How Do I Get the Best Interest Rate on a Loan?

Whether trying to consolidate debt with a personal loan or thinking about a loan to pay for a major life event, taking on debt is a financial move that warrants some consideration. It’s important to understand the financial commitment that taking on a personal loan — or any other debt — entails. This includes understanding interest rates you might qualify for, how a loan term affects the total interest charged, fees that might be charged by different lenders, and, finally, comparing offers you might receive.

Shopping around and comparing loans can increase your confidence that you’re getting the best interest rate on a loan.

What’s a Good Interest Rate on a Loan?

You may see advertisements for loan interest rates, but when you get around to checking your personal loan interest rate, what you’re offered may be different than rates you’ve seen. Why is that? A loan company may have interest rate ranges, but the lowest, most competitive rates may only be available to people who have excellent credit, as well as other factors.

When shopping around for a loan, it’s typical that when checking your rate, even with online personal loan companies, you can check your rate without affecting your credit score. This pre-qualification rate is just an estimate of the interest rate you would likely be offered if you were to apply for a loan, but it can give you a good estimate of what sort of rate you might be offered. You can compare rates to begin to filter potential companies to use to apply for a loan.

Recommended: Personal Loan Calculator

Getting a Favorable Interest Rate on a Loan

The potential interest rate on a loan depends on a few factors. These may include:

•   The amount of money borrowed.

•   The length of the loan.

•   The type of interest on your loan. Some loans may have variable interest (interest rates can fluctuate throughout the life of the loan) or a fixed interest rate. Typically, starting interest rates may be lower on a variable-rate loan.

•   Your credit score, which consists of several components.

•   Being a current customer of the company.

For example, your credit history, reflected in your credit score, can give a lender an idea of how much a risk you may be. Late payments, a high balance, or recently opened lines of credit or existing loans may make it seem like you could be a risky potential borrower.

If your credit score is not where you’d like it to be, it may make sense to take some time to focus on increasing your credit score. Some ways to do this are:

•   Analyzing your credit report and correcting any errors. If you haven’t checked your credit report, doing so before you apply for a loan is a good first step to making sure your credit information is correct. Then you’ll have a chance to correct any errors that may be bringing down your credit score.

•   Work on improving your credit score, if necessary. Making sure you pay bills on time and keeping your credit utilization ratio at a healthy level can help improve your credit score.

•   Minimize opening new accounts. Opening new accounts may temporarily decrease your credit score. If you’re planning to apply for a loan, it may be good to hold off on opening any new accounts for a few months leading up to your application.

•   Consider a cosigner or co-applicant for a loan. If you have someone close to you — a parent or a partner — with excellent credit, having a cosigner may make a loan application stronger. Keep in mind, though, that a cosigner will be responsible for the loan if the main borrower does not make payments.

Recommended: What is a Good APR?

Comparing Interest Rates on Personal Loans

When you compare loan options, it can be easy to focus exclusively on interest rates, choosing the company that may potentially offer you the lowest rate. But it can also be important to look at some other factors, including:

•   What are the fees? Some companies may charge fees such as origination fees or prepayment penalties. Before you commit to a loan, know what fees may be applicable so you won’t be surprised.

•   What sort of hardship terms do they have? Life happens, and it’s helpful to know if there are any alternative payment options if you were not able to make a payment during a month. It can be helpful to know in advance the steps one would take if they were experiencing financial hardship.

•   What is customer service like? If you have questions, how do you access the company?

•   Does your current bank offer “bundled” options? Current customers with active accounts may be offered lower personal loan interest rates than brand-new customers.

Recommended: Avoiding Loan Origination Fees

Choosing a Personal Loan For Your Financial Situation

Interest rates and terms aside, before you apply for a loan, it’s a good idea to understand how the loan will fit into your life and how you’ll budget for loan payments in the future. The best personal loan is one that feels like it can comfortably fit in your budget.

But it also may be a good idea to assess whether you need a personal loan, or whether there may be another financial option that fits your goals. For example:

•   Using a buy now, pay later service to cover the cost of a purchase. These services may offer 0% interest for a set amount of time.

•   Transferring high-interest credit card debt to a 0% or low-interest credit card, and making a plan to pay the balance before the end of the promotional rate.

•   Taking on a side hustle or decreasing monthly expenses to be able to cover the cost of a major purchase or renovation.

•   Researching other loan options, such as a home equity loan, depending on your needs.

Recommended: 39 Ways to Earn Passive Income Streams

The Takeaway

A loan is likely to play a big part in your financial life for months or years, so it’s important to take your time figuring out which loan option is right for you. And it’s also important to remember that interest rate is just one aspect of the loan. Paying attention to details like potential fees, hardship clauses, and other factors you may find in the small print may save you money and stress over time.

SoFi offers competitive unsecured personal loan options with fixed rates and no fees. Completing an easy online application will show what rate you qualify for — no commitment required and it won’t affect your credit score*.

Check your rate in just one minute.

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*Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Source: sofi.com

Fixed Expense vs Variable Expense

Budgeting is the best way to get a better handle on where your money is going — which can help you get a better handle on where you’d like to see your money go.

But before you dive into the nitty-gritty of each individual line item on your ledger, you first need to understand the difference between fixed expenses and variable expenses.

As their name suggests, fixed expenses are those that are fixed, or unchanging, each month, while variable expenses are the ones with which you can expect a little more wiggle room. However, it’s possible to make cuts on items in both the fixed and variable expense category to save money toward bigger financial goals, whether that’s an epic vacation or your eventual retirement.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Fixed Expense?

Fixed expenses are those costs that you pay in the same amount each month — items like your rent or mortgage payment, insurance premiums, and your gym membership. It’s all the stuff whose amounts you know ahead of time, and which don’t change.

Fixed expenses tend to make up a large percentage of a monthly budget since housing costs, typically the largest part of a household budget, are generally fixed expenses. This means that fixed expenses present a great opportunity for saving large amounts of money on a recurring basis if you can find ways to reduce their costs, though cutting costs on fixed expenses may require bigger life changes, like moving to a different apartment — or even a different city.

Keep in mind, too, that not all fixed expenses are necessities — or big budget line items. For example, an online TV streaming service subscription, which is withdrawn in the same amount every month, is a fixed expense, but it’s also a want as opposed to a need. Subscription services can seem affordable until they start accumulating and perhaps become unaffordable.

Recommended: Are Monthly Subscriptions Ruining Your Budget?

What Is a Variable Expense?

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those whose amounts can vary each month, depending on factors like your personal choices and behaviors as well as external circumstances like the weather.
For example, in areas with cold winters, electricity or gas bills are likely to increase during the winter months because it takes more energy to keep a house comfortably warm. Grocery costs are also variable expenses since the amount you spend on groceries can vary considerably depending on what kind of items you purchase and how much you eat.

You’ll notice, though, that both of these examples of variable costs are still necessary expenses — basic utility costs and food. The amount of money you spend on other nonessential line items, like fashion or restaurant meals, is also a variable expense. In either case, variable simply means that it’s an expense that fluctuates on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to a fixed-cost bill you expect to see in the same amount each month.

To review:

•   Fixed expenses are those that cost the same amount each month, like rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and subscription services.

•   Variable expenses are those that fluctuate on a month-to-month basis, like groceries, utilities, restaurant meals, and movie theater tickets.

•   Both fixed and variable utilities can be either wants or needs — you can have fixed-expense wants, like a gym membership, and variable-expense needs, like groceries.

When budgeting, it’s possible to make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses.

Recommended: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Benefits of Saving Money on Fixed Expenses

If you’re trying to find ways to stash some cash, finding places in your budget to make cuts is a big key. And while you can make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses, lowering your fixed expenses can pack a hefty punch, since these tend to be big line items — and since the savings automatically replicate themselves each month when that bill comes due again. (Even businesses calculate the ratio of their fixed expenses to their variable expense, for this reason, yielding a measure known as operating leverage.)

Think about it this way: if you quit your morning latte habit (a variable expense), you might save a grand total of $150 over the course of a month — not too shabby, considering its just coffee. But if you recruit a roommate or move to a less trendy neighborhood, you might slash your rent (a fixed expense) in half. Those are big savings, and savings you don’t have to think about once you’ve made the adjustment: they just automatically rack up each month.

Other ways to save money on your fixed expenses include refinancing your car (or other debt) to see if you can qualify for a lower payment… or foregoing a car entirely in favor of a bicycle if your commute allows it. Can you pare down on those multiple streaming subscriptions or hit the road for a run instead of patronizing a gym? Even small savings can add up over time when they’re consistent and effort-free — it’s like automatic savings.

Of course, orchestrating it in the first place does take effort (and sometimes considerable effort, at that — pretty much no one names moving as their favorite activity). The benefits you might reap thereafter can make it all worthwhile, though.

Saving Money on Variable Expenses

Of course, as valuable as it is to make cuts to fixed expenses, saving money on variable expenses is still useful — and depending on your habits, it could be fairly easy to make significant slashes. For example, by adjusting your grocery shopping behaviors and aiming at fresh, bulk ingredients over-packaged convenience foods, you might decrease your monthly food bill. You could even get really serious and spend a few hours each weekend scoping out the weekly flyer for sales.

If you have a spendy habit like eating out regularly or shopping for clothes frequently, it can also be possible to find places to make cuts in your variable expenses. You can also find frugal alternatives for your favorite spendy activities, whether that means DIYing your biweekly manicure to learning to whip up that gourmet pizza at home. (Or maybe you’ll find a way to save enough on fixed expenses that you won’t have to worry as much about these habits!)

The Takeaway

Fixed expenses are those costs that are in the same amount each month, whereas variable expenses can vary. Both can be trimmed if you’re trying to save money in your budget, but cutting from fixed expenses can yield bigger savings for less ongoing effort.

Great budgeting starts with a great money management platform — and a SoFi Money® cash management account can give you a bird’s-eye view that puts everything into perspective. You’ll also have access to the Vaults feature, which helps you set aside money for specific savings purposes, no matter which goals are the most important to you, all in one account.

Check out SoFi Money and how it can help you manage your financial goals.

Photo credit: iStock/LaylaBird


SoFi Money®
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank.
SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
The SoFi Money® Annual Percentage Yield as of 03/15/2020 is 0.20% (0.20% interest rate). Interest rates are variable subject to change at our discretion, at any time. No minimum balance required. SoFi doesn’t charge any ATM fees and will reimburse ATM fees charged by other institutions when a SoFi Money™ Mastercard® Debit Card is used at any ATM displaying the Mastercard®, Plus®, or NYCE® logo. SoFi reserves the right to limit or revoke ATM reimbursements at any time without notice.
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Source: sofi.com

Buying Options vs Stocks: Trading Differences to Know

Stocks and options are two of the popular investment types that investors might include in their portfolio. There are reasons to invest in each, and they both come with their own risks, timelines, pros, and cons.

When deciding whether to invest in stocks vs. stock options, or any type of security or asset, it’s important to consider your personal investing goals, experience, risk tolerance, and timeline.

What Are the Differences Between Options and Stocks?

Stocks Options
Type of Investor Beginners and long-term investors Experienced and active traders
Potential Downsides Risks, Taxes, Fees Risks, Costs, Effort
Type of Investment Equity Derivative

Options

Options, or stock options, are a type of derivative investment. Rather than buying shares of stock, options traders give investors the right to buy or sell shares at a specified price, (known as the strike price in options terminology,) on a particular date in the future.

With call options, traders typically are not obligated to buy, so they can make a decision based on how the market moves. The investor does not have any ownership in the company unless they choose to exercise the option and buy the shares.

Over the time period of the option, it gets exponentially less valuable. This is known as time decay. A purchase of an options contract is known as a call, and a sale is known as a put.

Recommended: Call vs Put Option: The Differences

Some investors exercise the right to buy or sell and use that option trading strategy to make a profit. Others never exercise the right to buy, instead focusing on trading the options contracts themselves for a profit. Options trading strategies can get complicated, involving buying and selling multiple options on the same underlying security.

Recommended: A Guide to Options Trading

Stocks

Stocks are portions of ownership in companies, also known as shares. Investors can buy shares in companies and become fractional owners of that company in proportion to the number of outstanding shares that company has. For instance, if a company has 100,000 shares and an investor buys 10,000, they own 10% of the company.

Investors who purchase stocks typically hope to buy them at a lower price then sell them later at a high price to make a profit. There are also other ways investors can earn profits on stocks. For instance, some stocks pay out dividends to owners. Every month, quarter, or year, an investor can earn money based on the number of shares they own.

Recommended: How to Start Investing in Stocks

5 Key Differences in Stocks vs Options

Both stocks and options are popular investments, and there can be a place for both of them in a diversified portfolio. Here’s a look at some of of the differences to keep in mind when it comes to trading options vs. stocks:

1. Risk

Both stocks and options come with risks. For stocks, the risk is that the value of the security will fall lower than the investor expected. For options, there are additional risks, including the risk that they will expire without being exercised.

2. Ownership

When an investor buys stock, they become partial owners of that company. When they buy options, they only have the right to buy or sell stock, but not actual ownership of shares.

3. Quantities

When buying stock, the number of shares an investor buys is the total number they have and control, and they can purchase any number of shares, including fractional shares. When buying options, each contract represents 100 shares of stock.

4. Timeline

Options are contracts that are only valid for a certain period of time until the expiration date. They lose value over time until they are worthless when the contract expires. When an investor buys stock, they can hold it as long as they want.

5. Time Commitment

Investors can buy stock and hold onto it without doing much work, whereas options traders are often hands-on and prefer an eye on the market for the duration of the contract.

When to Consider Trading Stocks

There are several reasons to consider trading stocks, depending on your goals, timeline, and risk tolerance. Like any asset, stocks come with their share of risks and downsides. Some of the pros and cons of stocks include:

Pros

It can be relatively easy to start investing in stocks. There are several other benefits as well:

•   Investors don’t have to sell their stocks on any particular date, so they can choose the best time to sell.

•   Some stocks pay out dividends to investors.

•   Stocks are easier to research than options since they have market history.

•   Being an owner of a company allows you to vote on certain corporate issues that can affect their investment.

•   Stocks typically have more liquidity than options, meaning it’s easier for traders to buy and sell them at any given time.

Cons

Like all securities, there are risks involved with investing in stocks. Those include:

•   Whether you buy and sell stocks quickly as a day trading strategy or hold onto them for years, you will need to pay short or long-term capital gains taxes if you sell for a profit.

•   While trading stocks can be very profitable, it’s generally best as a long-term strategy, which means it can take many months or years.

•   It can be emotionally challenging to watch the market, and one’s portfolio, go up and down in value over months or years.

•   Making a big profit on stocks can require a large upfront investment.

•   When investing in stocks, traders risk losing all the money they put in. With options, they only risk the upfront premium.

•   If investors short a stock, they can lose much more money than they even put into the investment.

•   Stocks in certain companies are very expensive, making it difficult for smaller traders to even buy one.

When to Consider Trading Options

There are several reasons investors choose options trading vs. stocks trading. But like stocks or any investment, options come with their share of risks and downsides. Some of the main pros and cons of trading options are:

Pros

Options trading can be complicated, but once you understand how it works, there’s significant upside potential. Other benefits include:

•   Options may be an inexpensive way to participate in the market without tying up as many funds as stock trading requires.

•   Options provide investors with leverage. Essentially the investor has some control and access to shares worth more than the money they put into the contract.

•   Options can provide an investor with a certain degree of predictability about their investment, since they know the strike price and expiration date of the contract. This makes the investor’s decision whether to exercise the option or sell it easier.

•   Some investors prefer a hands-on trading strategy, and options are a good choice for that type of investing.

•   Options can act as a hedge against market volatility

Cons

Since fewer traders buy and sell options than stocks, there can be lower liquidity making it difficult to get out of an options contract. Other drawbacks include:

•   If an investor buys a stock option, they must pay a premium to enter into the contract. If the stock doesn’t move the way they hope it will and they choose not to exercise the option, they lose that premium they had put in.

•   Trading options requires an understanding of the market and more in-depth research into the particular contract, the underlying asset’s fundamentals, and what the market looks like within the timeframe of the contract.

•   Options lose value over time.

•   Trading options may require a margin account with a certain amount of money in it at all times.

•   Trading options requires more ongoing management than stocks

•   Options are not as liquid as stocks, making them harder to buy and sell.

•   Not every brokerage offers options, so you’ll need to open an account at a broker that does.

The Takeaway

Stocks and options are two popular types of investments traders use to earn profits and build a diversified portfolio. Depending on your investment strategy, you might invest in just stocks, just options, or a combination of the two.

If you’re interested in starting to trade and build a portfolio with stocks, one great way is using the SoFi Invest® stock trading app. You can add your other investment accounts to easily see all your financial information in one simple dashboard.

Photo credit: iStock/fizkes


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.
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Source: sofi.com

The Monte Carlo Simulation & Its Use in Finance

A Monte Carlo simulation is a mathematical technique used by investors and others to estimate the probability of different outcomes given a situation where multiple variables may come into play.

Monte Carlo simulations are used in such a wide range of industries — e.g., physics, engineering, meteorology, finance, and more — that the term doesn’t refer to a single formula, but rather a type of multivariate modeling technique. Multivariate modeling is a statistical method that uses multiple variables to forecast outcomes. A Monte Carlo simulation is an example of this type of calculation, which provides a range of potential outcomes using a probability distribution.

Keep reading to learn more about the Monte Carlo method and how a Monte Carlo analysis can be used in investing and portfolio management.

What Is Monte Carlo Simulation?

Applying mathematics to investment or business scenarios is difficult precisely because there are so many random variables involved in any single decision or any single investment or portfolio of investments. That’s why a Monte Carlo analysis can be more informative compared with predictive models that use fixed inputs.

A Monte Carlo simulation calculates a probability distribution for any variable that has inherent uncertainty. It then recalculates the results thousands of times over, each time using a different set of random numbers pertaining to each variable, to produce a vast array of outcomes that are then averaged together. In this way, a Monte Carlo analysis enables researchers from many industries to run multiple trials, and thus to define the potential outcome or risk of an event or a decision.

The ability to apply mathematics to situations where many elements are probable, and then rank the likelihood of possible outcomes in order to gauge the potential for risk, is a chief advantage of Monte Carlo simulations. Money managers might use a Monte Carlo analysis to estimate risk levels for different investments when constructing a portfolio. Corporate finance managers might use a Monte Carlo simulation to assess the impact of variables like future sales, commodities prices, interest rates, currency fluctuations, and so on. Brokers might use a Monte Carlo analysis to calculate the risks of stock options.

Monte Carlo Simulation History

Using simulations to solve problems dates back to the 19th century or even earlier, when simulations were an experimental way to test theories, analyze data, or support scientific intuition using statistics. But these simulations typically dealt with established deterministic problems. A modern Monte Carlo analysis, however, inverts that structure by using probabilities to solve the problem.

One of the first known uses of a modern Monte Carlo simulation dates back to the 1930s, when physicist Enrico Fermi experimented with an early form of the method to understand the diffusion of neutrons.

Physicists Stanislaw Ulam and John von Neumann are credited with developing and refining the current Monte Carlo method while working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory on nuclear weapons in the 1940s. Of course the technique needed a code name, and Monte Carlo was chosen because the element of chance also drives the games at a casino (the Monte Carlo region of Monaco is renowned for its gambling).

Soon the simulation method gained traction in the fields of physics, chemistry, and operations research, thanks to its adoption by the Rand Corporation and the U.S. Air Force. From there, it spread to many of the natural sciences, and eventually found its way to finance.

Monte Carlo Simulation Method

The Monte Carlo simulation works by constructing a model of possible outcomes based on an estimated range of possible conditions. It does this by creating a curve of different variables for each unknown variable, and inserting random numbers between the minimum and maximum value for each variable, and running the calculation over and over again. A Monte Carlo experiment will run the calculation thousands upon thousands of times. Along the way, it will produce a large number of possible outcomes.

But even for a simple investment, there are a host of factors that will affect its outcome. There are interest rates, regulations, market swings, as well as factors innate to that investment, such as the sales and revenue of the underlying business, or its competitive landscape, or disruptive technology, and so on. And as an investor seeks to peer further into the future, more possible variables emerge. Using a Monte Carlo simulation to understand those risks requires using a growing number of inputs as the time horizon grows longer.

After an investor runs a Monte Carlo simulation, the calculation will deliver a range of possible outcomes, with a probability score assigned to each outcome. By weighing the probability scores of different outcomes, an investor can proceed with a better sense of the risks and possible rewards of a given investment decision.

Estimating Risk Using the Monte Carlo Method

Using a Monte Carlo simulation is a complicated process that requires a background in mathematics, though some investors have created Monte-Carlo-like models using Excel or a similar spreadsheet program. Some of those homespun programs can be used to try to project possible price trajectories of a given asset.

In Monte Carlo fashion, the user will repeatedly run the equation an arbitrary number of times, to see how often each outcome occurs. The frequency of each outcome will reflect the likelihood of each outcome. The results will most likely form a bell curve, with the most likely result in the middle of the curve. But as with any bell curve, those results also indicate that there is an equal chance that the actual result will be either higher or lower than the number in the middle.

But a Monte Carlo simulation is only as good as the data that’s programmed into it. No matter how well the simulation is run, its predictive powers can easily be undone by factors that haven’t been added into the equation. For example, when using a Monte Carlo simulation to decide whether or not to buy a given stock, the model could seem to deliver a clear picture of the risks and rewards of the investment.

In that example, the problems arise if the programmer or investor leaves out one single factor, such as macro trends, the effectiveness of company leadership, cyclical factors, political changes, and so on. There’s a chance that factor could be the one that completely subverts the simulation. And those variables are potentially without limit.

Who Uses Monte Carlo Simulations and How

Nonetheless, large institutional investors might use Monte Carlo simulations as a tool in their projections and decision making. And its use for investors isn’t limited to hedge fund managers and spreadsheet wizards. There are even online Monte Carlo simulators to help people save for retirement.

Those tools are designed for the average investor to input some basic information like their savings, and years until retirement to help them understand the likelihood that they will be able to reach their financial goals, and whether they will have enough income in retirement. Those calculators use a generic set of parameters for their calculations, with inputs such as interest rates, and a generic portfolio allocation.

The Takeaway

A Monte Carlo simulation is a mathematical technique used to estimate possible outcomes of an uncertain event, such as the movement of securities.

The basis of this analysis is that the probability of different outcomes cannot be determined because random variables cannot be predicted. Therefore, a Monte Carlo simulation will constantly repeat random samples to achieve certain results that can be used to gauge the likelihood of various outcomes, and therefore different risk levels associated with different choices.

So although investing always involves risk and many unknown factors, using a calculator or tool based on the Monte Carlo method can help provide a more sophisticated use of probabilities to make investment choices. You could get started investing today by opening a brokerage account with the SoFi Invest® investment app. SoFi Invest offers an active investing solution that allows you to trade stocks, ETFs, and cryptocurrencies without paying SoFi management fees.

Photo credit: iStock/PeopleImages


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs): Investors should carefully consider the information contained in the prospectus, which contains the Fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other relevant information. You may obtain a prospectus from the Fund company’s website or by email customer service at [email protected] Please read the prospectus carefully prior to investing. Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.
Crypto: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t endorsed or guaranteed by any government, are volatile, and involve a high degree of risk. Consumer protection and securities laws don’t regulate cryptocurrencies to the same degree as traditional brokerage and investment products. Research and knowledge are essential prerequisites before engaging with any cryptocurrency. US regulators, including FINRA , the SEC , and the CFPB , have issued public advisories concerning digital asset risk. Cryptocurrency purchases should not be made with funds drawn from financial products including student loans, personal loans, mortgage refinancing, savings, retirement funds or traditional investments. Limitations apply to trading certain crypto assets and may not be available to residents of all states.
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Source: sofi.com

What Credit Score Do You Need to Buy a Car in 2021?

Because a credit score is an important indicator for determining a consumer’s creditworthiness when buying a car, those with excellent credit histories tend to have an easier time borrowing money on favorable terms compared to those with lower credit scores. However, industry data shows that high-risk borrowers remain viable candidates for auto loans. In other words, there is no universally defined credit score needed to buy a car.

Read on to learn how your credit score can affect buying a car, plus some tips for purchasing a car with a lower credit score.

What FICO® Score Do Car Dealers Use?

There are a few different scoring models that car dealers may use for determining a customer’s credit score. They may use the FICO Auto Score 10 , an industry-specific model featuring a score range from 250 to 900. The auto industry also may use VantageScore 3.0 or the newer VantageScore 4.0 model, which has a score range from 300 to 850.

No matter which scoring model is used, a bad credit score falls on the lower end of the range and a good credit score sits on the higher end of the range.

What Is the Minimum Credit Score To Buy A Car?

There may not necessarily be a minimum credit score required to buy a car. Consumers with deep subprime credit scores from 300 to 500 have obtained financing for new and used vehicles in the second quarter of 2021, according to the credit bureau Experian’s State of the Automotive Finance Market report for that period. Although the percentage of borrowers in this category is very low, this indicates that even those with the lowest credit scores still may have access to auto financing.

Average APR by Credit Score Ranges

Consumers from all credit score categories have obtained auto loans in 2021, but car buyers with excellent credit histories tended to secure the lowest annual percentage rate (APR) financing, according to Experian’s Q2 report. When assessing what is a good credit score to buy a car, Experian’s data confirms that consumers in the super prime and prime categories obtain the lowest interest rates on average for financing.

Quarterly financing data on new vehicle purchases in the second quarter of 2021 shows the following average APRs by credit score ranges:

•  Deep subprime (300-500): 14.59%

•  Subprime (501-600): 11.03%

•  Near prime (601-660): 6.61%

•  Prime (661-780): 3.48%

•  Super prime (781-850): 2.34%

How to Buy a Car With a Lower Credit Score

Obtaining a loan to purchase a new or used vehicle when you don’t have great credit can be cumbersome, but it’s not impossible. Here are some ways a consumer with poor credit may be able to obtain auto financing:

Make a Large Down Payment

Offering a large down payment on a vehicle purchase may allow car buyers to obtain more reasonable rates and better terms for financing, resulting in more affordable monthly loan payments. By putting more money down at the time of purchase, lenders also may view the loan as less risky, thus increasing your odds of approval.

Get Cosigner Assistance

Buying a car with the assistance of a cosigner is another way to potentially bolster your chance of securing favorable financing. A cosigner agrees to share the responsibility of repaying the loan, effectively promising the lender that if you don’t make the payments they will. If the cosigner is creditworthy, it puts the buyer in a much better position to obtain financing than going it solo.

Consider a Less Expensive Car

Especially if you are buying a car with bad credit, it is important to know how much you can realistically afford to spend — and then stick to that budget, even if the dealer tries to upsell you. Additionally, finding a less costly car will reduce the amount you need to borrow, and it may be easier to get approved for a smaller loan amount than a larger one.

Benefits of Good Credit When Buying a Car

The benefit of a good credit score when buying a vehicle is that you may secure lower interest rates compared to consumers with poor credit. Unless a consumer buys a vehicle outright with cash or receives 0% APR financing, the consumer will eventually face monthly principal and interest payments until they’ve paid off the loan balance in full. Auto financing terms may vary in length, with some maturing at 60 months, 72 months or 84 months.

Car loans with a high APR may cause consumers to pay a long-term premium above and beyond the actual sales price of the vehicle.

How to Monitor and Keep Track of Credit Scores

There are a number of ways you can check your credit score, including through your credit company or another financial institution where you have an account, as well as through a credit service or credit scoring website. Contrary to what you may expect, your credit report does not include your credit score, though it does provide valuable information about your credit history and debts, which is why it can still be helpful to read over your credit report before making a major purchase like a car.

Credit scores can fluctuate over time depending upon financial circumstances, and credit score updates occur at least every 45 days. That’s why it’s important to take a look at where your score stands right before you begin the process of car shopping.

Also keep in mind that it’s common for credit inquiries to occur when you’re shopping around to see what auto loan terms you qualify for. While soft inquiries don’t affect your credit score, hard inquiries, such as those that happen when you’re comparing rates for an auto loan, can ding your score. However, most major credit scores will count multiple car loan inquiries made within a certain period of time — typically 14 days — as one inquiry.

What’s Expected in 2022?

Based on the trends outlined in Experian’s Q2 report for 2021, prime borrowers with good credit in 2022 may continue shifting away from used vehicles in favor of new vehicles. Experian’s research also shows that subprime financing remains at near-record lows, with just a fraction of car loans in 2021 going to consumers in the deep subprime risk category. These trends could continue into 2022.

The Takeaway

While it is possible to buy a vehicle with bad credit in 2021, consumers in the subprime or deep subprime risk categories may want to explore ways of improving their credit scores to help secure financing with more favorable terms. As far as what credit score you need to buy a car, any score is potentially sufficient for obtaining financing.

If you want to check your credit or work to improve your score before buying a car, SoFi Relay is a user-friendly app that allows you to easily monitor and keep track of your credit score.

Stay on top of your credit score with weekly updates.

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Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’swebsite .
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
SoFi’s Relay tool offers users the ability to connect both in-house accounts and external accounts using Plaid, Inc’s service. When you use the service to connect an account, you authorize SoFi to obtain account information from any external accounts as set forth in SoFi’s Terms of Use. SoFi assumes no responsibility for the timeliness, accuracy, deletion, non-delivery or failure to store any user data, loss of user data, communications, or personalization settings. You shall confirm the accuracy of Plaid data through sources independent of SoFi. The credit score provided to you is a Vantage Score® based on TransUnion™ (the “Processing Agent”) data.
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What Are Variation Margins? How Do They Work?

Margin variation is money needed to maintain margin level in a margin account. Variation margins serve as collateral or security against potential losses. Another way to think of it is as unrealized profit or loss in open derivative positions.

When a margin account balance drops below the brokerage’s specified limits, the brokerage can extend a margin call to request a futures variation margin payment. If a trader does not have the funds to meet the margin call, the brokerage may sell securities in their account to make up the difference.

It’s important for futures traders to understand variation margin and know how to calculate it.

What is Variation Margin?

Variation margin is a collateral payment made by one party to a counterparty to cover any change in value of underlying assets used in futures contracts.

Traders may make these payments on a day-to-day or intraday basis as directed by the clearing house. Variation margin serves as a risk management tool for the clearing house. By collecting these payments, the clearing house can sustain its targeted risk level while allowing traders to have margin debt in their accounts.

Margin Trading Basics

To understand variation margins, it’s helpful to review some of the basics of margin trading. When an investor trades on margin, it essentially means they’re trading using borrowed money. So, for example, an investor who wants to purchase futures contracts may invest 50% of their own money and borrow the remaining 50% from their brokerage.

In exchange, the brokerage requires investors to maintain an initial margin, maintenance margin, and variation margin amount in liquid funds. Each one represents a different balance threshold. Margin accounts require investors to meet the minimum requirements.

Recommended: How Does a Margin Account Work?

How Do Variation Margins Work?

Variation margin works by filling gaps in margin account balance levels. When trading futures, variation margin allows clearing houses to continue facilitating trades while managing risk. Understanding stock volatility can help with understanding how variation margin works.

Equity prices fluctuate as volatility ebbs and flows in the markets. Changing prices can directly affect investor profits or losses, and trading equity derivatives on margin can amplify those profits and losses.

Variation margins work by accounting for changes in the prices of financial securities being traded. Traders make these payments, typically in cash, from the party who lost value to the party that’s gained value in a margin transaction. The amount due depends on the type of security being traded, expected price movements for that security and overall market conditions. That’s why it’s called variation margin, as the amount may vary from transaction to transaction.

Variation Margin Example

Here’s a simple example of how variation margin works. Assume an investor purchases 100 shares of stock for $30 each. The initial margin for the purchase is set at 50%. This would mean the broker would need to have $1,500 in their account at all times in order to make trades (50% of 100 x $30). Meanwhile, the maintenance margin is $1,000.

If the stock’s share price were to fall to $20, then the brokerages would deduct $1,000 in losses from the initial margin balance. Now the initial margin balance is $500. The new initial margin amount required becomes $1,000 (50% of 100 shares x $20 per share). So the investor would have to add $500 to their account as a variation margin payment to meet the new initial margin requirement.

Variation Margin Calculation

Calculating variation margin depends on the type of security being traded and its price movements. So it’s something that must be done on a transaction-by-transaction basis, since every security is different.

But there is a simple variation margin formula that can be used for calculations:

VM = Initial margin – Margin balance

So to calculate variation margin, an investor needs to know three things:

•   Initial margin requirement

•   Maintenance margin requirement

•   Current price of the underlying security

Finding variation margin means doing some math to determine how much the new initial margin requirement works out to when the price of the underlying security drops. But as the previous variation example illustrates, it’s not overly complicated.

Initial Margin vs Variation Margin

Initial margin and variation margin are often mentioned together when discussing margin trading but they’re not the same thing. Initial margin refers to the amount of money an investor can borrow inside a margin account. Regulation T of the Federal Reserve Board allows investors to borrow up to 50% of the purchase price of securities being traded on margin. Though some brokerages may require a larger deposit to satisfy initial margin requirements.

Initial Margin Variation Margin
Money that must be paid upfront to purchase securities on margin Money that’s paid when a security being traded on margin loses value
Paid in cash prior to purchasing securities Paid daily or intraday, typically in cash
Federal regulations set at initial margin at a minimum of 50% of the security’s price, though brokerages may set the amount higher Amounts due for variation margin can depend on the type of security, its price movements, and market conditions.

Variation Margin and Maintenance Margin

Maintenance margin is another term often used in discussions of margin trading and it’s often used synonymously with variation margin. The maintenance margin represents the minimum amount of equity a trader must maintain in a margin account at all times. Equity is the difference between the value of securities held in the account and any amounts owed to the brokerage.

Under Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rules, maintenance margin must be at least 25% of the total market value of margin securities being held. Brokerage firms set the bar higher, however, requiring investors to meet a 30% or 40% margin maintenance requirement.

The maintenance margin is not the same thing as minimum margin. Minimum margin is the minimum amount required to open a margin account. FINRA requires this amount to be $2,000 or 100% of the purchase price of margin securities, whichever is less.

The Takeaway

Margin trading can potentially yield significant returns for investors, though it has more risks than traditional trading. Understanding variation margin and margin requirements can help traders manage that risk.

It is not necessary to engage in margin trading to have a successful investment strategy. If you’re interested in building a portfolio without using margin trading, the SoFi Invest stock trading platform can help. You can get started with as little as $5 and trade stocks, exchange-traded funds or crypto to build a diversified portfolio that meets your needs.

Photo credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
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Source: sofi.com

Margin Loans: Definition, Examples, Pros & Cons

What Is a Margin Loan?

A margin loan is a loan from your brokerage to pay for securities that you can’t cover with cash. Similar to any other loan, you must apply for the account and be approved before you can borrow funds; and your brokerage will charge interest on any funds you borrow.

Having a margin account by definition enables you to take out a margin loan (the two are synonymous in many ways). Having the flexibility to buy securities on margin gives many traders the ability to take positions they might not have been able to afford otherwise. In fact, margin loans are a cornerstone to putting together effective day trading strategies, for advanced investors.

So, just what is a margin loan and how does it work?

Understanding Margin Loans

Understanding margin trading can be tricky, but for the average investor, all you really need to know is that a margin loan is essentially a short-term financing solution. If you want to buy securities, but don’t have the cash in your account, your brokerage may allow you to buy those securities using credit. It’s similar to a line of credit, in that way.

So, that’s what margin debt is: The result of a margin loan, in which a trader borrows money to buy securities.

How Margin Loans Work

While we’ve mostly been discussing margin loans in terms of trading and investing, they could be used for any purpose. But almost always, a margin loan is used to buy securities.

As for the process of how they actually work: A margin loan is more or less like any other loan. To get one, you’ll need to apply and qualify for margin on your brokerage account (typically called a “margin account”).

Recommended: What Is a Brokerage Account?

Margin Accounts and How They Work

Like other forms of lending, margin loans have strict criteria. In addition, these accounts are governed by industry regulations as well as the policies of individual institutions, so be sure to understand how your desired margin account works. Each brokerage has different rules and eligibility requirements, and FINRA, for example, also requires you to deposit a minimum of $2,000 or 100% of the security’s purchase price, whichever is less. This is the “minimum margin.” Some firms may require you to deposit more than $2,000.

If you’re approved for a margin account, you’re able to trade using a margin loan — up to a certain amount. According to Regulation T of the Federal Reserve Board, you may borrow up to 50% of the purchase price of securities that can be purchased on margin. This is known as the “initial margin.” Some firms require you to deposit more than 50 percent of the purchase price. (Also be aware that not all securities can be purchased on margin. Only those deemed “marginable” can be traded on margin.)

If you have $5,000 in your brokerage account, and you want to buy Stock X, which is valued at $50 per share, with a 50% margin you could buy 50% more than your cash balance: 200 shares instead of 100. But half of those (100 shares) would’ve been purchased on margin — so, you’d need to settle up your account at some point, if or when you decide to sell your shares (hopefully for a profit).

How Margin Interest Works

The other important thing to remember about margin loans is that they are, like pretty much all loans, subject to interest charges. Your brokerage is going to charge you for the money you borrow.

Margin interest is a big topic unto itself, but the key takeaway is to know that you’ll be on the hook for paying your brokerage back for the money you borrow, plus interest charges.

You’re probably thinking: “Can I avoid paying margin interest?” The answer is that it depends on how fast you can pay your margin balance back. Most brokerages will charge interest by the day and add the charges to your account monthly. So, if you have cash or can sell securities and pay your balance off before interest accrues, it’s possible.

Margin Loan Pros and Cons

Marginal loans can be highly useful for traders and investors. But like almost any financial instrument, margin loans have their pros and cons.

The biggest upside of margin is that it can open up a new swath of investing choices for traders. That means increasing their buying power, and allowing them to buy securities that may have otherwise been too expensive. This can increase potential profitability, too.

Conversely, traders who aren’t careful can’t quickly find themselves in debt if one of their trades backfires.

There are also interest charges to consider, as discussed. And if things really go sideways, some traders may experience a “margin call,” which is when your brokerage sells your assets without warning to settle up or get your account balance back within its requirements.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Margin Loans: Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Increased trading capacity Traders can accumulate debt
Traders can buy pricier securities Interest charges
Increased potential gains Potential margin calls

Typical Margin Loan Rates

Margin loan rates, or, the interest rate charged by a brokerage for using margin, vary. Brokerages make the information available to traders and investors, so finding what types of margin loan rates you’re subjected to usually just requires a little research (or a call to your broker).

As mentioned, a brokerage will probably charge different interest rates depending on your overall margin balance, and how much you’ve borrowed. Lower balances are typically charged higher interest rates.

Here are some hypothetical examples: Let’s say Brokerage ABC’s margin interest rates vary between 4% and 8%, depending on the trader’s balance. Traders using up to $24,999 in margin will be subject to the highest interest rate (8%), whereas traders with more than $1 million in margin debit are subject to the 4% rate.

Brokerage B, however, has a different scale, with traders in margin debt up to $24,999 subject to 8.5% interest, and those with balances between $500,000 and $999,999 subject to 6.5%.

So, while brokerages do vary in what they charge for margin loan rates, they tend to be similar. To know your exact rate, contact your brokerage, or look up the current rate schedule on the company’s website.

The Takeaway

Margin loans are similar to any other type of loan, but are typically used for the purpose of buying stocks or other securities. Once you’ve applied for and been approved for a margin account, which is akin to adding a line of credit to your existing brokerage account, you’ll have the flexibility to buy more investments than if you were relying only on cash.

That said, you’re on the hook for repaying the money you’ve borrowed, with interest. If you’ve made a profitable investment, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you invest in Stock X on margin, say, and the price drops, you would still owe the full amount you’d borrowed to buy the stock, plus interest.

To start investing, though, you don’t need a margin account. You can open a SoFi Invest® online brokerage account and start buying and selling stocks, ETFs, even cryptocurrency today. SoFi doesn’t charge management fees, and SoFi members have access to complimentary financial advice from professionals.

Photo credit: iStock/Sergey Nazarov


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
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Source: sofi.com