A secured loan is a loan you can take out that’s tied to an asset of yours as security. For example a mortgage is a type of secured loan, and the asset would be the house you take the mortgage out on – when you repay the loan the house is yours, but if you don’t repay then the lender could seize your house.
An unsecured loan isn’t tied to any collateral, and as a result you normally need at least a fair credit score to qualify. There is also often a maximum amount you’ll be allowed to borrow.
You can take out a loan for a number of reasons, ranging from home improvements or education to big purchases like buying a car or funding a wedding – however it’s unlikely you’ll be approved for a loan to cover you day-to-day costs.
The amount you’ll be eligible to borrow will depend on your personal circumstances – if you have a poor or limited credit history, you may not be able to borrow as much as someone with a good credit history.
The length of your loan can vary depending on the type of loan you take out and the provider you choose, but it could be anywhere between a year and ten years. Taking out a loan for a longer period of time may reduce your monthly payments, but you may end up paying more for the loan due to interest payments.
Different lenders and different types of loans will have varying requirements, but in general whether or not you qualify will depend on your personal details and your credit history. However you can always compare loans on MoneySuperMarket – all you need to do is answer a few questions about the loan you want to take out and you’ll be given a tailored list, which you can sort by interest rates and the likelihood of your application being accepted.
You can generally apply for loans by contacting the provider you choose – either by calling through the phone, sending an application form through the post, applying online, or dropping in to their branch (if they have one) to apply in person.
For many loans you’ll need a good credit history to be accepted, but some providers also offer loans designed for people with poor or no credit. For example, you can get guarantor loans where someone else will commit to make your repayments if you can’t.
A soft-search or soft-application is a way of finding out where you stand in terms of getting a loan without leaving a mark on your credit report. It’s a useful way of finding a loan you’ll be eligible for without harming your chances of being accepted.
Missing repayments can mean you might be fined by your lender, and it could also end any low or zero interest incentives you have. It may even lead to a hike in the interest rate you’ll make future repayments at.
APR, or your Annual Percentage Rate, is the interest rate at which you pay back money you’ve borrowed. It takes into account the actual interest rate you pay, plus any other fees or charges involved in the deal, to give you a more complete picture of what you loan will cost.
When you see a rate advertised as the representative APR, this means the lender is required to offer this rate to at least 51% of applicants – however it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to receive this interest rate yourself.
Representative 16.5% APR (September 2022)
Maximum APR 99%
Debt consolidation is when you take out a single loan to repay the debts you have with different providers – this way you can pay off the debt with a single monthly repayment, rather than lots of repayments to a variety of lenders.
A repayment holiday is when you don’t have to make any loan repayments for a certain period of time that you’ve agreed with your lender. They’re generally good for when you’ve had a temporary change of circumstances, such as unemployment, maternity, or unexpected expenditures.
You’ll normally be able to pay off all or part of your loan early, though some lenders may have an early payment charge.
If you’re struggling with your finances and you think you might not be able to make your repayments, you should call your lender as soon as possible – they may be able to help you work out an easier repayment plan or a repayment holiday. Not letting your bank know could mean you’ll be penalised for missing any payments.
What are secured and unsecured loans?
What can I take out a loan for?
How much can I borrow?
How long can I take out a loan for?
How do I know if I’m eligible for a loan?
How do I apply for a loan?
Do I need a good credit rating?
What is a soft search?
What if I miss repayments?
What is an APR?
What is debt consolidation?
What is a repayment holiday?
Can I overpay or pay off early?
What if I’m struggling to repay my loan?
Many households are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living keeps rising. There's little spare cash around to build up an emergency fund, which means it can be tricky to pay for a new washing machine or boiler if your old one breaks down. Maybe you need a new car, or perhaps you're planning a holiday, a wedding or a home makeover?
Let’s face it, most people at some point in their lives need to borrow some money. So it’s important to understand the pros and cons of the different types of loan, as well as how to secure the best rates. If not, you could end up with a poor deal – and costly credit can send you into a downward debt spiral.
Loans can broadly be divided into two categories: secured and unsecured. With a secured loan, the lender will insist on some sort of security against the money you borrow, often a house or car. If you default on the payments, the bank or building society can then sell the asset to clear the debt.
You can usually borrow large amounts with a secured loan, and at a lower rate of interest. Plus, you can pay back the debt over a long time period, perhaps 10 or 15 years.
However, secured loans are more risky than unsecured loans because you could lose your collateral if you cannot clear the debt. You should therefore think very carefully - and consider other options - before taking out a secured loan.
You can typically borrow as little as £1,000 up to a maximum of £25,000 with an unsecured loan – also known as a personal loan.
The interest rate is usually fixed and you pay back the debt over a set term, normally one, three or five years. Personal loans can therefore help you to budget because you know at the outset the full cost of your borrowings and how long they will take to clear.
For example, if you are getting married and the wedding is set to cost £7,500, you could take out a loan for £7,500 at 3% over three years. Your monthly payments would be fixed at £217.98 and you would pay total interest of £347.11 over the 36-month term.
Representative example: If you borrow £7,500, you would make 36 monthly repayments of £217.98. The total amount repayable is £7,847.11. Representative 3.0% APR, 3.0% (fixed) p.a.
If you have run up other debts at high rates of interest, a personal loan can be a good way to manage your borrowings and bring down the cost. Let’s say you have built up a debt of £3,000 on a store card that charges interest of 29%. You could take out a loan for £3,000 at, say, 9%, to pay off the store card balance and reduce the monthly payment. If you also cut up the store card, you would not be tempted to go on a spreading spree and add to your debt burden!
Interest rates on personal loans vary across the market, but as a rough rule of thumb, the more you borrow, the lower the rate. For example, you might pay interest of 9% on a £3,000 loan, but only 3% on a loan of £7,000. It can therefore make sense to borrow a larger amount, say £7,000 instead of £6,500. Just make sure you don’t take on a debt that you cannot afford to repay.
The size of the loan will to some extent determine the term of the loan. It is, for example, difficult to pay off a £7,000 loan in just one year as the monthly payments would be relatively high. However, if you borrow only £1,000, a term of 12 months is more manageable.
You also have to consider the cost implications of the loan term as the longer the term, the lower the monthly payments – but the higher the total cost.
The interest rates on personal loans depend partly on the loan amount and term. But lenders also assess your creditworthiness, usually by looking at your credit file.
The lowest rates are reserved for the best customers – that is, borrowers with a spotless credit record. If you are judged likely to default on the loan because of a poor credit history, you will be charged a higher rate of interest or your application will be turned down.
In other words, there is no guarantee that you will qualify for the advertised rates. Lenders are allowed to boast of low representative rates if those rates are charged to 51% of successful applicants, which means almost half could be charged a higher rate.
You can pay off your debt before the end of the loan term if you come into some cash. But watch out for early repayment fees. Many lenders levy a penalty for early repayment, which could wipe out any potential interest savings. Some lenders also charge arrangement fees for personal loans, which you should factor into your cost calculations.
Guide to loans
Pros and cons of loans
Help with budgeting
Term of the loan
You should try to work out how much you can afford to borrow and pay back before applying for a loan. This way you can look for loans in your borrowing range, giving yourself the best chance of being accepted as well as ensuring you don’t take on a loan that you can’t afford – you could even try MoneySuperMarket’s loan calculator for guidance.
Likewise it’s better to avoid taking out a loan without thinking carefully whether you need it, and whether the cost of the loan is worth what you’re taking it out for. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to take a loan out for everyday purchases – a credit card might be more suitable.
Interest free periods can be useful when you’re borrowing, but you should always keep an eye on how long this will last. Once the interest free period ends you may be moved on to a high rate instead, so it can be a good idea to pay off as much of your debt as you can during this interest free period.
Variable rate deals mean the interest rate at which you make repayments can change whenever the lender decides to change it – though often lenders will use the Bank of England base rate as a guideline. While this means that your repayments could be less if the base rate falls, they could also go up if the rate rises, so it could be a good idea to ensure you’ll be able to cope with interest rate fluctuations before taking out a variable rate loan.
Loan sharks should always be avoided – they’re illegal, not regulated by any financial organisations, and they generally charge massively high interest rates. What’s more, if you aren’t able to repay them you may be pressured into borrowing even more money, which could lead to a spiral of debt.
Payday loans may be legitimate, but they can come with incredibly high interest rates sometimes reaching over 1000% - which could make even a small loan turn into a debt spiral. Learn more with our guide to payday loans.
Every loan application you make, just like credit applications, leave a mark on your credit report. Too many of these will give lenders the impression that you are desperate to take out a loan, which could imply that you’re struggling to manage your finances – as a result, lenders may be more reluctant to let you borrow from them in the future.
Rather than making lots of applications and hoping one will stick, you may be better off running a soft check on your credit score to see what kinds of loans you’ll be eligible for. This way you can minimise your applications and reduce the chance of you damaging your credit.
Often with loans, the more you borrow the less interest you’ll end up paying. It can vary by lenders, but you should always check on the interest rate they charge as there might be a chance you actually pay less overall by choosing a bigger loan with a lower interest rate.
The best way to find the right deal on a loan is to shop around, and by comparing deals on MoneySuperMarket you’ll be able to browse a list tailored specifically for you. All you need to do is answer a few questions about the loan you need and you’ll be able to compare loans from a number of different providers by the rate you’ll pay back at as well as how likely you are to be accepted.
Work out a budget
Avoid impulse borrowing
Watch out for temporary interest free periods
Plan for rate changes
Avoid loan sharks and payday loans
Don’t make too many applications
Check your credit rating
Consider borrowing more
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