Credit cards and personal lines of credit both allow you to borrow money over time until you hit a credit limit. You typically pay back what you owe on a monthly basis, paying interest on your balance.
Each method has its pros and cons (for example, while a line of credit may have a lower interest rate, it likely won’t offer rewards and may be tougher to qualify for). Here, you’ll learn the ins and outs of a personal line of credit vs. a credit card so you can decide which is right for you.
What Is a Personal Line of Credit?
A personal line of credit operates under the same concept as a credit card, with slight differences. It’s a type of revolving credit that allows you to borrow a set amount, which is typically based on your income. Here are details to know:
• The majority of personal lines of credit are unsecured, meaning there’s no collateral at risk if you default on payments. However, you can obtain a secured personal line of credit at some institutions if you put down a deposit. This deposit will be used to pay your balance due if you default on payments, but it can also help you achieve a lower interest rate. Personal loans secured by a deposit are typically used as a method for building credit.
• A home equity line of credit (or HELOC) is similar to a secured personal line of credit in that your house acts as the collateral in the loan. You’re borrowing against the equity in your home. If you default on payments, your house could be foreclosed on to make up the difference.
💡 Quick Tip: A low-interest personal loan can consolidate your debts, lower your monthly payments, and help you get out of debt sooner.
How Does a Personal Line of Credit Work?
Get acquainted with how a personal line of credit works:
• As with any other credit transaction, personal lines of credit are reported to the three major credit bureaus. You will have to provide details about your financial standings in order to qualify for a personal line of credit. Typically, this comes in the form of demonstrating your income, in addition to other requirements.
• The interest rate for a personal line of credit usually fluctuates with the market conditions, such as the prime rate. You may also have to pay a fee each time you use your personal line of credit.
• Some banking institutions may require you to have a checking account established with them before offering you a personal line of credit. This is critical for using your personal line of credit, since the money can be transferred to a linked checking account. (In some cases, you might receive funds via a payment card (similar to a debit card) or use special checks to move the funds.
• Personal lines of credit contain what’s called a “draw period.” During this predetermined amount of time, you can use your available credit as you please, as long as you don’t go over the limit.
• Once the draw period reaches its end, you may be required to either pay your remaining balance in full or pay it off by a certain date after that.
What Is a Credit Card?
Is a credit card a line of credit? Not exactly. A credit card is a type of unsecured revolving credit that includes a credit limit. This limit is determined by your financial situation, which requires a hard credit check. There are credit cards for practically all types of credit scores, from poor all the way up to excellent.
Many credit cards offer rewards in the form of cash back or travel rewards. You may also receive a bonus for signing up for a new account, either as rewards or as an interest-free, introductory financing period. Also, a credit card can offer cardholder benefits such as purchase protection or travel insurance.
How Does a Credit Card Work?
Your personal bank or other financial institutions may offer their own credit cards, but you don’t have to belong to a particular bank or lender in order to qualify for a credit card. After you’ve applied for a credit card and been approved, the lender will likely set a credit limit.
• When you make a purchase with a credit card, it constitutes a loan. At the end of each billing cycle you’ll receive a statement. You can usually avoid interest charges by paying your statement balance in full.
• If you choose to pay a lesser amount, you’ll incur interest charges. Credit cards typically charge high interest, so it’s important to stay on top of the amount you owe, which can increase quickly.
• If you don’t make a payment by the statement due date, you will likely also incur a late payment fee. Interest charges and fees are added to the account balance, and interest will accrue on this new total.
• If you miss payments by 60 days typically, you could be assessed a higher penalty APR.
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Personal Lines of Credit Vs Credit Cards Compared
Now that you know a bit more about each of these options, you know that the answer to “Is a line of credit the same as a credit card?” is no. Now, take a closer look at the difference between a line of credit and a credit card.
Both personal lines of credit and credit cards are types of revolving credit. This means you can borrow up to a certain amount as it suits you, as long as you pay the balance back down in order to make room for future purchases.
Both personal lines of credit and credit cards also report your balance and payment history to the three major consumer credit bureaus.
Here’s a quick summary of the main differences between personal lines of credit and credit cards.
|Personal Line of Credit
|Typically lower than credit cards
|Typically higher than personal lines of credit
|Often up to $50,000 or more
|Typically, $28,000 but varies
|Many cards offer cash back or travel rewards
|Annual fee, late payment fees, fees for drawing on account
|Annual fees, balance transfer fees, late payment fees and penalty APRs, overdraft fees
|Can be lengthy
|Usually very simple
|Good for emergency and/or unexpected expenses
|Many cards offer travel insurance, purchase protection, and other benefits.
💡 Quick Tip: Swap high-interest debt for a lower-interest loan, and save money on your monthly payments. Find out why credit card consolidation loans are so popular.
Pros and Cons of Personal Lines of Credit
There are times when a personal line of credit can make life much simpler. However, you may have to accept certain tradeoffs.
|Lower fees for a cash advance
|Potential fees for usage
|High borrowing limits
|Preset credit lifespan
|Lowwe interest rates
|No spending rewards or perks
|Funds can be used at your discretion
|No interest-free grace period
|You only pay interest on what you borrow
Pros and Cons of Credit Cards
Credit cards are a powerful financial tool you can use to wisely manage your spending. Knowing the terms of the game, however, is just as important as learning how to be responsible with credit cards.
|Many cards offer rewards for spending
|Some cards have annual fees
|Can be used for retail purchases
|Typically high interest rates
|One for practically every credit score
|Hefty fees for cash advances
|Useful tool in establishing and/or rebuilding credit
|Balance transfer fees
Recommended: Credit Score vs. FICO® Score
Alternatives to Revolving Credit
Besides personal lines of credit and credit cards, there are a few other types of financial products you can use to access credit.
It may be easy to get personal loans vs. lines of credit confused, but it’s crucial to know the difference. For example, a personal line of credit is a potential amount that can be borrowed. Personal loans, however, are a lump sum of money that you receive shortly after your approval. Here’s how this kind of loan typically:
• Obtaining either a secured or unsecured personal loan requires a credit check. The potential amount you may be able to borrow ranges from $1,000 all the way up to $40,000 or more.
• Some personal loans are taken out for a specific purpose, such as a home renovation, a personal line of credit can often be used for whatever reason crops up. For example, you may want to go with a personal loan instead of a line of credit if you need to make home renovations.
• A personal loan rate calculator can be used to see what terms you may be able to expect. While these calculators may not give you the exact terms you’ll receive if you do obtain a personal loan, they can be a great starting place.
Many people don’t have thousands of dollars sitting around to help pay towards a new car, so they use auto loans. An auto loan is a kind of personal loan that’s secured by the title of the vehicle.
If the borrower fails to pay the loan, the vehicle can be repossessed. And the name of the lender typically appears on the title of the car, so the loan must be paid off before the car can be sold.
A mortgage, or home loan, is a loan that’s secured by a real estate property. Because of the inherent value of real estate, a home mortgage can often have a lower interest rate than other types of secured loans. Most home mortgages are installment loans that have a fixed repayment period, such as 30 years or 15 years.
A home equity loan or a home equity line of credit is a second mortgage taken out against the existing equity in a property. Because of their low interest rates these are sometimes used instead of unsecured personal loans.
Student loans can allow students to fund their education; you may not need to start paying those loans off until you’ve graduated.
Federal student aid can help pay for college-related costs as well. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is one way to determine how much and what type of federal student aid students and parents might qualify for. Some individual colleges also use the FAFSA in determining eligibility for their own financial aid programs.
Private student loans are another option, both for loans and to refinance federal loans. In terms of the latter, however, there are two important considerations:
• If you refinance federal student loans with private loans, you forfeit the federal benefits and protections, such as forgiveness.
• If you refinance for an extended term, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan.
• For these reasons, think carefully about whether private student loans suit your situation.
Personal lines of credit are similar to credit cards in that they are both generally unsecured loans issued based on your personal creditworthiness. By understanding how a credit card differs from a personal line of credit, you can choose the loan that best fits your needs or decide to access cash through an alternative method.
Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.
Here’s a list of the most common questions associated with personal lines of credit and credit cards.
Is a personal line of credit the same as a credit card?
Personal lines of credit and credit cards are similar but not the same. A credit card is a form of payment accepted by merchants and a kind of revolving loan. A personal line of credit is a revolving loan, and the funds are typically transferred to the borrower’s personal bank account before they are used for purchases. Credit cards can also have numerous benefits not offered by a personal line of credit but the interest rate may be higher.
Are there additional risks to lines of credit vs credit cards?
Both personal lines of credit and credit cards require you to pay back what you owe, whether it’s on a monthly basis or at the end of the draw period, in the case of a line of credit. Making late payments or missing payments can negatively affect your credit score and incur fees.
Do personal lines of credit affect your credit score?
Yes, personal lines of credit, just like credit cards, are subject to reporting to the major credit bureaus. If you make late payments or miss payments, your credit score can be negatively affected. However, personal lines of credit can also be used to build your credit if you make your payments on time and use your credit responsibly.
Photo credit: iStock/Deepak Sethi
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