Are P2P lending sites legit?

Question

Can you tell me if these ‘peer-to-peer’ lending web sites are legit?

- Cameron

Answer

This question was answered on September 18, 2009. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The Internet has spawned many ‘peer-to-peer’ networks, starting with Napster back in 1999 In general, peer-to-peer (P2P) networks allow any peer (or person connected to the Internet) to exchange or interact with any other peer.

P2P networks exist for music, video, sewing patterns, recipes and now for lending and borrowing money

The concept of lending money via the Internet evolved from the successful use of micro-lending in third world countries (www.kiva.org) Loans as small as $25 were capable of assisting entrepreneurs in third world countries get a start in a small service business.

The P2P lending concept (also referred to as person-to-person lending or social lending) took it to the next level, which was to get many folks that were willing to invest $25 -$100 to pool their investment capital to fund larger projects.

You can seek funding for everything from student loans to paying off credit cards to home improvements to small business loans Virtually any borrowing need that in the past required a traditional lender is possible via P2P lending sites and usually in a much shorter period of time.

Today, there are two distinct ways to use these Internet lending sites: to create a structured loan program to pitch to your friends and family or to pitch total strangers for funding.

Think of these sites as providing the same service that Ebay provides: an online way to get buyers and sellers together P2P lending opens up the opportunities for both borrowers and lenders of all types anywhere on the Internet to connect.

As with any lending situation, there are pros and cons for both borrowers and lenders

Borrowers will likely pay a higher interest rate or be required to secure the loan in ways that a traditional lender or credit card company wouldn’t, but because you get a more direct opportunity to connect and discuss with lenders, your personal situation might be more of a factor.

For lenders, you can generate a higher rate of return than CDs or money market accounts, but clearly there is much more risk On the other hand, lenders have the ability to perform due diligence via the Internet along with spreading the risk with many other lenders.

Here are few of the more popular sites that have been in this arena for a while:

http://VirginMoney.com – Part of the Virgin empire created by Sir Richard Branson, this site can assist you in putting together a ‘social lending’ package to get loans from people you know for real estate, business, personal or student loans.

http://LendingClub.com – One of the largest gathering places for P2P lenders and borrowers with one of the better reputations with the online community Unsecured personal loans ranging from $1,000 to $25,000.

http://Prosper.com – Much like LendingClub.com but less stringent requirements for both lenders and borrowers (likely higher risk for lenders).

http://GreenNote.com – Student loan specific P2P lending and investment site.

The cons of P2P lending are definitely more substantial for lenders than it is for borrowers, so if you think you want to give it a try as a lender, be very careful about the hype on the returns and default rates.

Most of the negative comments online from those that have invested via P2P sites was in the ‘higher than publicized’ default rates and the relative return on their money after fees and defaults being less than advertised.

The biggest thing to watch as a borrower is all the potential fine print that could allow for the terms of the loan to be changed if you don’t make payments.

For those that want to formalize lending arrangements with friends and family (including automatic payments direct from the borrower’s bank account) these sites could prove to be very helpful, but as always: Do Your Homework First!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on September 18, 2009