Best Small Personal Loans

Upgrade is our pick for the best small personal loan

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Sometimes, a small personal loan is all you need—a couple of thousand bucks or less is enough to cover that emergency expense or fund that necessary purchase. But some personal loan lenders have higher minimum borrowing amounts, and others charge higher rates to borrowers who need a small amount of cash.

The best small personal loans come with affordable rates, a low minimum borrowing amount, flexible repayment terms, and fast funding. You can get a small personal loan from an online lender, bank, or credit union. It’s a good idea to compare a few different lenders during your search. The right small personal loan for you will depend on your timeline and credit score, and the features you think are most important.

Best Small Personal Loans of May 2022

Best Overall and for Hardship Protection : Upgrade

Investopedia's Rating
4.3

Upgrade

Upgrade

  • Starting interest rate: 5.94% (with autopay)
  • Minimum credit score: 550
  • Loan terms: 24–84 months
Why We Chose It

Upgrade checks the boxes for the best small personal loan, with flexible repayment terms and a low minimum borrowing amount. The lender is fair-credit friendly, and offers hardship protection programs for a variety of situations.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Borrow as little as $1,000

  • One-day funding

  • Offers a variety of discounts

Cons
  • Charges an origination fee

  • Charges a late payment fee

  • APR range is higher than some other lenders

Overview

Upgrade takes the lead due to a low minimum borrowing amount, fast funding, and flexible repayment options. Upgrade also works with borrowers that are experiencing hardship, but you’ll need to contact the company directly for information about your unique situation.

Upgrade was founded in 2017 by pioneers in the fintech space, and since then more than 15 million people have borrowed $10 billion in credit from Upgrade. Besides personal loans, Upgrade also offers a rewards checking account and credit card. 

You can check your rate with Upgrade without hurting your credit. Once you formally apply and accept a loan offer, which will require a hard credit check, you can receive your funds in as little as one business day. An origination fee of 2.9% to 8% of the loan amount will be deducted from the loan proceeds. However, the maximum late payment fee is only $10 and there are no prepayment penalties. 

While we’ve seen lower starting rates at other lenders, Upgrade offers a variety of discounts:

  • Rewards checking account discount
  • Direct payment to creditors discount (if using the loan for debt consolidation)
  • Auto equity secured discount
  • 0.25% autopay discount

To qualify for an Upgrade loan, you must have a credit score of at least 550. There’s no minimum income, but you will need to provide proof of income. You’ll also need to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, be at least 18 years old, and have a bank account and email address. Upgrade loans are not available in Iowa, Vermont, or West Virginia. If you have trouble qualifying, Upgrade allows joint applications, and a co-borrower with a higher credit score may improve your chances of being approved. 

Upgrade has outstanding reviews relative to the industry on Trustpilot. Many customers cite the quick and easy process and excellent customer service as reasons for their positive reviews.

Best for Low Fees and Repayment Terms : Lightstream

Investopedia's Rating
4.0

LightStream

LightStream

  • Starting interest rate: 3.99%; 4.99% for small loans (with AutoPay and excellent credit)
  • Minimum credit score: 680
  • Loan terms: 24–240 months; 24–84 months for small loans
Why We Chose It

Lightstream is one of few lenders to offer loans with zero fees—there are no prepayment penalties, late fees, or origination fees. The lender also offers loan terms up to 240 months, but keep in mind most small loans are only available in 24–84 month terms.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • No fees of any kind

  • Competitive APRs

  • Rate Beat program

Cons
  • Only available to borrowers with good or excellent credit

  • Minimum loan amount of $5,000

  • No option to pre-qualify without a hard credit check

Overview

Lightstream is our pick for low fees, since the lender doesn’t charge fees of any kind, and flexible repayment terms, since they offer a range of term choices. 

SunTrust and BB&T, both banks founded in the 19th century, merged in December of 2019 under the name Truist. Lightstream is a division of Truist and offers personal loans for a variety of purposes. There’s no option to pre-qualify and you need good credit to be eligible, but starting rates are low and there are no fees. You won’t have to pay an origination fee, you can pay off your loan early without penalty, and even if you miss a payment, you won’t be charged. Lightstream also offers a 0.5% autopay discount included in their published rates.

You must complete your application with Lightstream online, but you can get your funds as soon as the same day. To be eligible, you’ll need to be 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident of any state. To evaluate you for approval, Lightstream will pull your credit report from TransUnion or Equifax, which can result in a minimal dip in your credit score. Lightstream looks favorably on applicants with several years of credit history, a variety of account types, liquid assets or savings, and regular and sufficient income. Lightstream doesn’t allow joint applications or co-signers. 

Lightstream has poor reviews on third-party websites like Trustpilot and ConsumerAffairs, although the lender only has about a dozen reviews on each site. It’s also important to note that a few reviewers mention being contacted by a scammer claiming to be from Lightstream. Lightstream is a legitimate lender, but scammers often impersonate legitimate companies. Other reviewers were unhappy with how difficult it is to get approved by Lightstream or believed their rate was not competitive.

Best for Poor Credit : OppLoans

Investopedia's Rating
2.8

OppLoans
  • Starting interest rate: 59% (varies by state)
  • Minimum credit score: None
  • Loan terms: 9–18 months
Why We Chose It

OppLoans’ installment loan product is the best option available for applicants with poor credit or no credit history. You can borrow a small amount starting at $500, and your positive repayment history will be reported to the three major credit bureaus.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • No minimum credit score

  • $500 minimum borrowing amount

  • Receive funds as soon as the next business day

Cons
  • APRs up to 160%

  • Maximum term of 18 months

  • Only offered in select states

Overview

If you aren’t eligible for other options due to your credit score, OppLoans is the safest bad credit lender we reviewed. While rates are high, your monthly payments will be reported to the credit bureaus, which may improve your credit score (if they’re on time). 

OppLoans was founded in 2012 by Todd Schwartz and is headquartered in Chicago. The lender has helped 700,000 borrowers get access to cash. It operates as a direct lender in Alabama, Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin, and offers loans through partner lenders in 31 other states. OppLoans does not offer loans in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, or Washington, D.C. 

While OppLoans works with a credit bureau to evaluate your credit history, you can apply for a loan without a hard credit check. OppLoans doesn’t charge any origination fees or prepayment penalties. Other fees, rates, and terms vary by state. OppLoans doesn’t offer any discounts. You must apply online, but the process is easy and mobile-friendly. To be eligible, you must be 18 years old (or 19 in Alabama), have a bank account, have a regular source of income, and receive your paychecks through direct deposit (unless you live in New Mexico). OppLoans does not allow co-signers. Once you’re approved, you can receive the funds in as little as one business day. 

Reviews of OppLoans on customer review sites like Trustpilot and ConsumerAffairs are excellent. Most customers cited the quick and easy process as the reason for their positive reviews. Most customer complaints were about being denied a loan or being charged high rates.

Best Credit Union : Navy Federal

Investopedia's Rating
4.2

Navy Federal
  • Starting interest rate: 7.49% up to 36 months; 14.79% for 37+ months
  • Minimum credit score: None
  • Loan terms: 36–180 months
Why We Chose It

With a minimum loan amount of just $250, competitive rates, and fast funding as soon as the same day, Navy Federal is our top pick for the best credit union. But keep in mind that membership is only open to military members, veterans, and their eligible family members.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Loan amounts start at $250

  • Maximum APR of 18%

  • 24/7 customer support

Cons
  • Navy Federal membership requires military affiliation

  • High minimum borrowing amounts for longer-term loans

  • No pre-qualification option

Overview

Navy Federal offers small loans with competitive rates and quick funding. The member-owned, not-for-profit credit union was founded at the end of the Great Depression by a group of Navy Department employees and has since grown to over 11 million members. Membership is open to all service members and veterans, their immediate family members, and Department of Defense civilians. You must be a member to get a personal loan from Navy Federal. 

There’s no pre-qualification option, but you can apply online for an unsecured personal loan. For longer-term home improvement loans, debt consolidation loans, savings secured loans, and CD secured loans, you must apply in a branch or over the phone. Co-signers and joint applications are allowed. To be eligible for a loan, you must be at least 18 years old and provide your employment and income information. 

There’s no minimum credit score requirement, but Navy Federal will review your credit history along with your banking history when making a decision, so you may experience a small dip in your credit score from the credit check. Navy Federal issues loans in all states. There are no discount programs for its personal loans, but rates are relatively low and there are no origination fees, late fees, or prepayment penalties. 

Navy Federal also has a strong track record of providing good customer service—the credit union offers 24/7 customer support and was named #1 for customer experience by Forrester. Navy Federal has excellent reviews on Trustpilot. However, there are some poor reviews on ConsumerAffairs. Most complaints were about poor-quality customer service—long hold times and misinformation. Most customers who left positive reviews touted the quick and easy process, good products, low rates, and helpful customer service.

Best for Quick Funding : Rocket Loans

Investopedia's Rating
4.2

Rocket Loans

Rocket Loans

  • Starting interest rate: 6.72% (with autopay)
  • Minimum credit score: 580
  • Loan terms: 36 or 60 months
Why We Chose It

Rocket Loans offers small loans starting at $2,000 with funding as soon as the same day. The fast and easy process makes Rocket Loans our top pick for quick funding.

Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Friendly to fair-credit borrowers

  • Funding as soon as the same day

  • Pre-qualification option

Cons
  • Only two terms available

  • Charges an origination fee

  • Charges late payment and return fees

Overview

Rocket Loans makes it easy to check your rate online, apply for a personal loan, and get your money as quickly as the same day. It’s a great option when emergency expenses come up. Rocket Loans is a subsidiary of Rocket Mortgage, which was formerly Quicken Loans and was founded under the name Rock Financial in 1985. It began as a brick-and-mortar mortgage lender and grew into a digital-first company. 

The process of applying for a personal loan from Rocket Loans is easy. You can pre-qualify by providing your contact info and Social Security number. You’ll need to apply online, but you can call for support. After you select a loan offer, Rocket Loans will review your information and make a decision. You’ll receive your funds as soon as the same day. 

To be eligible, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The minimum credit score is 580 and you’ll need to provide proof you earn at least $24,000 annually. Loans are not available in Nevada, West Virginia, or Iowa, and you can’t apply with a co-signer or joint applicant.

Starting rates include an autopay discount. Rocket Loans charges an origination fee between 1% and 6% of the loan amount, which will be deducted from the proceeds. There’s also a $15 late payment fee and a $15 ACH return or returned check fee. 

Rocket Loans is a reputable lender with very favorable customer service reviews. The lender has a 4.8/5 star average rating from thousands of customers on Trustpilot. Many reviewers said the process was quick and easy and customer service was friendly and knowledgeable.

Final Verdict

It can be difficult to find a small loan with a low-interest rate, but you have several options when it comes to getting the cash you need. Some lenders, like SunTrust/Lightstream, offer particularly low rates for creditworthy borrowers but have a higher minimum borrowing amount. Others, like OppLoans, are designed for borrowers with bad credit, and some, like Navy Federal, have membership requirements. 

Overall, Upgrade stood out as the best small personal loan lender because the minimum loan amount is only $1,000, the repayment terms are flexible, and the lender is willing to work with borrowers during times of hardship. Upgrade also has a useful Rate Beat program and delivers loan proceeds quickly.

Compare the Best Small Personal Loans

Company Starting Interest Rate Minimum Credit Score Loan Terms Fees
Upgrade Best Overall and for Hardship Protection 5.94% 550 24–84 months Origination fee, late payment fee
Lightstream Best for Low Fees and Repayment Terms 3.99% 680 24–240 months None
OppLoans Best for Poor Credit 59% None 9–18 months Varies by state
Navy Federal Best Credit Union 7.49% None 36–180 months None
Rocket Loans Best for Quick Funding 6.72% 580 36 or 60 months Origination fee, late fee, return fee
Loan amounts, APRs, and repayment periods may vary by loan purpose or type.

Guide for Choosing the Best Small Personal Loans

Best Place to Get a Small Personal Loan

The best place to get a personal loan will depend on your needs. If you’re looking to borrow $500 or less, a credit union may be your best option for low rates, but many credit unions have membership requirements. Online lenders often have higher minimum borrowing amounts or charge higher rates for small loans, but they can be a good option if you’re looking for a fast and easy process. If you prefer to apply in person and have a good relationship with your bank, you could apply for a small personal loan there as well. 

Should You Apply for a Small Personal Loan?

That depends on your individual financial need. If you just need a little cash to tide you over until your next paycheck, you can take advantage of the grace period offered on a credit card, or even apply for a 0% introductory APR credit card. These options can be less expensive than a loan. On the other hand, if you have poor credit and can’t qualify for a credit card, a personal loan from a bad credit lender like OppLoans would be a much better option than a payday loan.

If you don’t want to open a new card or you need more time to pay back the debt, a small personal loan might make sense for you. Personal loans have lower APRs than credit cards on average. You can even use a personal loan to consolidate credit card debt if you’re having difficulty paying down your cards. This will work best if you have good or excellent credit. 

Comparing Small Personal Loan Lenders

When comparing small personal loan rates among lenders, you’ll want to pay attention to the following:

  • APR: Your APR represents the total cost of taking out a small personal loan, including any origination fees. Aim for the lowest you can qualify for based on your creditworthiness and your desired monthly payment. 
  • Loan amounts: You don’t want to borrow more than you need. Look for a personal lender offering the right amount for your purposes. 
  • Terms: Choose a lender that offers a term that will result in a monthly payment you can afford.
  • Fees: Aim for the fewest/lowest fees possible, and avoid all lenders that charge prepayment penalties.
  • Ease of application process: If you prefer an easy online application process, be sure the lender you choose is right for you.
  • Lender reputation: Pay attention to customer reviews on third-party review websites like Trustpilot. 
  • Speed of funding: If your cash need is an emergency, narrow down your choices to lenders that can provide same or next-day funding. 
  • Customer support: Ensure the personal lender you choose has customer service hours that are convenient for you. 

How to Get a Small Personal Loan

  1. Pre-qualify: The first step is to provide information such as your SSN, contact info, intended borrowing amount, and loan purpose. Many lenders will allow you to check your pre-qualification status without a hard credit pull. 
  2. Choose a loan offer: You may be shown a few different term options with different associated APRs. Note that small personal loan rates at this stage are only an estimate. Select the option with the monthly payment you can comfortably afford. 
  3. Provide additional documentation: From here, you’ll likely create an account on the lender’s online portal if you haven’t already. You’ll need to provide more details such as proof of income and employment. The lender will review this information and give you a decision. 
  4. Accept your loan offer: Check to make sure you’re happy with your rate and read the fine print before signing your loan documents. 
  5. Receive your funds: Wait for the money to be deposited in your bank account. This typically takes a few days but can happen as soon as the same day. 
  6. Manage your account online: Many lenders will allow you to set up automatic payments from your online account, and some will even let you change your due date. 
  7. Repay your loan: Expect to begin making fixed monthly payments starting about one month after you receive your funds. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Small Personal Loan?

A small personal loan is typically a fixed-rate installment loan provided to you in a lump sum, to be repaid with interest in fixed monthly payments over a term of one or more years. Most small personal loans are unsecured, but some can be secured by your savings or another asset. 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Getting a Small Personal Loan?

Pros:

  • Lower interest rates than credit cards
  • Better terms than payday loans
  • Can be used for almost any purpose

Cons:

  • No grace period
  • Rates are generally better with higher borrowing amounts
  • Higher monthly payments than credit cards

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 from $1,000 to $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. Other options include online lenders, credit unions, credit cards, and payday loans.

How Do You Get Personal Loans From 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: 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.

What Credit Unions Offer Personal Loans?

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.

What Banks Offer Personal Loans?

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's the Difference Between Small Loans and 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’re 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 more often 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 to 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, 21 months—about the time you'd take to pay back a personal loan—that could be a better deal too.

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

What is the Difference Between Small Loans and 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 that 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.

How We Chose the Best Personal Loan Lenders

Our team evaluated 38 lenders and collected 1,520 data points before selecting our top choices. We weighed more than 20 criteria and gave a higher weight to those with a more significant impact on potential borrowers. 

The top picks were selected based on factors like membership requirements (weighted 15%), average fixed APR (weighted 15%), and average origination fees (weighted 10%). 

We also took into account the flexibility of repayment terms, helpful features like pre-qualification, and whether a co-signer or joint applications are permitted to ensure borrowers get the best possible experience. For further information about our selection criteria and process, our complete methodology is available.

Article Sources

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