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Cheap Personal Loans Borrow at 3.6% for £7.5k+

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Man in a percentage signFor those who need to borrow, a price war between providers means you can now get a loan for as little as 3.6% a year, the lowest we've ever seen. But be careful before picking one as even the best deals have more tricks than Paul Daniels' sleeve.

Borrowing should always be budgeted for, and carefully planned, so you know whether you can afford the repayments. This is a step-by-step guide, with daily-updated best buys, a unique calculator to pare your costs to the bone and a new eligibility calculator that'll tell you which loans you’ve the best chance of getting before you apply.

Credit cards can be cheaper than loans

Personal loans typically let you borrow up to £25,000. The key sell's "structured repayments", so you know how long you're borrowing for and what it'll cost each month. Yet in general, borrowing on the cheapest credit cards substantially undercuts the cheapest loans, meaning in many circumstances, they should be used first.

But much depends on why you're getting a loan, and how much you want to borrow. We've spelled out the most common situations, and where you might want to think about a credit card instead of a loan.

When a loan's better than a credit card (borrowing £5,000 or less)

The most important factor here is your credit limit. Credit cards won't usually give you more than £5,000, and that's provided that you have a good credit score. So if what you need to buy is more expensive, you're probably better off looking for a £5,000+ loan. (and you can check your eligibility for the best buys).

  • I can use a credit card to pay and can clear it in 23mths.

    The easiest way to buy something new and borrow for free is to use a 0% spending credit card to pay for it - provided that the retailer accepts credit cards.

    You can get up to 23 months 0% on a credit card, but this is only useful if you can budget to pay your debt off in that time, or you're organised enough to balance transfer the debt to another card before the 0% period ends.

    This technique's also only useful if the retailer takes credit cards. And some - most notably car dealerships - often don't. But, there's still a way to use a card to beat a loan...

  • I can't pay directly on a credit card or I need longer than 23 months. An online loan application: accepted

    Don't worry, even if you can't pay the retailer directly on a credit card, you can still pay by card, it's just slightly more complex.

    You'll need to get a specialist money transfer card. These work by transferring cash from your new card to your bank account, so you owe the card instead (though there's usually a 4% fee to do this). Once there, you can spend it as you would a loan.

    The longest deal at the moment is a card which gives you debt at 0% for 29 months. But one card currently lets you do money transfer for the cheapest fee of 2.2% but you'll get five months less 0%. So if you can pay the debt off in that time, or balance transfer it once the 0% is over, this could be a great replacement for getting a loan.

  • I'm trying to make existing debts cheaper.

    In most cases, a loan won't be cheapest. Credit card balance transfer deals are designed to allow you to shift other cards' debts to them at a special cheap rate, usually much cheaper than the best loan rates.

    This doesn't mean you need to keep shifting debts between short-term 0% deals. Some cheap deals last until ALL the debt is repaid (see Best Balance Transfers guide). Though make sure you make at least similar repayments to what the loan would cost each month.

But a credit card's not always the best option...

  • I want to borrow more than £5,000

    Most credit cards won't give you a credit limit higher than £5,000, so if you want to borrow more, you might be better checking out the best buy loans below and using the Loans Eligibility Calculator, which tells you which loans you’ve the best chance of getting before you apply.

  • I'm trying to cut the cost of an existing loan.

    Don't automatically assume switching to a cheaper interest rate will save you money. Many loans, especially older ones, have lock-in penalties. These mean even though you'll pay less interest, when you add in the fine for moving, you'll pay more overall. Our Cutting Existing Loan Costs guide has a calculator showing you if you'll gain by switching.

  • I think I can get a loan from my employer.

    Some employers offer loans to employees, usually for buying travel season tickets so they can get to and from work. Provided the total value doesn't exceed £10,000, these loans can be made tax-free by employers, and paid back over the year from the employee's salary.

    These loans don't have to be made for travel purposes, so see if your employer provides tax-free, interest-free loans - they'll be the cheapest you can get.

Choosing the right loan

Loans have never been as cheap as they are right now. A combination of access to cheap Government money, and a price war between competitive lenders have seen rates plummeting over the past couple of years.

But even the lowest interest rate loans can have hidden costs. Before you pick the type of loan, it's crucial to decide one thing.

How much, for how long?

The formula's simple. Borrow as little as possible, repay as quickly as possible. To avoid complications, always base your borrowing on what you can comfortably afford to repay (preferably after doing a budget), as borrowing too much can cause debts to spiral out of control.

Beware - while borrowing over a longer period spreads the debts and decreases monthly repayments, it massively increases the interest you'll repay. Borrow £10,000 at 7% over three years and the interest cost is £1,100. Borrow the same over 10 years, and it's £3,900. Use the calculator below to play around to find out what shortening or lengthening the loan does...

The Loan Calculator

We've designed a unique calculator to help you work out the cost of a loan, plus whether you can save by switching. It has three options...

  • How much will a loan cost? Enter the amount you want to borrow, and the interest rate you've found, and it'll tell you the monthly repayment, and the overall interest cost.
  • How much can I afford to borrow? Fill in the monthly payment you can afford (having done a budget), as well as the interest rate and term you've decided on, and it'll calculate the maximum lump you'll be lent.
  • Will I save money by switching loans? If you've an existing loan, the switching process isn't as straightforward as you may expect (read the full Existing Loans guide). But fill your details in here, and the calculator reveals whether you'll actually be better off moving to a cheaper lender.

If you just want to skip straight to the loans tool, click to see the best buys.

Personal Loans Calculator

Pick your question....
How much do you want to borrow? £

What's the annual interest rate (APR)? % This is the cost of your loan. To help you calculate, best buy APRs for common loan amounts include:
£1,000-£1,999: 18% to 20%
£2,000-£2,999: 15% to 19%
£3,000-£5,000: 8% to 13%
£5,000-£7,500: 5.5% to 9%
£7,500-£15,000: 4.5% to 7%
£15,000-£25,000: 5% to 8%

How long do you want to borrow for? months You can usually choose to borrow over 12 to 60 months (1 to 5 years). If you choose a shorter loan, you'll have a higher monthly payment, but will pay less in interest. A longer loan generally means a lower monthly repayment, but you'll pay more in interest as you're borrowing over a longer period of time.

Just want to see the best buys?

Beware 'representative' rates

All advertised loan and credit card APRs are 'representative'. This means only 51% of successful applicants have to get those rates. So, up to 49% may end up with a more expensive loan than they applied for (if they get accepted at all).

Sadly, the only real way to find out whether you'll get the advertised rate is to apply, though this leaves a search on your credit file, which can hit your ability to get credit in future.

Loans Eligibility Calculator

Before you look at the best buys below, we've created the Loans Eligibility Calculator. It protects your credit score by telling you which personal loans you’ve the best chance of getting before you apply.

MSE Loan Finder
Select the amount you wish to borrow

To narrow down your selection, slide the slider to display the results.

See all
£1,000 -
£2,000 -
£3,000 -
£5,000 -
£7,500 -

It might be cheaper to borrow more

It's worth being aware of this when borrowing close to one of the rate boundaries above - which are set by lenders.

As an extreme example, borrow £2,499 at 14.9% over five years and you repay £58 a month – £3,490 over the full term. Borrow just £1 more and the rate is 8%, so you only repay £50 monthly – £3,020 over the term, £470 less.

Therefore best buy loan tables are wrong, as the cheapest loan for £2,175+ is to borrow £2,500. If you’re borrowing near a threshold, use a loans calculator to check if borrowing more costs less. If you do borrow more, put the extra loan towards repayments.

Want more loan options?

These cheapest loans are updated daily. If you want to see a list of many available loans then online loan comparison websites such as Moneyfacts and MoneySupermarket* give a wider range, though may miss some of the cheapest options above.

Peer-to-peer lending

It sounds funky and different. But for borrowers, getting a peer-to-peer loan is pretty similar to a bank loan, except rates can be cheaper and they’re flexible, so you can repay when you want.

These loans from the two biggies, Zopa* and Ratesetter*, tend to be especially competitive if you have a reasonable credit score and are borrowing smaller amounts.

  • What is peer-to-peer lending? It matches borrowers and lenders (savers), cutting banks out of the equation. People with spare cash can usually get higher returns lending this money than from saving. Similarly, people looking to borrow can usually get lower APRs than from standard loans.

    The lending sites do all the organising though, so as a borrower, your relationship and repayments are through them.
  • How cheap are they? They run a marketplace matching savers with borrowers. Rates depend on how good a risk you are. At the time of writing, the cheapest £2,000 standard loan is 14.9% APR. But peer-to-peer lenders are 8.7% - 9.5% APR for the same value (though you need a decent credit score).
  • Initial applications don’t hit your credit score. With normal loans, the only way to find out the rate you’ll get is to apply – which leaves a mark on your credit file. Here, peer-to-peer lenders 'soft search' your credit history – which future lenders can’t see on your file. So it has no effect – and it tells you your rate and the lending fee.

    If you do actually get the loan, though, it’ll go on your credit file and your repayment history will be recorded.
  • What are flexible repayments? Most loans require you to pay on a schedule. If you want to part-pay or fully pay early, there’s somtimes a penalty. With flexible repayments, you can repay early in part or in full without a penalty.
  • Is it safe? Consumers using peer-to-peer sites are now better protected after the industry became regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority from 1 April 2014. In many ways though, this is to protect savers, not borrowers (as if it went bust and didn’t collect your cash, you wouldn’t be that upset). However, all major sites have their own safeguards in place to make sure you pay the money back, and that lenders don't lose out.

For more information, see our Peer-to-Peer Lending guide for savers.

Loans with flexibility

A percentage sign smiley One of the main ways to add flexibility used to be via the cheap credit card loans loophole, which allows total flexibility and has rates cheaper than loans. But it's only for the financially savvy as it's easy to mess up.

However, if you're considering either substantially overpaying or clearing your debt early with a lump sum, there are some options.

  • Early part-repayments are allowed

    If your loan was taken out on or after 1 February 2011, you can make partial overpayments on your loan. Banks are still allowed to charge you, but only up to 1% of the amount repaid (if the loan is for over a year) or 0.5% (if under a year).
  • Full early repayment

    Loan providers must allow you to pay off your loan in full. This is subject to a penalty which is usually between one or two months' interest. Check your individual agreement to see what your lender will charge you.
  • Higher credit scorers earning £12,000 plus

    Borrow from the loan marketplaces Zopa* or Ratesetter* (see above for full explanation) and you're allowed to shorten the repayment term, which effectively allows you to pay off more quickly. Also you can pay off in full without penalty.

Cheap, easier-to-obtain loans

Let us be blunt. Although there are plenty of competitive rates now available, getting the cheapest ones can still be difficult.

First, treble-check you're borrowing the absolute minimum needed. Lower amounts are easier to borrow. Plus, make sure you've checked your credit files to ensure a simple error isn't hitting your creditworthiness (read the Credit Rating guide).

After that, there are three main options:

  • Step 1. Use the MSE Loans Eligibility Calculator

    The Loans Eligibility Calculator protects your credit score by telling you which personal loans you’ve the best chance of getting before you apply. All you need to do is put in the loan amount you want, the length of time you want the loan for and its purpose, then some info about yourself. It'll tell you your chances as a percentage of getting different loans so you have an idea before you decide to apply.

    Price comparison site MoneySupermarket also has a facility with credit reference agency Equifax which shows you the loans you're most likely to be accepted for. You need to answer a few questions to estimate your credit score.

    To do it, use its Smart Search*. It's worth understanding MoneySupermarket doesn't automatically include every lender. If you've a poor credit score, sacrificing comparing some more competitive lenders to see what you're most likely to be accepted for should help.

    A big warning, though. Smart Search includes some secured loan products, so always check what it suggests. These are costly and can be dangerous, and only useful as a very last resort (read the Secured Loans guide).

  • A man with a magnifying glass Step 2. Check out your own bank

    If it looks like you're not going to get a particularly good rate after using the loan comparison service, check the standard loan rate from your own bank to see how it compares.

    It knows more about you, and credit scoring is about predicting your behaviour, so that extra data may help. If its advertised rate is cheaper, it's worth calling in for a chat. There's a chance your bank will give you a loan when others wouldn't.

  • Step 3. Consider a credit union loan

    Credit unions are independently-run local co-operative organisations which aim to assist people who may not have access to financial products and services elsewhere. There are 500 in the UK providing loans, savings and current accounts. Each has its own services and rules on who can join.

    All credit union loans have no hidden charges, no penalties for repaying early and many include life insurance for the loan as standard. Traditionally a union only lent to people that also held savings with it, but this has been relaxed in recent years and most credit unions will now lend you money regardless of this.

    To find interest rates, length and amount of loans available and whether it'll lend to you, contact your local union. As a guide, most lend up to £10,000 and offer a rate of around 13% APR.

    In fact, credit union loan rates are capped, and the maximum you can be charged on a loan is 42.6% APR (equivalent to 3% per month). However, you'd be unlikely to face the maximum APR unless you were taking out a very short term loan with the credit union.

    For full details on how they work, how to find out if there is one near you and the other financial products that may be on offer, read the Credit Unions guide. Also tell us in the forum what you think of credit unions, so other MoneySavers can learn from your experiences.

If no one will lend you the money cheaply, it's usually best not to borrow at all. If the idea of the loan was to cut the cost of existing debts, please read the Problem Debt Help guide.

Cheapest loans with PPI

Payment protection insurance (PPI) is supposed to cover you in the event of accident, sickness or unemployment for 12 or 24 months. If you have no other funds, wouldn't be covered by work-based benefits, and don't have any other insurance policies that would cover your repayments for a year, then getting a policy may be a sensible move for you.

Let's start by saying this as loud as we can….

Get PPI from the loan company and you'll almost always pay many times more than needed, often wasting £1,000s.

If you already have PPI on a loan, you may want to take a look at the PPI Reclaiming guide.

How to get the cheapest insured loan

  1. Step 1: Apply for the cheapest uninsured loan

    Simply use the uninsured loan list above to find the right lender.

  2. Step 2: Analyse your PPI requirements

    While most PPI cover is pretty similar, they're not identical. It's worth working out what you need before you start. For example, if you're not working, then you want to only get accident and sickness, not unemployment cover. If you're self-employed, some policies won't cover you, so either choose one that does or just opt for accident and sickness.

  3. Step 3: Use the cheapest standalone insurer

    There's a growing industry of small insurers looking to provide reasonable cover that vastly undercuts the banks' own. These include JustClick4Cover, Paymentcare* and iProtect. For more details and comparisons, see the full Loan Insurance guide.

If you're really set on just getting the loan and insurance together for the convenience, then never compare using the interest rate, but ask "what's the total cost, including insurance?". It's possible to compare these costs on MoneySupermarket*. Just do a comparison but ensure you click the "include payment protection" option.

Answering your questions

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If a link has a * by it, that means it is an affiliated link and therefore it helps MoneySavingExpert stay free to use, as it is tracked to us. If you go through it, it can sometimes result in a payment to the site. It's worth noting this means the third party used may be named on any credit agreements.

You shouldn’t notice any difference and the link will never negatively impact the product. Plus the editorial line (the things we write) is NEVER impacted by these links. We aim to look at all available products. If it isn't possible to get an affiliate link for the top deal, it is still included in exactly the same way, just with a non-paying link. For more details, read How This Site Is Financed.

Duplicate links of the * links above for the sake of transparency, but this version doesn't help Cahoot over £15k, Cahoot £5k-£7,4999, M&S £5-7.5k, Moneysupermarket, Paymentcare, Ratesetter, Sainsbury's over £15k 1-3 yrs, Sainsbury's over £15k 4-5 yrs, Sainsbury's £1k-£1,999, Sainsbury's £1k-£1,999 (Nectar cardholders), Sainsbury's £7.5-14.9k 4-5 yrs, Sainsbury's £7.5-14.9k Nectar cardholders, Santander £5k-£7,4999, Tesco £1k-£1,999, The AA, Zopa

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