Secured vs. Unsecured Debt: Why Does It Matter in Bankruptcy?

Learn the difference between secured and unsecured debt as it pertains to bankruptcy.

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Paying off your debt can sometimes seem like a tall order. When you’ve exhausted all your efforts to resolve your debt without making much progress, filing for bankruptcy may be your last resort.

However, when you file for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court will typically divide your debt into two categories: secured debt and unsecured debt. Each of these debts are treated differently. Understanding their differences is necessary to knowing what will happen to your debts and how your finances will be affected during a bankruptcy.


A secured debt is a loan that is tied to an asset, which serves as collateral or as a guarantee that you will repay your debt. This repayment is based on the terms and conditions you and your creditors have agreed upon. Collateral can be a house, car, or any high-valued item. In the event that the debt is not repaid, your creditor can seize the collateral as a way for them to recoup their loss from the debt you owe.

Common examples of secured debt include a mortgage or house loan, title loan. and auto loan.


With unsecured debts, the debt is not tied to an asset or collateral. Your creditors cannot seize your property in the event you default on your debt. As a result, your creditors may need to find another way to force you to pay back debt. They may file a lawsuit against you, ask for a court petition to garnish your wages, or hire a debt collector.

The common types of unsecured debt are student loans, credit card debt, medical bills debt. and personal loans.


Each type of debt will be treated separately from each other should you file for bankruptcy. Your debts will also be treated differently depending on the type of bankruptcy that you are filing for. Bankruptcy claims fall into two categories: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.


Chapter 7, also called liquidation, allows you to eliminate most of your debts and gives you the chance to start with a clean slate. However, one of drawbacks is that your property can be seized in lieu of the amount owed. 

When you have a secured debt and you file for Chapter 7, your liability to pay it is going to be discharged. If you have unsecured debt, filing Chapter 7 will wipe out most of your unsecured debts However, your creditors can still seize your assets.


On the other hand, a Chapter 13 claim requires that you to commit to a debt repayment plan which is designed to help you manage debt payment for a period of three to five years. In Chapter 13, you are able to keep your assets as long as you are able to comply with the agreed-upon repayment plan.

When you file for Chapter 13, your unsecured debt will become part of the debt repayment plan, but the law won’t require that the unsecured debt be paid in full. With this claim, you will avoid foreclosure, as creditors will not be allowed to take your property as long as you comply with the agreed-upon monthly payment plan. To ensure you keep your assets, you can opt to continue making payments. When the repayment plan is over, the remaining debt will also be discharged.

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