Personal Loan Explained: 101 Guide

what is a personal loan, personal loan explained 101 guide
personal loan explained – 101 guide

Personal loans play a significant role in financial planning by giving individuals access to funds for various purposes. Whether you need to consolidate debts, cover medical expenses, or make a large purchase, personal loans offer a flexible and convenient solution. This personal loan explained article will explore the definition, features, benefits, application process, and risks associated with a personal loan.

What is a Personal Loan (personal loan explained)?

A personal loan refers to the funds borrowed from a financial institution without the need for collateral, such as a bank or credit union. It involves a predetermined repayment period with consistent monthly payments.

Typically, personal loans range from $1,000 to $50,000 or more, offering borrowers flexibility in choosing the loan amount that suits their needs. Interest rates for personal loans currently span from approximately 6% to 36%. 

Borrowers are usually granted a repayment period of one to seven years, enabling them to comfortably repay the borrowed funds over time. This installment loan provides individuals with the convenience of fixed monthly payments, including interest, until the loan is fully repaid.

History of Personal Loans

During the early 1900s, lending practices underwent significant changes in the United States. Arthur J. Morris, a Virginia lawyer, played a crucial role in revolutionizing the personal loan industry. In 1910, he founded the Morris Plan Bank with the goal of providing credit to lower- and middle-income individuals. Initially capitalized with $20,000 contributed mainly by Morris himself, the bank’s primary focus was on granting loans to help improve the quality of life for the working poor, such as purchasing homes and cars or creating financial security for emergencies.

By the early 1920s, other nationwide banks adopted the lending model pioneered by the Morris Plan Bank. In 1920, a bank in Bridgeport, Connecticut, became the first to advertise personal loan products to lower-income consumers as noted by history professor Lendol G. Calder, author of “Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit,” only six banks in 1923 offered unsecured loans in the United States. 

However, by 1929, this number had grown to 208 banks providing personal loans. By 1931, Morris Plan banks had established themselves in over 100 cities, collectively lending approximately $220 million annually in unsecured personal loans.

How Do Personal Loans Work?

When seeking a personal loan, the process begins with submitting an application, followed by a waiting period for approval ranging from a few hours to several days. Once approved, the lender disburses the loan amount into your bank account, and you are free to use the funds as intended. Repayment of the loan begins immediately, and throughout the loan term, your account activity is typically reported to credit bureaus, allowing for the opportunity to build a positive credit history through timely payments.

Personal loans have several components that shape their nature. The interest rate, known as the annual percentage rate (APR), is fixed and determines the total interest paid over the loan’s duration. The monthly payment is a fixed amount encompassing both the principal loan amount and the interest, providing stability and predictability. Borrowers can secure a lower monthly payment by choosing a more extended repayment period. Repayment terms for personal loans typically range from one to seven years, with some lenders offering up to 12 years for more significant loan amounts. 

It is worth noting that origination fees, an initial fee added to the loan amount, and these fees can vary. Occasionally reaching up to 10 percent of the loan.

Most personal loans are unsecured, meaning they do not require collateral. Instead, lenders assess factors such as credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and cash flow to evaluate a borrower’s application. With fixed interest rates, the monthly payment remains consistent throughout the loan’s lifespan. Timely loan payments can build a favorable credit score, while missed payments can negatively impact.

What can I use a Personal Loan for?

Personal loans offer versatility, allowing borrowers to utilize the funds for various purposes. Personal loans can cater to multiple financial needs.

Financing Big Events: 

For costly events like weddings, honeymoons, or vacations, personal loans can bridge the budget gap. By taking out a personal loan, consumers can repay the loan over time with fixed monthly payments and a fixed interest rate.

Debt Consolidation: 

Debt consolidation loans are personal loans that help consumers combine high-interest credit card debt or other loans into a single loan. These loans often have lower interest rates, allowing consumers to save on interest and achieve lower monthly payments.

Home Improvement Projects: 

Instead of using home equity loans or lines of credit that require collateral, consumers often opt for unsecured personal loans for their home improvement projects. These loans allow borrowers to access the funds they need without risking their homes.

Emergency Expenses: 

Personal loans are also suitable for covering unexpected expenses like medical bills, urgent roof repairs, or funeral costs. Some personal loans can be applied for online and provide quick funding within a few business days, offering peace of mind during emergencies.

Investing in Yourself: 

Personal loans are commonly used for educational purposes, such as certifications or career-enhancing seminars. However, it’s important to note that some lenders may not allow personal loans for college tuition fees. Additionally, personal loans can be used for self-improvement procedures like dental implants or cosmetic surgery.

These loans are commonly available at banks, credit unions, and online lenders, providing borrowers with diverse options for obtaining the required funds.

Preparing for a Personal Loan

To ensure a smooth application process for a personal loan, it is essential to have the necessary documentation prepared. This includes:

  • Recent pay stubs: Providing recent pay stubs serves as proof of steady employment and income, demonstrating your ability to repay the loan. In some cases, if you have changed jobs or don’t have access to pay stubs, you may need to provide recent tax returns.
  • Personal information: Lenders will typically inquire about your residence, desired loan amount, intended use of the funds, and other relevant details. You may be required to provide identification documents such as a driver’s license, Social Security number (SSN), passport, and possibly utility bills with your name and address.
  • Financial accounts: Sharing your bank account information is crucial for the lender to disburse funds directly to your account. Additionally, this account will serve as the source for making monthly loan repayments.

Furthermore, before completing a full application, you should check your credit score, credit history, and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. This step allows you to understand what lenders will see when evaluating your application and helps you narrow down suitable options.

An excellent credit score opens up opportunities for personal loans with low-interest rates and minimal fees. Conversely, if you have a fair or poor credit score, your loan options may be limited. Considering these factors beforehand will give you a clearer understanding of your borrowing prospects.

The Application Process

Some lenders allow you to pre-qualify for a loan by providing your credit and financial information, giving you an idea of your eligibility without affecting your credit score. Pre-qualification helps you identify lenders that may approve your loan. However, not all lenders offer this option, so you can compare multiple lenders through pre-qualification and proceed with the one most likely to approve your personal loan.

Interest rates vary based on the lender and your creditworthiness. Higher credit scores increase your chances of qualifying for the lowest rates. In comparison, lower scores may result in higher interest rates.

Lenders have different credit requirements, repayment terms, and borrowing limits. Compare lenders based on your needs and the likelihood of qualifying. If you require a specific loan amount, ensure the lender offers it before submitting an application.

Completing a loan application may still take some time, even with all your documents prepared. However, you should receive approval or denial within a few moments after submitting the application.

Receiving and Repaying a Personal Loan

Once your personal loan application is approved and you accept the loan offer, the following steps involve receiving the funds and repaying the loan. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Receiving the Loan: After approval, you will be asked to provide your banking details for the loan deposit. The time it takes for the funds to reach your account can vary depending on the lender and the timing of your application. Some lenders may deposit the funds within a day, while others may take a few days.
  • Repaying the Loan: Many lenders offer the convenience of setting up autopay for loan repayment. Sometimes, lenders even provide an interest rate discount for choosing autopay. With autopay, you can set up automatic deductions from your bank account, ensuring you never miss a payment. This is important because your payment history is a significant factor in calculating your credit score. Falling behind on loan payments can have a negative impact on your score. Setting up autopay or using a calendar reminder to make timely payments is crucial.
  • Understanding Your Monthly Payment: Your monthly payment amount is determined by several factors, including your loan terms, interest rate, and the amount you borrowed. You can use a loan calculator to determine which variables fit best into your budget. You can see how different scenarios affect your monthly payment by inputting the loan amount, interest rate, and repayment term.
  • Early Repayment: It’s worth noting that many lenders do not charge prepayment penalties. This means you can pay off your loan early without additional fees. If you have the means, paying off your loan ahead of schedule can save you money on interest charges.

By understanding the process of receiving and repaying a personal loan, you can effectively manage your finances and make timely payments to maintain a positive credit history.

Read More: Personal Loan Scams: How to Protect Yourself and Your Money

How to Pick the Best Personal Loan

Before you start looking for a personal loan, you must understand a few key factors to make the best decision for your financial situation. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Credit score and income: Check each lender’s minimum credit score requirements to see if you qualify. Some lenders also have income requirements, so review those as well.
  • Secured vs. unsecured loans: Most personal loans are unsecured, meaning they don’t require collateral like your car or home. However, if your credit is poor, you may need to consider a secured loan. With a secured loan, you must provide collateral, such as money in a savings account, to qualify.
  • Loan amount: Personal loans typically range from $1,000 to $100,000. Only borrow the amount you need and avoid taking out more than necessary.
  • Loan details: Determine how much you need to borrow and how long you want to pay it off. 

Consider the following information:

  • Interest rate: This is a crucial factor as it determines the cost of your loan over time. Look for the lowest interest rate possible and pay attention to the annual percentage rate (APR), which includes the interest rate and any origination charges.
  • Loan term: The loan term is the duration you must repay. Aim to pay off your loan as quickly as possible to save on interest, but be mindful that shorter terms result in larger monthly payments. Make sure you can comfortably afford the monthly payment.

Fees to Consider

Some loans may have additional fees apart from the interest rate. Be aware of the following:

  • Origination fee: While not common, some lenders charge an origination fee, a percentage of the total loan amount. Look for loans with minimal or no origination fee.
  • Prepayment penalty: Some loans impose a prepayment penalty if you pay off the loan before the term ends. It’s best to avoid loans with prepayment penalties, as paying off your loan ahead of schedule can save you money. Fortunately, prepayment penalties are uncommon in the personal loan industry.

How Personal Loan Rates are Determined

Personal loans offer borrowers the flexibility of choosing between a fixed or variable rate. With a fixed rate, the annual percentage rate (APR) remains consistent throughout the loan term, ensuring predictability and stability in monthly payments. 

The APR incorporates the interest rate of the personal loan and any fees charged by the lender for loan servicing. In contrast, variable rates can fluctuate over time, often tied to an established index rate like the prime rate used by banks and financial institutions. Some variable interest rates come with caps, limiting the increase even if the index rate rises. 

However, it is essential to note that most personal loans feature fixed APRs, allowing borrowers to have consistent and predictable monthly payments.

How to Get the Best Personal Loan Rates

To ensure you get the best interest rates on your personal loan, follow these simple steps:

  • Improve your credit score: Having an excellent credit score generally qualifies you for lower interest rates. If your score needs improvement, don’t worry. You can still get a personal loan with fair credit, although the interest rate may be higher than those with excellent credit. You can work on boosting your score and explore ways to build credit quickly.
  • Compare multiple lenders: Interest rates can vary significantly among lenders, even the top ones. By applying to multiple lenders, you can explore offers with different APRs. It’s common to find interest rate differences of 8% or more. Many lenders offer pre-approval, allowing you to check your interest rates quickly. Take the time to shop around and compare offers. Investing an hour or so in this process could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.
  • Determine your loan repayment term: While choosing the most extended repayment term to keep your monthly payments low may be tempting, consider opting for the shortest term you can comfortably manage. Let’s say you borrow $20,000 at an 8% interest rate for home renovations. Repaying the loan over 48 months would result in a monthly payment of $488.26, while a 72-month term would mean a $350.66 payment, leaving you with an extra $137.60 each month. However, the longer term would result in paying $5,248 in total interest.

By following these steps, you can secure the best possible interest rates on your personal loan, potentially saving a significant amount of money over time.

While personal loans can be a helpful financial tool, there might be better choices for some. It’s essential to consider your financial situation and the purpose for which you need the money. 

Read more: Best Personal Loan Alternatives: Expert Advice.


In conclusion, personal loans give individuals access to funds for various purposes, making them an effective tool in financial planning. Personal loans offer flexibility and convenience whether you need to consolidate debts, cover medical expenses, or make a large purchase. However, assessing your financial circumstances and exploring alternative lending options is crucial if they better suit your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers (FAQs)

Can anyone get a personal loan?

Personal loans are available to anyone, but approval is not guaranteed. Although they may have more lenient qualification requirements than other loans, you still need a decent credit score and a reliable income to repay the loan. Offering collateral, such as secured personal loans, can increase your chances of qualifying.

Is a personal loan the best way to borrow money?

There isn’t a universally superior borrowing method as the best loan type. It varies depending on your financial circumstances and objectives. Personal loans are suitable for short- to medium-term borrowing, offering lower interest rates than credit cards. They are handy for consolidating debt, covering emergencies, or financing home improvements. However, personal loans are generally not intended for business expenses, college tuition, or down payments on a house.

What is the risk of a personal loan?

Obtaining a personal loan means taking on new debt that needs to be repaid. It’s crucial to make timely payments to avoid negative consequences. Falling behind on loan payments can harm your credit score and make it challenging to qualify for other types of borrowing in the future, such as credit cards or auto loans. Only consider a loan if you’re confident you can meet the monthly payment obligations without fail.

Are personal loans better than credit cards?

When deciding between personal loans and credit cards, it’s essential to understand their distinct purposes. Consider the reason for borrowing money before selecting your payment option. No right or wrong choice exists, but one option may be more costly depending on your specific needs.

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