How to Pre-Qualify for a Personal Loan
January 25, 2019 | By Daniel Dewitt
There are a hundred and one reasons you might need a personal loan.
Maybe you have your eye on a juicy investment. Maybe you need to pay off a hospital bill. Maybe you think it's time you finally got that new car.
No matter the reason though, the first step to taking out a personal loan always looks the same: pre-qualifying.
What It Means to Pre-Qualify for a Personal Loan
What exactly does pre-qualifying entail though? We're glad you asked.
Pre-qualifying, to use a dating metaphor, is the flirtation before going steady.
While you may not see why you should pre-qualify for a personal loan at first glance, (why not just go immediately qualify?) pre-qualifying is essentially a way for you and the bank to make sure that's it worth the time and effort of you filling out all the paperwork and legalese of formally asking for a loan.
So, how do you make the pre-qualifying process as painless as possible? That's what we're here to answer today.
What You Need to Pre-Qualify for a Personal Loan
There's four primary steps to pre-qualifying.
The first is to pick where you'll be trying to get the loan (usually this your local bank, but you can also get personal loans from credit unions) and fill out some simple paperwork. Usually the paperwork will consist of personal information like occupation, income, debt, and credit score.
Once you hand the paperwork back to the bank, they perform what's generally referred to as a soft credit check: they look at your credit score, history, and if you have any outstanding debt at the moment.
The goal of this check is for the bank to decide what the risk factor in loaning to you will be, and whether it's worth actually moving forward.
If the bank decides it is worth moving forward, then congratulations! You are now pre-qualified by the bank, and they'll send you information about how much you can loan, at what interest rate, how fast you need to pay it back, and other terms and conditions.
From there the final step is just to decide if you want to accept the bank's offer and start with the approval process that will require inputting more information, but will also lead to you actually receiving the money you need.
Shop Around for the Best Loan
It may seem a bit complicated, but pre-qualifying for a personal loan often takes a little as a few minutes and can be done online, which means you're really denying yourself the best possible loan if you just go with the first one that pre-qualifies you. While it may be tempting to just go ahead and proceed with the first place you pre-qualify, it behooves you to be a little picky and shop around first.
How do you know which loan is best for you, though? Generally, it's the one with the lowest interest rate attached. The higher the interest rate, the more money you're going to be forking over to the bank in the long-term, so make sure it's as low as possible.
Another tip when it comes to choosing which personal loan is right for you is that you don't generally want to take out a loan for more money then you need. Banks are wary of loaning large amounts, and invariably larger loans will come with higher interest rates which, as we've covered, are bad.
That All Important Credit Score
One thing you'll realize very quickly as you go about the pre-qualification process (or getting a house or car) is that your credit score is the number that will decide all your financial fortunes to come.
Your credit score is easy enough to find (you can access yours online with the tap of a couple buttons) and is what banks use to decide whether you're a safe investment or not, as itÕs the history of all the loans you've taken in your life.
If you're interested in learning more about your credit score, we wrote a deep dive on everything you need to know about it.
Unfortunately, for a number that has such a massive impact on your life, there's very little you can actually do to change it.
If you have a less than perfect credit score, the most you can do is review your credit history, dispute hits to your score that don't belong, and slowly rehabilitate it by never missing a credit card payment, car payment, or really any type of loan payment moving forward.
The good news is that qualifying for and promptly paying off a personal loan will help your credit in the long-term, as it proves that you're a safe investment for banks to loan money and they won't just see their returns disappear.
Consider What You Need the Loan For
Now that you're familiar with the process of pre-qualifying for a personal loan, it's worth taking a minute before jumping into the deep end of actually pre-qualifying and consider exactly why you want or need one. While there are many valid uses for a personal loan, no type of lending should be entered into lightly.
After You Pre-Qualify
Most people in fact only take out personal loans when they absolutely must.
A recent CNN article explains it well:
"With consumer debt at a record high, it might be easy to assume people are overextending themselves by taking lavish vacations or even too many trips to the local coffee spot. Yet, a new study shows that the top reason people apply for personal loans is a bit more mundane, if not alarming: to cover daily living costs. About a third of applicants (34 percent) seeking one of these loans cite household expenses as the reason for needing to borrowÉ The second-most common reason given is debt consolidation (23 percent), followed by other (16 percent), moving (9.1 percent) and medical (7.8 percent)."
Ultimately, only you know your financial situation and we're by no means trying to discourage you from pre-qualifying for a personal loan if it's right for your situation, but it's always a good idea to take a step and consider your situation impartially before jumping into anything. Be wary and borrow wisely!