Whether you’re being crushed by high-interest credit card debt or a seeking to make a big purchase that you haven’t quite saved enough money for yet, a personal loan may be right for you.
Historically, people in that situation have simply gone to the bank and taken out a loan. But these days, there are options available exclusively online that may offer better interest rates, lower fees and a smoother experience.
SoFi offers personal loans primarily to borrowers with good credit scores (above 680.) It provides a simple, straightforward way to access loans ranging from $5,000 up to $100,000, with terms as long as seven years. (Note: Some states have higher minimum loan requirements.)
Fixed interest rates on SoFi personal loans range from 5.99% to 16.24%, depending on the borrower and the loan. Variable interest rates range from 5.72% to 14.95%. There are no origination fees, no late fees and no prepayment fees tied to SoFi personal loans.
SoFi personal loans can be used for various purposes except to buy real estate, investments and securities, post-secondary education, or for business purposes or short-term bridge financing.
SoFi claims it is able to offer lower rates and larger loans because it lends to people who have a high likelihood of being able to repay.
The company offers a simple, online interface and a straightforward application process that promises to deliver an answer within a week. It also offers unemployment protection, allowing you to pause payments if you temporarily lose your job.
Let’s delve into the nitty-gritty of SoFi personal loans, so you can decide whether they’re a product that makes sense for you.
SoFi offers a fairly straightforward way for you to get a low-cost loan to pay off credit card debt or take care of other needs. Its interest rates are among the best in the nation, and the lack of prepayment, origination, or late payment fees is an attractive asset. The wide range of loan terms and the size of loans permitted are also big pluses. But it may not be easy for everyone to get a personal loan through SoFi.
Table of Contents
- About SoFi
- The Basics
- Getting Started
- Interest Rates
- Calculating Your Savings
- SoFi Auto Refinancing
- Payment Expectations
- Unemployment Protection
- Customer Service
- SoFi Mobile App
- Security and Privacy
- Key Advantages to SoFi Personal Loans
- Drawbacks to SoFi
- Alternatives to SoFi Personal Loans
- A Word About Personal Debt
- The Bottom Line
SoFi is a financial services company operating exclusively online. It was founded in 2011 by two Stanford graduate students who wanted to explore different options for addressing student loan debt.
The company offers a wide variety of loan, investment, insurance and banking products. They include:
- Mortgages and mortgage refinancing
- Student loan refinancing
- Parent PLUS loan refinancing
- SoFi Money high-yield savings account
- Term life insurance
- SoFi Relay money tracking app
- SoFi Invest low-cost investing
SoFi’s current CEO, Anthony Noto, once served as the chief operating officer of Twitter.
There’s nothing too fancy about SoFi personal loans. If you qualify, you are provided the predetermined sum of money and are required to pay it back, plus interest, in a predetermined time period.
With SoFi personal loans, you can agree to pay back your loan in as few as two years or as many as seven.
SoFi personal loans allows you to borrow money to make a large purchase, or your can consolidate your debt from credit cards or other sources into a single payment that may have a lower interest rate.
Acquiring your first loan with SoFi can be done entirely online. You begin by registering with your name, email address and state of residence, and creating a password. (The residence question matters because SoFi loans aren’t available to Mississippi residents.)
You’ll then be asked for your address, and SoFi will send a code to your cellphone to verify that it’s you. You can opt out of two-factor authentication by changing the settings on your profile later.
On the next page, you will be asked to enter your citizenship status and Social Security number.
Now you’re all set up, and can go to the loans page and begin entering information about the loan you want. For the purposes of learning about the product, I told SoFi I wanted a loan of $50,000. It then asked me why I needed the loan. Options included credit card consolidation, home improvements, medical procedures, relocation assistance, or auto refinancing. I selected “credit card consolidation.”
SoFi then asked whether I was a homeowner, a renter, or was living with a friend or relative. Next it asked me to enter my household income, and whether or not I planned to have a co-borrower.
On the next page, I was able to click on a link to learn what my interest rate would be. This process does not affect your credit score and does not complete the application. SoFi states that when you choose a final product and apply for the loan, it will request a full credit report. That “hard pull” on your credit report will ding your credit score a little.
This application process took about 10 minutes and if you are approved, you’ll get your money within a week or so.
SoFi does not guarantee a loan to anyone. Potential borrowers must meet the company’s underwriting criteria, and there are other requirements.
First, you must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or visa holder. You also must be employed, or have an offer of employment and be starting within 90 days, or have other means of income.
SoFi advertises fixed rates for personal loans from 5.99% to 16.24%. These rates are based on the borrower getting a 0.25% rate discount for setting up automatic payments.
SoFi also offers variable rate loans for as low as 5.72% that are capped at 14.95%. Variable rates could change as often as every month, but the variable rate changes only by the amount of change in the London Interbank Offer Rate, or LIBOR.
Making an apples to apples comparison of interest rates is challenging, because every bank may be slightly different in how they evaluate potential borrowers. A lender may advertise “rates as low as” a certain figure, but there’s no way to tell in advance whether you’d get the lowest rate.
However, rates listed on BankRate.com appear to show that the 5.99% rate is one of the lowest rates available anywhere. (As of this writing, Barclays was offering rates as low as 5.74%)
It’s notable that the interest rates offered by SoFi for personal loans are generally lower than most credit card APRs, making SoFi a particularly good option for borrowers looking to consolidate credit card debt. Of course, those with very high credit card debt may not qualify for a loan through SoFi.
Calculating Your Savings
SoFi offers an online calculator designed to give you a sense of how you might save by switching to a SoFi personal loan. It asks for your current loan amount and interest rate, plus the monthly payment or months left to pay back the loan.
To test the comparison calculator, I said I currently had a loan of $15,000 with an interest rate of 6.7% and 36 months remaining. SoFi estimated that I could get a new three-year loan with a fixed interest rate between 5.99% and 14.59%, potentially saving me about $20 per month. It also offered a variable rate loan with rates between 5.72% and 13.15%, offering similar savings. It was also possible to see how much money I might save by adjusting the term of the loan.
SoFi Auto Refinancing
You can use SoFi personal loans to refinance debt tied to your automobile. There are some possible advantages to doing this, but you may not save money.
Because SoFI loans are unsecured, you are not putting your car up as collateral. Additionally, when you use a SoFi loan to refinance the car loan, you own the car. In other cases, the financier technically owns the vehicle until you pay off the loan.
SoFi also has no fees related to the loan.
The problem with using SoFi to borrow for your car, however, is that you may find better rates elsewhere. While SoFi offers rates under 6%, many banks are currently offering rates under 5% for new cars and under 3% for refinancing.
While SoFi does not charge a fee for late or missed payments on personal loans, this does not mean you are totally off the hook if you fail to pay a bill. SoFi makes clear that missing a due date or a payment will result in more interest added to your loan, and that it could even result in a default of the loan.
“Late payments, partial payments, missed payments, or defaults on your loan may be reflected on your credit report,” SoFi writes in the fine print on its website. “Nobody anywhere wants that. Nope nope nope.”
Unlike some loans, there is no fee if you decide to pay a SoFi personal loan off early. For example, there is no penalty if you take out a five-year loan but pay it off in three. Thus, there’s no downside to making additional payments, if you can.
SoFi notes that any extra payments you make each month will first go toward then interest, then the principal. There does not appear to be an option to make an additional payment to principal only.
There are few things scarier than losing your job when you are faced with paying off debt each month. SoFi understands this, and offers some protection in the event of a layoff. If you qualify, you can have the loan placed in forbearance and payments suspended for as long as 12 months if you suddenly find yourself out of work. Unemployment protection is offered for three months at a time, capped at 12 months for the life of the loan. (The 12 months don’t necessarily have to be consecutive.)
There are a number of requirements you must meet in order to receive unemployment protection.
- You must have lost your job through no fault of your own.
- Your loan must be in good standing at the time you request enrollment.
- You must actively work with the SoFi Career team to find a new job.
It’s important to know that the Unemployment Protection Program is not a catch-free way to avoid making a loan payment. For starters, the loan will continue to accrue interest while in forbearance. Interest payments will be added to the balance of the loan. You will have the option of continuing to make interest-only payments.
Enrolling in the Unemployment Protection Program could also have an impact on your credit. The status of the loan in forbearance will be reported to the credit bureaus, and thus could be a factor when other institutions are evaluating your credit.
If you need assistance with your application or have questions about your loan, you can speak to a live human being on the phone. The customer service number is 855-456-7634, and support is available 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pacific Time Monday through Thursday, and 4 a.m. – 5 p.m. Pacific, Friday through Sunday.
You can also get assistance through the SoFi Twitter feed, @SoFiSupport.
SoFi Mobile App
It is possible to apply for a SoFi personal loan, make payments and check balances using the SoFi Mobile app. The app is available via the Google Play and Apple App Store. As of this writing, the app had 4.5 stars out of 5 on the Google Play store and 4.9 out of 5 in the Apple App Store.
Security and Privacy
SoFi uses 256-bit encryption on any information transmitted from its website. This is one of the most secure encryption methods available. Customer information is stored in facilities and servers that only specific SoFi employees and contractors have access to.
SoFi acknowledges that it does share your information with its partners for marketing purposes, and with affiliates so that they can market to you. It does not share your information with non-affiliates. You can place some limits on this sharing by logging in and clicking on “My Preferences.”
Key Advantages to SoFi Personal Loans
There are many reasons to like SoFi as a potential lender. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the service’s key attributes:
- Very competitive interest rates. Few companies offer rates as low as the 5.99% APR offered by SoFi.
- No fees. Other lenders may charge you a fee if you pay off a loan early.
- Flexible loan terms. You can take as little as two years or as long as seven years to pay back a SoFi Personal Loan.
- Loans are unsecured. There’s no need to put up collateral to obtain a SoFi personal loan. This means you don’t have to put your house or any other assets at risk.
- Wider range of borrowing. SoFi allows you to borrow as little as $5,000 or as much as $100,000. Other lenders may have a smaller lending range.
- Unemployment Protection. As we stated above, SoFi will temporarily suspend your payment requirements for as long as 12 months if you lose your job.
Drawbacks to SoFi
While there may be compelling reasons to go with SoFi, there are some negatives to be aware of.
- No in-person customer service. SoFi is not affiliated with a physical bank, so you won’t have the opportunity to meet with a representative or receive customer service in person. That may not matter to everyone, but some people like the personal service that brick-and-mortar banks can provide.
- Not good for those with bad credit. SoFi generally doesn’t lend to people who don’t have credit scores of at least 680. By lending to only borrowers with good credit, they see fewer defaults and are able to keep rates and costs down. People with fair or poor credit scores may be shut out and unable to access rates as low as those offered by SoFi.
- Eligibility is a bit opaque. SoFi has a somewhat unique approach to determining whether a person is eligible for a personal loan. While it generally prefers people with better credit scores, it also looks at overall financial history, monthly income versus expenses, and career experience.
Alternatives to SoFi Personal Loans
The growth of online banking has led to the launch of multiple low-cost personal loan companies, many of whom offer services similar to SoFi. Competitors include:
- Payoff: Offering loans of between $5,000 and $35,000 to help pay off credit card debt.
- Discover Personal Loans : From the same company as Discover credit cards. Offers loans of up to $25,000 with fixed interest rates as low as 6.99% and terms as long as seven years.
- Marcus by Goldman Sachs: From one of the world’s largest investment banks. Marcus offers fee-free loans of $3,500 to $45,000. Rates start as low as 5.99%, but could be as high as 28.99%.
- LendingClub: A leading peer-to-peer lending service that allows to you access loans from private individuals and bypass the bank altogether.
- Prosper: Another peer-to-peer lending platform. It offers loans as large as $40,000.
- Upstart: Lending platform started by former Google employees in which loan applicants are evaluated using artificial intelligence.
- NetCredit: Offering fee-free loans of up to $10,000 with lower credit score requirements.
In addition to evaluating these services, a person considering SoFi personal loans to consolidate credit card debt should also examine whether a balance transfer credit card makes sense. Many balance transfer credit cards come with an introductory period of up to 21 months where you’ll pay no interest.
If you believe that you can pay off the debt before the promotional period ends and interest charges kick in, you may be able to save more money than you could with a personal loan. There is always the risk, however, that you won’t pay off the debt in time and be subjected to very high credit card interest rates.
A Word About Personal Debt
SoFi personal loans can be helpful for certain people, particularly those that want to save money by consolidating their credit card debt. But it’s important to avoid getting too enamored with the products and services of any personal loan company. Remember, after all, that taking on debt of any kind can make it harder for you to achieve financial freedom. The fact that a company offers low rates, good customer service, or a sleek website should not change this fact.
Before choosing to go with SoFi or any of its competitors, take time to evaluate whether you truly need a loan. What do you need the loan for? If you are using SoFi to help consolidate credit card debt and save money, then it could be a sensible choice. But taking out loans to make discretionary purchases like a new hot tub or a snowmobile may not be helpful to your finances in the long run.
If you are using a SoFi loan to consolidate higher interest debt, take time to examine how you reached that point to begin with. How did you end up in debt? Have you been focused on saving money? What are your spending patterns?
Consider this: If you have the right mindset and make the right financial choices, your first loan from SoFi should be your last.
The Bottom Line
SoFi offers a fairly straightforward way for you to get a low-cost loan to pay off credit card debt or take care of other needs. Its interest rates are among the best in the nation, and the lack of prepayment, origination, or late payment fees is an attractive asset. The wide range of loan terms and the size of loans permitted are also big pluses.
It may not be easy for everyone to get a personal loan through SoFi. If you have shaky credit, no job, or inconsistent cash flow, you may be turned down. Thus, SoFi loans are generally best for people with very good credit and a history of being able to pay bills on time.
This creates a strange Catch-22 situation. You may desire to get a loan from SoFi in order to consolidate credit card debt or refinance other loans, but the size and status of those loan may have hurt your credit and made you a bad candidate for SoFi.
Have you taken out a personal loan with SoFi? Is this a service you would consider as a way to reduce your debt payments? Let us know in the comments.