protect themselves by adding charges to the loans. These charges come in the form of higher interest rates, longer term lengths, and higher financing fees.

Read on to learn how subprime personal loans work, the different types of loans, some alternatives to these high-interest loans, and whether they might be an option for you.

What Is a Subprime Personal Loan?

A subprime personal loan is a loan that caters to borrowers with subprime credit, who are considered to be at a high risk of default. A subprime lender will charge a higher interest rate and set longer loan terms to cover the cost of their risk.

There are fairly rigid credit score requirements for a personal loan. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau lists five credit score levels; the first column shows what type of loan someone will qualify for.

Credit Level

Credit Score

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

A borrower with a FICO score below 620 will find it difficult to secure a loan from a traditional lender. Many online lending platforms allow consumers to search a network of subprime personal loan lenders to find the best deal. Borrowers submit a loan application online to pre-qualify.

Subprime loans have certain characteristics. They may require a larger down payment. Someone with a fair credit score who takes out a car loan may have to pay 5% down, whereas someone with poor credit might have to put 10% down. A subprime loan may come with an adjustable interest rate or a fixed interest rate.

Types of Subprime Loans

There are four main types of subprime loans: interest-only, fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, and dignity loans.

Recommended: Personal Loan Interest Rates Now

Interest-Only Subprime Loan

Sometimes called exotic loans, an example of an interest-only loan is an adjustable-rate mortgage where the borrower pays only the interest for the first few years before beginning to cover some of the principal. If interest rates have gone up, the payments can become huge.

Pros of Interest-Only Subprime Loan

Cons of Interest-Only Subprime Loan

Initial monthly payments are lower The borrower is often not aware that interest rates could skyrocket in the future
An interest-only loan can be paid off faster than a traditional loan Borrowers may rely on having more income in the future to meet the higher payments
Flexibility: Borrowers can use extra cash to pay off the principal earlier In the case of a mortgage, if housing prices fall, the mortgage debt may exceed the value of the home

Fixed-Rate Subprime Loan

Fixed-rate subprime loans allow the borrower to lock into a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan. The monthly payments don’t change, so there are no surprises for the borrower. However, the terms of these loans are longer, and borrowers pay more interest over the life of the loan.

Pros of Fixed-Rate Subprime Loan

Cons of Fixed-Rate Subprime Loan

Interest rates are the same for the life of the loan Long repayment period (30 years or more), so the borrower pays more for the loan
Monthly payments don’t change No flexibility

Adjustable-Rate Subprime Loan

Interest rates on an adjustable-rate subprime loan are fixed for an initial period. After that, the interest rate will become variable, and your monthly payments will go up and down with market interest rates.

Pros of Adjustable-Rate Subprime Loan

Cons of Adjustable-Rate Subprime Loan

Interest rate is fixed for an initial period Once the initial period is over, the interest rate will increase
Interest rates can be low initially, so the borrower has cash that can be invested elsewhere Budgeting for the future is difficult because future payments are uncertain

Dignity Subprime Loan

For a dignity subprime loan, borrowers put down 10% of the loan amount to qualify. The interest rate is higher initially. Then the rate changes to the prime rate if the borrower has kept up with the payments.

Pros of Dignity Subprime Loan

Cons of Dignity Subprime Loan

If you keep up with the payments, the interest rate will drop to the prime rate A 10% down payment is required. The initial interest rate is high
Interest rates can be low initially, so the borrower has cash to invest elsewhere Budgeting for the future is difficult because future payments are uncertain

Pros and Cons of Subprime Personal Loan

The advantages and disadvantages of subprime personal loans center around the interest rates and fees. How disciplined the borrower is in their money management is also a factor.

Pros of Subprime Personal Loan

The pros of a subprime personal loan can be summed up as “perceived affordability.”

Adjustable Interest Rate

Adjustable interest rates are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, subprime loans with an adjustable rate are attractive because the initial rate is low. This frees up cash that savvy borrowers can use to earn money elsewhere or pay off the loan principal sooner. However, once the initial period is over, the rate can skyrocket with market rates.

Longer Repayment Period

A longer repayment period means that the borrower will have lower payments. However, they will end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan. Still, lower payments can be beneficial, particularly if the loan has a fixed interest rate, and the borrower knows exactly how much they must pay each month.

Cons of Subprime Personal Loans

The perceived affordability of subprime personal loans comes with trade-offs.

Higher Interest Rate

Subprime loans have significantly higher interest rates than prime loans. That means a subprime borrower can pay much more in interest over the life of their loan. For example, the median personal loan rate for a borrower with a credit score of 700 is 10.93%, whereas the median rate for a borrower with a 600 score is 15.91%.

An adjustable rate loan may have a low initial interest rate, but higher rates will eventually increase your monthly payments substantially.

Higher Fees

Subprime personal loan lenders charge higher fees to subprime borrowers to cover the cost of potential default.

Pros of Subprime Personal Loan

Cons of Subprime Personal Loan

Flexibility from adjustable interest rates Higher interest rates
Longer repayment periods Higher fees

What Credit Score Is Required for a Subprime Personal Loan?

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, credit scores of 620 and below qualify for a subprime personal loan.

The Impact a Subprime Personal Loan Has on Your Credit

Taking out a subprime loan will not affect your credit score. When a lender runs a credit check on a potential borrower, it affects the credit score a few points, but that is the same regardless of the type of loan.

On the other hand, how you manage the payments can affect your score. Making regular payments can boost your credit because your payment history improves. You may then be able to qualify for a prime-rate loan once you have paid down your debt.

Top 3 Subprime Loans

Here are the top three subprime lending platforms based on a Google search at the time of writing. Lending platforms allow borrowers to search a network of subprime lenders for the best loan terms.

CashUSA.com

Loans are available from $500 to $10,000. The subprime personal loans can be used for any purpose, and funds are deposited into the borrower’s bank account. There are no initiation fees.

For subprime personal loans, direct lenders offer APRs between 5.99% and 35.99% and loan durations from 90 days to 72 months. The site gives the following example: A two-year loan of $1,500 with an APR of 7.9% requires 24 monthly payments of $67.77, for a total amount payable of $1,626.54.

BadCreditLoans.com

Loans are available from $500 to $10,000. Funds are deposited into the borrower’s bank account the next business day. This lender charges no initiation fees.

Lenders from the site’s network offer APRs between 5.99% and 35.99%, with loan durations from 90 days to 72 months. The site gives the following example: A 12-month loan of $2,000 with an APR of 19.9% requires 12 monthly payments of $183.63, for a total amount payable of $2,203.56.

PersonalLoans.com

Loans are available from $500 to $35,000. Funds are deposited into the borrower’s bank account within one business day.

Lenders from the site’s network offer APRs between 5.99% to 35.99% and loan durations from 90 days to 72 months. The site gives the following example: A two-year loan of $8,500 with an APR of 6.99% requires 24 monthly payments of $380.53, for a total amount paid of $9,132.68.

Getting a Subprime Loan

Subprime personal loan lenders list few requirements. But the process for a subprime loan is generally the same as the steps to get any personal loan.

1.    Check your credit score. Look for any errors on your report that could be erased to boost your score. (Checking your own score doesn’t affect your rating.)

2.    Compare multiple lenders. Shop around for the best rate and term. Your current bank or credit union might offer good subprime terms to existing account holders.

3.    Select a lender. Make sure you understand the interest rate, repayment terms, and fees.

4.    Gather your documentation. Scan them ahead of time for quick uploading. Applicants are typically required to show:

a.    Proof of identity. Such as a driver’s license or passport.

b.    Proof of address. You can use a utility bill, rental agreement, voter registration card, or insurance card for your home or car.

c.    Proof of income. Choose from a paycheck, W2 or 1099, tax return, or bank statement showing paycheck deposits.

d.    Current monthly expenses. Use a bank statement, and highlight your major monthly bills.

5.    Complete the application. Once approved, you’ll need to sign for the loan to receive the funding.

Alternatives to Subprime Personal Loans

Subprime personal loans are not ideal. If you find yourself in the bad credit score range, consider alternatives like borrowing from friends or family, getting a cosigner to help you get a loan or credit card, or selling some of your assets to provide immediate cash.

For the future, try to improve your credit by paying debts on time, and check your credit report for errors.

The Takeaway

Subprime personal loans are typically offered by online lenders that cater to customers with a low credit rating who cannot qualify for loans with conventional financial institutions. Subprime lenders charge high-interest rates and financing fees to cover the risk of default. You can choose a fixed or adjustable interest rate.

3 Personal Loan Tips

  1. Since lenders will do what’s called a hard pull on an applicant’s credit, and too many hard pulls in a short period can affect your application, it’s a good idea to know what interest rate a lender will offer you before applying for a personal loan. Viewing your rate with SoFi involves only a soft pull on your credit — and takes one minute.
  2. Generally, the larger the personal loan, the bigger the risk for the lender — and the higher the interest rate. So one way to lower your interest rate is to try downsizing your loan amount.
  3. In a climate where interest rates are rising, you’re likely better off with a fixed interest rate than a variable rate, even though the variable rate is initially lower. On the flip side, if rates are falling, you may be better off with a variable interest rate.

FAQ

What credit score do you need to get a subprime personal loan?

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, credit scores of 620 and below qualify for a subprime personal loan.

What are subprime personal loans?

A subprime personal loan caters to borrowers with subprime credit. That means they are considered at a high risk of default, so a lender will charge them a higher interest rate and set longer loan terms to cover the cost of their risk.

What are the requirements for subprime personal loans?

To obtain a loan, borrowers must submit a loan application online and provide financial documents to show they can manage the payments.


Photo credit: iStock/shapecharge

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Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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