Understanding Personal Loan Term Options

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ByChristopher Boston
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Reviewed byAlvin Yam, CFP
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Updated: February 28, 2024

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Personal loans offer a flexible financial solution for various needs, ranging from consolidating high-interest debt to financing major purchases. These loans are popular due to their streamlined application process and quick access to funds. Plus, they're tailored to fit individual financial situations, making them a go-to option for many seeking immediate financial assistance.

When shopping for a personal loan, pay attention to the loan terms aside from the interest rate. This is the period over which you'll repay the loan, and it typically ranges from one to seven years, depending on the lender. Choosing the right loan term is beneficial as it influences your monthly payment amount and the total interest cost. A well-selected loan term aligns with your needs and situation, ensuring that repayments are manageable while reducing overall costs.

Short-Term Personal Loans

Short-term personal loans are a financial tool designed for prompt repayment, typically within a period of two years or less. They cater to immediate financial needs, offering a quicker payoff schedule compared to their longer-term counterparts. The brief duration of these loans makes them an ideal choice for individuals who require financial support for short-term objectives or emergencies.

Short-term personal loans are ideal for emergency expenses, such as unexpected medical bills or urgent home repairs. In these scenarios, the quick access to funds provided by a short-term loan can be crucial in addressing immediate needs without the long-term commitment of a lengthier loan. Additionally, short-term personal loans can support individuals in bridging temporary cash flow gaps while waiting for a bonus or other expected income.

Pros and Cons of Short-Term Personal Loans

Short-term personal loans offer unique benefits and drawbacks, each impacting your financial health differently. Evaluating these factors helps you determine whether a short-term personal loan aligns with your current financial situation and goals.


Long-Term Personal Loans

Long-term personal loans are designed for extended repayment periods, typically ranging from three to seven years and, in some cases, even longer. These loans are suited for borrowers who require a more prolonged period to spread out their loan repayments.

One significant use of long-term personal loans is for substantial home renovation projects. Such projects often involve considerable expenses, and the extended repayment term allows borrowers to manage these costs without overwhelming their monthly budget. This extended duration reduces the monthly payment amount, making large-scale renovations more financially accessible.

Long-term personal loans are also beneficial for funding major life events, such as weddings or dream vacations. These milestones often come with high costs, and the longer repayment terms provide a practical solution for covering these expenses without the immediate financial burden.

Pros and Cons of Long-Term Personal Loans

Long-term personal loans come with distinct advantages and drawbacks, affecting long-term financial planning and day-to-day budgeting. Understanding these aspects is key to determining if a long-term personal loan is the right fit for your financial needs and goals.


How to Choose the Right Personal Loan Term

Choosing the right personal loan term is a decision that hinges significantly on your individual budget and personal circumstances. It requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure the loan aligns with your long-term financial health. Below are some strategies that can guide you in selecting the most suitable loan term:


Consider Your Current and Future Budget

Look at your income, expenses and existing debts to determine how much you can comfortably repay each month. Additionally, consider potential changes in your financial situation. Could upcoming expenses, like education or health care costs, affect your budget? Or a large purchase you're eyeing in the future? A term that seems manageable now should also be sustainable later.


Determine the Loan's Purpose

The purpose of the loan significantly influences the ideal term length. A shorter term might be more appropriate for immediate, short-term needs like emergency expenses. Conversely, a longer term could be better for substantial investments like home renovations, spreading out the payments to make them more manageable. Aligning the loan's purpose with its term helps ensure the financial commitment doesn't become burdensome.


Review the Monthly Payments

Once you have an idea of the loan amount, use a personal loan calculator to estimate monthly payments for different term lengths. A longer term usually means lower monthly payments but could lead to an increase in overall interest. Ensure the monthly payments fit comfortably into your budget without compromising other financial goals or necessities.


Estimate the Total Interest Costs

As of November 2023, the average interest rate is 12.35% for a 24-month personal loan, according to the Federal Reserve. Weigh the trade-off between affordable monthly payments and the overall cost of the loan to find a balance that suits your financial situation.

By carefully evaluating these aspects, you can choose a personal loan term that best suits your financial needs and goals, ensuring you can comfortably meet your obligations without overextending yourself financially.


Make extra payments to save on the interest on your personal loan. Any excess amount applied directly to the loan's principal balance will reduce how much you owe and reduce accumulating interest charges over the life of your loan. Even small monthly overpayments of $25–50 can make a difference. Be sure to understand if any loan prepayment penalties and restrictions apply to overpayments. — Alvin Yam, CFP®

How to Get a Personal Loan

Understanding the application process for personal loans helps you navigate the journey from considering a loan to successfully securing one. We've highlighted the fundamental steps to take below:


Check Your Credit Score

Your credit score is crucial in determining your personal loan eligibility. It influences not just the approval but also the terms of the loan, such as the interest rate. Before applying, check your credit score to understand where you stand. A high score can lead to more favorable loan terms, while a lower score might require improving your score or adjusting your expectations. Generally, rates are often lower for borrowers with credit scores above 720.


Evaluate Your Financial Situation

Assess your financial health, including income, expenses and existing debts. This step will help determine how much you can afford to borrow and repay. It helps in avoiding overborrowing, which can lead to financial strain. A realistic assessment ensures that the loan serves its purpose without becoming a financial burden.


Compare Lenders and Loan Options

Not all lenders offer the same terms, so it's worthwhile to shop around and compare different loan options, including interest rates, fees and repayment terms. Careful comparison can save money and help you find more favorable loan terms.


Gather Necessary Documentation

Personal loan applications typically require documentation such as proof of income, employment verification and identification. Preparing these documents beforehand helps expedite the application process. Complete and accurate documentation is key to a smooth approval process and demonstrates your reliability as a borrower.


Submit the Loan Application

Once you have chosen a lender and prepared your documents, submit your loan application. An accurately filled application is critical for approval. After submission, stay in contact with the lender for any additional information or steps required, as prompt responses can speed up the approval process.


Wait for Approval and Review the Offer

After submitting your application, the next step is to wait for the lender's decision. This period can vary depending on the lender and the complexity of your application. Once approved, you will receive a loan offer. Pay attention to the interest rate, repayment term, monthly payment and any fees or penalties. Understanding these details ensures that you are fully aware of your obligations and the cost of the loan.


Accept the Loan and Understand the Repayment Schedule

If you accept the loan offer, the final step is to formally agree to the terms and conditions set by the lender. This typically involves signing a loan agreement. After completing this step, you will receive the loan funds. Familiarize yourself with the repayment schedule — the amount you need to pay each month and the due date. Setting up automatic payments or reminders can help ensure you make your payments on time, which enables you to maintain a good credit score and avoid additional fees.

Preparing with this knowledge not only streamlines the application process but also enhances your chances of approval on your personal loan.

FAQ About Personal Loan Terms

It's common to have questions when navigating the various options and considerations of personal loan terms. MoneyGeek addressed some frequently asked questions to provide valuable insight.

Yes, typically, a longer loan term means you will pay more in total interest over the life of the loan. This is because the interest accrues over a longer period.

Generally, a longer loan term results in lower monthly payments, as the loan amount is spread out over more months. However, this also means you might pay more in total interest. Conversely, a shorter term leads to higher monthly payments but usually less total interest paid.

For example, a $10,000 loan at 10% APR would have monthly payments of $857 for a 12-month term versus $452 for 24 months. However, the total interest you have to repay would be $857 versus $1,758, respectively.

The available loan terms depend on the lender and the type of loan. Most lenders offer a range of terms, typically from one to seven years, allowing you to choose based on your repayment capacity and financial situation.

This depends on the lender. Some lenders charge prepayment penalties if you pay off your loan early, while others do not. Be sure to check with the lender before applying for a loan.

Not necessarily. While a shorter term can save on interest costs, it also means higher monthly payments. Keep in mind that you need to balance the lower total interest with what you can afford to pay each month.


About Christopher Boston

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Christopher (Croix) Boston was the Head of Loans content at MoneyGeek, with over five years of experience researching higher education, mortgage and personal loans.

Boston has a bachelor's degree from the Seattle Pacific University. They pride themselves in using their skills and experience to create quality content that helps people save and spend efficiently.

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