Secured vs Unsecured Personal Loans — What's the Difference?

By Janet Schaaf · December 26, 2023 · 8 minute read

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Secured vs Unsecured Personal Loans — What's the Difference?

Personal loans can be either secured or unsecured. A secured personal loan has collateral that backs the borrower’s promise to repay the loan. An unsecured personal loan does not require collateral, and the only thing backing the borrower’s promise to repay is their creditworthiness.

The collateral requirement is the main difference between secured and unsecured personal loans, but there are other differences that may inform your decision about which type of loan is best for your financial needs.

What Is a Secured Personal Loan?

A secured personal loan is a loan for which the borrower pledges collateral that the lender can take possession of if the borrower fails to repay the loan. Put in simpler terms: If you default on your car loan, for example, the bank can repossess your car. For the lender, collateral equals a certain level of security.

Collateralized loans are common for mortgage and auto loans. A home is collateral for a mortgage, and a vehicle is collateral for an auto loan. They are somewhat less common for personal loans, though.

A personal loan isn’t tied to a particular asset in most cases, so there’s not an obvious item to pledge as collateral. The asset pledged must be owned by the applicant, and the lender will evaluate its value to be sure it’s equal to the amount of money being loaned. In some cases, a physical asset such as a vehicle is put up as collateral, but the collateral could also be an asset like a savings account or certificate of deposit.

Pros of Secured Personal Loans

While it may seem like the lender benefits more with a secured personal loan, there may also be advantages for the borrower.

•   Lenders typically see secured personal loans as less risky than their unsecured counterparts because there is an asset to back the loan if the borrower defaults.

•   Borrowers may get a lower interest rate on a secured personal loan than they might on an unsecured personal loan.

•   Secured personal loans can be a good way for borrowers to build credit, as long as they make regular, on-time payments.

Cons of Secured Personal Loans

Things that a borrower might see as a drawback to a secured personal loan might be a benefit to the lender. But each party to the loan agreement takes risks.

•   The lender is able to recoup its losses by seizing the collateral if the borrower defaults on their secured personal loan. However, it may take a while to liquidate that asset. If the collateral is a physical asset, such as a vehicle, it may take some time to find a buyer willing to pay the price the lender has set.

•   For the borrower, the main drawback to a secured personal loan is the possible loss of the asset pledged as collateral if they default on their loan.

•   The application and approval process may include more steps for a secured personal loan than an unsecured one because the asset’s worth will need to be valued.

💡 Quick Tip: Before choosing a personal loan, ask about the lender’s fees: origination, prepayment, late fees, etc. SoFi personal loans come with no-fee options, and no surprises.

What Is an Unsecured Personal Loan?

A personal loan that is backed mainly by the creditworthiness of the borrower is an unsecured personal loan. Sometimes called a signature loan, an unsecured loan does not require any collateral to guarantee the loan.

Defaulting on an unsecured personal loan can certainly have a negative effect on the borrower’s credit, but there wouldn’t be an asset to lose in addition.

Pros of Unsecured Personal Loans

Like their secured counterparts, unsecured personal loans can have benefits for both lender and borrower.

•   Lenders may be able to charge a higher interest rate on an unsecured personal loan because there isn’t any collateral to secure the loan. (This is a drawback for the borrower — see below.)

•   The borrower won’t lose an asset if they default on an unsecured personal loan.

•   The application process for an unsecured personal loan is generally much quicker than for one that’s secured because there is no asset to be valued.

•   Funds may be disbursed the same day or within a week, depending on the lender.

Cons of Unsecured Personal Loans

It may be relatively easy to find lenders who offer unsecured personal loans, but there are aspects that may be considered drawbacks.

•   Interest rates on unsecured personal loans may be higher than for secured personal loans because there is no asset backing the loan.

•   Some lenders may have minimum credit score requirements for approval of an unsecured loan, so applicants with poor credit may not qualify.

•   If the borrower defaults, their credit score may be negatively affected.

•   Applicants with lower credit scores may not qualify for loan amounts as high as those with higher credit scores.

Recommended: Personal Loan Calculator

Choosing Between Secured and Unsecured Personal Loan

There are lots of reasons for considering a personal loan in general, but choosing between a secured and an unsecured personal loan means taking some specifics into account.

Do You Have Collateral?

One of the main things to consider when thinking about applying for a secured personal loan vs. an unsecured personal loan is whether you have an asset of value that you’d be willing to risk.

If you do have such an asset, you may want to compare lenders who offer secured personal loans. Some online lenders offer secured loans, but they’re more commonly available through banks or credit unions.

Lenders may offer higher loan amounts for a loan backed by collateral than for one that isn’t, so if you need to borrow a large amount, it might be worth looking into a secured personal loan.

What Are You Planning to Use the Funds For?

Personal loan funds can generally be used for a wide variety of things, like debt consolidation, unexpected medical expenses, home improvement costs, and more.

If you need funds to pay multiple vendors or contractors — common in the case of wedding or home improvement costs — or you plan to consolidate other high-interest debt, an unsecured personal loan might be the right choice for you.

If you plan to purchase a specific item that might be considered an asset, however, the lender may want to attach that asset as collateral on the loan, thus making it a secured loan. Examples of this might be a secured personal loan to purchase land or to buy a boat.

What Type of Lender Is Right for the Loan You Need?

Another factor to consider when choosing between a secured or unsecured personal loan is the type of lender you’d rather work with.

Unsecured loans may be available through banks, credit unions, or online lenders. Not every financial institution offers unsecured loans, however.

Secured loans are more commonly offered by banks and credit unions — it’s less common to find one through an online lender.

If you have a savings account or certificate of deposit at your bank that you’d be willing to put up as collateral, it might be worth looking into a secured loan with your current bank.

💡 Quick Tip: Generally, the larger the personal loan, the bigger the risk for the lender — and the higher the interest rate. So one way to lower your interest rate is to try downsizing your loan amount.

Qualifying For a Personal Loan

There are different factors that go into qualification for a personal loan.

Each lender may have its own credit score, income, or debt-to-income ratio requirements, in addition to other factors. If you’re applying for a secured personal loan, each lender may have its own requirements for valuation of collateral.

It’s a good idea to compare lenders so you’ll have an idea of what they commonly require for an applicant to qualify for a personal loan. With that knowledge, you can better evaluate your own credit for the likelihood of being approved — or not.

Reviewing Your Credit Report

You can get a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax™, Experian™, and TransUnion™. It’s a good idea to check all three because not all lenders report payment history to all three bureaus. The credit bureaus don’t share information with each other, so getting a complete picture of your credit may mean looking at all three reports.

Your credit report contains personal information about you and information about past and current credit accounts in your name.

Personal information includes:

•   Name, current as well as any other names you may have gone by in the past

•   Addresses, current and previous

•   Birthdate

•   Social Security number

•   Employer

Lenders typically report:

•   The total amount of the installment loan or line of credit

•   Your record of on-time payments

•   Any missed payments

If you’ve had any bankruptcies, foreclosures, or repossessions, they will likely be included on your credit report as well.

If there is missing, incomplete, or incorrect information on your credit report, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau. It’s a good idea to clear up any errors before you start applying for a loan so you don’t have any unexpected roadblocks on the way to qualification.

If, in the process of reviewing your credit report, you find that you don’t have much of a credit history or your credit isn’t up to qualification standards, you may decide to take some time to work on improving your credit situation. That could mean increasing your income, lowering your expenses, paying down or consolidating existing debt, or just learning how to better manage your overall finances.

Recommended: How to Get Approved for a Personal Loan

The Takeaway

There are situations where an unsecured personal loan might be the right financial tool for you, and there may be others that would be better suited to a secured personal loan. The main difference between the two types of loans is that one requires collateral — a secured personal loan — and the other doesn’t — an unsecured personal loan. Deciding between the two depends on the borrower’s willingness to risk the loss of collateral, as well as their overall creditworthiness.

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.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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