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What are unconventional personal loans?

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If you tried to borrow money at a reasonable interest rate from a traditional lender but were denied because of limited credit, income or employment history, the latest generation of personal loan lenders might be able to help. These so-called “unconventional personal loans” could be your best shot at getting a good interest rate and unique perks.

What is an unconventional personal loan?

Like a traditional personal loan, an unconventional personal loan lets you borrow a fixed amount of money from a lender. You’ll need to repay the loan, plus interest charges that accrue, within an agreed-upon time frame. The borrowed funds can be used toward upcoming purchases, like a car repair or medical bills.

Unconventional personal loans, however, differ in two key ways: The money is borrowed from nontraditional lenders, such as marketplace lenders, that focus on unconventional factors to evaluate the loan applicant. Consequently, you could get approved for funding even if you wouldn’t qualify at a traditional bank.

How do personal loan approvals usually work?

The lender typically runs a “soft pull” on your credit and analyzes the information in your application, including debt-to-income ratio (DTI), to determine if you qualify for a loan. The lender will also share the APR and loan terms it can offer if you qualify for funding.

If you choose to move forward with the application, lenders conduct a “hard pull” on your credit history and might ask you for additional documentation to make a final decision.

Unconventional personal loan lenders also evaluate your creditworthiness and DTI, but they may weigh those factors differently. They may also approve you based on things like your career or college degree.

Unique personal loan lenders

Avant, LendingPoint and Upstart are examples of online lenders that offer personal loans for borrowers without strong credit. Be mindful that each has its own eligibility requirements and underwriting criteria. Here are a few key details about their unconventional personal loan options.

Lender Minimum credit score
APR Term Maximum loan amount
Avant 580 FICO and 550 Vantage 9.95%–35.99% 2 to 5 years $35,000
LendingPoint 590 7.99%–35.99% 2 to 5 years $36,500
Upstart No minimum credit score requirement 5.40%–35.99% 3 or 5 years $50,000

If you seem like a “future prime” borrower, you have a good shot at getting one of these lenders’ unsecured personal loans. To find the best rates on personal loans, make sure to shop around.

Avant

Avant offers unsecured loans ranging from $2,000 to $35,000, and you can choose a term as short as 24 months to save a bundle on interest. Loan proceeds are generally dispersed as soon as the next business day following the approval, and you can easily manage your loan through the user-friendly mobile app. Even better, there is no prepayment penalty should you choose to pay the loan off early.

There is a downside to consider –the lender charges an administration fee of up to 4.75 percent, which you should calculate into your budget before accepting a loan offer.

You can also get a secured personal loan through Avant. Loan amounts are between $5,000 and $35,000, and you’ll need a form of collateral, like your car to get approved. Because this loan option is secured with collateral, the administration fee is only 2.5 percent. You might qualify for a lower APR with collateral than you would with an unsecured loan.

LendingPoint

LendingPoint specifically caters to borrowers who are considered “near-prime.” The lender leverages technology that looks beyond credit scores to evaluate personal loan applicants and tailor the most ideal loan solutions.

Loan amounts range from $2,000 to $36,500, and there are no prepayment penalties if you choose to repay your debt sooner. Depending on where you live, you may incur an origination fee of up to 6 percent.

Upstart

Upstart lends sums from $1,000 to $50,000 and offers “fair and fast personal loans.” In fact, it boasts rates that are 10 percent lower than what you’ll find with traditional lenders.

It’s also a great lender to build credit with as it considers more than your score for approval. Upstart also considers your education, area of study and job history when evaluating your application. If you aren’t working yet but have a job offer, this lender might still consider you.

Upstart specializes in quick funding; it claims that 99 percent of its personal loans are disbursed just one day after approval.

Benefits of an unconventional personal loan

Some online lenders let borrowers get personal loans at reasonable rates with no collateral when they can’t get approved by a bank. These companies keep rates low through their online-only presence and thorough underwriting processes that weed out fraud and risky borrowers.

Another benefit is transparent pricing, with fixed interest rates and no hidden fees. For example, LendingPoint clearly states that it charges an origination fee of 0 percent to 6 percent of the amount borrowed, depending on your state.

Lenders that fund unconventional personal loans target borrowers with a thin credit file, which removes a typical obstacle to getting approved. Getting approved for an unconventional personal loan can also help build your credit score and history because these lenders report your loan activity to the credit bureaus they work with. These regular updates to the credit bureaus let you build your credit history and payment history. Some lenders report to all three major bureaus, while some report to one or two.

Drawbacks of an unconventional personal loan

Although you may be more likely to be approved for an unconventional personal loan with one of these lenders, your APR might be higher than if you had worked on improving your credit before applying for any loan.

What’s more, the type of borrowers that traditional banks typically reject might not qualify for the best rates that online lenders advertise. For example, although the minimum APR offered by LendingPoint is 7.99 percent, your loan APR is based on your specific credit, income and DTI situation — meaning you’re not guaranteed the lowest APR. You could pay as high as 35.99 percent APR.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is that many unconventional personal loan lenders operate entirely online, meaning you’ll have to conduct all business through email or over the phone. Some people prefer to get help in person, and having a relationship with a local bank may also improve your chance of qualifying for a good interest rate.

Credit score requirements

Even though some online lenders target borrowers who might not qualify with traditional lenders, unconventional lenders still have credit requirements you’ll have to meet.

For unconventional personal loans, you’ll likely need at least a “fair” credit score to get approved for a competitive rate and terms in this category. A FICO score of 580 to 669 is considered “fair.”

Some lenders might consider applicants new to borrowing (i.e., those who don’t have a credit score) on a case-by-case basis. Unconventional factors, like your areas of study at college or work history, might help you get approved, but traditional ones — like a credit score — still matter.

Alternatives to a personal loan

A personal loan isn’t the only way to get access to cash. If you have fair credit, you might also:

  • Apply with a co-signer. Leverage the creditworthiness of a co-signer who has a strong score and regular income. When a co-signer agrees to be liable for payments if you default, it presents a lower risk for lenders to loan you money.
  • Get a secured credit card. A secured card requires you to provide a cash deposit that you’ll use as your available credit on your credit card. This is a helpful way to build credit while having the convenience of a cashless payment method. This alternative is less useful, however, if you are looking for a fresh loan above the amount of money you can put down on a secured credit card.
  • Become an authorized user. If you simply need access to credit and aren’t ready to sign up for a card on your own, you can ask to be an authorized user on someone else’s card account. Some creditors report credit data of authorized users to credit bureaus.
  • Use your home’s equity. Homeowners can borrow against their home’s equity through a home equity loan. Home equity is the market value of your home minus what you owe on it. It offers a fixed loan amount at a fixed interest rate. However, make sure you can repay the loan; otherwise, the bank can foreclose on your property.
  • Raise your credit score. If your need for a personal loan isn’t urgent, one way to get competitive loan terms is to improve your credit score. Build your FICO score to at least 670 — which is what FICO considers “good” — to broaden your personal loan options.

Bottom line

An unconventional loan could be a viable option if you can’t secure the funding you need through a traditional bank or credit union. It’s possible to get approved for a loan with competitive terms, and you may not need collateral.

Still, there are drawbacks that come with these loan products to consider. Depending on your financial situation, you may find that it’s more sensible to seek other alternatives if you need fast cash.

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Written by
Jennifer Calonia
Contributing writer
Jennifer Calonia is an L.A.-based writer and editor. She's covered topics like debt, saving money and credit cards. You can find her work on Business Insider, Forbes and more.
Edited by
Loans Editor, Former Insurance Editor