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As the economy continues to (slowly) improve, consumers are looking to consolidate debt, make home improvements or take much-needed vacations.

One way to accomplish these goals sooner, rather than later, is to obtain a bank loan, which would make the money available all at once. Sounds like less of a hassle than saving over a long period of time, right?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, because a loan allows you to take your vacation sooner rather than later. But in most instances, getting a bank loan is not as simple as obtaining a credit card in the mail after submitting an online application. Most banks and credit unions run you through a gauntlet of paperwork and you need to be prepared, according to New Jersey-based financial expert Tiffany Aliche, also known as the Budgetnista and bestselling-author of the Live Richer Challenge blog.

First, figure out what kind of loan you need: a secured or unsecured loan. With secured loans, lenders frequently require collateral, like a car or home, which can be sold if the loan falls into default. Unsecured loans, on the other hand, require less paperwork and have lower borrowing limits because they do not require collateral.

You also need to “know your credit history,” Aliche says. “It shouldn’t be a surprise when you meet your loan officer.”

Aliche offers five tips to help prepare you to apply for secured and unsecured loans:

1) Know your history. Use creditkarma.com and creditsesame.com to obtain your score and credit history for free.

2) Show your assets. Unfortunately, the more you need a loan, the less likely you are to receive one. What that means is you have to prove that you have the assets to cover the amount you’re borrowing in case you’re unable to pay back a secured loan.

3) Don’t fail to plan. Outlining your repayment plan is not only important for showing the bank, it’s important for you as well. Having a payback plan in place will keep you on track and allow you to make adjustments in case you have trouble repaying a loan.

4) B is for budget. Before you borrow money from the bank, you should have an active budget that you use to organize your financial life. Doing so will not only keep the rest of your expenses up to date, it’ll help you maintain your loan payback plan.

5) Build a relationship. Before you approach your banker for a loan, begin working with him or her through other products and services. Do you have an account with the institution? Do you use other products, such as insurance and investment vehicles? Have you brought them business in the past? Do you greet your banker by name and inquire about his or her family?

Relationships are critical to successful banking relationships, Aliche says. “Oftentimes when the numbers say no, a banker can still say yes, based upon your relationship.”

Are you ready? If so, good luck! If not, work your plan to get ready!

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