What Are the Main Types of Debt? (2024)

Most Americans have some debt in their lives. However, debts vary widely with regard to the way they work, their terms, and their impact on your financial health. Debt comes in several forms, including mortgages, student loans, credit cards, or personal loans, but most debt can be classified as secured or unsecured and as revolving or installment.

Learn more below about the different categories of debt and how they work.

Key Takeaways

  • The main types of personal debt are secured debt and unsecured debt.
  • Secured debt requires collateral, while unsecured debt is based solely on an individual’s creditworthiness.
  • A credit card is an example of unsecured revolving debt, and a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a secured revolving debt.
  • You can also classify debt by its product name, such as mortgages, credit cards, personal loans, or auto loans.

Secured Debt vs. Unsecured Debt

Secured debt is debt backed by an asset used as collateral. The asset is pledged to the lender in case the borrower does not repay the loan. If the loan isn’t paid back, then the lender has the option to seize the asset.

A car loan is an example of a secured debt. A lender supplies you with the cash necessary to purchase it but also places a lien, or claim of ownership, on the vehicle’s title. If you fail to make payments, the lender can repossess the car and sell it to recoup some funds. Secured loans generally have lower interest rates because the collateral lowers the risk for the lender.

Unsecured debt does not require collateral. When a lender makes a loan with no asset held as collateral, it relies on the borrower’s ability to repay the loan.

With unsecured debt, the borrower is bound by a contractual agreement to repay the funds. The lender can go to court to reclaim any money owed if there is a default. However, doing so comes at a significant cost to the lender.

Because it is more risky for the lender, unsecured debt generally has a higher interest rate. Some examples of unsecured debt include credit cards, signature loans, and medical bills.

Revolving Debt vs. Installment Debt

You can also categorize debt by whether it is revolving or installment.

Revolving debt is open-ended, meaning you can reuse it once you pay down your balance. With revolving debt, you get a maximum credit line and can spend up to that limit as many times as you need. The available credit you have will fluctuate depending on how much credit you’ve used. You must make at least the minimum payments, and the remaining balance will then transfer over to the next month with interest.

Installment loans are closed-ended. The lender provides a lump sum, which you then repay in regular payments that are typically the same amount each month and for a set time.

Fixed-Rate vs. Variable-Rate

Fixed-rate debt and variable-rate debt differ in how their interest rates are structured.

With fixed-rate debt, the interest rate remains constant throughout the entire term of the loan. This gives borrowers predictability and stability in their monthly payments since the interest rate does not fluctuate with changes in the market.

On the other hand, variable-rate debt is characterized by interest rates that can change from time to time based on market conditions. These fluctuations introduce an element of uncertainty into monthly payments. This uncertainty is scary for some people, and why they stay away from variable-rate debt. For others, it’s an opportunity to maybe have smaller payments in the future if markets turn their way.

Short-Term Debt vs. Long-Term Debt

Short-term debt and long-term debt differ based on their repayment periods. Short-term debt typically has a maturity of one year or less, while long-term debt has a repayment period exceeding one year.

This distinction is usually more critical for companies, especially those that have to publish external financial statements. Classifying debt between these two categories is a requirement of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Individual consumers should still be mindful of the varying terms of debt, as long-term debt carries more obligation, potentially more interest, and more risk.

Callable Debt vs. Noncallable Debt

Callable and noncallable debt differ in the issuer’s ability to redeem or “call” the debt before it’s due.

Imagine you have a loan. If it’s callable, it gives the issuer the right to redeem or require full payment before the due date. If it’s noncallable, the issuer lacks this feature and cannot redeem the debt before the maturity date.

Callable debt is usually associated with corporate bonds, and it’s extremely rare and even unheard of for consumer debt to be callable.

The Federal Reserve tracks different types of debt. For example, in the third quarter (Q3) of 2023, revolving consumer credit increased by 10.2% with over $1.2 trillion outstanding.

Specific Types of Loans

In addition to the factors that were talked about above, loans can pertain to a specific use. For example, when you go to school, you may take out a student loan; when you buy a car, it’s a car loan. Aside from naming the type of debt after whatever it’s going to be used for, there are some specific characteristics for some of these types of loans.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are a type of revolving debt. With this debt, you can borrow up to the maximum limit on a recurring basis. When you pay down your balance, you can use that credit again. Your credit limit will depend on several factors, including your income and credit score.

Credit cards, which are generally unsecured but can also be secured with a deposit, tend to have pretty high interest rates. Some credit cards offer benefits like rewards.

A line of credit is a loan similar to a credit card, as it is revolving debt.


Mortgages, the most common and largest debt in the United States, are loans made to purchase homes, with the property serving as collateral.

A mortgage typically has one of the lowest interest rates of any consumer loan product, and the interest is often tax-deductible if you itemize your taxes. Mortgage loans are most commonly issued in 15- or 30-year terms.

Student Loans

Student loans are used to pay for education expenses like tuition and room and board. They are issued in a lump-sum payment, and the borrower is responsible for making repayments in regular amounts, typically after the student graduates.

Student loans can come from a variety of types of lenders, including the federal government. Unlike other types of debt, you usually cannot discharge student loans in bankruptcy. It can only be done by making a special request to the court and getting its approval. This is not very common.

Auto Loans

Car loans are a type of installment loan that is secured by the vehicle you are purchasing. You can get an auto loan through a bank or a lender connected with a car dealership.

Car loans give you money in a lump sum that you pay back with interest over time, usually between three to six years. Interest rates on auto loans are generally lower than for personal loans because auto loans are backed by the vehicle, which the lender can repossess if you fail to pay.

Other Types of Debt

Personal loans, medical debt, and lines of credit are among the many other types of debt for individuals. Larger companies may take on corporate debt by issuing bonds, which can be traded as securities.

Having lower debt can generally help your credit score and keep you in good financial health, but not all debt is considered bad. Taking on debt can be an excellent financial move if it can help you build long-term wealth. Debt that is not healthy has a high interest rate that compounds over time.

Does a Secured Loan Hurt Your Credit?

A secured loan can impact your credit in several ways. When you apply for the loan, your credit score will likely take a brief hit. If you make payments on the loan on time, then the loan could help your credit score in the long term. However, if you fail to make payments on time, then your credit score will decline.

What Is the Most Common Debt?

The most common debt by total amount of debt in the U.S. is mortgage debt. Other types of common debt include credit card debt, auto loans, and student loans.

What Happens If Unsecured Debt Is Not Paid?

If unsecured debt is not paid, you can face a number of negative consequences. Unsecured debt is not backed by collateral, so lenders cannot take your assets. But if you don’t pay unsecured debt, you could face fees, penalties, and wage garnishment. Not making your payments to lenders on time will typically result in a lower credit score, making getting approved for loans and other financial products more challenging.

The Bottom Line

Different types of debt include secured and unsecured, or revolving and installment. Debt categories can also include mortgages, credit card lines of credit, student loans, auto loans, and personal loans.

If you are struggling to pay your debt, you may want to consult a financial advisor to review your options, like budgeting, debt consolidation, or bankruptcy.

What Are the Main Types of Debt? (2024)


What are the different types of debt? ›

Different types of debt include secured and unsecured, or revolving and installment. Debt categories can also include mortgages, credit card lines of credit, student loans, auto loans, and personal loans.

What is debt your answer? ›

Quick Answer

Debt is money you owe to another party, or creditor. Creditors often charge interest in exchange for lending to you. Common types of debt include mortgages, credit cards, personal loans, auto loans and student loans.

What are 3 general types of debt financing? ›

Debt financing can be in the form of installment loans, revolving loans, and cash flow loans. Installment loans have set repayment terms and monthly payments.

What is the biggest type of debt? ›

The largest percentages of the average consumer debt balance are mortgages.

What are the two good types of debt? ›

Examples of good debt may include:
  • Your mortgage. ...
  • Student loans can be another example of “good debt.” Some student loans have lower interest rates compared to other loan types, and the interest may also be tax-deductible. ...
  • Auto loans can be good or bad debt.

What are the four main types of debt securities? ›

Bonds (government, corporate, or municipal) are one of the most common types of debt securities, but there are many different examples of debt securities, including preferred stock, collateralized debt obligations, euro commercial paper, and mortgage-backed securities.

What makes up our debt? ›

The national debt is the amount of money the federal government has borrowed to cover the outstanding balance of expenses incurred over time. In a given fiscal year (FY) , when spending (ex. money for roadways) exceeds revenue (ex. money from federal income tax), a budget deficit results.

What does debt include? ›

Total debt includes long-term liabilities, such as mortgages and other loans that do not mature for several years, as well as short-term obligations, including loan payments, credit cards, and accounts payable balances.

What is debt in simple words? ›

A debt is the sum of money that is borrowed for a certain period of time and is to be return along with the interest. The amount as well as the approval of the debt depends upon the creditworthiness of the borrower.

How many main types of loans are there? ›

The eight different types of loans you should know are personal loans, auto loans, student loans, mortgage loans, home equity loans, credit-builder loans, debt consolidation loans and payday loans.

What are types of debt to avoid? ›

Generally speaking, try to minimize or avoid debt that is high cost and isn't tax-deductible, such as credit cards and some auto loans. High interest rates will cost you over time. Credit cards are convenient and can be helpful as long as you pay them off every month and aren't accruing interest.

What are the main types of financing? ›

There are two types of financing: equity financing and debt financing. The main advantage of equity financing is that there is no obligation to repay the money acquired through it. Equity financing places no additional financial burden on the company, though the downside is quite large.

What type of debt is a loan? ›

A loan is a form of debt but, more specifically, an agreement in which one party lends money to another. The lender sets repayment terms, including how much is to be repaid and when, as well as the interest rate on the debt.

What is the best kind of debt? ›

Examples of good debt are taking out a mortgage, buying things that save you time and money, buying essential items, investing in yourself by borrowing for more education or to consolidate debt. Each may put you in a hole initially, but you'll be better off in the long run for having borrowed the money.

What is the simplest most common form of debt? ›

In the simplest terms, a person takes on debt when they borrow money and agree to repay it. Common examples are student loans, mortgages and credit card purchases.

What are the 5 C's of debt? ›

This review process is based on a review of five key factors that predict the probability of a borrower defaulting on his debt. Called the five Cs of credit, they include capacity, capital, conditions, character, and collateral.

What are the 4 main differences between debt and equity? ›

Difference Between Debt and Equity
RepaymentFixed periodic repaymentsNo obligation to repay
RiskLender bears lower riskInvestors bear higher risk
ControlBorrower retains controlShareholders have voting rights
Claims on AssetsSecured or unsecured claims on assetsResidual claims on assets
6 more rows
Jun 16, 2023

What are good and bad types of debt? ›

The difference between good debt and bad debt is that good debt offers long-term financial benefits to you, whereas bad debt hurts your finances. Examples of good debt include mortgages that provide a home and a valuable asset and student loans that provide job skills.


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