You may have seen it on a sign somewhere or possibly on your TV or computer screen: “No credit, no problem!” Don’t believe it. The truth is, when you need to get a loan and you have no credit or bad credit, there definitely is a problem. It’s not an insurmountable one, but it is a problem, nonetheless.
Having poor credit makes you a high-risk customer to major banks, credit unions and other major lending institutions. Those lenders have strict standards, and they rely on credit scores when picking their borrowers and calculating loan terms. Unless lenders are assured that their loans will be repaid, they simply won’t make the loan. In addition, heightened regulations and tighter internal controls by lenders in the wake of the Great Recession make today’s lending climate a tough one for borrowers.
So when your credit is bad, you may feel like you’re at the mercy of payday lenders and other sources of financial help, sources that will only loan you money if you agree to repay it at high, or “subprime,” interest rates. These loans are fool’s gold. They often you leave more in debt than you should be. In fact, payday loans are illegal in 13 states because of their predatory terms.
However, when you have bad credit, there are still ways to get a loan while staying away from high-interest lenders. Your options include visiting a credit union, borrowing from friends or family, finding a co-signer, tapping home equity and pursuing peer-to-peer lending.
Visit a Credit Union
Credit unions are similar to commercial banks in terms of their services, but they are owned by their members rather than by profit-seeking shareholders. Because they are nonprofit institutions, credit unions pass their earnings along to their members in the form of lower fees and borrowing costs and better customer service.
A credit union – especially one affiliated with your employer or one that is community-based – may be willing to look beyond a poor credit history and make a judgment about whether it will loan you money based on your character and your promise to repay, regardless of if you have bad credit or not. Think of them in the way you would a small community bank from years ago.
Although the recent recession forced a number of smaller credit unions around the country to be merged with larger ones, almost all credit unions are actively looking for borrowers. If you can afford terms that match your credit history, you are likely to find a credit union somewhere willing to work with you.
If you are thinking of asking a credit union for a loan, look for one with which you have something in common. For example, if you are a veteran of the armed forces, you might want to approach the Navy Federal Credit Union. If you are a teacher, there are credit unions created by and for members of that profession.
Borrow from Family or Friends
In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the character Polonius admonishes his son Laertes to be “neither a borrower, nor a lender.” While this advice is prudent when dealing with strangers, it might be even more judicious if you’re thinking about borrowing from family members or friends. Not repaying a loan to a relative or close associate can poison relationships in ways that go far beyond a bad credit report.
Nevertheless, sometimes those closest to you are your best sources of funds, and a family loan can benefit everyone involved. You should always treat any loan from someone you know just as if it were an important business transaction between you and a stranger. That means it should be formalized with clear documentation and legally recorded. To avoid future problems, create a written contract that includes the loan terms and interest rate, and what will happen if you cannot repay the debt.
Get a Co-Signer
If borrowing from a friend or relative is not possible, you can still approach someone with good credit who trusts your capacity to repay the loan, and you can ask him or her to be a co-signer on a loan from a traditional lender. With a qualified co-signer, the lender will set the loan terms based on the credit score of the person with good credit, who will then be equally responsible for repayment.
All payment information will be recorded on both yours and your co-signer’s credit reports, so if you default on the loan, or you’re late with payments, you will severely damage your co-signer’s credit score. However, if you make timely payments, your own score will improve, making it easier to obtain future loans without a co-signer.
Tap Your Home Equity
If you have equity in your home, you can apply for a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). Home equity is the difference between the amount your home can be sold for and your mortgage. Your home is used as collateral, and home equity loans can be obtained regardless of your credit score. The interest rate is usually low, because the loan is secured by the home. Also, the interest you pay on a home equity loan is usually tax-deductible.
Unlike a home equity loan, which is a lump sum of cash, a HELOC acts like any other credit account. You can access money when you need to, up to the loan’s credit limit, and you must pay it back according to a predetermined schedule. In both cases, it is important to remember that tapping your home equity puts your property in jeopardy if you don’t repay the debt. But if you are disciplined and have a reliable source of income, it is an inexpensive way to borrow from a reputable lender.
Consider Peer-to-Peer Lending
Peer-to-peer lending, also known as person-to-person lending, is a relatively new loan form, having only been around since 2005. It’s an online platform that allows you to borrow directly from another individual rather than from an institution. Potential borrowers can post a loan listing on various peer-to-peer websites, indicating the amount wanted and what it’s for. Investors review the loan listings and choose the ones they wish to fund.
Your credit score is still a factor, but since an individual investor has much greater leeway in how it is to be weighed, lending standards are significantly more lenient and interest rates are usually lower than those offered by traditional lenders. In addition, peer-to-peer websites help evaluate borrower risk for the lender, while verifying the lender’s credentials for the sake of the borrower.