Personal loans are repaid in monthly installments over a set period called the loan term. Choosing the right personal loan term is important because it helps determine how much you’ll pay each month and the interest costs overall.

Here’s what you need to know about personal loan terms and how to choose the best one for you.

What is a common personal loan term length?

Personal loan terms are usually from two to seven years, though it varies by lender. Some lenders have one-year loans while others offer specific types of personal loans, like home improvement loans, with repayment periods of 10 years or longer.

How term length affects personal loans

The amount of time you have to pay off a personal loan affects your monthly payments and the total interest paid over the life of the loan.

A shorter-term loan has a higher monthly payment but costs less total interest, while a longer-term loan has lower monthly payments and higher interest costs.

For example, on a $10,000 loan with a 15% annual percentage rate (APR) and a three-year term, the monthly payment will be about $347 with $2,480 in total interest. That same loan with a five-year repayment term would have monthly payments of $238 and cost $4,274 in overall interest.

Use this personal loan calculator to see how different term lengths affect a loan’s monthly payment and interest costs.

Total interest payments


Total loan payments


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How to choose between shorter and longer loan terms

Try to balance short- and long-term affordability when choosing a loan term. The ideal loan term is the shortest one you can get while still being able to comfortably afford the monthly payments.

A shorter loan term makes sense when:

  • You want to pay off the loan fast.

  • You want to save money in interest.

  • You can afford a higher monthly payment.

  • You’re borrowing a small amount of money.

A longer loan term makes sense when:

  • You want to keep monthly payments low for the full loan term.

  • You’re borrowing a large amount of money and need a longer time to pay it off.

What to consider when choosing a personal loan term

Loan amount: It may be easier to repay a small loan in a short period, but a longer term may be needed to repay a large amount of money. Some lenders, such as LightStream, offer terms of 10 years or longer for home improvement loans.

APR: A lender may offer lower APRs on shorter-term loans because there’s less time for a borrower’s financial situation to change during a short repayment term, which lowers the risk of default. When comparing personal loan offers, take note of the APR at different term lengths.

Monthly payments: Make sure you can comfortably afford the monthly payment for the full loan term. Many lenders charge late fees for missed payments, and your credit score can drop significantly if you miss a payment by more than 30 days.

Total interest costs: If your offer doesn’t outline the total interest costs, use a personal loan calculator to see how much you’ll pay in total interest for the loan. Gauge whether you feel comfortable with the overall cost of the loan at that term length.

Potential changes to your future budget: Personal loans are typically fixed-rate loans, which means monthly payments stay the same throughout the life of the loan. If you anticipate having less cash flow in the coming months or years, a loan term with lower monthly payments may be the right choice.

How to get a personal loan

  1. Check your credit. Lenders typically use credit score, credit history, income and existing debts to determine if a borrower qualifies for a personal loan. Get a copy of your credit report before applying for a loan to understand what’s influencing your score. You can get your report for free at or on NerdWallet. Dispute credit report errors that could be dragging your score down, such as an incorrect balance on a credit account.

  2. Review your budget. Examine cash flow to see what size monthly payment you can afford. Use a personal loan calculator to determine the loan term and APR that would give you affordable monthly payments. 

  3. Pre-qualify. Many lenders let you pre-qualify for a personal loan with no impact to your credit score. Pre-qualifying shows the likelihood of loan approval, plus it gives an estimate of your loan amount, APR, loan term and monthly payments.

  4. Compare offers. Once you’ve pre-qualified with multiple lenders, compare offers to see which best fits your needs. Use APR for an apples-to-apples comparison of the cost of the loan.

  5. Apply. When you’re ready to accept a loan offer, you’ll submit a formal application. You’ll likely need to show documents to verify your identity and income, and the lender will run a hard credit check, which will cause a temporary dip in your credit score. If approved, most lenders will send funds within a week. Some lenders can fund a loan the same or the next day after you’re approved. Your first payment is typically due about 30 days later.

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