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Cheap Personal Loans Borrow at 4.4% for £7.5k+

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Man in a percentage signFor those who need to borrow, loans can be vicious - even the best deals have more tricks than Paul Daniels' sleeve. And a price war between loan providers means you can now borrow for as little as 4.4% a year, the lowest we've ever seen.

Borrowing should always be budgeted for, and carefully planned, so you know how you will afford the repayments. This is a step-by-step guide, with daily-updated best buys and a unique calculator to pare your costs to the bone.

Loans versus credit cards

Personal loans 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.

  • Are you trying to make existing credit card debts cheaper?

    In most cases, a loan won't be cheapest for you. 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). Though make sure you make at least similar repayments to what the loan would cost each month.

  • Do you want to borrow for under a year or less than £1,000?

    Loans over short periods or for small amounts are almost always expensive. But a variety of techniques can cut the cost. Many credit cards allow new customers to spend on them at 0% for up to the first year - read the 0% Cards guide.

    Providing you can make the purchase on a card, and will definitely pay it off before the 0% deal ends, that's the best option (read Short Term Interest-Free Loans for full details).

  • Need to borrow for a specific purchase / a lump sum? An online loan application: accepted

    Here, loans are tough to beat, not because they're particularly cheap, but as it's difficult to do it any other way. But if you're money-savvy, there's a way to replicate the facilities of a loan using a credit card, cutting the interest rate to around 7% APR. Read Cut-Price Plastic Loans.

  • Looking to try 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.
  • Can you get a loan from your 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 mean that rates have plummeted 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 over-borrowing can cause debts to spiral out of control.

Also, question everything! Can you avoid any debt? The Loan Calculator has a special 'how much can I borrow?' option to work it out for you.

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.

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. The only solutions are to apply for loans you're pretty sure of getting, or use the loans that tell you the rate you'll definitely get (like Nationwide below).

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 may still be possible to get loans over £5,000 cheaper with credit card loans, as explained above. But it's unlikely, as the more you borrow the less likely you are to get a credit limit that will allow it. If you've a decent credit score, it's worth checking. See Cheap Credit Card Loans.

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. If there's a huge rate cut for borrowing, say, £5,000 instead of just £4,900, it could work out cheaper to borrow MORE.

Take this quick example. If you need to borrow £4,800, and the best rate you can get is 12.6% rep APR, over three years you'll repay £5,790. Borrow MORE in the first place, £5,000 - at a best buy 6.3% rep APR, and in total you'll repay just £5,500, cutting the interest you pay.

Taking the example even further - if it's interest you're looking to minimise, and you're very financially savvy, then over three years, the Sainsbury's (min £5k) loan's cheapest above £2,030 (because there's no value between £3k and 5k for which you'll pay less interest). But to really win, use the 'extra borrowing' to make 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 comparisons 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? The industry's currently unregulated, but FCA regulation will start in 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 me be blunt. The credit crunch mean that lenders tightened their criteria, meaning it's now much more difficult than it used to be to find a bank or other lender willing to lend to you.

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 a credit estimating loan comparison service.

    Price comparison site MoneySupermarket 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 include life insurance for the loan as standard. Traditionally a union only lent to people that also held savings with it, but the larger ones can 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 £10k and offer a rate of around 13% APR, but never more than 27%.

    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.

The Loan Calculator

Below is a unique calculator designed 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.

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?

Answering your questions

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Duplicate links of the * links above for the sake of transparency, but this version doesn't help AA, Barclays over £15k, Clydesdale Bank over £15k, Clydesdale Bank £1-2.9k, Clydesdale Bank £3-4.9k, Clydesdale Bank £5-7.4k, Clydesdale Bank £7.5-14.9k, Derbyshire £7.5-14.9k, Hitachi £5-7.4k, M&S £5-7.5k, Moneysupermarket, Nationwide over £15k, Nationwide £7.5-14.9k, Nationwide £7.5-14.9k, Paymentcare, Ratesetter, Sainsbury's over £15k 1-3 yrs, Sainsbury's over £15k 4-5 yrs, Sainsbury's £5-7.5k 1-3 yrs, Sainsbury's £5-7.5k 4-5 yrs, Sainsbury's £7.5-14.9k 1-3 yrs, Sainsbury's £7.5-14.9k 4-5 yrs, Tesco over £15k+, Zopa

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