Is a Mortgage Secured or Unsecured Debt?

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Purchasing a new home is an exciting prospect, but navigating the lending process can be daunting. Homebuyers have a lot to learn about how their mortgages work and how their mortgages can affect their financial situation.

One key feature about all mortgages homebuyers should understand is the fact that these loans are secured. That means your property is used as collateral, so in case you cannot repay the loan, your lender can avoid significant losses by selling your home.

Learning the difference between secured and unsecured debt is important. Let’s take a look at what constitutes secured debt versus unsecured debt, how this affects your mortgage, and what happens when you can’t make your payments.

Key Takeaways

  • A mortgage is a type of secured debt that uses your home as collateral.
  • While you hold a mortgage, your lender has an interest in your property.
  • Failing to pay your mortgage according to your loan terms can result in foreclosure and the sale of your home.

What Is a Mortgage?

Mortgage is a secured loan that homebuyers use to purchase property or borrow money against property. 

You must meet certain criteria to be approved for a mortgage, such as having sufficient income and credit history. You can get a mortgage with varying term lengths and either fixed or variable APR. The most common type of mortgage in the U.S. is a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.

Once you’ve bought your home, your mortgage will be listed as a lien on the title. This means that your lender can take your property if you fail to make payments. They can sell the property through foreclosure to help them avoid losses.


When you’ve paid off the mortgage, you’ll own your home free and clear and your bank will no longer have a lien on your house. This means that you will no longer owe your lender money, and it cannot take your property through a foreclosure. You will still be responsible for property taxes.

Secured Debt vs. Unsecured Debt

A mortgage is a type of secured loan. This means that the lender has a security interest in the property and your house is being used as collateral to secure the debt. A security interest occurs when a borrower agrees that a lender may take collateral owned by the borrower if they should default on the loan. 

In contrast, unsecured loans are loans that do not use collateral, like credit cards, student loans, or personal loans.

Secured Debt Unsecured Debt
Connected to collateral Not connected to collateral
Less risky to lenders A riskier option for lenders
Usually have lower interest rates Usually have higher interest rates


The main point of difference between secured and unsecured debt is that secured debt uses your assets as collateral, while unsecured debt does not. In the case of a mortgage, your home is the collateral, but other types of property can be used as collateral for loans as well. 

For example, a car is used as collateral for an auto loan. So, if you don’t pay a car loan according to the terms, the lender could repossess your vehicle. Another common secured loan is a home equity loan, which, like a first mortgage, also uses your home as collateral, but for a loan you could use for other reasons besides buying a home.


Because unsecured debt isn’t connected to any type of collateral, it’s a riskier lending option for lenders. Unlike secured debt, lenders can’t automatically take your property if you default on an unsecured loan, so if you don’t pay back your loan, your lender would have to file a lawsuit against you for the payments or lose money.


For consumers, secured loans are riskier because the consumer could lose their property if they don’t pay according to the loan terms. With unsecured loans, they do not risk losing their assets if they run into financial trouble.

Interest Rates

Interest rates for common types of unsecured debt, such as credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, and student loans are generally much higher than interest rates for secured loans like mortgages and auto loans. 

Interest rates on unsecured debt tend to be higher due to the increased risk the lender faces. Essentially, lenders increase the cost of borrowing to offset the risk of defaults.

Other factors play a role in the interest rates of your mortgage, including broader interest rate trends, your credit history, and your debt-to-income ratio. 

What Happens When You Can’t Pay Secured Debt?

You can face serious consequences when failing to pay secured debt like your mortgage.

Once you stop making payments on your home mortgage, your loan will go into default. This means that you’ve broken the contract between you and your lender. In short, you haven’t upheld your end of the bargain. 


You might be able to work with your lender to catch up on your payments or find another solution to avoid foreclosure. Even if you’re still not able to pay your debt, banks must still wait until they begin the foreclosure process. At a minimum, lenders must wait until your loan is at least 120 days delinquent before they can begin the foreclosure process.

If you can’t resolve the issue with your lender, your lender can start the process of taking your assets to prevent their losses. In the case of mortgages, that means foreclosing on your home.

What Happens to Secured Debt in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

When you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your bank still has the right to take back and sell your property. However, even if they sell your home for less than what you owe, they aren’t able to sue you for the difference. This is called a deficiency judgement and you are protected against it during Chapter 7 bankruptcy. 

What Happens to Secured Debt in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to keep your property and simply reschedule your payments so that you repay all or some of your debt. This is also called a wage-earner’s plan. During this plan, you’ll be able to make payments over the course of three to five years.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is senior secured debt?

Senior secured debt takes precedence over other types of debt. This means that when it comes time for repayment, senior secured loans will be repaid before other, more junior, secured loans and unsecured loans.

How do you figure out how big of a mortgage you can afford?

Learning how much home you can afford is simple and easy with our mortgage calculator. Your income and debt obligations will be among the biggest factors in determining how big of a mortgage you can afford. One rule of thumb is to try to keep your monthly mortgage payments to less than about one-third of your monthly gross income.

When should you refinance a mortgage?

You may want to refinance a mortgage for a number of reasons. They include lowering your mortgage payment by extending your term or lowering your interest rate. You may want to refinance to withdraw equity.

What is the current mortgage rate?

Mortgage rates change daily. If you’re in the market for a mortgage, check interest rates often to stay up-to-date on rate trends.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Shopping for a Mortgage."

  2. National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "The Difference Between Secured and Unsecured Debt and Which You Should Pay First."

  3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Factsheet on Delinquency and the 2016 Mortgage Servicing Rule."

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