Understanding personal loan rates
By Gina Freeman
Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter
Dec 05, 2023
Read time: 6 min
Personal loan rates tend to be lower than credit cards but higher than mortgages.
Your credit standing and the loan details can both influence the rate you’re offered.
There are a few ways you can get a lower interest rate on a personal loan, such as opt for a shorter repayment term.
There's more than one way to peel a potato. Lenders offer many different kinds of loans, and each loan category has a place on the affordability scale. Handling your money like a boss means understanding your loan options and how much they cost.
Whether you're planning to make a major purchase, consolidate existing debts, or use the money for some other purpose, understanding personal loan rates is essential to making an informed financial decision.
Here's what you need to know about personal loan rates, so you can make the best choice for your situation.
Personal loan rates
Personal loan rates tend to run higher than mortgage rates but lower than credit card interest rates. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, here's what average interest rates have looked like in recent years:
Average interest rates
Average rates are just that—average. Some people pay more, some people pay less. Personal loan interest rates come in a wide range and depend on many factors.
Factors that affect personal loan rates
The factors that impact personal loan interest rates can be grouped in three categories; loan characteristics, the borrower's qualifications, and how the loan proceeds will be used.
Length of the loan term: Most personal loans have repayment terms between one year and ten years. Lenders often charge higher interest rates for longer terms.
Loan amount: Some lenders, but not all, charge higher rates for very small loans to cover their administrative costs, and some charge more for high loan amounts because of the additional cost if you default.
Secured vs unsecured: Most personal loans are unsecured. That means you don't have to put up collateral. Collateral is something valuable that you offer to the lender as a guarantee that you'll repay the loan. If you don't repay the loan, the lender can sell the collateral to recover the money you owe. There are secured personal loans, but they're less common. Rates for secured loans tend to be lower because of the safety net the collateral provides for the lender.
Credit score: Credit scores reflect your experience with credit and tell lenders how likely it is that you'll repay debts in the future. They are important to lenders and are used in lending decisions and setting interest rates.
Income and debt: Lenders want to know that you can afford to repay their loans. They will look at your debt-to-income ratio (how much of your income you spend on debt payments each month). Your DTI is used to figure out how much you can afford to borrow, but it could also affect your interest rate.
How the loan proceeds will be used:
Loan purpose: Most lenders have a list of uses that aren't allowed for personal loans, such as for tuition or to start a business. In those cases, the loan's purpose could affect whether your application is approved. Some lenders also offer different rates depending on how you want to spend the money. For instance, an unsecured personal loan to remodel your home might come at a lower interest rate than a similar loan to consolidate debts.
How the rate affects your personal loan
The interest rate, along with the loan amount and the repayment term, is what drives your monthly payment amount and the total interest you will have paid by the time the loan is completely paid off.
In other words, the lower the interest rate, the less you'll pay for the loan. This means that if you can qualify for a personal loan with a rate that's lower than what you're paying on your credit cards, you might be able to consolidate your credit card debt with a personal loan and end up with a lower payment, save on total interest charges, get rid of the debt faster, or all three.
Here's an example showing the monthly payment and total interest cost of a five-year, $20,000 loan at different interest rates.
5-year monthly payment
Personal loan rate types
There are two types of personal loan interest rates:
Fixed-rate personal loans
Fixed-rate personal loans come with interest rates and payments that don't change. This makes budgeting easier. When you have a fixed-rate loan, you're protected from interest rate increases, which could make a loan unaffordable.
On the other hand, when interest rates fall, your rate and payment will remain unchanged. If you want a lower rate, you'd have to qualify for a new loan and use it to pay off the old one, and that would likely involve paying a new set of loan fees (typically, 1% to 5% of the loan amount).
A fixed-rate loan is better when stability is important. That's especially true if the interest rate you qualify for is lower than what you could get with another type of financing (like credit cards).
Variable-rate personal loans
Variable-rate loans have an interest rate that can change along with the economy. The lender will tell you what rate your interest rate will follow (it might be called the Prime Rate or LIBOR, which stands for London Interbank Offered Rate). The starting rate might be lower compared to a similar fixed-rate personal loan, but when the benchmark rate goes up or down, the rate on your loan can also go up or down. This can make budgeting harder.
An advantage of variable-rate loans is that when your loan's benchmark rate drops, your interest rate and payment go down with no effort from you. If you believe that rates are likely to go down soon, a variable-rate loan could be appropriate. The thing is, no one can really predict what's going to happen with interest rates in the future.
How to choose between fixed-rate and variable-rate loans
Here are considerations when deciding between a fixed- or variable-rate loan:
How and when can the rate change with the variable loan?
Do you think rates will increase or fall?
How soon do you expect to pay off the loan?
How much can you save with the lower rate of a variable loan vs the fixed-rate loan?
Can you afford a rate and payment increase if it happens?
What would it cost to refinance a fixed loan if rates fall?
How comfortable are you with uncertainty?
The answers to these questions should help you make a good decision.
Understanding APR (annual percentage rate)
When lenders advertise or offer an interest rate, they have to tell you the loan's annual percentage rate, or APR. But what is the difference between the APR and interest rate?
Lenders use the interest rate, along with the loan term and loan amount, to calculate your monthly payment.
The APR, on the other hand, represents the total cost of the loan, including fees. The APR was created by the government to make shopping for loans easier.
Depending on fees, it's possible for a loan with a higher interest rate to have a lower APR, and a lower overall cost, compared to a similar loan with a lower rate.
How to get the best personal loan rates
Personal loan interest rates depend on how qualified you are and how good you are at finding loan discounts. Here are a few ways to get a better interest rate:
Credit score: Even improving your credit score by a few points may put you into a better pricing tier. Ask the lender what the cutoff is for their lowest rates. It may be around 720.
Comparison shop: Loan interest rates vary widely among lenders. Save by getting quotes from more than one lender.
Qualified co-signer: Adding a qualified co-signer or co-borrower to your personal loan could reduce the lender's risk and get you a lower rate.
Lower loan amount: Ask if changing your loan amount could reduce your rate.
Shorter repayment term: if you can afford higher payments, shortening your repayment can lower your rate and drastically drop your total interest cost.
Show proof of retirement savings: Some lenders offer discounts for borrowers with retirement accounts
Direct pay discount: If you're borrowing to consolidate debt, letting the lender pay off your creditors directly could get you a discounted rate.
Achieve offers personal loan rate discounts for adding a co-signer, showing proof of retirement savings, and allowing us to pay your creditors directly. To learn more, talk to a loan consultant.
How to get a lower monthly payment
You can bring the monthly payment down in two ways:
Take a longer repayment term
Note that the longer you take to pay, the more you'll pay overall. Here's how the monthly payment and total cost change on a $20,000 loan at 14%:
Taking the lower monthly payment is a convenience that has a cost. In this case, saving $82 per month means you'll pay almost $1,700 more.
If your budget is strained, it could be worth it to opt for the lower payment and longer term.
If you want to minimize the cost of the debt and the time to pay it off, go with the highest monthly payment you can afford.
Contact lenders that prequalify you with a soft credit check that won't damage your credit score. Verify that a lender makes the type of loan you want in the amount you need. And ask about any discounts you might be entitled to.
Gina Freeman has been covering personal finance topics for over 20 years. She loves helping consumers understand tough topics and make confident decisions. Her professional history includes mortgage lending, credit scoring, taxes, and bankruptcy. Gina has a BS in financial management from the University of Nevada.
Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.
Frequently asked questions
What’s a good rate on a personal loan?
Personal loan rates vary widely. A good interest rate should be several percentage points lower than credit card interest rates for people in your credit scoring range.
How much is a $50,000 loan for five years
That depends on the loan’s interest rate. The table below shows monthly payments and total interest at different interest rates.
Interest Rate 12% 18% 25%