The Best Personal Loans for Bad Credit of 2021

Ruben Onsu

CNBC Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners. Getting a loan when you have bad credit or no credit history can be […]

CNBC Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

Getting a loan when you have bad credit or no credit history can be tough. Like most financial products, borrowers have to submit an application listing their income information and agree to a credit check before getting approved for a loan. Lenders prefer to work with customers who have a proven track record of paying their bills on time and earning enough money to stay on top of their debt while honoring all terms and agreements.

A good credit score starts at 670 on the FICO scale (661 for VantageScore). Anything over 740 is considered very good, and above a 800 FICO score (or 781 VantageScore) is considered excellent.

If your credit score is less than 670, you may feel like your score is a roadblock to getting access to good financial products. However, there are a few lenders that work with such candidates, helping them to borrow money for emergency expenses including medical bills and auto repairs, refinancing high-interest debt or even consolidating debt payments.

But proceed with caution: Lenders may charge higher interest rates or tack on origination fees, early payoff penalties and late fees to borrowers they consider to be “riskier.” Therefore, if you have less-than-perfect credit, it’s important to do your homework before signing on the dotted line to make sure you’re comfortable with the terms of the loan.

Select rounded up the top personal loans for bad credit, looking at fees, interest rates and flexible repayment options for different credit scores. We tried to prioritize loans with no origination or sign-up fees, but since this list is for borrowers with lower credit scores, many of the loans you see below come with added costs.(Read more about our methodology below.)

For loans with no origination fees, check out our best personal loan list.

Select’s picks for best personal loans for bad credit

Best for people without credit history

Upstart Personal Loans

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation, credit card refinancing, home improvement, wedding, moving or medical

  • Loan amounts

  • Terms

  • Credit needed

    FICO or Vantage score of 580 (but will accept applicants whose credit history is so insufficient they don’t have a credit score)

  • Origination fee

    0% to 8% of the target amount

  • Early payoff penalty

  • Late fee

    The greater of 5% of monthly past due amount or $15

Pros

  • Open to borrowers with fair credit (minimum 580 score)
  • Will accept applicants who have insufficient credit history and don’t have a credit score
  • No early payoff fees
  • 99% of personal loan funds are sent the next business day after completing required paperwork before 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Cons

  • High late fees
  • Origination fee of 0% to 8% of the target amount (automatically withheld from the loan before it’s delivered to you)
  • $10 fee to request paper copies of loan agreement (no fee for eSigned virtual copies)
  • Must have a social security number

Best for improving financial literacy

Upgrade Personal Loans

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation/refinancing, home improvement, major purchase

  • Loan amounts

  • Terms

  • Credit needed

  • Origination fee

    2.9% to 8%, deducted from loan proceeds

  • Early payoff penalty

  • Late fee

    Up to $10 (with 15-day grace period)

Pros

  • No early payoff fees
  • Loans up to $50,000
  • Fixed interest rates (no surprises)
  • Can pay creditors directly (may take up to two weeks)
  • Fast funding in as little as four days

Cons

  • No joint applications or co-signers
  • Origination fee of up to 8% (deducted from your loan)
  • Not available in Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Vermont and West Virginia

Why Upgrade is the best for financial literacy:

  • Free credit score simulator to help you visualize how different scenarios and actions may impact your credit
  • Charts that track your trends and credit health over time, helping you understand how certain financial choices affect your credit score
  • Ability to sign up for free credit monitoring and weekly VantageScore updates

Best for debt consolidation

Payoff Personal Loans

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation/refinancing

  • Loan amounts

  • Terms

  • Credit needed

  • Origination fee

    0% to 5% (based on credit score and application)

  • Early payoff penalty

  • Late fee

    5% of monthly payment amount or $15, whichever is greater (with 15-day grace period)

Pros

  • Peer-to-peer lending platform makes it easy to check multiple offers
  • Loan approval comes with Payoff membership and customer support
  • No early payoff fees
  • No late fees
  • Fast and easy application
  • U.S.-based customer service

Cons

  • Higher loan minimums ($5,000)
  • Must submit soft inquiry to see origination fees and other details

How Payoff is designed to help you stay motivated:

  • Offers borrowers a dedicated “Empowerment Science” team that is available to take questions and provide encouragement
  • Free personality tests, stress assessments and cash flow trackers to help borrowers understand their money management style and nail down better habits
  • Free FICO tools help members track their progress*

*Based on a study of Payoff Members between February 2020 to August 2020, members who use a Payoff Loan to eliminate at least $5,000 of credit card balances reportedly see an average FICO Score boost of 40 points. (Results may vary and are not guaranteed.)

Best for flexible terms

OneMain Financial Personal Loans

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation, major expenses, emergency costs

  • Loan amounts

  • Terms

  • Credit needed

  • Origination fee

    Flat fee starting at $25 to $100 or percentage ranging from 1% to 10% (depends on your state)

  • Early payoff penalty

  • Late fee

    Up to $30 per late payment

Pros

  • Approves applicants with poor to fair credit
  • No early payoff fees
  • Reasonable loan minimums ($1,500) for smaller needs
  • Can pre-qualify with a soft credit check (no hard inquiry right away)
  • Funding within five business days (sometimes next-day upon paperwork completion)
  • Option to apply for secured loan (with collateral) for potentially lower rates
  • Borrowers have up to 45 days to begin making payments
  • Borrowers can choose the date the bill is due each month
  • Applicants may apply with a co-applicant, or separately from spouse if married

Cons

  • High origination fee
  • High interest rates
  • No autopay APR discount
  • No direct payments to creditors (for debt consolidation)
  • No co-signers

Information about OneMain Financial’s secured loans:

While not required, applicants who don’t qualify for an unsecured personal loan with OneMain Financial may be offered a secured loan. A secured loan lets borrowers who want to use the equity from their car potentially qualify for lower interest that way. Rates, repayment terms and agreements vary by individual and the state in which apply. Learn more by checking for offers on OneMain Financial’s site.

Best for secured loan options

Avant Personal Loans

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)

  • Loan purpose

    Debt consolidation, major expenses, emergency costs, home improvements

  • Loan amounts

  • Terms

  • Credit needed

  • Origination fee

  • Early payoff penalty

  • Late fee

    Up to $25 per late payment after 10-day grace period

Pros

  • Lends to applicants with scores lower than 600
  • No early payoff fees
  • Can pre-qualify with a soft credit check (no hard inquiry)
  • Quick funding (often by the next day)
  • Late payment grace period of 10 days
  • Option to apply for secured loan (against title of your car) for potentially lower interest

Cons

  • Origination fee
  • Potentially high interest (caps at 35.99% APR)
  • No autopay APR discount
  • No direct payments to creditors (for debt consolidation)
  • No co-signers

Information about Avant’s secured loans:

In 40 states, Avant offers an alternative to title loans for borrowers who want to use the equity from their car to potentially qualify for lower interest.

  • Repayment options between two to four years.
  • Applicant’s entire credit profile is evaluated, including credit score, income and borrowing history (not just the value of the car)
  • Rates as low as 9.95% (capped at 35.99% APR)

Personal loan FAQ

What is considered a “bad” credit score?

Here is how lenders classify “fair” and “poor” credit scores:

FICO Score

  • Very poor: 300 to 579
  • Fair: 580 to 669
  • Good: 670 to 739
  • Very good: 740 to 799
  • Excellent: 800 to 850

VantageScore

  • Very poor: 300 to 499
  • Poor: 500 to 600
  • Fair: 601 to 660
  • Good: 661 to 780
  • Excellent: 781 to 850

Scores lower than 670, and certainly scores lower than 600, will most likely disqualify you for the most affordable personal loans. But if you’re in a pinch, it’s not all-out impossible to get a loan with a credit score in the high 500s or low 600s.

Can I pre-qualify without hurting my credit score?

Yes. Do some research before you apply for a personal loan. Read reviews and learn what to consider before agreeing to take on a loan. When you’re ready to apply, follow these steps to make sure you don’t ding your score too much.

  1. Shop around for the best rate. Avoid hard inquiries by knowing your credit score before you submit a formal application so you know what you might qualify for. Many lenders will allow you to submit a prequalification form. Or you consider using a lender marketplace service (such as Upstart or LendingTree) to view multiple offers at once.
  2. Decide on the best offer. Choose the loan with the best monthly payment and interest rate for your budget. Be sure to look at how much the loan will cost you over the full length of the term and decide if the cost is worth it.
  3. Submit a formal application. Have your social security number on hand, as well as supporting documents such as bank statements and paystubs.
  4. Wait for final approval. This could take just a few minutes, an hour or up to 10 days. To facilitate a speedier approval, apply during normal business hours and submit the required documents right away.
  5. Get your funds. Once your loan is approved, you’ll be asked to input your bank account information so the funds are deposited into your account. You may also be able to request a paper check from your lender, or in the case of a consolidation loan, you may be able to have funds sent right to your creditors.

Do personal loans build credit?

Personal loans are a form of installment credit, which affect both your credit report and your credit score. Having both installment and revolving credit in your profile will strengthen your credit mix.

Having a diverse credit mix is helpful — but it’s not everything. Some say that adding a new installment loan, like a car loan or a mortgage, can boost your score, but there’s no sense in taking on debt (plus interest) unless you actually need it.

While a new installment loan might boost your score by strengthening your credit mix, a personal loan will only improve your credit over time if you can afford to make on-time payments. Late and missed payments show up as negative marks on your credit report.

While taking on an installment loan won’t boost your score a whole lot, using a personal loan to pay off credit card debt could increase in your credit score. Paying off a card will have a big impact on your credit utilization rate, which is a major factor in determining your credit score.

Once your cards are paid off, aim to keep your spending under 10% of your available credit. If you don’t take on more credit card debt and you pay your personal loan on time each month, you’ll see a noticeable improvement to your credit score.

What’s the difference between secured vs. unsecured loans?

A secured loan is a loan backed by collateral. The most common types of secured loans are mortgages and car loans, where the collateral is your home or car. But really, collateral can be any kind of financial asset you own. And if you don’t pay back your loan, the bank can seize your collateral as payment. A repossession stays on your credit report for up to seven years.

An unsecured loan requires no collateral, though you’re still charged interest and sometimes fees. Student loans, personal loans and credit cards are all example of unsecured loans.

Since there’s no collateral, financial institutions give out unsecured loans based in large part on your credit score, income and history of repaying past debts. For this reason, unsecured loans may have higher interest rates (but not always) than a secured loan.

Read more about secured vs. unsecured loans

Our methodology

To determine which personal loans are the best for consumers with bad credit, Select analyzed dozens of U.S. personal loans offered by both online and brick-and-mortar banks, including large credit unions. When possible, we chose loans with no origination or sign-up fees, but we also included options for borrowers with lower credit scores on this list. Some of those options have origination fees.

When narrowing down and ranking the best personal loans, we focused on the following features:

  • Fixed-rate APR: Variable rates can go up and down over the lifetime of your loan. With a fixed rate APR, you lock in an interest rate for the duration of the loan’s term, which means your monthly payment won’t vary, making your budget easier to plan.
  • Flexible minimum and maximum loan amounts/terms: Each lender provides more than one financing option that you can customize based on your monthly budget and how long you need to pay back your loan.
  • No early payoff penalties: The lenders on our list do not charge borrowers for paying off loans early.
  • Streamlined application process: We considered whether lenders offered same-day approval decisions and a fast online application process. 
  • Customer support: Every loan on our list provides customer service available via telephone, email or secure online messaging. We also opted for lenders with an online resource hub or advice center to help you educate yourself about the personal loan process and your finances.
  • Fund disbursement: The loans on our list deliver funds promptly through either electronic wire transfer to your checking account or in the form of a paper check. Some lenders (which we noted) offer the ability to pay your creditors directly.
  • Autopay discounts: We noted the lenders that reward you for enrolling in autopay by lowering your APR by 0.25% to 0.5%.
  • Creditor payment limits and loan sizes: The above lenders provide loans in an array of sizes, from $1,000 to $100,000. Each lender advertises its respective payment limits and loan sizes, and completing a preapproval process can give you an idea of what your interest rate and monthly payment would be for such an amount.

The rates and fee structures advertised for personal loans are subject to fluctuate in accordance with the Fed rate. However, once you accept your loan agreement, a fixed-rate APR will guarantee your interest rate and monthly payment will remain consistent throughout the entire term of the loan. Your APR, monthly payment and loan amount depend on your credit history and creditworthiness. To take out a loan, many lenders will conduct a hard credit inquiry and request a full application, which could require proof of income, identity verification, proof of address and more.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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