Secured vs. Unsecured Personal Loans: Understanding the Difference

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Updated on Thursday, November 15, 2018

personal loan

At one point or another, most people will need to borrow money for a large expense such as college tuition, purchasing or remodeling a home, or buying a vehicle. Although it’s possible to save up enough cash to pay for these big expenses, many choose to finance their purchase and pay it back over a period of time using either a secured or an unsecured personal loan.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to determine which type of debt is best for your unique financial situation. For new borrowers, the differences between the two can be confusing. What’s required of a borrower when they take out a secure or an unsecured loan? When might it make sense to use one versus the other?

Secured vs. unsecured personal loans

Secured loans and unsecured loans have several differences, but the most important to remember is that secured loans are literally “secured” against items owned by the person needing the loan, while unsecured loans are not. This collateral could be anything that holds equity and is owned by the borrower.

For example, you might use your car, boat, home or property you own as collateral on a secured loan. Unsecured loans, on the other hand, only look at a borrower’s ability to repay their loan based on their income, current debts and credit score.

However, this isn’t the only way that these two loan types differ. Let’s do a side-by-side comparison to get a better idea of what each of these loans requires from borrowers, and how they work.

 Secured personal loans Unsecured personal loans

Credit check needed?

Sometimes. Secured loans don’t have as strict credit requirements because the lender is already using something of monetary value to secure the loan. So, if you don’t have fantastic credit, but you own a car, lenders may be more lenient.

Yes. Unsecured loans don’t use any collateral to secure the loan. Typically, lenders require a credit check to ascertain your ability to repay the loan.

Typical interest rates

Interest rates will vary on secured loans, but are often relatively low – around 5%. However, some secured loans (like title or payday loans) have much higher interest rates associated with them (often hitting, or exceeding, double digits).

APRs start as low as 2.49%. This large range in interest rates is dependent on the type of loan (for example, interest rates for federal student loans are lower than personal loans or lines of credit), down payment made by the borrower and ability for the borrower to pay off the loan (judged by their credit score).


  • Secured credit card

  • Mortgage

  • Auto loan

  • HEL/HELOC (for home repairs and improvements)

  • Payday loan

  • Title loan

  • Personal loan

  • Business loan

  • Student loan

  • Credit card

Collateral required?

Yes. The collateral provided by the borrower “secures” the loan.

No. Unsecured loans are based entirely on your credit history and ability to repay the loan.

Best for?

Secured loans can help you to complete expensive and necessary purchases if you have poor credit history. However, some secured loans (like payday loans) are predatory in nature, and have high interest rates that could further hurt your credit if you’re unable to repay them.

Borrowers who have good credit and the ability to pay back their loan on a purchase.

What are secured personal loans?

Secured personal loans are offered by a wide range of lenders, and are intended to help borrowers who may or may not have a solid credit history make necessary big-ticket purchases or rebuild their credit.
This debt works in a relatively straightforward way. A borrower applies for a secured personal loan through a bank, credit union or a nonbank lender. The lender then assesses what the borrower has to offer as collateral for the loan. Based on the value of the borrower’s collateral, the lender will approve them to borrow a set amount of money. However, if the borrower fails to keep up with payments on their secured personal loan, the lender is permitted to repossess the borrower’s collateral at any point in time.

For example, if you take out a secured personal loan to pay for a home renovation using the car you own as collateral, your lender can come and take possession of your car if you fail to make payments. If you’re a borrower who can be counted on to make payments on time and to pay the loan off in full within the set time frame, this may not be intimidating.

However, many people seek out secured loans because their credit score alone isn’t enough to obtain an unsecured personal loan from a lender. This might be through no fault of their own, or it could mean they have had trouble repaying their debt in the past for a wide range of reasons. Be cautious when offering collateral for your secured personal loan, and make sure that you’ll be able to afford the loan’s repayment terms (including interest).

One of the benefits of a secured personal loan is that it can be used for nearly anything. Many people, for example, use the equity they already have in their home to finance a home repair loan (HELOC). Others use secured loans to finance vehicle purchases or to fund the launch of a business.

Regardless of what you’re using your secured personal loan for, it’s important to read through your loan terms carefully. Secured personal loans are notorious for being charging high interest rates and can sometimes have predatory rates or practices.

If you’re pursuing a secured personal loan, keep a few things in mind:

  • Whatever you choose to put up for collateral for your loan can be taken by your lender if you fail to make payments.
  • You may be able to get a lower interest rate with a secured personal loan because the lender is taking on less risk when you offer up collateral.
  • Some secured personal loans are predatory, and they come with hefty fees and high interest rates – make sure to shop around and do your research before signing on the dotted line.

What are unsecured personal loans?

Unsecured personal loans are different. They don’t require any collateral from the borrower. However, because there’s nothing to “secure” them, or to protect the lender should you default on payments, they tend to be harder to obtain.

Unsecured personal loans usually require a credit check, and the interest rates associated with the loan are largely dependent on whether or not you have decent credit. If the lender feels they can trust you to repay the loan based on your current finances and you have a history of paying back your debt on time and in full, you may qualify for a lower interest rate. However, if you don’t have a good history of repaying your debt, or you don’t have income available that would support the loan repayment, you could get stuck with a higher interest rate.

That being said, unsecured personal loans certainly serve a purpose. Student loans, for example, are a form of unsecured personal loans. They require no down payment or collateral, often have reasonable interest rates and help students to fund their education. A variety of lenders including banks, credit unions and nonbank lenders (typically found online) offer unsecured personal loans.

It can be frustrating for borrowers to try and obtain an unsecured loan because restrictions (like a minimum credit score, a high income or a cosigner) are often more strict than those associated with secured personal loans. It can be helpful to keep in mind that for a lender, an unsecured loan is a notably higher risk than a secured personal loan. Essentially, they’re taking a chance on the fact that you’ll pay the loan back in full with interest, and have no real way of knowing for sure that you’ll be able to do so. This is also why interest rates for unsecured personal loans are significantly higher than those you can find with secured personal loans.

If you’re pursuing an unsecured personal loan, you should keep a few things in mind:

  • You’ll need to budget for potentially higher monthly payments than a secured loan.
  • You will need to have good credit to obtain an unsecured personal loan.
  • You may not qualify for the loan unless you have a cosigner who can help lessen the amount of risk a lender takes on by lending to you.

If you’re unsure about where to find a personal loan, you can see offers from LendingTree. With it, you’ll input basic personal information and what you’re looking for out of a loan. If you qualify, you’ll get to review personal loan offers from various lenders.

Should you get a secured or unsecured personal loan?

The actual question on most borrowers’ minds is: Which loan is right for me? The truth is, both secured and unsecured personal loans pose some risk for you as a borrower. However, there are several things to take into consideration when deciding which is best for you.

Ability to repay

Consider everything that could impact your ability to repay this loan. Is your job secure? Do you have upcoming expenses that will tighten your budget? If you’re concerned about repayment, putting up something you own that’s necessary for day-to-day survival (like a home or a vehicle) for a secured personal loan may not be in your best interest. Of course, if you’re worried about your ability to repay a loan, there’s a good chance that you should reconsider the loan amount – or whether you should apply at all.

Total interest and fees

Although unsecured loans often have higher interest rates, secured loans may have notable hidden fees if they’re predatory, like a payday loan. Weigh your ability to repay loans each month, taking note of the interest amounts. It usually serves borrowers to shop around before committing, and that may mean looking at both unsecured and secured loans to determine what works best for you.

Future financial goals

Do you plan to pay this loan off quickly? Do you have other financial goals in the near or distant future that this loan could impact? If you want to pay a loan off quickly and are confident in your ability to repay, locking in low interest rates with a secured loan might make the most sense.

Worst-case scenario planning

It always helps to consider the worst-case scenario when applying for a loan. If you fail to repay your loan, what’s going to happen? Whether you apply for a secured or unsecured loan, your credit will take a hit.

If you have a secured loan, you could potentially lose your house, your car or other assets you’ve put up as collateral for the loan. You may also need to take out another loan to cover this debt and end up in a vicious debt cycle. If you can afford to lose what you’ve put up as collateral, this may not be the end of the world. However, if you can’t – it’s likely not worth the risk.

Final thoughts

Applying for a loan can be challenging, but it’s important to know that you have options available to you. Researching the difference between secured and unsecured loans can help you determine which is best for you based on what you can afford, and which loan type fits best into your long-term financial plans. Your relationships with some financial institutions could also positively impact the loan terms you receive.


As low as 2.49%

Credit Req.

Minimum 500 FICO®


24 to 60


Origination Fee



on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company


LendingTree is not a lender. LendingTree is unique in that you may be able to compare up to five personal loan offers within minutes. Everything is done online and you may be pre-qualified by lenders without impacting your credit score. Terms Apply. NMLS #1136.

As of 17-May-19, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 2.49% (2.49% APR) on a $20,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected). Terms Apply. NMLS #1136