Skip to content
Economic Justice Fund

Understanding the True Cost of a Loan

Navigating the world of loans can be daunting, especially when faced with a confusing (and nerve-wracking) variety of options and terms. Understanding the true cost of a loan is crucial for making sound financial decisions and avoiding the pitfalls of high-interest debts, payday loans, and other predatory financing products. Here’s what you need to know before you take out a loan.

How U.S. Legislation Impacts Borrowing Transparency

It is essential to know your rights as a borrower. These are established by federal and state legislation, and the Truth in Lending Act is critically important.

What Is the Truth in Lending Act?

One of the most significant pieces of U.S. legislation that aims to protect borrowers is the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). Enacted in 1968, TILA requires lenders to disclose all terms and conditions of a loan, including the annual percentage rate (APR), the total cost of the loan, and any additional fees. This transparency allows borrowers to compare loan offers more easily and identify honest lenders.

TILA also provides borrowers with the right to rescind (void the contract and end) certain types of loans within a specific period, offering an additional layer of protection. By mandating clear, upfront information, TILA helps borrowers avoid hidden fees and understand the full scope of their financial commitment, making it easier to steer clear of unethical lenders.

Why It’s Important to Plan Ahead

Here’s why planning ahead and anticipating your financial needs can help you take out the loan that will help you the most and cost the least.

Avoiding Costly Loans

Understanding the true cost of a loan involves more than just looking at the interest rate. Other factors like loan origination fees, late fees, and prepayment penalties can add up. By planning ahead and scrutinizing these details, you can avoid loans that may initially seem attractive but are costly in the long run.

Steering Clear of Unethical Lenders

Unethical lenders often prey on borrowers in desperate need of funds and are not fully aware of the loan terms. These lenders may charge exorbitant fees and interest rates, trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt. Being informed and planning ahead can help you identify and avoid these predatory practices without being distracted by the stress of having an active financial emergency.

Preventing Financial Mistakes

For socially and economically marginalized Americans, falling victim to high-interest debts or predatory loans can have long-lasting repercussions. These financial mistakes can prevent them from building wealth, owning a home, or accessing better job opportunities. Therefore, understanding the true cost of a loan is not just a financial necessity but also a step toward long-term social and economic empowerment.

How to Calculate the True Cost of Borrowing Money

Calculating the true cost of a loan involves more than just considering the interest rate; it also includes various fees that could be part of the loan agreement. Here’s how to go about it:

1. Understand the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) 

The APR is a comprehensive measure that includes both the interest rate and any additional fees or charges you’ll have to pay over the loan term. It’s expressed as a yearly rate, providing a more complete picture of how much the loan will cost you annually.

All Economic Justice Fund loans have a low, fixed interest rate that won’t change during the life of the loan.

2. Factor in Origination Fees and Other Charges

Some loans come with origination fees, which are upfront costs for processing the loan. These fees can range from 1% to 6% of the loan amount. Additionally, consider other charges like late fees, prepayment penalties, or any annual or monthly fees that may apply.

The Economic Justice Fund charges no fees. Many other lenders charge application fees, origination fees, servicing fees, and prepayment fees, but we charge no fees because we believe in providing fair and affordable loans with transparent terms.

3. Consider the Loan Term

The loan term (the length of the loan) can significantly impact the total cost. A longer-term may result in lower monthly payments, but you’ll end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan. Conversely, a shorter-term loan will increase your monthly payments but could save you money in the long run.

At the Economic Justice Fund, we work with our borrowers to determine the best repayment plan for them and offer terms ranging from 12-60 months.

4. Use a Loan Calculator

Many online loan cost calculator tools can help you calculate a loan’s true cost by inputting details like the loan amount, term, interest rate, and any additional fees. These calculators provide an amortization schedule, showing how much you’ll pay each month and how much goes toward the principal and interest.

5. Evaluate the Total Payment

Add up all the payments you’ll make over the life of the loan, including the principal, interest, and any additional fees. This sum represents the true cost of the loan and is the amount you’ll ultimately pay back.

See below how you can save thousands with a loan from the Economic Justice Fund.

The Importance of Community Development Financial Institutions

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are financial institutions that provide responsible, affordable lending to underserved people and communities. By offering fair terms and guiding borrowers through the lending process, CDFIs serve as an ethical alternative to traditional banks and high-cost predatory lenders.

CDFIs are certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. They are required to meet specific performance standards, such as maintaining accountability to the community and offering financial products that are both affordable and appropriate for the target populations. They can provide various types of loans, including consumer loans, small business loans, and housing loans at affordable rates.

Borrow Safely and Responsibly With the Economic Justice Fund

The Economic Justice Fund is a mission-driven, nonprofit lender dedicated to helping Americans pursue the American Dream. We believe that all Americans, regardless of income, race, gender, or zip code, should have access to fair, affordable financing. We are certified as a Community Development Financial Institution by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

In addition to ethical, equitable loans, we provide financial training and credit-building services to empower individuals in underserved communities. Read our success stories, choose the financing plan that fits your needs, and apply for a loan with us today!