As suggested above, there are many similarities between lines of credit and other types of borrowing, but there are also many important differences that borrowers need to understand.
Like credit cards, lines of credit effectively have preset limits – you are approved to borrow a certain amount of money and no more. Also like credit cards, policies for going over that limit vary with the lender, though banks tend to be less willing than credit cards to immediately approve overages (instead they often look to renegotiate the line of credit and increase the borrowing limit). Also like credit cards, the loan is essentially pre-approved and the money can be accessed whenever the borrower wants, for whatever use the borrower intends. Lastly, while credit cards and lines of credit may have annual fees, neither charge interest until/unless there is an outstanding balance.
Unlike credit cards, lines of credit can be secured with real property. Prior to the housing crash, Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) were very popular with both lending officers and borrowers. While HELOCs are harder to get now, they are still available and tend to carry lower interest rates. Credit cards will always have monthly minimum payments and companies will significantly increase the interest rate if those payments are not met. Lines of credit may, or may not, have similar immediate monthly repayment requirements.
Like a traditional loan, a line of credit requires acceptable credit and repayment of the funds, and charges interest on any funds borrowed. Also like a loan, taking out, using, and repaying a line of credit can improve a borrower’s credit score.
Unlike a loan, which generally is for a fixed amount, for a fixed time, with a prearranged repayment schedule, there is much greater flexibility with a line of credit. There are also typically fewer restrictions on the use of funds borrowed under a line of credit – a mortgage must go towards the purchase of the listed property and an auto loan must go towards the specified car, but a line of credit can be used at the discretion of the borrower.
Pawn Loan / Payday Loan
There are some superficial similarities between lines of credit and payday loans, but that is really only due to the fact that many payday loan borrowers are “frequent flyers” that frequently borrow, repay, and/or extend their loans (paying very high fees and interest along the way). Likewise, a pawnshop or payday lender does not care what a borrower uses the funds for, so long as the fees/loans are paid/repaid.
The differences, however, are more considerable. For anyone who can qualify for a line of credit, the cost of funds will be dramatically lower than for a payday/pawn loan. By the same token, the credit evaluation process is much simpler and less demanding for a payday/pawn loan (there may be no credit check at all) and the process is much, much quicker. It is also the case that payday lenders will seldom lend the amounts of money often approved in lines of credit (and banks will seldom bother with lines of credit as small as the average payday or pawn loan).