National Small Loan review: An ‘expensive’ loan for emergencies

Woman sitting outside, leaning against a wall, writing in her notebook and thinking about getting a National Small LoanImage: Woman sitting outside, leaning against a wall, writing in her notebook and thinking about getting a National Small Loan

In a Nutshell

National Small Loan offers personal loans as low as $100 that may help you cover a short-term emergency. But the lender won’t tell you about the specific interest rates you may face — only warning that it’s “an expensive form of borrowing.”
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  • Potentially fast funding
  • No prepayment penalty


  • Doesn’t disclose specific interest rates, with disclaimer that it’s an “expensive form of borrowing”
  • Late and insufficient-funds fees
  • Not available in all states

What you need to know about a personal loan from National Small Loan

National Small Loan is an online tribal lender that offers small loans ranging from $100 to $1,200. (First-time applicants won’t qualify for loan amounts more than $500.) National Small Loan lends to people in every state except Arkansas, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The company says it doesn’t use the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to evaluate applications, but it does use other national databases.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind if you’re considering a personal loan from National Small Loan.

Doesn’t disclose its potentially high interest rates

National Small Loan doesn’t publish potential interest rates on its website, instead saying your rate will be disclosed in your loan agreement if you’re approved. But it’s common for short-term loans, including from tribal lenders, to come with APRs that soar into the triple digits — and the company does say its loans are “an expensive form of borrowing” and not “intended to be a long-term financial solution.”

National Small Loan says your interest rate and fees will be determined by factors including your credit and payment history, debt, income and employment status.

But since National Small Loan doesn’t offer a process to prequalify for a personal loan, you won’t know what your interest rate might be until after you’ve applied. 

You don’t need good credit to qualify

National Small Loan says that you don’t need a “great” credit score to qualify and that it doesn’t pull credit reports from the three major credit bureaus to check your credit. But it does check your credit through other national databases.  

And just because you may qualify doesn’t make a loan from National Small Loan a good idea. You’ll want to take a close look at your budget and calculate the total you’ll pay for your loan after fees and interest.

Expensive fees

When you repay a personal loan, it usually consists of the principal payment as well as interest charges and any fees you’ve accrued. But if you have financial troubles, you may face extra fees from National Small Loan.

For instance, the company charges a $25 insufficient-funds fee if your payment is returned or not honored. And if your payment isn’t made within a day of when it’s due, you’ll face a $30 late fee.

No prepayment penalty

If it’s financially possible, it’s a good idea pay off your loan early. National Small Loan won’t charge you prepayment penalties or fees.

A closer look at a National Small Loan personal loan

Here are a few other things to know about National Small Loan.

  • Fast funding may be possible — If you apply with National Small Loan and are approved before 2 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday, the company says your loan will typically be funded within 24 business hours.
  • Small-dollar borrowing — While some personal loan lenders have minimum loans of $1,000 or more, you might not need to borrow that much. National Small Loan offers loans as low as $100.
  • Vague repayment terms — National Small Loan doesn’t detail how short or long repayment terms may be. This makes it difficult to estimate what your loan payments may be until after you’ve applied and been approved for a loan.

Should I get a National Small Loan personal loan?

National Small Loan makes it a point to say it offers personal loans — which it calls installment loans — not payday loans. But that doesn’t mean its loans are affordable. In fact, the company itself calls its loans “expensive.”

And since you won’t even know an estimate of your APR until after you apply, you should consider National Small Loan only as a last resort. It’s better to shop around and compare rates from multiple lenders before you make a decision.

You may want to consider a payday alternative loan, which certain federal credit unions offer to members. Several apps — including Earnin and Dave — also could be much more affordable solutions with better terms for people who need to borrow small amounts of money.

How to apply with National Small Loan

You can apply online with National Small Loan — there are no storefronts to visit. There are a few things you’ll want to know about the application process.

  • To be eligible, you’ll have to be at least 18 years old, have a source of income and an active bank account.
  • You’ll need basic personal information to apply, like your full name, date of birth, phone number, Social Security number and address.
  • National Small Loan will contact you by phone or email, and if approved, you’ll receive an electronic contract to sign.

Not sure if National Small Loan is right for you? Consider these alternatives.

  • Earnin: The Earnin app lets you borrow up to $100 a day if you meet eligibility requirements. There are no mandatory fees or interest. Instead, you’ll tip what you think is fair.
  • OneMain Financial: If you want to check your potential rates, you can apply to prequalify for a personal loan from OneMain and it won’t hurt your credit scores. (Just be aware that your rates and terms may differ from your prequalified rates and terms, and you may face a hard inquiry if you submit an official application.)

About the author: Dori Zinn is a personal finance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She enjoys helping people find ways to better manage their money. Her work can be found on numerous websites, including Bankrate, FinanceBu… Read more.