5 best direct lenders for personal loans in 2021

Woman considering options with laptop open.Image: Woman considering options with laptop open.

In a Nutshell

If you need cash to consolidate debt, make home improvements or pay for unexpected expenses, a personal loan might be the solution you’re looking for. We’ve rounded up our top picks for the best personal loans from direct lenders that offer features such as competitive interest rates, direct debt consolidation payments and favorable fee structures.
Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.
Advertiser Disclosure

We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

When you need to borrow money, a personal loan can help you pay for a variety of expenses, from a medical procedure to a dream vacation.

To help you find the loan that best meets your financial needs, we rounded up our top picks from direct lenders. Like the term implies, these lenders offer loans to people directly, without any middlemen.

Keep reading to see if one of these direct lenders could be right for you.

Best for debt consolidation: Marcus

Why Marcus stands out: When you take out a debt consolidation loan with Marcus, the company will send payments to up to 10 of your creditors, making it easy to pay off high-interest accounts.

  • Competitive interest rates — Marcus offers competitive interest rates, but you need excellent credit to qualify for its lowest rates. And you’ll typically pay higher interest rates on loans with longer terms.
  • Good credit required — In general, you need fairly strong credit to qualify for a loan with the company. According to the Goldman Sachs 2019 annual report, 85% of people who secured a loan through Marcus had a FICO® score of 660 or higher.
  • No-fee promise — Marcus doesn’t charge sign-up, prepayment or late fees. But if you pay late or miss a payment, your account will accrue additional interest that will be due with your last payment.
  • Ability to apply for prequalification — Before submitting a formal loan application, you can see estimated rates and terms you might qualify for without affecting your credit scores. Just remember that your final terms could change after you officially apply.
  • On-time payment deferment — After 12 months of consecutive on-time and complete payments, you can defer one payment without paying additional interest on the amount you defer.

Read our Marcus personal loan review to learn more.

Best for secured loans: Regions Bank

Why Regions Bank stands out: Many personal loans are unsecured, but Regions Bank also offers a secured loan, which may help you qualify for larger loan amounts at a lower interest rate.

  • Secured by savings — To get a Regions secured personal loan, you’ll have to pledge a Regions savings account, CD or money market account as collateral. Keep in mind that while your account will continue to accrue interest, you won’t be able to withdraw the funds during the life of your loan.
  • Large range of loan amounts — Loans secured by CDs start at $2,000, but loans secured by savings and money market accounts can start at as little as $250 up to the “verified available balance” in your account.
  • Potential fees — Regions says you may face a processing fee, depending on the size of your loan (though it doesn’t disclose the amount). Plus, if you can’t make your payment on time, Regions charges a late fee.
  • Potential discounts — You may qualify for a relationship rate discount with another Regions account or for having your loan payments automatically deducted from your Regions checking account.

Read our full review of Regions Bank personal loans to learn more.

Best for extra perks: SoFi

Why SoFi stands out: When you take out a SoFi personal loan, you’ll also get access to a variety of nontraditional perks — including career coaching, an unemployment protection program, financial planning, and in-person events — at no additional cost.

  • Ability to apply for prequalification — SoFi offers the ability to apply for prequalification before you submit a formal loan application, which lets you see your estimated rate and term without affecting your credit scores. Keep in mind that your final terms and approval may change after you officially apply.
  • No-fee promise — SoFi doesn’t charge an origination, prepayment or late fee on its personal loans. Take note, though: The lender may report late payments to the credit bureaus, which could negatively affect your credit scores.
  • Loan amounts — SoFi offers loan amounts ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 and repayment terms of two years to seven years. (The lender may offer different terms on Credit Karma.)
  • Competitive rates — SoFi’s interest rates are competitive, but the lender says its lowest rates are reserved for people with “a responsible financial history.” Your actual rate is determined based on a variety of factors, including credit history, loan term and income.

Read our SoFi personal loans review to learn more.

Best for small loans: PNC

Why PNC stands out: PNC offers loan amounts ranging from $1,000 to $35,000, so if you only need to borrow a small amount, its loans are worth a look. But if you need cash for a large project, you may need to look elsewhere.

  • Tiered interest rates — PNC has competitive rates, and when you sign up for autopay with a PNC checking account, you’ll earn a 0.25% discount. But the bank’s rates vary based on how much you’re borrowing, and the lowest rates for unsecured loans are only available on loan amounts of $15,000 or more.
  • No ability to prequalify — To see a loan offer from PNC, you must submit a formal application, which generates a hard credit inquiry and can lower your credit scores.
  • Fees — You won’t pay an origination, application or prepayment fee when you take out a loan with PNC.

Read our PNC personal loan review to learn more.

Best for home improvements: LightStream

Why LightStream stands out: It’s not uncommon for lenders to cap personal loan amounts at $40,000 or less. But LightStream offers unsecured personal loans of up to $100,000, making it possible to get the money you need to complete large-scale home repairs or renovations.

  • Good credit necessary — LightStream loans are designed for people with strong credit. If your credit needs some work, this probably isn’t the lender for you.
  • Low rates — LightStream offers low rates to qualified applicants. And if you get a personal loan through LightStream, you’ll receive a discount for enrolling in autopay. Plus, the lender promises to beat competitor rates under certain conditions.
  • No option for prequalification — LightStream doesn’t offer the ability to apply for prequalification. You must submit a formal loan application to see your rate and other loan terms, which can trigger a hard credit inquiry and in turn pull your credit scores down a bit.

Read our LightStream personal loan review to learn more.

What you should know about personal loans from direct lenders

Many financial institutions offer personal loans, including banks, credit unions and online lenders. A personal loan may help you consolidate high-interest debt or pay for a large purchase. But there are factors that affect how much you’ll ultimately have to repay — such as interest rates, loan terms, fees, and when you’ll receive your money. Keep in mind that all of these factors can vary based on the lender.

It’s important to shop around and compare offers before choosing a loan. Some lenders will perform a soft credit inquiry to give you an estimated rate without affecting your credit scores, so you can decide whether it’s worth it to submit a formal application.

But if you’d rather compare loans from multiple lenders in one centralized place, you may want to apply through an online loan marketplace instead.

How we picked these loans

We reviewed personal loans from more than a dozen direct lenders to come up with our top picks. We looked at interest rates, fees, loan amounts and repayment terms. We also considered factors such as the ability to apply for prequalification, direct payments to creditors, funding timeline, application process and other perks.

About the author: Jennifer Brozic is a freelance financial services writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in communication management from Tow… Read more.