Line of Credit: Legal Definition, Benefits, Risks and Interest Rates

What is a Line of Credit?

A line of credit is a flexible loan arrangement with a financial institution that allows borrowers to draw funds up to a predetermined limit and repay them over time, only paying interest on the amount used.

Line of Credit Legal Definition

In financial law, a line of credit (LOC) is a versatile tool that offers individuals and businesses access to a predetermined amount of money, which they can use as needed.

Unlike traditional loans, where the borrower receives a lump sum upfront, a LOC allows the borrower to draw funds up to a certain limit and only pay interest on the amount used.

This flexibility makes it a popular choice for managing cash flow, financing projects, or handling unexpected expenses. However, like all financial instruments, a LOC has its legal considerations.

General Meaning of a Line of Credit

A line of credit is a revolving loan where the borrower can draw funds up to a specified limit. The borrower can use the funds for any purpose and repay them, usually every month.

The interest is typically charged only on the amount drawn, not the entire credit limit.

There are various types of LOCs, including:

  • Personal Line of Credit: Typically unsecured, meaning it doesn’t require collateral. It’s based on the borrower’s creditworthiness.
  • Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC): Secured against the borrower’s home. It allows homeowners to borrow against the equity in their property.
  • Business Line of Credit: Offered to businesses for operational expenses, expansion, or other business-related costs.

Legal Considerations for Lines of Credit

  • Agreement Terms: Every LOC has an agreement outlining the terms and conditions. This includes the interest rate, fees, repayment terms, and any penalties for late payments or defaults. Both parties should thoroughly review and understand these terms before entering into an agreement.
  • Collateral: For secured lines of credit, such as HELOCs, the borrower pledges an asset (e.g., a house) as collateral. If the borrower defaults, the lender has the legal right to seize and sell the asset to recover the owed amount.
  • Interest Rates: Most LOCs have variable interest rates, which fluctuate based on market conditions. Borrowers should be aware of how these changes can affect their monthly payments.
  • Usage Restrictions: Some LOCs may restrict how the funds can be used. For instance, a business LOC might stipulate that funds can only be used for operational expenses.
  • Default: If borrowers fail to make the required payments, they may be considered in default. This can lead to increased interest rates, penalties, and legal actions.
  • Consumer Protection Laws: Various jurisdictions have laws to protect consumers from unfair lending practices. These might include regulations on disclosure, interest rate caps, and rights to rescind certain credit agreements.

Benefits and Risks of Line of Credit


  • Flexibility in borrowing and repayment.
  • Interest is charged only on the amount drawn.
  • It can be a cost-effective way to manage cash flow.


  • Potential for overborrowing and accumulating debt.
  • Variable interest rates can lead to higher payments.
  • Defaulting can result in loss of collateral and negative credit implications.

The Difference between a Line of Credit and a Letter of Credit

FeatureLine of CreditLetter of Credit
DefinitionA Line of Credit is a flexible loan arrangement allowing borrowers to draw funds up to a predetermined limit and repay over time.A Letter of Credit is a written guarantee from a bank ensuring a buyer’s payment to a seller will be received on time and for the correct amount.
PurposeTo provide immediate liquidity or financing for personal or business needs.To facilitate trade by providing a guarantee of payment in international and domestic transactions.
CollateralIt may be secured (requiring collateral) or unsecured.Typically, it is not tied to a collateral, but based on the creditworthiness of the parties involved.
InterestInterest is charged on the amount drawn, not the entire credit limit.Usually, it involves fees, not interest, charged by the issuing bank.
DurationIt can be open-ended or for a specified term.Typically valid for a specific transaction and has an expiration date.
BeneficiaryThe individual or business borrowing the funds.The seller or exporter in a trade transaction.
RiskRisk of overborrowing and accumulating debt.Reduces risk in trade transactions by ensuring payment.
UsageIt can be used for various purposes, from managing cash flow to financing projects.Used specifically for trade transactions to ensure payment upon meeting agreed terms.
Line of Credit vs Letter of Credit

What Are The Consequences Of Missing A Payment On My Line Of Credit?

Initially, you may incur late fees or penalty charges if you miss a payment on your line of credit. Your interest rate could potentially rise, increasing the overall cost of borrowing. This missed payment can also negatively impact your credit score, making future borrowing more challenging or expensive.

If multiple payments are missed, the lender might reduce your credit limit or freeze your ability to draw funds. Continued non-payment could lead to the lender seizing the collateral in secured lines of credit.

Additionally, the lender may report the delinquency to credit bureaus, further damaging your credit reputation.

How Do Banks Determine My Eligibility And The Limit For A Line Of Credit?

Banks review your credit score, which reflects your creditworthiness and past borrowing behaviour. A higher score often results in better terms and higher limits. Banks also evaluate your income, employment stability, and debt-to-income ratio to gauge your ability to repay borrowed funds.

Existing financial obligations, such as loans or credit card balances, play a role in determining how much additional credit you can manage.

Banks may also consider your banking history with them, including account balances and past relationships.

For secured lines of credit, the value of the collateral, like a home’s equity, is crucial in setting the limit.

How Does A Secured Line Of Credit Differ From An Unsecured Line Of Credit?

A secured line of credit requires collateral, such as a home or other valuable assets, as a guarantee against the borrowed amount.

If the borrower defaults, the lender can seize the collateral to recover the funds. Because of this security, these lines often have lower interest rates and higher credit limits.

In contrast, an unsecured line of credit doesn’t require collateral. Lenders base approval on the borrower’s creditworthiness, income, and financial history.

As a result, unsecured lines typically have higher interest rates due to the increased risk for lenders.

If a borrower defaults on an unsecured line, the lender can’t claim assets but can pursue other collection methods, including legal action and reporting to credit bureaus.


A line of credit can be a powerful financial tool when used responsibly. It offers flexibility and can be tailored to fit individual or business needs. However, like all financial products, it’s essential to understand the legal implications and potential risks.

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