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Personal Loans

How to Get a Loan in an Emergency

Emergency personal loans can help cover unexpected expenses, including medical bills, house repairs, urgent veterinary care, or losing a portion of income. Unforeseen expenses are stressful, especially when you’re unsure how you’ll afford the costs. That’s when emergency personal loans can help. 

With fast funding, no collateral requirements, and minimal restrictions on how you use the money, emergency personal loans can be a solid option if you have urgent expenses. Here’s everything you need to know about how to find the best personal loan in an emergency.  

How do emergency personal loans work?

Emergency personal loans are unsecured loans you can use for almost any expense. Emergency loan lenders focus on fast funding timelines and loan amounts ranging from $600 to $100,000. 

The lender checks your credit report and income to determine eligibility. Most require proof of identity and income. The loans are unsecured, meaning you don’t need to provide collateral. Funding is quick—often within five days.

As you explore the best emergency personal loan lender, consider the following factors. 

  • Funding timeline: When dealing with an emergency, you often need funds fast, so the funding timeline is one of the most important factors to consider. Most lenders have an approval period, which is how long it takes to approve your application once you submit it. Most lenders also have a funding timeline—how long it takes to send the money after approval.
  • Eligibility criteria: Eligibility criteria vary depending on the lender. Most lenders require minimum credit scores, and some require minimum income amounts. To save time, confirm whether you meet the eligibility criteria before you apply. 
  • Potential fees: Some lenders don’t charge fees, but many do. Origination fees, maintenance fees, and prepayment penalties can increase the cost of your loan by hundreds or thousands of dollars. Fees aren’t always a deal breaker, but it’s essential to understand how they work.
  • Interest rates: The interest rate has the most significant impact on how much a loan costs. Lower interest rates can mean lower loan costs, and the reverse is true too: Higher interest rates can mean your loan is more expensive. 

What are the risks? Our expert weighs in

Erin Kinkade


The key risks are a reduction in credit score, potentially negative impact to credit reports, inability to repay the loan and further damaging your credit history, and potential loss of the asset you used as collateral (if it’s a secured loan). You can mitigate these risks by first applying for unemployment compensation if you’ve lost a job, understanding additional income sources you’re entitled to receive (e.g., Social Security, life insurance proceeds if the loss of income is due to a death, investment accounts, pensions, annuities, and available cash reserves). Then shop for lenders that offer terms that meet your needs (budget, grace periods, unemployment insurance, bereavement, and other features specific to financial hardship or loss of income). Continue to communicate with the lender if you have any issues with on-time payment or need to defer a payment.

Where to find an emergency personal loan

Online lenders, traditional banks, and credit unions offer emergency personal loans to help pay for unexpected expenses. Consider your finances, credit score, and timeline to find the best lender. 

The following lenders are the top option for each category. Here’s how to pick the best lender for your circumstances. Click the lender’s name in the table to find out more about its emergency loan.

LenderApproval timeFunding timeMinimum credit scoreOrigination fee
LightStreamSame business dayInstant or up to 2 business days700None
SoFi1 – 3 days1 – 3 business days680None
PenFed Credit UnionInstant or up to 2 days1 – 2 business days660None
UpstartInstant or up to 1 day1 – 3 business daysNone0% – 12%
LendingPointInstant or up to 1 day1 – 3 business days5850% – 10%

LightStream – Best for excellent credit

Editorial rating: 4.8 out of 5

  • Same-day funding available
  • Must have excellent credit
  • High minimum loan amount

LightStream is an online-only lender and one of our top picks for emergency personal loans due to its speedy funding timeline. However, you must have excellent credit to qualify for a loan, so it isn’t the right fit for every borrower. But if you qualify, you can get funds as soon as the same day. You also won’t pay any loan fees, which can help save hundreds or thousands of dollars. 

LightStream is an excellent option, but be aware the company doesn’t offer preapproval, meaning you must undergo a hard credit check to review personalized loan options. We think it’s best for borrowers who know they have excellent credit and are confident they’ll be approved. The minimum loan amount is $5,000, which might be too high if you need the money for a minor emergency expense, such as a car repair or healthcare deductible. 

  • Approval time: Same business day
  • Funding time: Instant or up to 2 business days
  • Minimum credit score: 700
  • Term lengths: 24 – 144 months
  • Loan amounts: $5,000 – $100,000   
  • Interest rates: 7.49%25.49% APR

SoFi – Best for good credit

Editorial rating: 5 out of 5

  • Get funds within 1 business day
  • Rate discounts can save you money
  • High minimum loan amount

SoFi is an online-only lender with quick funding timelines, accessible customer service, and no fees, making it a top pick for emergency personal loans. To qualify, you must have good credit—a score of 660 or higher. 

However, borrowers who meet the eligibility criteria get unique perks. You can take advantage of rate deductions totaling more than 0.50%. You can also use SoFi’s unemployment protection and free consultations with a financial planner, which are helpful when dealing with an emergency. 

  • Approval time: 1 – 3 business days
  • Funding time: 1 – 3 business days
  • Minimum credit score: 680
  • Term lengths: 24 – 84 months
  • Loan amounts: $5,000 – $100,000     
  • Interest rates: 8.99% – 25.81% APR

PenFed Credit Union – Best for lower amounts

Editorial rating: 4.9 out of 5

  • $600 minimum loan amount
  • Must become a credit union member
  • No origination fee

PenFed is a longstanding credit union with loan options available in every state. Most other lenders offer loans starting at $5,000, but the credit union’s emergency personal loans start at $600. The lower loan amount is beneficial if you’re dealing with a minor emergency and don’t need thousands of dollars. 

Rates are competitive, and PenFed’s rates are lower than those of many other lenders, which can help you save money. Funding is quick, and you can get the funds within one business day. You must become a member to take out a personal loan. If you’re not already a member, applying to join might extend the funding timeline. 

  • Approval time: Instant or up to 2 days
  • Funding time: 1 – 2 business days
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • Term lengths: 36, 48, or 60 months
  • Loan amounts: $600 – $50,000     
  • Interest rates: Starting at 7.99%

Upstart – Best for thin credit

Editorial rating: 4.8 out of 5

  • Considers multiple eligibility factors
  • Uses AI for quick application decisions
  • Origination fee of up to 12%

Upstart uses an inclusive lending model that considers factors beyond a borrower’s credit score. It’s a solid option if you have little to no—aka thin—credit and are struggling to find a lender for an emergency personal loan. As an online lending platform, Upstart partners with banks and credit unions to offer loans. 

The company reviews education, job history, and other nontraditional factors when making lending decisions, which can make it a more accessible option. However, Upstart charges up to 12% origination fees, which can add up fast. For example, you could pay up to $600 in fees for a $5,000 loan. But it might be worth it if you can’t qualify for a loan with a different lender.

  • Approval time: Instant or up to 1 day
  • Funding time: 1 – 3 business days
  • Minimum credit score: None
  • Term lengths: 36 or 60 months
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 – $50,000 
  • Interest rates: 6.40% – 35.99% APR

LendingPoint: Best for changing your payment date

Editorial rating: 4.9 out of 5

  • Lower maximum loan amount
  • Payment flexibility: biweekly or every 28 days
  • Next-day funding

LendingPoint is a decent option for borrowers with lower credit scores because it considers other factors. The online application process is straightforward and quick. Once approved, you can get funds the next day, which is helpful for emergency expenses. 

The company offers additional flexibility with your payment date, and you can select to pay biweekly or every 28 days. But the flexibility might come at a cost: Origination fees can be up to 10%. LendingPoint might not be the best fit if you need a large loan because its maximum loan amount is smaller than that of most lenders. 

  • Approval time: Instant or up to 1 day
  • Funding time: 1 – 3 business days
  • Minimum credit score: 585
  • Term lengths: 24 – 72 months
  • Loan amounts: $2,000 – $36,500 
  • Interest rates: 7.99%35.99% APR
  • Income requirement: $35,000

How to get an emergency personal loan

Once you’re ready to apply for a personal loan, the process is straightforward, and you can complete most lenders’ applications online. Here’s what to expect.

  1. Get preapproved: Most lenders allow borrowers to complete a preapproval application to review personalized loan terms. Preapproval involves a soft credit check that doesn’t affect your credit score. 
  2. Compare offers: After completing the preapproval process with a handful of lenders, compare the offers. Review the interest rates, term lengths, fees, and funding timelines. 
  3. Finalize the application: Once you choose a lender, complete the application. This part of the process often involves verifying your income and identity. 
  4. Get your funds: As soon as your application is approved, the lender will send the funds. The money often arrives in your bank account within three business days. 
  5. Pay for your emergency expenses: Once you receive the money, you can pay for your emergency expenses. After that, you you’ll start making monthly payments toward your loan. 

Can you get an emergency loan with low income or bad credit?

Getting an emergency loan with low income or bad credit is possible. You might have to pay a higher interest rate or additional fees. But depending on the situation, it might be worth the extra cost. 

Here’s how to find the right lender.

  • Research lenders: Start by researching lenders that specialize in working with borrowers with similar credit scores or incomes. Check eligibility for personal loans online. If you still have questions, call the lender and ask about minimum credit score and income requirements. 
  • Get preapproved: Complete the preapproval process once you find lenders that seem like a good fit. You can get personalized sample offers to help determine whether you’re eligible for the loan. It doesn’t affect your credit score.
  • Review your offers: After you complete the preapproval process, review your offers and find the best one. Consider the interest rates, fees, and term length.
  • Consider other options: If you’re unsatisfied with the loan options, consider other funding choices, such as a credit card, family loan, or home equity loan

Alternatives to personal loans in an emergency

Personal loans are a valid option for emergency expenses but are not the only option. Consider these alternatives if you’re unsure whether a personal loan is the right choice in an emergency. 

  • Credit card: If you can’t qualify for a personal loan or need money faster, you can use a credit card in an emergency. Depending on the type of expense, a credit card might be easier to use. Most credit card interest rates are higher than personal loans, but you can consolidate your debt or use a balance transfer once you have more capacity. 
  • Loan from friends or family: You can ask friends or family to lend you money for the unexpected expense. It can feel awkward to ask for help, which might complicate the relationship. But depending on the situation, it could be worth it. You can work together to set the terms of repayment. 
  • Emergency savings: If you have money saved, consider using it instead of a personal loan. Savings are for emergencies. If you have the cash, you can use it when needed. 
  • Home equity loan or line of credit: If you’re a homeowner, consider a home equity loan or line of credit. The application and approval process for equity loans can take longer than personal loans, but you might be able to secure a lower interest rate. 

We recommend avoiding alternatives including payday loans and title loans. These loans have excessive interest charges that can cost more than the loan itself. If you can’t qualify for a personal loan, consider other options first. 

Ask our expert: How do you build an emergency fund? 

Erin Kinkade


I recommend an emergency fund—aka cash reserves—from a range of one month to 12 months’ worth of living expenses—not just needs, but all expenses. The amount depends on your ability to build an emergency fund, but ideally, if you begin with one month, you can build up to three or six months from there. To build up the fund initially, I recommend cutting unnecessary expenses for a specific period so you can build up your cash reserves or to reduce savings in an investment account or retirement account for a short time to build up your emergency fund. The key is to be consistent and realistic. If you deplete the emergency fund, the process starts over. It may be difficult in the short run, but it will pay off in the long run when you don’t need to take out loans and pay unnecessary fees and interest you can avoid it.


Can I use an emergency personal loan for any type of expense?

Emergency personal loans are personal loans, meaning you can use the money for almost any expense. Some lenders have limitations and don’t allow borrowers to use the funds to consolidate the debt they owe the lender or pay for education expenses. But in most cases, you can use the money for any expense. 

What should I consider when choosing an emergency personal loan provider?

When you need money for an emergency expense, the funding timeline is one of the most critical factors. If you need to pay for unexpected costs in a hurry, faster funding can help. It’s important to consider the interest rate, fees, and other repayment terms that will affect how much the loan costs. 

What are the risks associated with emergency personal loans?

Missing payments or falling behind on your personal loan can harm your credit score. Lower credit scores can make it challenging to apply for loans and credit cards in the future. If you become delinquent on your account, your balance could end up in collections or with excessive fees. 

How can I improve my chances of getting approved for an emergency personal loan?

To improve your chances of getting approved for an emergency personal loan, find lenders that work with borrowers with your credit score and financial profile. Completing the preapproval application can also help you determine whether you qualify for an emergency personal loan without affecting your credit score. Try to answer the questions as thoroughly and honestly as possible. 

How can I build an emergency fund to avoid needing an emergency loan in the future?

Saving small amounts of money each month is one of the most effective ways to build an emergency fund. Whether you can save $20, $200, or $2,000, set aside money in a separate savings account at the beginning of the month before you have a chance to spend it. If you ever get a windfall from a tax refund, bonus, or inheritance, consider setting aside all or some of that money.