Secured Debt vs. Unsecured Debt: What’s the Difference? (2024)

Secured Debt vs. Unsecured Debt: An Overview

Loans and other types of financing available to consumers generally fall into two main categories: secured debt and unsecured debt. The primary difference between the two is the presence or absence of collateral to protect the lender in case the borrower defaults.

Key Takeaways

  • Secured debts are those for which the borrower puts up some asset to serve as collateral for the loan.
  • The secured loans lower the amount of risk for lenders.
  • Unsecured debt has no collateral backing.
  • Lenders issue funds in an unsecured loan based solely on the borrower’s creditworthiness and promise to repay.
  • Because secured debt poses less risk to the lender, the interest rates on it are generally lower.

What Is Secured Debt?

Secured debts are those for which the borrower puts up some asset as collateral for the loan. A secured debt simply means that in the event of default, the lender can seize the asset to collect the funds it has advanced the borrower.

Common types of secured debt for consumers are mortgages and auto loans, in which the item being financed becomes the collateral for the financing. With a car loan, if the borrower fails to make timely payments, then the loan issuer can eventually acquire ownership of the vehicle. When an individual or business takes out a mortgage, the property in question is used to back the repayment terms; in fact, the lending institution maintains equity (financial interest) in the property until the mortgage is paid in full. If the borrower defaults on the payments, the lender can seize the property and sell it to recoup the money it is owed, or at least some portion of it.

A home equity loan or a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is another type of secured debt, also backed by the borrower’s home. Homeowners who have sufficient equity can have both a traditional mortgage and a home equity loan or HELOC on the same property at the same time.

Similarly, businesses may take out secured loans using real estate, capital equipment, inventory, invoices, or cash as collateral.

Because of their reduced risks, secured loans generally have more lenient credit requirements than unsecured ones. For example, a credit score of 620 is generally considered adequate for obtaining a conventional mortgage, while government-insured Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans set the cutoff even lower, at 500. As with unsecured loans, however, the better your score, the lower your interest rate may be or the more money you may be allowed to borrow.

The primary difference between secured and unsecured debt is the presence or absence of collateral—something used as security against non-repayment of the loan.

What Is Unsecured Debt?

Unsecured debt has no collateral backing: It requires no security, as the name implies. If the borrower defaults on this type of debt, the lender must initiate a lawsuit to try to collect what it is owed.

Lenders issue unsecured loans based solely on the borrower’s creditworthiness and promise to repay. Therefore, banks typically charge a higher interest rate on these so-called signature loans. Also, credit score and debt-to-income requirements are usually stricter for these types of loans, and the loans are only made available to the most attractive borrowers. While you some personal loans are available to those with a lower score, a 670 credit score is typically needed for access to a broad range of favorable personal loans.

However, if you can meet the rigorous requirements, you could qualify for the best personal loans available.

Outside of loans from a bank, examples of unsecured debts include medical bills, certain retail installment contracts such as gym memberships, and outstanding balances on most credit cards. When you acquire a piece of plastic, the credit card company is essentially issuing you a line of credit with no collateral requirements. But it charges hefty interest rates on any money you borrow to justify the risk.

An unsecured debt instrument like a bond is backed only by the reliability and credit of the issuing entity, so it carries a higher level of risk than a secured bond, its asset-backed counterpart. Because the risk to the lender is increased relative to that of secured debt, interest rates on unsecured debt tend to be correspondingly higher.

Unsecured government debt can be a special case. For example, U.S. government-issued Treasury bills (T-bills), while unsecured, have lower interest rates than many other types of debt. That is because the government has the power to print additional dollars or impose taxes to pay off its obligations, making this kind of debt instrument virtually free of any default risk.

Advantages of Secured and Unsecured Debt

Although each type of debt has been discussed above, let's cover the advantages of each more specifically.

Pros of Secured Debt

Here are the advantages of secured debt:

  • The presence of collateral, such as real estate or valuable assets, provides lenders with a greater sense of security. This means the interest rate you get will probably be lower.
  • Because interest rates are most likely lower, your monthly payments may be slightly lower under with secured debt.
  • Secured loans are often easier to get, especially for people with lower credit scores or limited credit history, as the secured asset can help validate the possibility of future debt payments.
  • Secured debt may come with longer payment terms; lenders may be willing to have these longer terms because of the secured asset. This means people can have a little less pressure on their monthly cashflow.

Pros of Unsecured Debt

Here are the advantages of unsecured debt:

  • Because unsecured loans do not require collateral, people don't have the risk of losing specific assets in case of default.
  • The freedom from collateral may streamline the application process, possibly leading to quicker approvals. This is because there is no substantiation of assets being secured.
  • Unsecured loans usually provide borrowers with the flexibility to use the funds as needed. Alternatively, secured loans may be tied to the underlying asset (i.e. a car loan must be used to buy a car, the secured asset).

Unsecured Loans With Favorable Terms

Sometimes well-qualified borrowers can be given an unsecured loan with favorable terms more similar to a secured loan.

In this approach, lenders assess the borrower's credit history, income, reputation, and financial situation as a basis for granting a loan. However, unlike secured loans, no collateral tied to tangible assets like real estate or vehicles is put down. The lender is still willing to grant favorable terms and interest rates based on a business's reputation and stability, for example. This is an unsecured loan, yet the lender is agreeing to favorable terms (often reserved only for secured loans).

This approach is particularly advantageous for those who want great loan terms without risking specific assets. This may be difficult to achieve as the lender is extending favorable loan terms without having a secured asset to reduce its risk exposure.

Secured Credit Cards

Note that in some cases, a traditionally unsecured loan may be secured in the interim while the debtor builds credit or fosters the relationship with a lender. One example of this is secured credit cards.

Secured credit cards are a type of credit card that requires the cardholder to provide a cash deposit as collateral. If you've never heard of this before, it's because most credit cards often do not require a secured asset. When the credit card is issued, the credit limit is often equal to the amount of the deposit.

Successfully managing this secured credit card, making regular payments, and keeping balances low relative to the credit limit can positively impact the cardholder's credit score. In addition, more credit may be issued (without needing a secured asset) or the secured asset may be relinquished to convert the card to an unsecured line of credit.

Secured and Unsecured Debt in Investing

Let's quickly touch on how secured and unsecured debt matters from the investor's perspective. If you are invested in bonds or corporate debt, you are invested in either secured or unsecured debt.

Investors holding both secured and unsecured debt in their portfolio benefit from risk diversification, especially realizing that unsecured debt is riskier. Secured debt, backed by collateral, offers a lower risk of default; however, because the rates are often lower, your potential return will be lower.

There's also other investing things to keep in mind. For example, as mentioned earlier, secured debt may have longer terms. This means secured debt may leave you more exposed to interest rate risk as rates may fluctuate greater over the long-term compared to the short-term.

Which Is Better: Secured Debt or Unsecured Debt?

From the lender’s point of view, secured debt can be better because it is less risky. From the borrower’s point of view, secured debt carries the risk that they’ll have to forfeit their collateral if they can’t repay. On the plus side, though, it is likely to come with a lower interest rate than unsecured debt.

Are Personal Loans Secured or Unsecured?

While personal loans are generally thought of as unsecured, they can be either. Examples of the type of property that might be used as collateral for a secured personal loan include cars, boats, jewelry, stocks and bonds, life insurance policies, or money in a bank account.

Does Secured Debt or Unsecured Debt Have Higher Rates?

Because unsecured debt is more risky since it is not backed by secured assets, it will often charge borrowers higher rates.

Can I Combine Secured and Unsecured Debts?

Debt consolidation involves combining multiple debts into a single, more manageable loan. By using a secured loan (such as a home equity loan) to pay off high-interest unsecured debts, borrowers can potentially lower overall interest costs and simplify repayments. People usually do this to not only simplify their debt portfolio but to reduce what they pay in interest.

The Bottom Line

Loans may be secured or unsecured. Secured loans require some sort of collateral, such as a car, a home, or another valuable asset, that the lender can seize if the borrower defaults on the loan. Unsecured loans require no collateral but do require that the borrower be sufficiently creditworthy in the lender’s eyes. Generally speaking, secured loans will have lower interest rates than unsecured ones because of their lower perceived risk.

Secured Debt vs. Unsecured Debt: What’s the Difference? (2024)


Secured Debt vs. Unsecured Debt: What’s the Difference? ›

The Bottom Line

What is the difference between secured debt and unsecured debt? ›

Secured debt is backed by collateral, whereas unsecured debt doesn't require you to put any assets on the line to get approved. Because lenders take on more risk, unsecured debts tend to have higher interest rates and stricter eligibility requirements than secured debt.

What is the main difference between a secured and unsecured loan? ›

The main difference between secured and unsecured loans is collateral: A secured loan requires collateral, while an unsecured loan does not. Unsecured loans are the more common of the two types of personal loans, but interest rates can be higher since they're backed only by your creditworthiness.

Is it better to pay off secured or unsecured debt? ›

Because your assets can be seized if you don't pay off your secured loan, they are arguably riskier than unsecured loans. You're still paying interest on the loan based on your creditworthiness, and in some cases fees, when you take out a secured loan.

What is the difference between secured and unsecured debt quizlet? ›

What is the difference between a secured and unsecured loan? Secured loan uses collateral (i.e. car or house) where unsecured does not use collateral (loan made just on promise to pay it back).

What are examples of secured and unsecured debt? ›

Examples of secured debt include mortgages, auto loans and secured credit cards. Unsecured debt doesn't require collateral. But missed unsecured debt payments or defaults can still have consequences. Examples of unsecured debt include student loans, personal loans and traditional credit cards.

What is the difference between secured and unsecured notes? ›

An unsecured note is not backed by any collateral and thus presents more risk to lenders. Due to the higher risk involved, these notes' interest rates are higher than with secured notes. In contrast, a secured note is a loan backed by the borrower's assets, such as a mortgage or auto loan.

What is an example of a unsecured loan? ›

Unsecured loans include personal loans, student loans, and most credit cards—all of which can be revolving or term loans. A revolving loan is a loan that has a credit limit that can be spent, repaid, and spent again. Examples of revolving unsecured loans include credit cards and personal lines of credit.

Can a secured loan be written off? ›

Most people have a loan secured by property, such as a mortgage or a car loan. These debts, called "secured debts," can be tricky in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Although you can wipe out or "discharge" a secured loan in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you'll lose the property you purchased if you don't pay for it after bankruptcy.

Can I stop paying unsecured debt? ›

If you don't pay an unsecured business loan, you risk damaging your credit score and reputation among lenders. Lenders can also impose late fees and penalties, adding to the amount owed. Ultimately, failing to pay the debt can lead to creditors taking legal action against you or your business.

Is unsecured debt risky? ›

Investors holding both secured and unsecured debt in their portfolio benefit from risk diversification, especially realizing that unsecured debt is riskier. Secured debt, backed by collateral, offers a lower risk of default; however, because the rates are often lower, your potential return will be lower.

Which debt to pay first? ›

Prioritizing debt by interest rate.

This repayment strategy, sometimes called the avalanche method, prioritizes your debts from the highest interest rate to the lowest. First, you'll pay off your balance with the highest interest rate, followed by your next-highest interest rate and so on.

What is usually a secured debt? ›

If you have pledged property as collateral for a loan, the loan is called a secured debt. Examples of secured debt include homes loans and car loans. The loan is secured by the car or home, which means that the person you owe the debt to can repossess the car or foreclose on the home if you fail to pay the debt.

What are three things you can do to build good credit? ›

There is no secret formula to building a strong credit score, but there are some guidelines that can help.
  • Pay your loans on time, every time. ...
  • Don't get close to your credit limit. ...
  • A long credit history will help your score. ...
  • Only apply for credit that you need. ...
  • Fact-check your credit reports.
Sep 1, 2020

What happens if you can't pay back a home equity loan? ›

You typically repay the loan with equal monthly payments over a fixed term. If you don't repay the loan as agreed, your lender can foreclose on your home. The amount that you can borrow — and the interest rate you'll pay to borrow the money — depend on your income, credit history, and the market value of your home.

What is an example of a secured debt? ›

The two most common examples of secured debt are mortgages and auto loans. This is so because their inherent structure creates collateral. If an individual defaults on their mortgage payments, the bank can seize their home. Similarly, if an individual defaults on their car loan, the lender can seize their car.

What is an example of a secured loan? ›

Mortgages, home equity loans and auto loans are all common examples of secured loans. In the case of a mortgage or home equity loan, your house is the collateral that secures the loan. In an auto loan, it's your car.

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