You’ve tried getting a personal loan but haven’t had much luck. If a low credit score is to blame, you may be able to find an online lender that offers bad credit loans to credit-challenged consumers. But you can expect steep interest rates, fees and other drawbacks worth considering when resorting to this form of financing to get the cash you need.

What is a bad credit score?

FICO scores are used by most lenders and creditors to make lending decisions. They range from 300 to 850 – the higher, the better – and are categorized as follows:

  • 350 to 580: Poor
  • 580 to 669: Fair
  • 670 to 739: Good
  • 740 to 799: Very Good
  • 800 to 850: Exceptional

Regarding personal loans, a bad credit score is any score that ranges from 350 to 669.

Risks of having a bad credit loan

Bad credit loans are easily accessible to credit-challenged borrowers. Still, they come with their fair share of risks.

Higher interest rates

Lenders evaluate your credit score to determine the likelihood of default on a personal loan. Consequently, a lower credit score generally means higher borrowing costs to help minimize risk.

The average interest rate for borrowers with bad credit (300 to 629) is between 28.5 percent and 32 percent. But if you have good credit (690 to 719), the average rates drop between 13.5 percent and 15.5 percent.

Calls from creditors

If you take out a bad credit loan and the monthly payment stretches your budget too thin, you’re more likely to fall behind on the loan payments. And if the loan becomes 30 or more days past due, the lender may report the delinquency to the credit bureaus.

Unfortunately, adverse credit reporting isn’t the only negative result of falling behind on loan payments. The lender’s collection department may frequently call to try and collect what’s owed. Or the creditor may sell the account to a debt collector who will attempt to recoup the outstanding balance through frequent letters and phone calls.

May need a co-signer

A co-signer may be your only option to get approved if you’ve applied with several online lenders but haven’t had much luck. This individual could be a friend or relative with good or excellent credit and a steady source of income.

They will sign on the dotted line with you to guarantee or assume joint responsibility for the loan. So, if you encounter financial hardship and cannot make payments, the loan becomes the co-signer’s responsibility.

How to improve your credit score

Instead of settling for a bad credit loan with high borrowing costs, consider improving your credit score before applying. That way, you’ll have a better chance of qualifying for a personal loan with attractive terms in the future.

Before diving into strategies you can use to raise your credit score, you should understand how it’s computed:

  • Payment history: 35 percent
  • Amounts owed: 30 percent
  • Length of credit history: 15 percent
  • Credit mix: 10 percent
  • New credit: 10 percent

To move beyond the subprime category and potentially qualify for lower interest rates, aim for a credit score of 670 or higher. But a score of at least 740 is ideal to qualify for the best rates.

Once you’re familiar with the FICO credit scoring model, here are some tips to help improve your credit rating:

  • Pay your bills on time. Payment history accounts for 35 percent of your credit score, so making timely payments on your debt obligations is vital. But if any of your accounts reach 30 or more days past due, a late payment could be reported and significantly tank your credit score.
  • Reduce your credit utilization rate. This percentage is computed by dividing the total outstanding balances on your revolving accounts (or credit cards) by the credit limits. Ideally, your credit utilization rate should not exceed 30 percent. So, if you have three credit cards with $1,000 limits, try to keep the total amount you owe at or below $900.
  • Keep old credit accounts open. Credit age is another significant component of your credit score. If possible, keep old credit accounts in good standing open to preserve your credit age.
  • Only apply for new credit as needed. A secured credit card or credit builder loan can help improve your credit rating if managed responsibly. Otherwise, you should refrain from opening new credit accounts as they create hard inquiries that impact your credit score. A few credit inquiries likely won’t do much damage, but several in a short period is a red flag for potential lenders and creditors. Furthermore, each time you open a new account, the average age of your accounts decreases.

Bottom line

Bad credit loans are a convenient way to get fast cash, but they aren’t without risks. Evaluate the downsides before applying to determine if this loan product is best for your financial situation. If you don’t need the funds immediately, improving your credit score could help you get better terms and save a bundle in interest and fees when you apply for funding in the future.