How to Get a Personal Loan in 7 Steps

Getting a personal loan starts with checking your credit, getting pre-qualified and comparing loan offers.
Nicole Dow
Ronita Choudhuri-Wade
By Ronita Choudhuri-Wade and  Nicole Dow 
Updated
Edited by Kim Lowe

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Shopping for a personal loan doesn’t have to be complicated. Understanding where to start, what you need to apply and how to compare offers can help you select the best personal loan.

Below are seven steps to help you through the process of finding and getting a personal loan.

Personal loans from our partners

SoFi logo
Check Rate

on SoFi

SoFi

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
SoFi logo

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
APR 

8.99-29.99%

Loan amount 

$5,000 - $100,000

Check Rate

on SoFi

Avant logo
Check Rate

on Avant

Avant

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
Avant logo

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
APR 

9.95-35.99%

Loan amount 

$2,000 - $35,000

Check Rate

on Avant

BestEgg logo
Check Rate

on Best Egg

Best Egg

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
BestEgg logo

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
APR 

8.99-35.99%

Loan amount 

$2,000 - $50,000

Check Rate

on Best Egg

1. Check your credit

Start out by checking your credit score to assess your financial picture. A high score gives you a better chance of loan approval and a lower interest rate.

Credit scores typically fall into these categories.

  • 720 and higher: Excellent credit.

  • 690-719: Good credit.

  • 630-689: Fair or average credit.

  • 300-629: Bad credit.

Fix any errors on your credit report that might be dragging your score down. You can request a credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and dispute wrongly reported missed payments or other inaccuracies it may contain.

Be sure to make on-time payments toward credit card and other loan payments, and keep your credit utilization (the amount of credit you use relative to credit limits) low as these are the biggest factors affecting your score.

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2. Calculate your loan payments

Knowing your estimated loan payments can help you decide whether you can afford to take on a personal loan.

First, determine how much money you need from a loan. You’ll want to make sure that amount includes any fees a lender may charge. Origination fees, which range from 1% to 10% of the loan, are typically subtracted from the loan proceeds.

Then, use your credit score to estimate what annual percentage rate a lender might charge. While the APR you receive depends on your unique credit and financial profiles, as well as your lender’s underwriting, the table below shows estimated personal loan APRs based on credit score range.

Borrower credit rating

Score range

Estimated APR

Excellent

720-850.

13.40%.

Good

690-719.

15.86%.

Fair

630-689.

18.93%.

Bad

300-629.

21.14%.

Source: Average rates are based on aggregate, anonymized offer data from users who pre-qualified in NerdWallet’s lender marketplace from Jan. 1, 2024, through Jan. 31, 2024. Rates are estimates only and not specific to any lender. The lowest credit scores — usually below 500 — are unlikely to qualify. Information in this table applies only to lenders with maximum APRs below 36%.

Next, consider how long you’ll need to pay off the loan. A longer loan term means lower monthly payments, but you’ll end up paying more in interest.

Once you know your loan amount, rate and term, use our personal loan calculator to determine your estimated monthly payments. The best personal loans have payments that fit comfortably into your budget.

3. Research and compare lenders

You can find personal loans at online lenders, banks and credit unions, but some lenders work better for certain borrowers and loan purposes than others. For example, some lenders offer features to help specifically with debt consolidation, others specialize in lending to borrowers with bad credit.

It's a good idea to research different lenders to find one that’s best for your needs. Here are a few key features to compare between lenders.

  • Credit score requirements: Online lenders offer loans to borrowers with credit scores across the spectrum, while banks tend to require good to excellent credit, and credit unions are more likely to accept loan applications from bad-credit borrowers.

  • Loan amount and repayment term availability: Personal loans typically range from $1,000 to $100,000 with repayment terms from two to seven years. Look for lenders  with loan amounts and repayment terms that match your borrowing needs. For example, credit unions can often provide small loans of $2,500 or less with low APRs.

  • Funding time: You can expect to receive funds within a week after loan approval, but online lenders typically provide the fastest funding times.

  • Co-signed, joint and secured loan availability: Some lenders will allow you to add a co-signer or co-borrower to your loan application or pledge collateral to secure a loan. Opting for a co-signed, joint or secured loan may help you qualify or get a lower rate.

4. Get pre-qualified personal loan offers

Once you’ve identified a few lenders you prefer, it’s time to pre-qualify. Most lenders offer pre-qualification. This is an important step because pre-qualifying gives you a preview of the loan offers you may receive, including your estimated APR.

Lenders typically perform a soft credit check during pre-qualification that doesn’t affect your credit score. Pre-qualify with multiple lenders to compare estimated rates and payment amounts.

During the pre-qualification process, you must provide personal information, such as your name, date of birth, income and loan purpose.

Comparing options? See if you pre-qualify for a personal loan - without affecting your credit score
Just answer a few questions to get personalized rate estimates from multiple lenders.

on NerdWallet

The best loan offer is typically the one with the lowest APR because that’s the least expensive one.

5. Select a lender and complete your application

Once you’ve selected a lender that matches your needs, you can formally apply for the loan. Application requirements vary by lender, but you’ll likely need:

  • Identification: A passport, driver’s license, state ID or Social Security card.

  • Verification of address: Utility bills or lease agreement.

  • Proof of income: Pay stubs, bank statements or tax returns.

The lender will run a hard credit check that may temporarily decrease your credit score by a few points and can show up on credit reports for 24 months.

Some lenders provide an immediate approval decision while others may take a couple days.

🤓Nerdy Tip

If your loan application is denied, the lender is required to send you a notice stating why it was rejected or letting you know that you can ask for the reason. Use that information to improve your likelihood of approval in the future. You may need to build your credit score or lower your debt-to-income ratio.

6. Read the fine print

Once you’ve been approved for a loan, carefully read over the terms before signing the loan agreement. In particular, watch for:

Fees. Prepayment penalties — fees for paying off a loan early — are rare, but lenders may charge other fees, including origination and late payment fees.

APR surprises. The total cost of your loan, including interest and any origination fees, should be clearly disclosed and figured into the APR.

Automatic withdrawals. If a lender automatically withdraws loan payments from your checking account, consider setting up a low-balance alert with your bank to avoid overdraft fees.

7. Sign loan agreement and get funded

The final step to getting a personal loan is to sign the loan agreement. Expect to receive the funds within a week. Some lenders may provide same- or next-day funding after approval.

Once you have your funds, make a plan to manage your personal loan payments. Your first payment will likely be due about 30 days after receiving your loan.

Setting up automatic payments can help you pay on time without having to remember any due dates.

Comparing options? See if you pre-qualify for a personal loan - without affecting your credit score
Just answer a few questions to get personalized rate estimates from multiple lenders.

on NerdWallet

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