Personal loans are loans that a bank or other lender makes that are not secured against any asset such as your home. They're also known as unsecured loans.
Personal loans - The pros
- You may be able to borrow more than with a credit card
- Your loan repayments will also usually be a fixed amount each month, which makes it easier to budget.
- The interest rate you pay on a personal loan is also usually fixed (but not always - check that it is fixed not variable).
- You can choose how long you'd like to take to repay the loan. Remember the length of a loan will affect the amount you are charged in interest.
- You can consolidate several debts into one personal loan, potentially reducing your monthly repayment costs. But be careful, as this may mean extending the length of the loan and so paying more overall.
You can make over-payments or pay off a personal loan in full or part, at any time before the end of your agreement without penalty. However if you repay more than £8,000 in any 12-month period the lender may charge compensation (although the amount the lender can charge is limited by law).
Money fitness tip
Don't take out a bigger loan than you need just because the interest rate is lower. It will cost you more overall.
Personal loans - The cons
- Personal loans have higher rates of interest than some other forms of borrowing, particularly if you want to borrow a smaller amount.
- Because the interest rate may reduce the more you borrow, you may be tempted to take out a bigger loan than you need.
- Most banks won't lend less than £1,000 or for shorter than 12 months. So you might end up borrowing more than you need, or can afford.
What is a personal loan cooling-off period?
You have a 14-day cooling-off period from either the date the loan agreement is signed or when you receive a copy of the agreement, whichever is later. If you cancel, you have up to 30 days to repay the money.
You can only be charged interest for the period you had the credit - any additional fees have to be refunded.
What to watch out for with a personal loan
- You may not actually get the interest rate advertised.
- You will often see the representative APR (or annual percentage rate).
- Just over half of people who apply for and are given a loan, should get this rate or better - but that could mean up to half pay more.
- If your credit rating is less than perfect, you may be accepted for a loan but charged a much higher rate of interest.
- Ask the lender for a quote before you apply.
- Some personal loans have variable interest rates, meaning they can go up or down.
- If you're only just able to afford the initial repayments you should avoid this type of loan in case they do go up.
- Look out for any arrangement fees, which will make a loan much more expensive.
- Make sure you include them when you work out how much the loan is going to cost you.
- Arrangement fees will be included in the APR – which is why you should compare APRs rather than just interest rates.
- Think carefully before accepting any payment protection insurance (PPI) your lender tries to sell you. This is insurance that covers your loan repayments if you have an accident, are ill and can't work or lose your job. However, it's been widely mis-sold in the past and many of the policies on offer weren't adequate or didn't pay out at all. Even if you do want this cover, you will almost certainly get a much better deal by checking prices with several different providers.
- If you are already struggling to pay your bills and repay other debts, you shouldn't take on extra debt such as a personal loan. Get help if you're struggling with debt.
How to get the best personal loan deal
- Don't just accept the first rate you are offered by your bank or building society.
- Shop around to see which providers are offering the cheapest APRs - see Understanding APR. Compare APRs (but remember that you may end up paying more if you have a poor credit history). A comparison website can help you do this.
- Ask the lender for a quote before you apply. If they have to do a credit reference check, ask if they can do a 'quotation search' (which does not leave a mark on your credit record) rather than an application search (which does).
- Consider peer to peer loans especially if you have a good credit rating. These loans may offer lower interest rates and are available for smaller amounts. They are featured in most comparison tables.
Check the best personal loan rates on the Which? website.
Secured personal loans
If you own your own home, you may be tempted to consider a secured loan. However, this is a much riskier option as the money you borrow is secured against your home.
This means that if you can't repay the loan, the lender could force you to sell your home to pay off what you owe. See Secured and unsecured borrowing compared.