3 min read

What is the Difference Between Secured and Unsecured Debt?

Written By

Clay Shiffman

Debt typically falls into two categories - secured and unsecured debt. You'll likely encounter many instances of secured and unsecured debts in your finances and may apply for one or both types when financing various purchases.

Secured and unsecured debts represent two fundamental types of borrowing. They have characteristics, risks, and implications that make them more suitable for certain people and circumstances. By understanding the differences between these two categories, individuals can navigate their financial obligations more effectively and make choices that better align with their goals.

Secured debt vs. unsecured debt: An overview

What is a secured debt?

Secured debt is a type of borrowing backed by collateral. The collateral is security for the lender if the borrower defaults. Collateral is an asset of value the borrower pledges to the lender for the debt. If the borrower fails to repay the loan as agreed in the terms and conditions, the lender has the legal right to seize the collateral and sell it to recover the outstanding debt.

What is an unsecured debt?

Unsecured debt doesn't require collateral to secure the loan. Lenders extend credit based on the borrower's creditworthiness, income, and repayment history. Because there's no collateral backing the loan, lenders rely on the borrower's promise and responsibility to repay the loan.

Key differences between secured and unsecured loans

Secured and unsecured loans are two fundamental principles in borrowing from a bank, credit union, private lender, or other financial institution. Here are the key differences between the two options so you can make informed financing decisions.

Collateral requirements

Secured loans require collateral, typically an asset of value related to the purpose of the loan. For example, a mortgage finances the purchase of a home. The lender requires the borrower to use the house as collateral to back the loan. An auto loan typically requires the borrower to use their vehicle as collateral. If the borrower defaults on loan payments, the lender has permission to seize the collateral to cover the outstanding balance.

Unsecured loans don't require collateral. Lenders thoroughly assess the borrower's creditworthiness and risk to determine whether they should extend credit. The lender reviews the borrower's credit history and income to review whether the borrower has a good repayment history and the financial stability to manage the loan.

Risk for lenders

Secured loans are less risky for lenders than unsecured debt because they can take the collateral in case of loan default.

For example, if the borrower defaults on mortgage payments, the lender can use the house's value to recover their loss. However, if a borrower fails to repay an unsecured loan, the lender has limited recourse to recover the debt.

Interest rates

Because secured loans are less risky for lenders to issue, they typically come with lower interest rates. The collateral provides added security for the lender, allowing them to offer more favourable terms to borrowers. Unsecured loans generally have higher interest rates to compensate for the increased risk of lending without collateral.

Loan amounts

A secured loan often allows borrowers to access a larger loan amount. Since the collateral reduces the risk of lending money to the borrower, the lender can extend more credit. However, unsecured loans typically offer smaller loan amounts. Lenders may be more conservative with the loan limit since there's increased credit risk, and the lender will have a more challenging time recovering the loss if the borrower defaults.

Loan purpose

Most secured loans are issued for a specific purpose, like purchasing a home or financing a vehicle. The collateral is directly related to the purpose of the loan. Unsecured loans are more flexible. Borrowers can use it for various purposes, like debt consolidation, home improvements, or medical expenses.

Unsecured and secured debt examples

Borrowers use secured and unsecured debts to finance different purchases. Here are some examples of secured debts you may encounter or apply for:

  • Mortgages: A mortgage is a secured debt used to finance the purchase of real estate. The property you buy serves as the collateral for the loan. If you fail to make mortgage payments, the lender has the legal right to foreclose on the property and sell it to recover the outstanding balance.

  • Auto loans: An auto loan finances the purchase of a vehicle, which serves as collateral for the secured loan. The lender can repossess the vehicle if the borrower defaults on the loan.

  • Home equity loans: Home equity loans and home equity lines of credit allow homeowners to borrow against the equity on their homes. The home is collateral, and the lender can foreclose on the property if required.

  • Secured personal loans: Some personal loans require collateral to secure the debt. Borrowers may use assets like savings accounts, certificates of deposit, or other valuable property to secure the loan.

  • Secured credit cards: A secured credit card is a revolving credit line you can use for everyday purchases. The secured credit card deposit typically equals the credit limit, and you can spend up to the limit. You can use the secured card in most places where traditional credit cards are accepted.

Here are some common examples of unsecured debts:

  • Traditional credit cards: A traditional credit card allows individuals to make purchases online and in retail stores now and repay the amount later. Lenders evaluate the borrower's credit score, income, and repayment history to determine creditworthiness and risk.

  • Personal loans: Personal loans are often unsecured and can be used for various purposes, like home improvements, car repairs, education, or unexpected expenses.

  • Student loans: Most student loans are considered unsecured debts as they don't require collateral. Federal loans, in particular, offer various repayment options and protections for borrowers, such as income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs.

  • Medical bills: Medical expenses not covered by insurance can result in unsecured debt. Hospitals and healthcare providers may offer payment plans or financing options to help patients manage medical bills without requiring collateral.

Advantages of secured debt

Secured debts offer several advantages for both borrowers and lenders.

  • Lower interest rates: Secured debt typically comes with lower interest rates because they are less risky for the lender to issue. Lower interest rates can result in lower monthly payments and reduced overall interest costs.

  • Easier qualification: Secured loans may be easier to qualify for, especially for individuals with limited or poor credit scores. Lenders may be more willing to extend credit to borrowers who may not meet the stringent eligibility requirements of an unsecured loan.

  • Longer repayment terms: Secured loans often come with longer repayment terms than unsecured ones. Longer repayment terms can result in lower monthly payments, making the debt more manageable and offering more flexibility in budgeting.

  • Improved credit opportunities: Individuals can build credit with a secured credit card or loan through on-time payments. Borrowers can improve their credit scores over time by demonstrating responsible borrowing behaviour.

  • Asset retention: While the collateral serves as security for the loan, borrowers typically retain ownership and use of the collateral as long as they make timely payments. It allows borrowers to continue using and benefitting from the asset while repaying the debt.

  • Potential tax benefits: In some cases, the interest paid on secured debt may be tax-deductible, such as for mortgages or home equity loans. Borrowers can consult a tax advisor to determine if they qualify for tax benefits.

Advantages of unsecured debt

Here are the benefits of applying for unsecured debt:

  • No collateral required: A significant benefit of unsecured debt is it doesn't require collateral. It makes unsecured loans more accessible to individuals who may not have valuable assets to use as collateral.

  • Flexible use of funds: Unsecured loans can be used for various purposes, while secured loans are typically issued for a specific reason.

  • Quick approval process: Unsecured loans typically have faster approval processes because they don't need collateral appraisal or verification. Borrowers can apply for unsecured loans online or in person and receive approval within short notice.

  • No risk of asset seizure: Asset seizure happens when the borrower fails to repay a secured loan, and the lender takes the collateral to cover the loss. Since unsecured loans have no collateral, borrowers don't need to worry about asset seizure. The recourse of loan defaults is typically limited to collection efforts, like hiring a debt collection agency.

  • Build credit history: Successfully managing unsecured debt and making timely payments can help borrowers build or improve their credit history. A positive payment history demonstrates financial responsibility to credit bureaus, boosting your credit score and improving your eligibility for future credit opportunities.

  • Fixed interest rates: Many unsecured loans have fixed interest rates for the duration of the loan term. Fixed interest rates provide borrowers with predictability and stability in their monthly payments, making it easier to budget repayments.

A secured vs. unsecured loan: Which one is right for you?

Choosing between a secured and unsecured loan depends on various factors like your financial situation, borrowing needs, and risk tolerance. Here are some considerations to help you determine whether a secured or unsecured loan is right for you.

A secured loan may be beneficial if:

  • You need access to a larger loan amount for your purchase.

  • You have valuable assets you're willing to pledge as collateral.

  • You have limited or poor credit history.

  • You want lower interest rates.

An unsecured loan may be the right choice if:

  • You don't want to pledge collateral.

  • You need flexibility to use the fund for different purposes.

  • You want a quick approval process.

  • You want to build or improve your credit history.

Monitoring your credit with secured and unsecured debt

Monitoring your credit is important regardless of whether you have unsecured or secured debt. Reviewing your credit history and ensuring it's on the right track can help you qualify for both types of loans.

You can get your credit report from any major credit bureau or access a copy of your free credit score from your financial institution. Your credit report tracks information related to your credit use, limits, and payment history.

Early detection of issues with your credit report, like unauthorized new accounts or credit checks, can protect you from fraud and identity theft. By reviewing your credit report for errors and discrepancies that may harm your score, you keep the collateral on your secured debt safe and ensure you qualify for good interest rates on your unsecured debt.

Secure financing and build credit with KOHO

KOHO has various tools and expert guidance to help individuals secure the financing they need and start their credit-building or repair journey. Whether you want a virtual credit card for everyday spending or a prepaid card to build credit with a line of credit, we've got your back.

We report your on-time payments to the credit bureaus to help you improve your credit history and score. You can sign up for overdraft protection coverage to give you additional peace of mind in unexpected emergencies. It gives you up to $250 of interest-free cash advance. Your credit score won't be impacted if you exceed your credit limit in an emergency.

Learn more about leveraging KOHO's financial resources and products for every step of your financial journey. From high-interest savings accounts that earn interest to credit tools to build your credit with KOHO, we can help you reach your financial goals faster.

Note: KOHO product information and/or features may have been updated since this blog post was published. Please refer to our KOHO Plans page for our most up to date account information!