Best Small Personal Loans of September 2021
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The best small personal loan lenders of September 2021
Rates are current as of 09/01/21. The highest APR that any credit union can charge on most loans is currently capped at 18% by the National Credit Union Administration.
You might find yourself in a situation where you’re coming up short to cover the cost of things like moving expenses or car repairs. In that case, a small personal loan might be right for you.
With a personal loan, you apply to borrow a certain amount of money. The lender may approve your application depending on factors such as your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and ability to repay the loan.
While some lenders offer appealingly low minimum APRs, keep in mind that to qualify for those rates, you will need to have an excellent credit score. If your credit score isn’t in the best shape, you may receive high interest rate or not be approved by some lenders.
Before you take out a small personal loan, you may want to see if you can find another option to get the money you need. You might be able to borrow money from a friend or a family member, take out a home equity loan, or in some cases, a credit card.
If you’re looking for a good small personal loan lender, here are a few of the best places to start your search.
Of our top picks, Upgrade offers the lowest minimum APR. Keep in mind that you’ll only qualify for this rate if you have excellent creditworthiness, so if your credit score isn’t in the best of shape, exercise caution. People with worse credit scores may end up paying an APR closer to 35.97%.
Upgrade will charge you an origination fee between 2.90% and 8%, which will be deducted from your loan proceeds. You may also be charged a fee for late payments. However, there are no prepayment penalties with this lender.
You can choose a loan term between two to seven years — a longer term will mean your monthly payments are small, but you’ll pay more in total interest. Once you accept your loan offer, you should get your funds as soon as the next day.
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Best Egg has the highest minimum credit score requirement of any lender on our list, but offers a low minimum APR for borrowers with good creditworthiness. Additionally, about half of Best Egg customers will receive their money the day after applying for the loan, so the lender could be a good option if you need money quickly.
If you’re looking for a company with great customer service, Best Egg may be a good choice. The company boasts a 95% customer satisfaction rate, which is supported by its top-notch A+ Better Business Bureau trustworthiness score.
While there are no prepayment penalties with Best Egg, you will pay an origination fee between 0.99% and 5.99%, which is included in the APR listed above. Some of our other top picks don’t charge origination fees. Best Egg also has a lower maximum loan amount than most of the other companies on our list.
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Pentagon Federal Credit Union
Pentagon Federal Credit Union has the shortest minimum repayment term length of any of the lenders on our list. This may be helpful if you can afford larger monthly payments and want to save on the total interest you pay. PenFed also has one of the lowest starting APRs of any of our top picks for small personal loans.
The company’s personal loans have no origination fees and no prepayment penalties. You can apply with a co-borrower, which may help you get a better interest rate if your co-borrower has a good credit history.
You don’t need to be a PenFed member to apply for a loan, but you’ll need to become a member to accept a loan offer. If you’ve served in the military or work at qualifying associations or organizations, you’ll qualify. If that doesn’t apply to you, you can join by opening a savings account with a $5 minimum deposit.
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First Tech Federal Credit Union
You can get a loan for as little as $500 with First Tech Federal Credit Union, which is useful if you’re looking for a small amount of cash and want to avoid the high APRs that accompany payday loans. First Tech loans come with no application, origination, or annual fees, and there’s no penalty for paying off your loan early.
If you’re looking to spread out your payments over a longer amount of time, First Tech has the longest maximum loan repayment length of any lender on our list. You can divide up your payments over seven years, which will reduce your monthly payments but will cost you more overall due to interest.
First Tech doesn’t specify its minimum credit score, so you’ll have to apply with the lender to see if you’re eligible.
While you’ll have to join First Tech to be eligible to take out a personal loan with them, it’s relatively easy to qualify for membership. The simplest way to qualify is by joining the Financial Fitness Association for $8, though you may also be eligible if you live or work in certain parts of Oregon.
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Navy Federal Credit Union
Navy Federal Credit Union offers loans for as little as $250, the smallest minimum loan amount of all the lenders on our list. If you are looking for an alternative to a payday loan with lower APRs, Navy Federal’s personal loans may be for you. Keep in mind, while the lender doesn’t have a specified minimum credit score, eligibility requirements will likely be higher than with a payday lender.
Navy Federal’s APR range depends on the repayment term length. For loans up to three years, the range is 7.49% to 18%, while for loans between 37 and 60 months, you’ll pay between 14.79% to 18%. You may find a better rate on a longer repayment term elsewhere.
However, you’ll face relatively stringent eligibility requirements to join the credit union. You qualify if you are active military or a veteran, as well as an employee or retiree of the Department of Defense. Family members of any of the aforementioned groups are also eligible.
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It may be easier to qualify for a loan with Upstart than with the other lenders on our list — the minimum credit requirement for Upstart is 600, the lowest of all of our top picks. However, if your credit score is low, you might end up paying a high APR and may want to consider an alternative to a personal loan.
Upstart’s loan repayment term options are fairly limited — you can choose between a three-year or five-year term. On the bright side, the company usually funds loans within one business day, which is useful if you need your money fast.
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Alliant Credit Union
Alliant Credit Union, like every other credit union on our list, has an unspecified minimum credit score. The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved for a loan with a great rate. The lender charges no origination fees and has no late payment penalty, lowering the overall cost of your loan.
In most cases, you can get loan approval and funding on the same day, which gives Alliant a leg up on competitors whose approval processes are slower.
Alliant offers one of the shortest repayment terms of any lender on our list of top picks. While you’ll pay more per month with a shorter repayment term, you’ll save in the long term by paying less in total interest.
You’ll have to be a member of Alliant to take out a personal loan with the company, but the good news is the eligibility requirements are relatively lax. The easiest way to become a member is to join Foster Care to Success, and Alliant will cover your $5 joining fee.
You can also purchase debt protection for your loan that covers death, disability, and involuntary unemployment, safeguarding you from unexpected events that could leave you unable to repay your loan. The monthly cost for debt protection per $1,000 of your outstanding loan balance is $1.99.
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Small personal loan credit score requirements
Each lender sets its own credit score requirements to qualify for a loan, though you’ll probably be eligible for a better rate with a higher score.
To get your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus, use annualcreditreport.com. You can get your report for free once per week through April 20, 2022. While you won’t receive your credit score on this report, you’ll get information about your credit and payment history. While reviewing your credit report, you can spot errors and figure out where you can improve.
You can obtain your score at no cost on your credit card statement or online account. You can also purchase it from a credit reporting agency.
Credit scores range between 300 and 850. Here’s how scores break down, according to FICO:
- Very poor: 300 to 579
- Fair: 580 to 669
- Good: 670 to 739
- Very good: 740 to 799
- Exceptional: 800 to 850
When you check your rates with a majority of companies, your credit score will not be affected because most lenders will only produce a soft credit inquiry when showing you personalized rates. On the other hand, if you choose to accept a loan, lenders will probably conduct a hard credit inquiry, which might negatively affect your credit score. A hard inquiry offers a lender a comprehensive look at your credit history.
If you aren’t eligible for a loan with the lender you’d like to get a loan from or are being offered a higher APR than you can afford with another, here are some tips you might think about to improve your credit score:
- Request and review a copy of your credit report. Search for any mistakes on your report that may be tanking your score. If so, reach out to the credit bureau to talk about fixing the errors.
- Keep low credit card balances. Maintaining a credit utilization ratio — the percentage of your total credit you’re using — of 30% or less will show lenders that you can handle your credit appropriately.
- Invent a system for paying bills on time. Your payment history makes up a substantial percentage of your credit score, and lenders prefer to see consistent and reliable past payments. Set up calendar reminders or automatic payments so you don’t fall behind.
Other personal loans we considered
- OneMain Financial personal loans. OneMain offers loans between $1,500 and $20,000 to borrowers, but its minimum APR of 18% is much higher than the other lenders on our best picks list. Read Insider’s full review here.
- US Bank personal loans. While US Bank has a solid APR range of 6.49% to 16.99%, the bank has a minimum credit score of 680, which may make it inaccessible to some borrowers.
- Prosper personal loans. Prosper only offers two repayment term lengths to choose from, three or five years. Its minimum loan amount of $2,000 is higher than most of the other lenders on our list.
- Rocket Loans personal loans. Like Prosper, Rocket Loans only lets you choose a three-year or five-year repayment term length and has a minimum loan amount of $2,000.
- LendingClub personal loans. LendingClub has a relatively high maximum APR, and only two repayment term lengths to choose from. Read Insider’s full review here.
- Avant personal loans. Avant has a higher minimum APR than any lender on our list at 9.95%, and the minimum you can borrow from the company is $2,000. Read Insider’s full review here.
Which lender is the most trustworthy?
We’ve only selected online personal loan lenders with no public controversies in the last three years. We’ve also compared each institution’s Better Business Bureau score.
The BBB measures businesses’ trustworthiness based on factors like their responsiveness to consumer complaints, truthfulness in advertising, and clarity about business practices. Here is each company’s score:
All of our top picks are rated A- or higher by the BBB, with the exception of First Tech Federal Credit Union and Navy Federal Credit Union. The BBB gives First Tech a C grade in trustworthiness because of 22 complaints filed against the business, including two unresolved complaints. Navy Federal Credit Union is not rates because the business is in the process of responding to previously closed complaints.
Keep in mind that a high BBB score does not guarantee a positive relationship with a lender, and that you should continue to do research and talk to others who have used the company to get the most comprehensive information possible.
Frequently asked questions
How did we pick the best small personal loans?
Personal Finance Insider’s mission is to help smart people make the best decisions possible with their money. With that in mind, we compared many different online personal loan lenders in detail. We looked at several factors to figure out the best small personal loan lenders, including:
- Annual percentage rates: The lower the interest rate your loan comes with, the better. So we centered our choices on lenders who have good rates for people with fair or better credit histories.
- Loan term length: We searched for personal loans with a range of repayment lengths.
- Loan amount range: We prioritized finding lenders with small personal loan minimums, and did not put any lenders with a minimum above $2,000 on our top picks list.
- Minimum credit score: Depending on your credit score, you might qualify to get a loan from some lenders and may not be eligible with others. We picked lenders with a variety of minimum credit scores so you have choices no matter your credit history.
- Trustworthiness: Borrowing from an honest lender is frequently a top priority for many people. With the exception of First Tech Federal Credit Union, we mostly chose lenders with an A- or above grade from the Better Business Bureau to provide the most transparent lenders possible. However, First Tech received a B- grade in trustworthiness from the BBB because of 32 complaints filed against the business, including one unresolved complaint.
What’s the difference between a small personal loan and a payday loan?
People often use payday loans to bridge the gap between paydays or to cover emergency expenses, so term lengths are much shorter than personal loans.
Payday loans also come with particularly high APRs — the average interest rate on a payday loan is roughly 400% — which is over 10 times higher than the highest APR of any personal loan lender on our list. The high interest rate on payday loans could trap you in a cycle of debt quickly if you happen to miss a payment.
You can also take out smaller amounts of money with payday loans. Minimums generally start around $50, while on our list of top picks, the lowest amount you can borrow is $250.
Payday loans usually aren’t as hard to qualify for as personal loans. Many payday lenders don’t run a credit check or even ensure you’re able to repay the loan. Many states have banned payday loans due to predatory lending practices, whereas personal loans are generally accessible across the country.
What are alternatives to small personal loans?
While personal loans can be a good option to get money quickly, there may be less expensive avenues if you only need a small amount:
- Ask friends or family. It may be uncomfortable to ask friends or family for a loan, but you can often come to an agreement with lower interest rate payments than through an official lender.
- Get a paycheck advance. Certain banks will allow you to receive your paycheck a couple of days early, and you can use apps that allow you to receive a portion of money you’ve already earned in a pay period. You can also ask your employer for a paycheck advance. However, taking a paycheck advance isn’t free — you’ll often be charged fees that come out of your earnings when you receive them.
- Take out a credit card. You might also consider a credit card instead of a personal loan. This could be particularly helpful if your credit isn’t in the best shape and you qualify for a lower APR with a credit card than a personal loan lender.
- Seek assistance from a local nonprofit or charity. Many local organizations have programs aimed at short term aid for those in need. You can find a list of some near you here.
- Take up part-time work in the gig economy. You can work on your own time with gig work like rideshare and food delivery apps. These extra jobs may allow you to make enough money to negate the need for a loan.
Why don’t many major banks offer small personal loans?
You might imagine that it would be easier to get a small amount of money than a large amount of money, but for many financial institutions, that’s not the case. It can cost just as much to service a small loan as a larger one, and many banks don’t find the low interest rates and small profit margins worth it.
As a result, many online lenders and traditional brick-and-mortar institutions have relatively high minimum loan amounts, so they often aren’t the best option if you just need a little cash to tide you over.
Are personal loans legitimate?
Yes, personal loans with a reputable lender are completely safe to borrow. Read reviews of the company, search for more information, and disregard offers that feel too good to be true. Look for personal loans that are backed by a Member FDIC bank or NCUA accredited credit union.
You can identify potential scams by looking out for these common signs of fraud:
- The lender doesn’t ask about your payment history or credit score.
- The lender’s website isn’t secured.
- The lender guarantees approval.
- The lender isn’t open about fees.
- The lender pressures you into taking out a loan immediately.
What can I use a small personal loan for?
You can use a small personal loan for a variety of purposes, though the list varies depending on the lender. Some common reasons include:
Every option available isn’t listed here, and you should check with your individual lender to see what choices it offers.
How much will a small personal loan cost?
This is contingent on how much you’d like to take out, what APR you receive from your lender, and how long it takes you to pay off the loan.
The higher the loan amount and APR, the more a loan will cost you. With a longer term length, you will divide up your payments over more time so you’ll pay less per month, but it will cost you more in the long run.
How quickly can I get my money?
You can get your money as soon as the same day depending on the lender. Usually, a lender will send the money fairly quickly after the application is approved, but there is often no guarantee on the speed of the approval process.