Personal loans let you access extra cash in a pinch for almost any expense you could think of. Whether it's a home renovation, a wedding, a surprise medical bill or even funeral costs, you're sure to find a personal loan that fits your needs and your desired funding amount.
However, this money isn't free. You must pay the money back in its entirety, along with interest and any other fees that come with your loan. Fortunately, though, most borrowers can lower — or even eliminate — some of these expenses. CNBC Select breaks down how.
What we'll cover
- Interest charges
- Late fees
- Prepayment penalties
- Bottom line
When it comes to borrowing money from a bank or other financial institution, it's pretty much a given that you'll be expected to pay interest charges on top of your monthly principal payment. Some personal loan lenders offer borrowers the choice between fixed rates and variable interest rates.
Variable rates fluctuate depending on the prime rate set by the Fed, so they can go up and down over the lifetime of your loan. As you can imagine, a lower interest rate can work to your advantage but having your rate change to a much higher one can cost you more money.
Compare offers to find the best loan
How to avoid it
It's impossible to avoid paying interest on your personal loan. However, there are a few things you can do to pay less interest over the life of your loan.
Paying off your loan early can help you save potentially hundreds on interest. This is because personal loan payments are usually paid in fixed, equal monthly amounts over a set period of time, so the faster you pay off the loan the more you can save on interest. Of course, you'll want to make sure the lender doesn't charge a prepayment penalty (more on this below).
Also, consider avoiding a variable-rate loan if interest rates are likely to increase. A variable-rate loan can be a solid strategy to pay less interest for some borrowers. But if the prime rate increases during the life of your variable rate loan, you'll be stuck paying even more interest than you were when you first accepted the loan. Of course, it's hard to predict what the Fed's prime rate will be, which is why a fixed-rate loan gives you more stability and lets you plan out your monthly payments with more confidence.
A late fee is a penalty that gets charged when you fail to make a full payment by the agreed-upon due date. Making a late payment — or missing one altogether — can drag down your credit score, so it's important to stay on top of all your personal loan payments.
The late payment policy can vary from lender to lender but most of the time, you'll be charged a fee for every late payment.
How to avoid it
The easiest way to dodge paying a late fee is by picking a lender with a flexible policy on late payments.
Happy Money is one lender that definitely qualifies — borrowers get a 15-day grace period for late payments. After the grace period ends, you'll be charged either 5% of the monthly payment amount or $15, whichever is greater.
Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
11.72% - 17.99%
$5,000 to $40,000
2 to 5 years
0% to 5% (based on credit score and application)
Early payoff penalty
5% of monthly payment amount or $15, whichever is greater (with 15-day grace period)
LightStream doesn't charge a late fee, which is one of the many reasons why it's CNBC Select's pick for the best overall personal loan lender. This lender also doesn't charge origination fees or prepayment penalties.
Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
7.49% - 25.49%* APR with AutoPay
Debt consolidation, home improvement, auto financing, medical expenses, and others
$5,000 to $100,000
24 to 144 months* dependent on loan purpose
Early payoff penalty
Terms apply. *AutoPay discount is only available prior to loan funding. Rates without AutoPay are 0.50% points higher. Excellent credit required for lowest rate. Rates vary by loan purpose.
Remember that even if your lender doesn't charge you a late fee, you'll still damage your credit score by missing a payment. Setting up autopay takes the guesswork out of making payments since the money will automatically be deducted from your account each month. Plus, most personal loan lenders offer a small interest rate reduction for borrowers who use autopay.
A prepayment penalty is a fee that a lender may charge if you pay off your entire loan before the term is over. Because of this, it's also known as an early payoff fee.
The actual cost of a prepayment penalty varies depending on how it's being charged. There are three ways the fee can be charged: a percentage of your loan balance, the amount of interest your lender won't earn since you paid off the loan early, or a fixed fee.
A prepayment penalty could potentially run you hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on how early you paid it off and how the fee is being charged.
How to avoid it
One of the easiest ways to avoid a prepayment penalty is to simply go with a lender that doesn't charge one. You'll be able to read all of the terms of your loan before signing on the dotted line so make sure you know what the repayment term is and what fees may be attached to the loan, including whether there's an early payoff fee.
Subscribe to the CNBC Select Newsletter!
Money matters —so make the most of it. Get expert tips, strategies, news and everything else you need to maximize your money, right to your inbox.Sign up here.
Personal loan expenses could potentially run you hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you aren't careful. While you can't skirt a charge like interest, you can minimize how much of it you pay and try to avoid common types of loan fees in the process.
Again, though, always be sure you agree with all the terms of your loan before accepting it.
At CNBC Select, our mission is to provide our readers with high-quality service journalism and comprehensive consumer advice so they can make informed decisions with their money. Every article is based on rigorous reporting by our team of expert writers and editors with extensive knowledge of personal loan products. While CNBC Select earns a commission from affiliate partners on many offers and links, we create all our content without input from our commercial team or any outside third parties, and we pride ourselves on our journalistic standards and ethics.
Some personal loans carry a prepayment penalty — here's what you need to know about them
Personal loans often have lower interest rates than credit cards — these are the best available now
These are the 5 easiest personal loans to get — and you can receive the money within a day
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
As a seasoned financial expert with extensive knowledge in personal finance and lending, I want to delve into the concepts covered in the provided article about personal loans. My expertise is not just theoretical; it is backed by practical experience and a deep understanding of the intricacies of the financial industry.
The article discusses personal loans as a means to access extra cash for various expenses, ranging from home renovations to medical bills. While personal loans offer financial flexibility, it emphasizes the importance of understanding the associated costs. Here's a breakdown of the key concepts mentioned in the article:
- Personal loans typically involve paying interest charges on top of the principal amount borrowed.
- Borrowers may choose between fixed and variable interest rates. Fixed rates provide stability, while variable rates can fluctuate based on the prime rate set by the Fed.
- Strategies to minimize interest costs include paying off the loan early. Accelerated repayment can save borrowers hundreds on interest, provided there are no prepayment penalties.
- Selecting a fixed-rate loan can provide stability and predictability in monthly payments.
- Late fees are penalties charged when a borrower fails to make a full payment by the agreed-upon due date.
- Late payment policies vary among lenders. Choosing a lender with a flexible policy or a grace period can help borrowers avoid late fees.
- Autopay is recommended to ensure timely payments and potentially receive a small interest rate reduction.
- Prepayment penalties, also known as early payoff fees, may be charged if the borrower repays the entire loan before the agreed term.
- The cost of a prepayment penalty varies and can be a percentage of the loan balance, the interest the lender won't earn, or a fixed fee.
- To avoid prepayment penalties, borrowers should carefully review loan terms and opt for lenders that do not impose such fees.
- Personal loan expenses, including interest charges and potential fees, can accumulate. Minimizing interest and avoiding common fees require careful consideration of loan terms.
- Understanding the terms of the loan agreement is crucial before accepting any personal loan to avoid unexpected costs.
- Trustworthy sources, like CNBC Select, provide expert advice to help individuals make informed decisions about their finances.
In conclusion, my expertise in personal finance corroborates the information presented in the article, and I encourage individuals to be vigilant when considering personal loans, paying special attention to interest rates, fees, and repayment terms to ensure financial well-being.