Lines of credit: What they are and how they work

A line of credit is a type of credit account that works much like a credit card does. It allows a borrower to withdraw money and repay it over and over again as long as the account is open and in good standing.

But how does a line of credit work? And when can one be useful? Use this guide to learn more.

Key takeaways

  • If a line of credit is a revolving account, it might work similarly to a credit card. There are also nonrevolving lines of credit.
  • Examples include personal lines of credit (PLOCs), home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) and business lines of credit.
  • Lines of credit can be unsecured or secured, depending on whether collateral is required.
  • Like many loans, the application process for a line of credit is typically based on a borrower’s creditworthiness.

What is a line of credit?

A line of credit is a type of revolving loan. This means it gives a borrower access to a preset credit limit they can use and then repay again and again. Because lines of credit are open-ended debt, they don’t have a defined payoff date. They’re available to the account holder as long as the account is in good standing.

If a line of credit has a variable interest rate, the rate “changes with the index interest rate, such as the prime rate published in the Wall Street Journal.” That’s according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Lines of credit are typically available at financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions. 

How does a line of credit work? 

The way a line of credit works depends on the specifics of the account, including these:

Revolving vs. nonrevolving line of credit 

Lines of credit can be either revolving accounts or nonrevolving accounts. 

With a revolving line of credit, a person can borrow money and then make payments on an ongoing basis as long as they don’t exceed the account’s credit limit. This way, the account functions similarly to a credit card. As they use the line of credit, the amount of available credit goes down. As they pay it back, the available credit goes back up.

Nonrevolving lines of credit are similar to revolving lines in the sense that there are funds available to the borrower. But nonrevolving lines of credit don’t function like credit cards do. The difference is that once the money is used and paid back, nonrevolving accounts are typically closed and can no longer be used.

Secured vs. unsecured line of credit 

Lines of credit can be secured or unsecured accounts.

With a secured line of credit, a borrower provides collateral to back the loan. If they don’t repay the funds, the lender can take the assets that were used as collateral. 

Unsecured lines of credit don’t require collateral. For this reason, they may have higher interest rates than secured lines of credit do.

Common lines of credit and their requirements 

Here are common types of credit lines, plus requirements borrowers may need to satisfy for each:


A PLOC is typically an unsecured, revolving loan that’s taken out for personal use. A PLOC might be used in similar ways to a credit card, like handling bills and other expenses. Terms for a PLOC vary depending on the lender, but the CFPB says banks and credit unions “often require strong creditworthiness for approval.” The agency also says lenders usually require borrowers to have a checking account with their financial institution.


HELOCs are another common type of secured credit account. With this loan, a borrower can draw money against the equity they have in their home. 

When applying for a HELOC, lenders typically request an appraisal to assess the home’s value. From there, the lender will determine the credit limit, which is usually 75% to 80% of the home’s market value. 

If you’re approved for a HELOC, you can draw against your home’s equity during what’s known as a draw period. Draw periods vary depending on the agreement, but 10 years is a common time frame. During the draw period, you can access and repay funds over and over again as long as purchases stay within the limit. 

Business line of credit 

Business lines of credit can be used by organizations to cover their operating costs and other business-related expenses. Depending on the agreement, they could be secured or unsecured. In the case of secured business lines of credit, collateral could take the form of assets such as property, equipment, inventory or investments. 

How to get a line of credit

You can apply for a line of credit from lenders that offer them, including banks and credit unions. 

The application process may be similar to that of other loans or credit applications. Lenders generally review a borrower’s creditworthiness to determine whether they’re eligible. The higher their credit scores, the more likely they are to get a line of credit with lower interest rates. 

Borrowers can then weigh different options by comparing things like annual percentage rates. They can also look for fees and other costs related to opening the account. 

Does a line of credit affect your credit scores? 

Applying for, opening and using a line of credit may affect your credit scores in a number of ways. Here are a few major factors involved in credit scoring:

If it’s a revolving line of credit, your credit utilization ratio might also be affected. But how exactly a line of credit affects your scores depends on the credit-scoring model, the company doing the scoring and when your scores are calculated.

Is it worth getting a line of credit? 

Lines of credit can be used to help cover a variety of expenses, including those that are unexpected or are part of an ongoing project. For example, they may help fund a wedding or cover a home renovation. But whether a line of credit is a good option comes down to a borrower’s individual circumstances. 

As with any loan, it may help to research lines of credit before you apply for one. For example, you may want to fully understand the terms of the loan and have a plan for how it might fit into your budget.

Lines of credit in a nutshell 

There are different kinds of credit lines, including revolving and nonrevolving accounts. But in general, they can offer flexible funding options for large or unexpected expenses.

Similar to a line of credit, a credit card can offer flexible access to funds. Some credit cards can also offer advantages over a line of credit, like cash back or miles rewards. Learn more about Capital One cards or see whether you’re pre-approved with no impact to your credit.

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