What Is a Loan Commitment?

A loan commitment is an agreement by a commercial bank or other financial institution to lend a business or individual a specified sum of money. A loan commitment is useful for consumers looking to buy a home or a business planning to make a major purchase.

The loan can take the form of a single lump sum or—in the case of an open-end loan commitment—a line of credit that the borrower can draw upon as needed (up to a predetermined limit).

Key Takeaways

  • A loan commitment is an agreement by a commercial bank or other financial institution to lend a business or individual a specified sum of money.
  • Loan commitments are useful for consumers looking to buy a home or businesses planning to make a major purchase.
  • The loan can take the form of a single lump sum or a line of credit that the borrower can draw upon as needed (up to a predetermined limit).
  • Loan commitments can be either secured or unsecured; a secured commitment is typically based on the borrower’s creditworthiness and has some form of collateral backing it. whereas an unsecured commitment is solely based on the borrower's creditworthiness (it has no collateral backing it).

Understanding a Loan Commitment

Financial institutions make loan commitments based on the borrower’s creditworthiness and—in if it's a secured commitment—on the value of some form of collateral. In the case of individual consumers, this collateral may be a home. Borrowers can then use the funds made available under the loan commitment, up to the agreed-upon limit. An open-end loan commitment works like a revolving line of credit: When the borrower pays back a portion of the loan's principal, the lender adds that amount back to the available loan limit.

Interest rates when obtaining a secured loan commitment may be lower, but this type of loan requires putting up collateral; if you can't repay the loan, you may risk losing the collateral.

Types of Loan Commitments

Loan commitments can be either secured or unsecured.

Secured Loan Commitment

A secured commitment is typically based on the borrower’s creditworthiness and it has some form of collateral backing it. Two examples of open-end secured loan commitments for consumers are a secured credit card–where money in a bank account serves as collateral–and a home equity line of credit (HELOC)–in which the equity in a home is used as collateral.

Because the credit limit is typically based on the value of the secured asset, the credit limit is often higher for a secured loan commitment than for an unsecured loan commitment. In addition, the loan’s interest rate may be lower and the payback time may be longer for a secured loan commitment than for an unsecured one. However, the approval process typically requires more paperwork and takes longer than with an unsecured loan.

The lender holds the collateral’s deed or title–or places a lien on the asset–until the loan is completely paid. Defaulting on a secured loan may result in the lender assuming ownership of and selling the secured asset, at which point they would then be responsible for using the proceeds to cover the loan.

Unsecured Loan Commitment

A loan that doesn't have any collateral backing it is primarily based on the borrower’s creditworthiness. An unsecured credit card is one very basic example of an unsecured open-end loan commitment. Typically, the higher the borrower’s credit score, the higher the credit limit.

However, the interest rate may be higher than on a secured loan commitment because no collateral is backing the debt. Unsecured loans typically have a fixed minimum payment schedule and interest rate. The process for acquiring this type of loan often takes less paperwork and approval time than a secured loan commitment.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Loan Commitments

Open-end loan commitments are flexible and can be useful for paying unexpected short-term debt obligations or covering financial emergencies. In addition, HELOCs typically have low interest rates, which may make their payments more affordable. Secured credit cards can help consumers establish or rebuild their credit; paying their bill on time and keeping total credit card debt low will improve their credit scores, and in time they may be eligible for an unsecured credit card.

The downside of a secured loan commitment is that borrowers who take out too much money and are unable to repay the loan may have to forfeit their collateral. For example, this could mean losing their home. Unsecured commitments have a higher interest rate, which makes borrowing more expensive.