5 Min Read | Updated: November 30, 2023

Originally Published: February 14, 2020

Is a Secured or Unsecured Personal Loan Right for You?

There are two different types of personal loans – secured and unsecured. Learn which one is best for you and how they impact your credit score.

Unsecured Personal Loan

This article contains general information and is not intended to provide information that is specific to American Express products and services. Similar products and services offered by different companies will have different features and you should always read about product details before acquiring any financial product.


Personal loans are growing faster than any other type of debt in America.

Choosing between a secured or unsecured personal loan largely depends on your credit score and available assets.

Interest rates, borrowing caps, terms, and approvals vary by type of loan.

More people are taking out personal loans lately – whether to consolidate debt, make a large purchase, or pay for some other important transaction. The rise may be due, in part, to increased access to personal loans via online lending. The U.S. Federal Reserve puts it this way: “Although traditional lenders continue to play an important role in providing personal loans to consumers, FinTech lenders gained a notable market share [in the past decade].”1


Although current loan-application processes are streamlined, there’s still homework to do before applying for a personal loan. What can you do to improve your chance of qualifying? How can you get the most favorable terms? One thing that can make a big difference is whether you choose a secured personal loan or an unsecured personal loan.

Types of Personal Loans: Secured and Unsecured

Personal loans are all-purpose loans from banks, credit unions, and fintechs that you pay back in regular monthly installments. They are usually categorized separately from more specific loan types, such as mortgages or student loans. 


Personal loans represent the fastest-growing debt category in the U.S., according to the Experian credit reporting agency. Overall, U.S. personal loan balances grew 19% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2022 to $519.5 billion. Experian’s research also shows more people taking out personal loans in recent years. In fact, there was a 20.5% jump in the number of people with at least one personal loan between 2021 and 2022.2


Personal loans come in two different types:


  • Secured. A secured personal loan requires you to commit assets like your home or savings as collateral against non-payment. If you end up unable to make your loan payments, your assets could be seized and resold by the lender to recoup its funds.
  • Unsecured. An unsecured personal loan relies on your credit history to mitigate the lender’s risk. If you can’t pay, a lender’s recourse would be to send a collection agency for the funds or to sue you, both of which could also damage your credit rating.

Most personal loans are unsecured. Borrowers’ choices between the two often hinge on their credit score and available assets. For someone with a poor credit score, putting up collateral might help them qualify for a loan they otherwise would not get. But you can only qualify for a secured loan if you have sufficient assets. Besides your home or savings, including investments and certificates of deposit (CDs), those assets could include your car or future paychecks – not to be confused with payday loans.3,4

Secured and Unsecured Personal Loan Interest Rates

Secured personal loans are less risky for lenders, so they usually have lower interest rates and are easier to get approved – including for higher amounts and longer terms. Unsecured personal loans put borrowers at less risk, since their home, car, or other valuables are not at stake.3,4 


Interest rates and lengths of personal loans vary significantly, potentially ranging from about 6% to 36%.5 Secured personal loans tend to come in at the lower end of the interest rate scale.3,4 In September 2023, the Federal Reserve reported a 11.48% average interest rate on 24-month personal loans.6

Credit Score Affects Secured vs Unsecured Loan Choice

Your credit score is likely to play an important role in your choice between a secured or unsecured loan. A borrower with a low credit score might be declined for an unsecured personal loan and then turn instead to a secured personal loan, with a greater chance of qualifying. And since secured loans often have higher borrowing limits and longer time horizons, their loan options are more flexible. 

How People Put Personal Loans to Use

There are many ways that people use personal loans, including:


  • Large purchases
  • Debt consolidation
  • Home improvement
  • Unexpected expenses7,8

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) may be used instead of a secured personal loan for the purposes on this list. HELOCs use your home’s equity as collateral and typically have variable interest rates.9,10 However, a HELOC is very different from a personal loan in that it provides you with access to a line of credit that you can draw from – or not – over a period of time.


Key Differences Between Secured & Unsecured Personal Loans
Secured Unsecured
Lower interest rates Higher interest rates
Requires collateral (e.g., your house) No collateral required
Longer duration loans available Shorter loan terms
Approval easier with low credit score Need higher credit score for approval
Risk of losing collateral for defaulting No risk of losing assets

The Takeaway

Amid an overall growth spurt in personal loans, consumers have two primary choices: secured personal loans and unsecured personal loans. The choice often comes down to your credit score and available assets. At stake are differences in the ease of access, cost, and terms of the loan you are seeking.

Karen Lynch

Karen Lynch is a journalist who has covered global business, technology, finance, and related public policy issues for more than 30 years.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

Related Articles

What Is an Interest Rate?


Interest is the amount of money a lender charges you to borrow, and interest rates are how they calculate how much to charge. Learn more about interest rates.


Tell me more

What Are the Different Types of Debt?


Over your lifetime, you’ll probably use various types of debt for different purposes. Here are the key features of the main types of debt.


Tell me more

How to Build Your Credit from Scratch - Credit Cards Can Help


So, you have no credit history? Find the best credit card to help build your credit by following these expert tips.


Tell me more

The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and intended for U.S. residents and is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. If you have questions, please consult your own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.