Secured vs Unsecured Loans

What is a secured loan, and what does it do? Let’s start by understanding what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t penalise you for not having or possessing a poor credit history. It doesn’t entail a high-interest rate, as this type of debt is less risky for the lender. Finally, it doesn’t restrict your borrowing limits as much as unsecured loans do.

A secured loan is backed by an asset or “collateral” such as real estate (e.g., a mortgage) or a vehicle (e.g., an auto loan). The lender is legally authorised to seize the collateral if the borrower defaults on payments. The risk, in this case, is tilted towards the borrower. Secured loans may be considered a last resort by somebody who has a bad credit history but is, say, a homeowner. However, secured loans are not just an option for people with bad credit histories. A homeowner with a good credit history but wanting to borrow a higher amount, an option that isn’t available with unsecured loans, could also opt for a secured loan against their property.

Secured vs Unsecured Loans

On the other hand, unsecured loans are just backed by your promise of repayments in fixed instalments over a fixed period. In this case, you haven’t pledged anything to obtain the loan. This option is usually available for people who have a decent credit history. Common examples include credit card loans and student loans. Because the risk of default or counterparty risk to the lender is higher in the case of unsecured loans, interest rates tend to be higher.

Key features of secured loans

  • Higher loan amount: Secured loans are usually more than £10,000. Homeowner loans, the most common type of secured loan, are generally for amounts up to £125,000, according to Equifax. In comparison, unsecured loans usually go only up to about £25,000.
  • Longer loan tenure: The reduced risk from securing collateral means lower interest rates with higher borrowing limits and longer repayment periods. However, borrowing for longer does considerably increase the total interest paid.
  • Initial set-up: Secured loans usually involve additional formalities (e.g., the lender may want to have the collateral independently valued), which could sometimes result in additional costs. Additional formalities might also mean a longer time to set up the loan.
  • Interest rates: Most secured loans offer variable interest rates, but ultimately the interest rate would factor in how much is being borrowed, for how long, the credit score, and the value of the collateral.
  • Variables considered: Finally, lenders will still look at your financial history, age, residency, income, and expenses before they approve your loan application. However, they tend to be more empathetic towards those with a lower credit score, given the lower perceived risk.

Homeowner loans: most common secured loans

Usually, the borrowers of secured loans are also simultaneously buying a property, and the property in question, e.g., a house, is used as collateral by the lender. This is more commonly known as a “mortgage.” You can get additional loans secured on your home for expenses such as home improvements or debt consolidation. This is usually referred to as a “second mortgage” or “homeowner loan.” Bear in mind that taking out a second mortgage could mean more repayments, and they are second in order of priority to your first mortgage. Naturally, this implies that the amount you can borrow is lower and the interest charged is relatively higher to account for the risk.

With second mortgages, the amount you can borrow, the duration of the loan, and the interest rate offered are all dependent on your credit history, your income, your current credit commitments, and the amount of equity you have in the property. The equity you possess in the property is the difference between the value of your home and the amount owed on your mortgage. Equity is instrumental in calculating the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. This information helps the lender ascertain how much money they could recover from selling your house if you default on your payments. An LTV of 80% would imply that a lender wouldn’t be willing to lend more than 80% of your equity in the house. Typically, the more equity you have in the property, the more you’ll be able to borrow.

Failure to repay can have serious ramifications, including a negative impact on your credit score or, worse, repossession of your property. However, lenders usually make less money from repossessing properties than from having their debt paid. So it might be a good idea to let the lender know right away if you fall behind with your payments. Sometimes, they might be able to arrange a new schedule for repayments.

A secured loan could be a good option for you if:

  • You have done your research and are confident that you can manage the costs and risks of borrowing.
  • You are aware that some secured loans have additional arrangement fees and other charges, and you have factored in such additional costs. Arrangement fees and other set-up costs are included in the annual percentage rate of charge, which is the same as the APR for unsecured loans.
  • Have the correct motivation. Yes, you need to improve your house to increase its value or consolidate that debt before it spirals out of control, but do you really need to take that holiday at the risk of losing your home?
  • Are you aware of early repayment penalties? Some lenders may penalise you if you pay back your loan prematurely to compensate for the interest they would have otherwise earned.

In a nutshell, secured loans usually offer lower interest rates and access to larger amounts of money when compared to unsecured loans. Even if you have a bad credit report, taking out a secured loan could serve as a counterintuitive measure to improve your credit score. If you keep making payments regularly, you can establish or rebuild your credit history.