Couple at home applying for personal loan

Cheap Personal Loans

Borrow at 2.8% for £7.5k+

Coronavirus financial worries have caused some lenders to pause new loan applications and almost all have tightened acceptance criteria. Yet there are still low rates available, so if you NEED to borrow, our guide has full info on what to watch out for and a list of best buys. Plus, our Loans Eligibility Calculator helps you find which lenders are most likely to accept you.

Who's this guide for? This guide is for anyone considering taking out a loan.

Not what you want? Other related guides... 
Cut existing loan costs | Balance transfer credit cards | Debt help


What is a personal loan?

Personal loans, also known as unsecured loans, are where you borrow a sum of money from a lender, and agree to pay it back over a set time period in fixed monthly repayments.

The lender will charge you interest as its fee to lend money to you, so you repay the amount you borrowed plus interest. The advantage is you get cash upfront, but can spread the cost of a purchase over several months or years.

This guide details the cheapest personal loans, but also addresses whether other finance options, like credit cards, might be cheaper for you. Plus, we've our clever Loans Eligibility Calculator, which can tell you which lenders are likely to accept you before you apply.

The eight need-to-knows

  • 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.

    And beware – while borrowing over a longer period spreads the debt 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 you'll pay a massive £3,900 in interest.

  • Before jumping straight into a loan, first consider if you could get a credit card for a smaller amount. The most important factor here, however, is your credit limit. Unless you've a large income and a good credit score, credit cards won't usually give you more than £3,000-£5,000. So if what you need to buy's more expensive than this, you're probably better off looking for a £5,000+ loan.

    But if you can buy whatever it is for £5,000 or less, you have several other options. See if any of these scenarios fit you...

    • I can use a credit card and can clear it in 20 months. You can get up to 20 months at 0% interest on purchases on a credit card – only useful if you can budget to pay off your debt in that time, or you're super-organised and can 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. 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 a specialist money transfer card. These work by transferring cash from the new card to your bank account, so instead you owe the card (though there is a fee). Once there, you can spend it as you would a loan.

      The longest deal at the moment is a card which gives you a 0% period of up to 18 months (with a 2.99% to 3.49% fee). If you can pay the debt off in that time, or balance-transfer it once the 0% is over, this could be a good replacement for a loan.

    • I'm trying to make existing card 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. See our Best Balance Transfers guide for the current best buys.

    With all these techniques, make sure you recreate the rigidity of paying off a loan. Work out how much you need to pay off each month to clear the card within the 0% period, then set up a direct debit for that amount each month. This way you're not tempted to skip months and end up owing debt at the end of the 0% (unless you're happy to keep rolling the debt on to new balance transfer cards each time).

  • Usually, the only way to know if you'll be accepted is to apply, but each application marks your credit report for up to a year. This could make it harder for you to get credit in future. To help you minimise applications, our Loans Eligibility Calculator quickly shows your odds of getting almost every top loan listed below (plus many more) so you can find the ones most likely to accept you before applying.

    How does the eligibility calculator work?

    It uses a 'soft search', which is one you'll see on your credit report but lenders usually don't (and where they do they can't use the info), to give us an indication of your creditworthiness. We then match this against lenders' criteria for acceptance so we can show you the odds of getting each loan.

    Knowing where you're more likely to be accepted, you'll be able to make a smarter application. Rejection's therefore much less likely, minimising the need to apply elsewhere, which would add another mark on your credit report.

    Or join our Credit Club for a full credit health check

    The MSE Credit Club shows your free Experian Credit Report and Credit Score, your Affordability Score, which helps you work out how much you can afford to borrow and is broken out for loans in particular, your Credit Hit Rate – which shows your chances of success, as a percentage, of grabbing top cards and loans – and much more.

  • The ideal loan customer for a lender is someone with a good credit history (a proven track record of paying credit back on time) and a high level of disposable income.

    Yet your credit history and your income are doing two different jobs in the lender's scorecard. We break it down here...

    • Credit history. Your credit record counts towards whether the lender will be willing to lend to you in the first place. But crucially it also contributes to the rate it's likely to offer you. A good credit record will make it more likely you'll get the advertised rate; if your credit history's poorer, it's likely you'll still get the loan, but you'll be repriced to a higher rate, as you're a bigger risk for the lender.

    • Income. Your disposable income dictates how much a lender will be willing to lend. This is worked out based on your income, minus rent or mortgage payments (and other outgoings that the lender estimates 'someone like you' would have, based on where you live and your number of dependants). And while you may have a perfect credit record, if your disposable income's not high enough (or not estimated to be high enough), you won't get the loan.

    Our Loans Eligibility Calculator and Credit Club mimic these criteria when they're working out your loan chances. Credit Club also drills in to your affordability for loans and gives you a score ranging from 'poor' to 'very good' based on this.

  • There's a catch to watch out for. Some loan firms give those with lesser credit histories a higher APR than the one they advertise. You could, say, apply for a 3.2% loan, be accepted, but be given a 6.9% APR. This is because advertised loan APRs are 'representative' – meaning only 51% of successful applicants have to get them. So up to 49% may end up with a more expensive loan than they applied for (if they get accepted at all).

    Some providers in our eligibility calculator will show the rate you're likely to get, though not all. We're working to get more that will though until then, sadly the only real way to find out whether you'll get the advertised rate is to apply.

  • While generally you should try to minimise borrowing, a peculiar quirk means with loans sometimes you pay less by getting a slightly bigger loan. This happens because rates decrease at set thresholds.

    For example, if you wanted to borrow £4,900 over 5yrs, the cheapest loan is 8.2%, so in total you repay £5,990. Yet borrow £5,000 and as the rate drops to 3.2%, the total repayment is £5,417 – that's £573 LESS repaid even though you borrowed £100 more.

    So if you're borrowing close to a threshold (£2,000, £3,000, £5,000 or £7,500) use our Loan Cost Calc to see if you're better off borrowing a tad more (assuming you're accepted for the advertised rate). You could even use the 'extra' cash towards your first loan repayment(s).

  • Loan providers must allow you to pay off your loan in full. This is sometimes subject to a penalty which is usually between one and two months' interest. Check your individual agreement to see what your lender will charge you.

    If your loan was taken out on or after 1 February 2011, you can make partial overpayments on your loan. If your extra repayments total under £8,000 in a year, banks are not allowed to charge you a fee for making an overpayment. But if your overpayments total over £8,000 in a year then the bank is allowed to charge you so long as it has incurred a cost itself from you paying back the loan early.

  • We know a lot of you look for these loans that are for people with poorer credit histories, but they are hugely expensive and people can find themselves stuck in a high-cost debt spiral.

    It's best you see if you can get a standard loan first by checking our Loans Eligibility Calculator, as you never know. Just enter your details and it'll show you which standard loans you're most likely to get – if any – without damaging your credit score. Some other eligibility checkers also include loans with eye-watering interest rates, so you could end up with a sub-prime loan without realising.

    But remember, if you can only get a sub-prime loan, ask yourself, can you really afford it and do you really need it? If in doubt, don't get one. If you're struggling with debt, see our Debt Help guide. Plus also see how to Boost your credit score.

Best-buy personal loans

Not sure how much you can afford to borrow? Find out with our unique Personal Loan Calculator. Simply plug in the best-buy rates below and how much you can comfortably afford each month. It can also tell you how much a loan would cost you. 


If you're looking for a loan, check out the best-buy rates below. We list loans by 'bands' as the rate you could get differs depending on how much you want to borrow. 

Coronavirus help if you're struggling to repay an existing loan

If you're struggling to pay an existing loan due to coronavirus, lenders should provide support. What's available depends on whether you've already had help:

For the latest updates and full information on the support available, see our Coronavirus Finance & Bills Help guide.

Personal Loans Q&A

  • They sound funky and different. But for borrowers, getting a peer-to-peer loan is pretty similar to a bank loan. Loans from the two biggies, Zopa* and Ratesetter, tend to be especially competitive if you have a reasonable credit score.

    Peer-to-peer lenders match 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.

    • They tend to be cheap at all borrowing levels. While rates depend on how good a risk you are, Zopa often appears in our best-buy tables, though its cheap rates do fluctuate. 

    • Initial applications don't hit your credit score. With normal loans, often the only way to find out the rate you'll get is to apply – which leaves a mark on your credit report. Peer-to-peer lenders 'soft search' your credit history – which lenders won't see on your credit report in future. 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 report and your repayment history will be recorded.

    • They have flexible repayments. To be fair, this is now a feature of a lot of personal loans. In basic terms, it means you can repay early in part or in full without penalty (though you will still have a monthly direct debit repayment for the loan).

    • It's as safe as borrowing a standard loan. Peer-to-peer sites are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, just like standard lenders. However, regulation's more to protect savers (the peer-to-peer lenders). However, all major sites have their own safeguards in place to make sure you pay the money back - see below for more.

  • In short, you’d expect to continue paying as normal, though you’d likely notice a change in service as an administrator would take over. 

    All peer-to-peer firms need to have plans in place for an 'orderly wind-down' of the business, in the event it went bust, including how it would collect outstanding loans. For example, Zopa’s contingency plan names a third party, which would continue running the business until existing loans were paid back. 

    Even if it were to sell on your loan (ie, to a collection agency), your original agreement would still stand, so you’d keep your agreed interest rate and term, provided you keep up with your payments. There is a chance it could demand repayment in full, though this clause is usually reserved if you miss multiple payments, and as a last resort.  

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

    Recently several credit unions have got together to offer an online portal for their loans. My Community Finance will take some details on you and the loan you want and then find if there's a credit union you're eligible for, and your loan will be processed through that credit union. 

    You can borrow between £1,500 and £25,000 for between one and five years. The representative APR is 23.9%, but credit union loan rates are capped, and the maximum you can be charged on a loan is 42.6% APR (equivalent to 3% a month).

    For full details on how they work and how to find out if there's one near you, read our Credit Unions guide.

  • Some employers offer loans to employees, usually for buying travel season tickets so they can get to and from work. Usually these are limited to £10,000 (though your employer can choose how much it wants to offer). You pay it back over the year from your salary, usually in 10 or 12 instalments.

    They're not always for travel costs, so see if your employer provides these loans and if it's flexible on the purpose – at 0% interest, these will be the cheapest loans you can get.

  • Before you shell out on any policy, make sure it's right for you and that you need the protection it offers. Income protection/ payment protection insurance (PPI) covers you if you're unable to work and pays a cash sum each month for up to two years - which you can then use to keep up with your loan payments. You'll often have to wait up to 180 days to claim it though, plus policies are usually capped around 70% of your normal income. There are three types of cover you can choose from: 

    1. Unemployment-only will cover you if you're made redundant, though you'll need to be registered with the Government as unemployed and actively seeking work to claim (it will stop paying once you've found new employment).
    2. Accident and sickness will protect you against accidents and long-term illness, when certified by a doctor. 
    3. Accident, sickness and unemployment will protect you against all of the above.

    You don't have to take out a policy, so you'll need to decide whether the cost is worth it. If you've got savings that would cover repayments or relatives and friends that would help you out, then you may not need it. Equally, if you're not working, you'd only want to get accident and sickness, not unemployment cover. 

    You can't get cover for something that has already happened or if you're self employed

    If there's a "foreseeability of redundancy" - for example you've been told your job is under consultation - or you've taken voluntary redundancy, it's likely you can't claim. This may also be the case if you know some jobs in your company may be lost, or even if your employer is known to be in financial trouble. Your insurer will also want to know about your medical history, so make sure you tell it about any pre-existing conditions. If you don't, your policy could be invalid.

    Many policies also exclude the self-employed, or place them under massive restrictions. For example, you may be covered for accident and sickness, but you won't be if you run out of work.

    Use comparison sites to get quotes and find the right cover

    Once you've decided what cover you'll need then combine quotes from Compare the Market, Active Quote  and iProtect to scan the market. Once you've found the cheapest quotes, double-check details on the insurance provider's own website (as some comparison sites make a few assumptions) and examine the policy's coverage, making sure you understand any exclusions. 

  • This is one of the most common question about loans. You should never aim just to consolidate – it's often a disaster waiting to happen. If you've a lot of small loans or credit card debts, the primary aim should be to pay them as quickly as you can at the lowest possible rate.

    Don't be suckered in by the promise that a consolidation loan can save you money by reducing your outgoings to a "manageable" level using just "one single monthly payment".

    They can – but the way they do this is by stretching your borrowing over a longer period, maybe 15, 20 or even 25 years. That means the amount you pay back is going to be huge, as you're paying interest for much longer.

    A £10,000 loan on a high street credit card at a horrid 18% APR costs £5,240 in interest if paid off within five years. Many think shifting it to a consolidation loan at 9% APR would be cheaper – but as it's spread over 25 years, the actual interest cost is £15,200, nearly three times more.

    Worse still, many consolidation loans are actually secured loans and thus you pay more, for longer, and are risking your home. The key aim is to cut the interest costs of your debt, whether that's on one loan or 22 of them, and pay it off as quickly as possible.

  • Most high street personal loans are 'un-secured'. Annoyingly, that sounds like a bad thing, but it isn't. The alternative, and the kind you more often see advertised on TV as consolidation loans, are 'secured loans'. These can be risky for the following reasons:

    • Your home could be taken away

      A secured loan literally means the debt is secured on your home (or something else you own), meaning if you can't repay, the lender can repossess your home. With unsecured loans, it's much, much less likely this will happen.

    • Personal loan rates are fixed, secured are sometimes variable

      Almost every unsecured personal loan is at a fixed rate. You know exactly what you'll pay from the start, and it won't change if the UK's interest rates do, or on a lender's whim.

      Yet secured loans sometimes have variable rates, meaning lenders can up your payments when they like.

    • Secured loan repayments are stretched over many years

      Secured lenders often promise "one easy low monthly repayment". While it may sound good, it's done to stretch the debt over many years, so you pay more and more and more interest, costing you a fortune.

    As this is so important, here it is writ large…

    Secured loans give the lender security, not you. It's far, far, better to take a normal unsecured personal loan than one secured on your home.

    Secured loans are rarely a good move, and should be considered lending of last resort. They're only applicable in very limited circumstances. Those with reasonable credit scores should consider a personal loan, cheap credit card deals or even extending their mortgage instead.

    Those with a poor credit history looking at secured loans as a way out should read the Guide To Problem Debts guide as an alternative.

  • Put simply, a homeowner loan is when a company requires you to own or have a mortgage on your home before it'll lend. These are usually, but not always, secured loans, where if you can't repay, it can take your home. 

    However, some unsecured personal loan companies do require customers to be homeowners, because those who do own homes are less likely to go bankrupt or default as the risk for them is bigger.

  • Before going for commercial debt, it's worth seeing if there are any Government loans available to you. There are two types you might be eligible for:

    Local help: Since April 2013, each local authority has been responsible for providing help to residents struggling with an emergency. This can include you or your family's health being at risk, not being able to afford to buy food, needing help to stay in your own home and coming out of care, hospital or prison.

    Sadly, this is a postcode lottery. Each council can choose whether to offer financial help or not, and councils can decide who is eligible. Some may give furniture or food grants, others may give cash.

    National help: The next type are budgeting loans and advances. These are only for those receiving benefits and with no or low savings. They allow for a wide range of borrowing, to pay for items including school uniform or furnishings.

    For more information, read our Debt Help guide.

  • Once you've applied for the loan, it's already on your credit report. So assuming you applied for the cheapest loan for you, there's no point in not accepting that cash because it's not the amount you need. 

    You may be able to apply for another loan elsewhere to fill the gap, though the new lender will take your loan into account when deciding, and may decide that you can't afford the extra borrowing.

    Have a look whether any of the credit card solutions above could work for you.

  • Almost every personal loan is at a fixed rate, so the rate and repayments you are given at the outset are fixed over the life of the loan, regardless of what happens to the base rate, the Bank of England's official borrowing rate, which influences what savers earn and borrowers pay. Thus there's no impact whatsoever, whether rates rise or fall. 

    The two base rate changes in 2017 and 2018 didn’t affect loan rates. This is because these rates tend to be based more on competition than on external economic pressures (provided all lenders are still able to make a profit).

  • This depends on the lender. If it's an online application, which you can sign digitally, you could have the cash within a couple of hours. 

    If you need to wait for the lender to send documents in the post, it could take up to a week.

  • They can be – especially if you can get a 0% deal (though this is more likely if you've a decent deposit). But if you can't, check that the interest rate is an annual percentage rate (APR). Car dealerships sometimes quote a 'flat interest rate' rather than the APR. If it doesn't say APR, check. 

    Flat rate loans make expensive loans look cheap. Double the flat rate to get a rough APR, eg, a 6% flat rate is around 12% APR. The easy way round this is to always ask "what is the total amount I will repay including all charges?" and compare like this.

    Our Car Finance section has much more help on the different types of car finance and what to look out for.

Want to complain about your loan provider?

If your loan provider has charged you the wrong amount, taken the wrong amount in payment, or its service has been atrocious, then you don't have to suffer in silence. It's always worth trying to call your lender first to see if it can help, but if it can't (or won't), or it doesn't get back to you...

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