Many Americans unfortunately face the same dilemma every month of what bills to pay with a limited amount of money — but the way many decide to prioritize those debts may actually be costly.

In fact, consumers in financial distress tend to prioritize unsecured personal loans ahead of other credit products such as auto loans, mortgages and credit cards, according to a new TransUnion study. The desire to pay off such loans may come from the "quick win" borrowers feel with these loans, as there is a near-term end to the debt.

"It is quite surprising to us that, for most struggling consumers, unsecured personal loan payments are prioritized over other prominent credit products such as mortgages and auto loans," said Ezra Becker, senior vice president and head of research for TransUnion's financial services business unit.

However, the short-term fulfillment of paying off a personal loan first could come at the cost of a person's car or house, experts warn.

"Secured debt repayments should be the first bills paid in every household, so I am alarmed by the findings in TransUnion's recent study," says Natasha Rachel Smith, a personal finance expert at

"There is a notable difference between secured and unsecured loans," Smith adds. "Secured loans, which include borrowing money for mortgages and car financing, offer low interest rates and longer repayment terms in exchange for giving the lender security that you will definitely repay the debt."

Of course, if the repayment doesn't happen, the lender can repossess the asset, such as a home or vehicle.

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