A personal loan is a type of loan offered by many banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Unlike a mortgage loan or car loan, which specifies what the money should be spent on, a personal loan doesn’t have as many restrictions. Typically, you can use the funds from a personal loan to pay for a wide range of expenses.
Various factors will influence which type of personal loan is right for you, like how much money you plan to borrow, your credit and income, and how much debt you already have. To make the best selection for your unique needs, however, it’s important to understand the different types of personal loans there are.
Unsecured or Secured
A common type of personal loan is an unsecured personal loan. This means there’s no collateral backing up the loan, which can make them riskier for lenders. Approval and interest rates for unsecured personal loans are generally based on a person’s income and credit score, but other factors may apply.
Unlike an unsecured loan, there is some sort of collateral backing up a secured personal loan. For example, think of a home mortgage — if the borrower does not make payments, the bank or lender can seize the asset (in this case, the home) that was used to secure the loan.
Since secured loans involve collateral, lenders often view them as less risky than their unsecured counterparts. This can mean that secured personal loans might offer a lower interest rate than a comparable unsecured loan.
Here’s a comparison of some of the features of unsecured and secured personal loans:
|Unsecured Personal Loan
|Secured Personal Loan
|No collateral needed
|Requires an asset to be used as collateral
|Higher interest rates compared to secured personal loans
|May have lower interest rates than unsecured personal loans
|Approval based on applicant’s income, credit score, and other factors
|Approval based on value of collateral being used, in addition to applicant’s creditworthiness
|Funds may be available in as little as a few days
|Processing time can be longer due to need for collateral valuation
Variable or Fixed Interest Rate
A personal loan with a fixed interest rate will have the same interest rate for the life of the loan. This also means you’ll have the same fixed payment each month and, based on your scheduled payments, can know upfront how much interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.
On the other hand, the interest rate on a variable rate loan may change over the life of the loan, fluctuating based on the prevailing short-term interest rates. Typically, the starting interest rate on a variable rate loan will be lower than on a fixed rate loan, but the interest rate is likely to change as time passes. Variable rate loans are generally tied to well-known indexes.
If you’re trying to decide on a variable or fixed-rate personal loan, this summary might be helpful (you might also consider crunching the numbers using a personal loan calculator):
|Variable Interest Rate
|Fixed Interest Rate
|May have lower starting interest rate than a fixed-rate personal loan
|Interest rate remains the same for the life of the loan
|Payment amount may vary from month to month
|Monthly payment amount will not change
|Might be desirable for a short-term loan if current interest rate is low
|May be a better option if predictable payments are desired for a long-term loan
|Maximum interest rate may be capped
|Potential to cost more in interest payments over the life of the loan
Debt Consolidation Loan
This type of personal loan refinances existing debts into one new loan. Ideally, the interest rate on this new debt consolidation loan would be lower than the interest rate on the outstanding debt. This would allow you to spend less in interest over the life of the loan.
With a debt consolidation loan, you may only have to manage one single monthly payment. This streamlining of monthly debt payments is another major perk of this type of loan.
If you’re struggling to get approved for a personal loan on your own, there are circumstances in which you can apply for a loan with a cosigner. A cosigner is someone who helps you qualify for the loan but does not have ownership over the loan. In the event that you are unable to make payments on the loan, your cosigner would be responsible.
Co-borrowers and co-applicants are other terms you might hear if you’re interested in borrowing a personal loan with the assistance of a friend or family member. A co-borrower essentially takes out the loan with you. Unlike a cosigner, your co-borrower’s name will also be on the loan, so they’d be equally responsible for making sure payments are made on time.
Meanwhile, a co-applicant is the person applying for a loan with you. When the loan application is approved, the co-applicant becomes the co-borrower.
Personal Lines of Credit
Slightly different from a personal loan, a personal line of credit functions similarly to a credit card. It’s revolving credit, which typically means there is a maximum credit limit, a required monthly minimum payment, and when the debt is paid off, money can be withdrawn again.
The funds in a personal line of credit are generally accessed by writing checks or using a card, or by making transfers into another account.
Interest rates on a personal line of credit may be lower than the interest rates on a credit card. Like personal loans, there are both unsecured and secured personal lines of credit.
Credit Card Cash Advances
Some credit cards offer the option to borrow cash against the card’s total cash advance limit. This is called a credit card cash advance. The available cash advance amount may be different than the total available credit for purchases — that information is typically included on each credit card statement.
Depending on the credit card company’s policy, there are a few ways to secure a cash advance: you can use your credit card at an ATM to withdraw money, borrow a cash advance from a credit union or bank, or request a cash advance from the credit card company directly.
Cash advances typically have some of the highest rates around. There are often additional credit card fees associated with a cash advance transaction. Check your credit card disclosure terms for full details before taking a cash advance.
Different Types of Personal Loan Uses
The common uses for personal loans are wide-ranging. Here are some of the reasons why people consider borrowing money with a personal loan.
Planning a Wedding
The dress, flowers, catering, photographer, venue fees — the list of wedding expenses can go on and on. A personal loan for weddings is one option that you can use to cover all or part of costs. Just keep in mind that this will involve going into debt, and you will pay interest.
Whether you’re moving across the country or just across town, the cost of moving can add up quickly. A personal loan could potentially help you make ends meet as you’re relocating.
And if you want to do a few renovations or upgrades on your new place once you’re moved in, a personal loan could help with that too.
Another reason people use personal loans is to consolidate debt. Debt consolidation could allow you to simplify your repayment since you may have just one payment to keep track of every month after consolidating.
Depending on the rate and terms you qualify for, consolidating your debt could potentially help you save money on interest payments while you pay down your debt.
Taking a Vacation
Planning a vacation? Maybe your niece is getting married in Greece or you and your partner are planning a honeymoon. If budgeting and saving aren’t enough to get you to your vacation goal, a vacation loan could be one option to help you fill in the gaps. Just make sure you’re not taking on debt that you won’t later be able to pay back.
Making a Large Purchase
Whether it’s a new furnace, new patio furniture, or an engagement ring, if the cost of your dream item is a little out of your budget, a personal loan could help you afford the option you really want.
Armed with some knowledge about types of personal loans, you may be ready to make an educated decision about whether or not a personal loan is right for you.
As you consider your options, take a look at SoFi. You can find out if you pre-qualify for a personal loan, and at what rates, in just a few minutes. Plus, as a SoFi member, you’ll be eligible for additional membership benefits like career coaching.
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