How do secured loans work?

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A secured loan is a loan that is backed by collateral. Because you must use one of your assets to secure the loan, secured loans are easier to qualify for than unsecured loans. They can be an effective way to get the funds you need, but they do come with risks.

Here’s what you need to know about secured loans before applying.

What is a secured loan?

Secured loans are loans that are protected by collateral. This means that when you apply for a secured loan, the lender will want to know which of your assets you plan to use. The lender will then place a lien on that asset until the loan is repaid in full. If you default on the loan payments, the lender can claim the collateral and sell it to recoup the loss.

It is important to know precisely what you are promising, and what you stand to lose, before you take out a secured loan.

What types of loans are secured?

Lenders want to know that they have leverage once you walk away with their money. When they place a lien on your collateral, they know that in a worst-case scenario, they can take possession of the assets you’re using as collateral. This does not guarantee that you will repay your loan, but it does give lenders a greater sense of security and gives the borrower more impetus to repay the loan.

Most credit cards are unsecured loans, meaning creditors have nothing but your word that you will repay the debt. Other loans that are secured include:

  • Mortgage: With a mortgage, you put your home or property up as collateral in order to buy that home. If you fail to make the payments, your home can be foreclosed.
  • Home equity line of credit: A home equity line of credit (HELOC) gives you access to your home equity in the form of a credit line, like a credit card. With a HELOC, you also put your home up as collateral.
  • Auto loans: When taking out a loan to pay for a car or any other automobile, your vehicle will be used as collateral. If you don’t make the payments on time and in full, your vehicle could be seized. 
  • Loan for land: A land loan is used to finance the purchase of land. This type of loan uses the land itself as collateral.
  • Business loan: Business loans can be used to buy equipment, pay wages or invest in business projects. When taking out a business loan, a number of things can be used as collateral. For example, inventory, equipment or your land/ building can be used to secure a business loan.

What types of collateral are used to back a secured loan?

Secured loans are usually the best way – and often the only way — to obtain large amounts of money. Nearly anything can be accepted as collateral, as long as it is allowed by law. Lenders prefer assets that are easy to collect and can be readily turned into cash. What you use as collateral likely will depend on whether your loan is for personal or business use. Examples of collateral include:

  • Real estate, including equity in your home.
  • Cash accounts (retirement accounts typically do not qualify).
  • Cars or other vehicles.
  • Machinery and equipment.
  • Investments.
  • Insurance policies.
  • Valuables and collectibles.

Secured loan vs. unsecured loan

Some loans, like personal loans, can be either unsecured or secured, depending on the lender. If you don’t qualify for the unsecured option, or if you’re looking for the lowest possible interest rate, check to see if the lender offers a secured option for the loan you’re interested in.

When it comes to choosing a secured vs. an unsecured loan, there are multiple factors to consider. Here are as few of the differences between the two and some benefits and downsides of each loan type:

Secured Loan Unsecured Loan
Credit score Credit score and financial health will determine qualification eligibility Credit score and financial health will determine qualification eligibility
Interest rates Typically lower Typically higher
Penalties Collateral can be seized, credit score will drop Missed payments will enter into collections, credit score will drop
Loan types Mortgages, HELOCs, auto loans, business and secured credit cards, etc. Unsecured credit cards, student loans, personal loans, etc.

How do I get a secured loan?

When it comes to getting a secured loan, take these steps before applying:

  1. Check your credit: Before applying for a loan, you’ll want to check your credit report. Whether or not you’ll get approved for the loan is largely based on your creditworthiness, and while secured loans may be less stringent on their credit requirements than unsecured loans, it’s still important to know your credit score for qualification. You can check each of your credit reports for free every 12 months (or weekly through April 2021) with
  2. Check the value of your assets: The value of the asset you want to use as collateral will usually determine how much you can borrow with a secured loan, so get an appraisal or look up estimated resale value before researching lenders.
  3. Shop around with different lenders: Shopping around allows you to compare lenders’ rates and fees. Many lenders provide prequalification, which lets you see what you’re eligible for with no impact to your credit. It’s usually best to get prequalified with at least three lenders.
  4. Apply for the loan with the most competitive lender. If you’re applying with an online lender, the entire process can typically be done online. If you’re applying at a bank or credit union, you might have to visit a physical location.

What happens if you default on a secured loan?

After a few missed payments on a secured loan, the lender is likely to repossess the asset used to secure the loan. In many states, the lender is not required to give you notice of the repossession. To make matters worse, repossession is not the end of the matter. If the repossessed asset does not sell for enough to cover the amount of your loan, you are responsible for the difference.

For example, if you owe $20,000 when you stop making payments on a boat loan and the boat is repossessed and sold for $15,000, you will owe the bank the outstanding $5,000. The repossession stays on your credit report for seven years.

If you miss payments on a mortgage, home equity loan or business loan, the lender has a lengthier process to recoup its money. In about half of the states in the U.S., a lender must go to court to foreclose on a property. In the other half, the lender is required to provide you with advance notice of foreclosure. In either case, it is a good idea to call your lender as soon as you know that you will be missing payments to see if you can negotiate a loan modification that will allow you to keep your home or business.

Takeaways and next steps

If you’re interested in a secured loan, the most important step you can take is to do the research necessary and compare lenders. It’s also important to make sure that you have a plan in place to pay off your loan in time and in full to avoid losing your collateral.

While secured loans do present more risks than unsecured loans, they can be a helpful tool as long as you’re maintain your monthly payments.

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Written by
Hanneh Gundersen
Student loans reporter
Hanneh Gundersen specializes in everything related to student loans and helping you finance your next educational endeavor. She aims to help others reach their collegiate and financial goals through making student loans easier to understand.
Edited by
Student loans editor