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Secured vs. Unsecured Loans: What Are the Differences?

Auto and home loans are naturally a form of secured debt—they’re secured by a car or house—but personal loans can be secured or unsecured.

Written by Casey Bond / September 15, 2022

Quick Bites

  • The biggest difference between secured and unsecured loans is that secured loans require the borrower to put up collateral that could be seized if repayment goes south.
  • Unsecured loans are generally pricier than secured loans, and they require having at least good credit.
  • You might opt for an unsecured loan (even if it’s more expensive) to avoid posting—and potentially losing—a valuable asset as collateral.
  • When shopping around for secured or unsecured personal loans, compare multiple options from lenders, looking at factors like interest rates, repayment terms and fees.

There’s a lot to consider when you need to borrow money. Will I qualify? Who has the best interest rate? Am I sure I can afford these payments?

One important factor you may not have given much thought is whether the loan will be secured or unsecured. Understanding the difference between these two types of loans can make a big difference in how much you’re able to borrow—and how much it’ll cost you.

So if you aren’t sure about the differences between secured vs. unsecured loans, read on to find out.

Inside this article

  1. Secured vs. unsecured loans
  2. When to borrow a secured loan
  3. When to borrow an unsecured loan
  4. How to shop for a personal loan
  5. Frequently asked questions

Secured vs. unsecured loans

The main difference between a secured loan and an unsecured loan is whether you need to put up collateral. Let’s take a closer look.

Secured loan definition

Secured loans require you to put up an asset as collateral in exchange for funds. In other words, you secure the loan with something valuable. “The lender can repossess the asset if you fail to return the borrowed money,” says Levon L. Galstyan, a Certified Public Accountant with Oak View Law Group

For example, an auto loan is secured by the vehicle you’re financing. A mortgage is secured by the property. If you fail to repay the loan, the lender can take back that car or house. That not only motivates you to pay back your debt on time, but it provides a financial safety net for the lender, too. Also, “secured loans tend to have lower interest rates, as there is less risk involved for the lender,” says Galstyan.

Other types of secured loans include some personal loans, home equity loans and lines of credit, life insurance loans, pawn shop loans and secured credit cards. In addition to property and vehicles, other assets that can be used as collateral include bank accounts, investments, precious metals, jewelry, fine art and other valuables.

Unsecured loan definition

On the other hand, unsecured loans don’t require any collateral. Galstyan says you only need to meet the lender’s borrowing criteria, such as having a high credit score. “Lenders usually charge higher interest rates for an unsecured loan because if you can’t repay it, the lender cannot claim any asset as compensation,” he said.

Examples of unsecured loans include some personal loans, student loans, credit cards, peer-to-peer loans and payday loans.

When it’s better to borrow a secured loan

The main benefit of a secured loan is that it can be easier to qualify for, especially if your credit isn’t in the best shape, according to Galstyan: “Secured loans also have higher borrowing limits, so they might be the right type for you if you need to borrow a significant amount.” Plus, he says, the lower interest rates of secured loans also make them less expensive over time than unsecured loans.

On the other hand, secured loans can be riskier for you. “If you don’t pay secured debts, the lender can take the collateral, and you can be charged fees and penalties for the missed payments,” Galstyan said.

In some cases, you don’t get a choice when choosing between a secured or unsecured loan. Auto loans and mortgages, for example, are always secured. But if you have the choice, opting for a secured loan is best when you would otherwise not qualify for the amount and terms you desire.

When it’s better to borrow a unsecured loan

The main benefit of an unsecured loan is that you don’t have to risk any assets in order to secure financing. The trade-off is that you might have to pay a higher interest rate, or may be approved for a smaller loan amount. 

Still, there are major consequences of defaulting on unsecured debt. You will face late charges, and if it goes unpaid for a long time, the account can be sent to collections, affecting your credit. “You can be repeatedly contacted by collection agencies, and they can file a lawsuit against you if you fail to make payments,” Galstyan said.

Generally, unsecured loans are preferable when you can afford the slightly higher rate. If faced with a choice between an unsecured and a secured loan—such as when shopping around for a personal loan—it’s important to crunch the numbers and see which option makes most sense for you.

How to shop for a personal loan

Speaking of personal loans, these are a popular source of financing that can be either secured or unsecured. Personal loans allow you to borrow money for almost any reason, and often have lower interest rates than credit cards. Most commonly, personal loans are used to consolidate debt, finance big-ticket purchases and fund home improvement projects.[1]

When shopping for a personal loan, your first instinct may be to check with banks. However, traditional banks are not the only place to find one. You can also get personal loans from credit unions, online lenders and even peer-to-peer lending platforms.

When comparing personal loan offers, it’s important to evaluate a few factors. The interest rate is a big one; rates can vary widely depending on your credit and other factors. Today, the average personal loan interest rate can range between 5% to 36%.

You’ll also want to pay attention to origination fees—these cover the lender’s cost of processing the loan, and can range from 1% to 8% of the loan amount. Some lenders also charge a penalty for paying your loan off early (known as a prepayment penalty), so it’s a good idea to check before committing to a loan.

Here are top-rated banks reviewed by Sound Dollar:

Company
SoFi personal loans logoVisit
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Unemployment protection if you lose your job while in repayment on this no-fee loan
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Skip one payment per year if you run into a financial hardship
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Fair credit
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You can qualify with a 600 credit score and three or more years of credit history
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The lowest APRs advertised among national lenders, and a “Rate Beat” program to boot
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Debt consolidation
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Have Marcus disburse loan funds directly to your creditor/s

Frequently asked questions

Is a personal loan secured or unsecured?

Personal loans can be either secured or unsecured. Secured personal loans tend to be easier to qualify for, and come with lower rates. However, you’ll be required to put up collateral, such as a bank account, vehicle or real estate. Unsecured personal loans are usually a bit more expensive, but they don’t require you to risk any collateral.

Is it better to borrow an unsecured or a secured loan?
Article Sources
  1. “Ways to Use a Personal Loan,” Wells Fargo, https://www.wellsfargo.com/personal-loans/uses-of-a-personal-loan.

About the Authors

Photo of Casey Bond

Casey Bond

Casey Bond is an award-winning writer who has been covering personal finance for more than a decade. Her work has also appeared on Yahoo!, Money.com, Fortune, MSN, Business Insider, The Motley Fool, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, TheStreet, and more. She is a Certified Personal Finance Counselor.

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