A personal line of credit (PLOC) is a type of loan that you can draw from as needed and pay back with interest, much like a credit card. It can be a viable option to help manage your daily cash flow, especially if you have an irregular income or are faced with an unexpected expense. While personal lines of credit are similar to personal loans, knowing the difference between the two products can help you determine which one may be right for you — and how to use this form of credit properly.
What is a personal line of credit (PLOC)?
A personal line of credit is an unsecured revolving account with a variable interest rate. PLOCs generally have lower interest rates than credit cards, so they’re typically cheaper for big cash advances.
However, because PLOCs are unsecured, they’re best for consumers with a strong credit history. This means that means a PLOC might not be the best option for everyone.
“You generally need good credit to qualify for a PLOC (say, 680-plus on the FICO scale) because this is unsecured credit,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “You’re not putting your home, car or any other collateral on the line.”
How do personal lines of credit work?
A personal line of credit operates much like a credit card, says Adam Marlowe, principal experience officer for Georgia’s Own Credit Union.
“You would go and apply for a line of credit in whatever amount you need, but you don’t walk out of the bank with a check,” Marlowe says. “You access the money as you need to use it, and your repayment is based on what you’ve used.”
Once approved for a PLOC, you have access to funds via a revolving line of credit. That money can be tapped in various ways, such as withdrawing at a local branch of the lending institution or initiating a transfer via a mobile app. Every draw will have to be repaid with interest, which is variable — meaning your interest rate will rise and fall based on market fluctuations.
It’s also important to note that most PLOCs have an expiration date, adds Marlowe.
“Generally, you’re issued a personal line of credit for a time window until an expiration date,” he says. “So, for instance, if you need a $3,000 line of credit, we’ll grant that line of credit and it’s good for two years. You have an open revolving line of credit for $3,000 for two years.”
During that time, you can keep borrowing from and repaying the line of credit, up to the line’s limit. But at the end of two years, in order to continue to maintain the line of credit, you’d have to reapply with the lending institution.
What to use personal lines of credit for
Common uses of personal lines of credit might include funding major purchases, covering expected or unexpected expenses or managing cash flow.
“Generally, you should use it for things that pop up and that are unforeseen,” says Dave Sullivan, credit expert with People Driven Credit Union. “You want to use it as a back-up, not for gas or daily expenses. If you’re using it for everyday expenses, then you’re on the road toward financial hardship.”
Emergency car repairs, tuition payments and unexpectedly high utility bills are some of the other ways you might use a personal line of credit.
“Some people who are working full time but also going to school to earn another degree will use a personal line of credit to make tuition payments,” Marlowe says. “Especially if their employer has a reimbursement program.”
How to get a personal line of credit
There are two things you’ll need if you want to get a personal line of credit: a good credit score and solid credit history.
“You want to have the best credit you can have,” Sullivan says. “If you have any revolving lines of credit, it’s best to pay those down as low as you can prior to applying, and make sure that info has been reported to the credit bureaus.”
And although a personal line of credit may have higher rates than something like a HELOC, the interest rates on PLOCs are usually much lower than those of a credit card cash advance or payday loan.
The actual application process for a PLOC is much the same as applying for any loan. Once you’ve decided on a lender, you apply for the credit limit you’re seeking — and many applications can be completed online. With many lenders that operate digitally, you can access funds in as little as one business day.
Pros and cons of personal lines of credit
A personal line of credit has several advantages when compared to other sources of fast capital, but it’s not the right choice for everyone. Consider both the benefits and drawbacks before applying.
- Quick access to funds.
- Overdraft protection on some accounts.
- Competitive rates compared to credit cards or payday loans.
- No collateral required.
- Only pay for the draws that you make.
- Higher rates than HELOCs.
- Interest isn’t tax deductible.
- Hard to qualify with poor credit and/or a limited credit history.
- Risk of overborrowing.
- Variable interest rates.
PLOC vs. personal loan
Although personal lines of credit and personal loans sound similar, they are two different types of credit.
When you receive a personal loan, you receive a lump sum that can be deposited directly into a bank account. You’ll make monthly payments on both the principal and interest, often at a fixed rate, until it’s paid off in full.
PLOCs, on the other hand, are not paid in lump sums; instead, they open up funds that can be accessed as needed. Interest is variable, meaning it is subject to change based on financial market conditions, and you only have to pay back principal and interest on the portion of the line of credit used.
“It’s the difference between borrowing $20,000 all at once (with a personal loan) and starting that interest clock immediately, versus $5,000 now and then another $5,000 in three months and $10,000 six months after that (with a PLOC),” Rossman says.
The bottom line
A personal line of credit can be a great method of borrowing, especially for people with great credit histories. It offers flexible terms and can help with cash flow or big expenses.
Before agreeing to any new borrowing, be sure to assess your needs and make sure you have room in your budget for a new monthly payment. If you’re ready to apply, shop around with a few different lenders to compare rates.
Featured image by MoMo Productions of Getty Images.