Best Small Personal Loans

Our guide to finding small personal loans of $2,000 or less

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Getting a personal loan to cover an emergency, finance a steep expense or just to keep a big bill from being overdue could be a saving grace. But lenders set minimums on the loans they offer, and some of these can be in the high four figures. If you only need $1,000 or so, you might be forced to borrow considerably more than you really require. And extra debt is never a good idea, especially when you're paying interest on it.

Instead of taking out more financing than you need, try to find a more flexible lender. To jump-start your search, we've scouted around and come up with the best such specialists in small personal loans. Here are our picks for the top five; while they all have different strengths, they'll all loan you amounts in the low four figures—and sometimes even less.

Best Small Personal Loans–September 2020

Lender Best For APR Range Minimum Loan Amount Maximum Loan Amount Terms Recommended Credit Score
Upgrade Best Online Lender 7.99%–35.97% $1,000 $35,000 36–60 months 600+
Avant Best for Fair Credit 9.95%–35.99% $2,000 $35,000 24–60 months 600+
Alliant Credit Union Best for Hardship Protection 6.24%–10.24% $1,000 $50,000 12–60 months 670+
PenFed Credit Union Best for Fast Funding 6.49%–17.99% $500 $20,000 6–60 months 580+
Navy Federal Credit Union Best for Lowest Borrowing Amounts 7.49%–18.00% $250 $50,000 6–60 months 600+
Upstart Best for Fair Credit 8.69%–35.99% $1,000 $50,000 36–60 months 600+
First Tech Credit Union Best Credit Union 7.70%–18.00% $500 $50,000 24–84 months 580+
LendingClub Best Peer-to-Peer Lender 10.68%–35.89% $1,000 $40,000 36–60 months 580+
Loan amounts, APR, and repayment period may vary by loan purpose or type.

The highest APR that any credit union can charge on most loans is currently capped at 18% per the National Credit Union Administration

Upgrade: Best Online Lender

Upgrade

Upgrade has a pleasant range of options—it offers loans starting as low as $1,000 and as high as $35,000—and they're available to those with credit scores in the merely good range. The online lender moves fast: After you’re approved Upgrade will transfer the funds as soon as one business day.

Pros
  • Prequalification available: You can get a sense of rates/terms without actually applying and dinging your credit score

  • Payment flexibility: You can change your payment date

Cons
  • Considerable charges: Origination fee (2.9% to 8%); $10 fee for late or failed payment

  • Higher APRs: Maximum 35.97% is high compared to other lenders

Other important information:

  • Maximum/minimum amount you can borrow: $1,000 to $35,000
  • APR range: 7.99%–35.97%
  • Fees: 2.9% to 8% origination fee; $10 fee for late or failed payment
  • Recommended minimum credit requirements: Low 600s score
  • Other qualification requirements: Residents of Massachusetts need to borrow at least $6,400
  • Repayment terms: 36 to 60 months
  • Time to receive funds: Within four business days
  • Restrictions: Loans not available to residents of Iowa and West Virginia

Learn more about Upgrade personal loans in our full review.

Avant: Best for Bad Credit

Avant

If your credit score is less-than-perfect, you may have limited options for small personal loans. Avant offers a flexible loan for borrowers with credit scores as low as 600. Even better: You may have access to the money with one business day. 

Pros
  • Quick funding: Avant will transfer the money within one business day of approval

  • Prequalify with soft credit inquiry: You can check rates without hurting your credit score

Cons
  • High fees: Avant charges an administrative fee of 4.75%, which is deducted from the loan proceeds

  • No joint applications: Avant doesn’t offer the opportunity to co-sign with another applicant

Other important information:

  • Maximum/minimum amount you can borrow: $2,000 to $35,000
  • APR range: 9.95%–35.99%
  • Fees: 4.75% administrative fee; $25 late fee; $15 dishonored payment fee
  • Recommended minimum credit requirements: Minimum of 600. The average borrower has a credit score between 600 and 700, according to Avant’s website.
  • Other qualification requirements: Applicants need to provide proof of income
  • Repayment terms: 24 to 60 months
  • Time to receive funds:
  • Restrictions: Can only refinance loan a limited number of times

Learn more about Avant personal loans in our full review.

Alliant Credit Union: Best for Hardship Protection

Alliant

Alliant, a credit union available nationwide (via the internet) specializes in short-term loans at extremely competitive rates. But perhaps its strongest claim to fame is its repayment terms: Should some sort of emergency or unexpected event (layoff, disability) impair your ability to pay bills, you can suspend monthly payments—or even the entire loan balance—without penalty or extra interest. This optional Debt Protection program, as Alliant dubs it, does incur a small monthly fee if you join it.

Pros
  • No origination fee or prepayment penalty

  • Low APRs: Rates max out at 10.24%, vs. other lenders' ceilings of almost 36%

  • Fast process: same-day approval in many cases

Cons
  • Membership in credit union required (but joining is easy)

  • Debt protection costs extra: monthly fee based on size of loan balance

  • No long-term loans: 5-year maximum length

Other important information:

  • Maximum/minimum amount you can borrow: $1,000 to $50,000
  • APR range: 6.24%–10.24% (with autopay)
  • Fees: No origination fee or prepayment penalties
  • Recommended minimum credit requirements: 670
  • Other qualification requirements: A monthly fee is charged for the Debt Protection program
  • Repayment terms: 12 to 60 months
  • Time to receive funds: As soon as the next business day
  • Restrictions: Credit union membership required

PenFed Credit Union: Best for Fast Funding

PenFed

PenFed is one of the largest credit unions in the United States. Its services include mortgages and checking accounts, among many others. But it also offers personal loans at reasonable rates. Once you get approved for your loan, you could see funds in your account as soon as the next day.

Pros
  • Super-low minimums: As little as $500

  • No origination fee

  • Wide range of repayment terms: From six months to five years

Cons
  • Credit union membership required

  • Comparatively low loan amount ceiling ($20,000 max)

Other important information:

  • Maximum/minimum amount you can borrow: $500 to $20,000
  • APR range: 6.49%–17.99%
  • Fees: None
  • Recommended minimum credit requirements: 580
  • Other qualification requirements: Co-borrowers income, debts and credit score will be taken into consideration, if applicable
  • Repayment terms: 6 to 60 months
  • Time to receive funds: As soon as the next business day
  • Restrictions: Membership required

Learn more about PenFed personal loans in our full review.

Navy Federal Credit Union: Best for Lowest Borrowing Amounts

Navy Federal

This whole list is devoted to sources for small loans. But Navy Federal Credit Union offers really small loans—as low as $250. Usually, a usurious payday loan provider is your only source for such minimal sums (see "Payday Loan" section, below). Navy Federal not only offers them, but it also does so on reasonable terms and at competitive interest rates.

Pros
  • Varied repayment terms: Take as little as 36 months or as long as five years

  • Co-applicants allowed: If your credit score or financials are weak, a co-borrower can help you secure a loan at a lower rate

Cons
  • No prequalifying option: Application triggers a hard credit inquiry, which can hurt your credit score

  • Credit union membership required

Other important information:

  • Maximum/minimum amount you can borrow: $250 to $50,000
  • APR range: 7.49%–18.00% (APR goes up for terms 36 months and up)
  • Fees: None
  • Recommended minimum credit requirements: 600
  • Other qualification requirements: Need to be a member of the credit union
  • Repayment terms: 6 to 60 months
  • Time to receive funds:
  • Restrictions: Hard inquiry only

Upstart: Best for Fair Credit

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Upstart looks at factors other than your credit score when looking at your application using their artificial intelligence technology. Factors include education, occupation and income. Applicants need a minimum credit score of 600 and rates start at 8.69%.

Pros
  • Lender conducts soft credit inquiry when checking initial rate

  • Receive loan proceeds as soon as the next business day

  • Make extra payments towards loan without incurring a penalty

Cons
  • Origination fees as high as 8%

  • Can only choose from three or five year terms

  • Cannot refinance existing Upgrade loan

Other important information:

  • Maximum/minimum amount you can borrow: $1,000 to $50,000
  • APR range: 8.69%–35.99%
  • Fees: 0% to 8% origination fee
  • Minimum recommended credit score: 600+
  • Other qualification requirements: Applicants need to have less than six inquiries on their credit report in the last six months
  • Repayment terms: 36 or 60 months
  • Time to receive funds: As soon as the same business day
  • Restrictions: No bankruptcies and/or delinquencies on credit report allowed

First Tech Credit Union: Best Credit Union

FTFCU2

This lender doesn’t require strict membership requirements compared to other credit unions—join the Financial Fitness Association for $8. First Tech Credit Union offers competitive rates and offers those with less than stellar credit access to up to $50,000 in personal loans.

Pros
  • No origination fees

  • Large maximum loan amount

  • Joint applications available

Cons
  • Requires hard inquiry when checking rates

  • Need to become a member of the credit union

  • Lengthy minimum loan term

Other important information:

  • Maximum/minimum amount you can borrow: $500 to $50,000
  • APR range: 7.70%–18.00%
  • Fees: None
  • Minimum recommended credit score: 580
  • Other qualification requirements: First Tech Credit Union will take an applicant’s income and debt into account 
  • Repayment terms: 24 to 84 months
  • Time to receive funds: As soon as the next business day
  • Restrictions: Credit union membership required

LendingClub: Best Peer-to-Peer Lender

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Headquartered in San Francisco and launched in 2007, Lendingclub has helped to facilitate over $55 billion in personal loans. Though funding times may be longer than other lenders, qualifying for a loan through LendingClub may be more accessible, especially if you submit a joint application. Rates start at 10.68% not including the origination fee, which can be as high as 6%.

Pros
  • Personal loan amounts starting at $1,000 is a great option for those looking to borrow less money

  • LendingClub offers joint loan applications for those who want to boost their chances of being approved for a more competitive rate

  • No early prepayment penalties

Cons
  • Loans aren’t available nationwide

  • LendingClub has longer funding times—can be up to 10 business days—compared to other online lenders

  • Borrowers are subject to origination fees

Other important information:

  • Maximum/minimum amount you can borrow: $1,000 to $40,000
  • APR range: 10.68%–35.89%
  • Fees: 1% to 6% origination fee; Late fee the greater of or 5% of unpaid balance 
  • Minimum recommended credit score: 580
  • Other qualification requirements: Borrowers need to be the age of majority in their state
  • Repayment terms: 36 to 60 months
  • Time to receive funds: Can be up to 10 business days
  • Restrictions: Loans not available to residents of Iowa and U.S. territories

Where Can You Get Small Personal Loans?

You'd think that borrowing a small amount of money would be easier than borrowing a big sum, wouldn't you? But that's not how financial institutions think. Servicing a small personal loan—roughly defined as between $1,000 and $5,000—can be just as expensive as servicing a big one, and many banks just don't want to bother, especially in these days of low interest rates and razor-thin profit margins.

Online Lenders

Because they have little overhead, online lenders can afford to offer small sums that other lenders might sniff at. Most online lenders also have a pre-qualification option: that is, you can plug in some basic financials to see if you’re eligible for financing, without actually having to apply (which involves the lender pulling your credit history, which can ding your credit score. This isn’t commonly done for personal loan applicants at many banks and credit unions.

Credit Unions

Your best bet for very low-dollar loans is going to a credit union, a non-profit type of financial cooperative that provides traditional banking services. While you might need to join to qualify for a personal loan—credit unions are member-owned organizations—this is relatively easy and cheap to do; and once you're a member, you’ll be able to borrow what you need with a low APR.

Banks

Finding a loan source among the brick-and-mortar banks could be a challenge. Some of the best-known, like Bank of America, don't offer personal loans at all. Others set the bar somewhat high: for example, Wells Fargo's personal loans start at $3,000. You’re more likely to find a small personal loan available from a local or small regional bank over a big-name, national lender. It also helps if you already are a client of that bank.

What Are Alternatives to Small Personal Loans?

It’s a good idea to compare your options before deciding on a small personal loan.

Small Loans vs. Credit Cards

The ubiquity of credit cards may be one reason for the dearth of small personal loan providers. There are very few places that don't take credit cards nowadays. When you put something on your plastic, you are basically financing the purchase—it's actually not that different from borrowing money from any other source. You repay the lender (the card issuer) when your monthly statement arrives, either in full or in part. If it's in part, you pay interest, of course.

Unlike banks, credit card issuers love to lend you money—either by you charging your purchase or by you taking out a cash advance. They'll even raise your credit limit to let you do so if you've got a good record. The catch, of course, is the interest they charge; credit card interest rates tend to be higher than those on personal loans, especially for cash advances.

But it depends on the card issuer and personal loan lender in question. You need to do the math and see which option costs less overall. Some special circumstances might apply, too. If you have a rewards credit card and can cover your expense while earning points or cash back, you should. Or if a card is offering a special zero-APR promotion on balance transfers for, say, 24 months—about the time you'd take to pay back a personal loan—that could be a better deal too.

Generally, though if you want to save on interest or don’t have a credit card, look into a small personal loan.

Small Loans vs. Payday Loans

Payday loans are a type of short-term borrowing, in which an independent small-credit merchant gives you an immediate loan against your next paycheck—kind of an advance on your wages. If they don't need all that much money—these loans are often capped at around $500—many borrowers look at payday loans as ideal because the lenders don’t typically check credit scores or history, and the money is instantaneous.

While the loan principal is small, APRs on payday loans are upwards of 400%.

No, we didn't leave out a decimal point. They're 400%. To add insult to injury, there are often various little fees as well. You can easily end up paying much more on a payday loan than you originally borrowed. If you can get a small personal loan from a credit union, especially one of those who offer three-digit loans, you’ll save a lot more money in interest compared to payday loans. Plus, you'll have months, even years to repay, in contrast to having to cough up by your next payday.

The Bottom Line

When you’re considering taking out a loan, you may not need to borrow a lot of money to cover a big expense. Instead, you may just need a little extra cash to stay (or get) current on your bills or cover a new bill so your credit score doesn’t drop. Various lenders cater to such small needs, but their terms vary, so shop around and be sure to consider which aspects work best for you—or against you.

Methodology

Investopedia is dedicated to providing consumers with unbiased, comprehensive reviews of personal loan lenders for all borrowing needs. We collected over twenty five data points across more than fifty lenders including interest rates, fees, loan amounts and repayment terms to ensure that our content helps users make the right borrowing decision for their needs.