Saturday, March 29, 2008

Revolution Money Exchange improves referral program

Many exciting new companies are launching at the intersection of finance and technology. Mostly I write about peer to peer lending, but last month I wrote about Revolution Money Exchange - a PayPal competitor.

Much to my surprise, the article is now the most popular article on this site. A follow up article, Why does Revolution Money Exchange require my social security number?, is the third most popular. Lately, more people are coming here looking for information on Revolution Money than P2P lending.

Like Prosper and Lending Club, Revolution Money offers a $25 sign-up bonus. Last week they improved the referral program making it easier to promote on websites.

Previously you could only refer friends by emailing them. Now there is an ad that you can place on your website. After you sign up with the $25 bonus you can refer friends and earn a $10 bonus. Here's their ad:

Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange

And, yes, it does work:

When you click on the ad, you are directed to the following sign up page:

In my opinion, this is far better than Lending Club or Prosper's landing page. Compare all three if you want:

Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange

Earn Great Returns Lending with Lending Club. $25 Sign-Up Bonus.

Earn Great Returns Lending with Prosper. $25 Sign-Up Bonus.

All three offer a $25 sign up bonus. When people click on an ad offering $25 they expect to learn how to get the $25. Revolution does that and keeps it simple. In my opinion, Prosper tries to present too much information on their Landing Page. Lending Club, on the other hand, makes no mention of the $25 bonus on their landing page. In addition, Lending Club might do better if they just request an email on the initial landing page instead of security questions and a consent form. Keep it simple.

Many people have signed up for Prosper and Lending Club via this website but a very small percentage of those become eligible for the $25 bonus. With Prosper you have to make a loan of $50 and with Lending Club you have to verify your bank account and transfer funds to your account. Revolution Money is much easier - they transfer the $25 in your account immediately. Then, if you want to pull it out you have to verify your bank account.

I think some people signing up for Prosper or Lending Club through a $25 referral button become confused at the requirements to get the $25 and do not follow through. Revolution Money has a much higher conversion rate.

So, I'm quite pleased with Revolution Money's improvements to their referral program and I challenge Prosper and Lending Club to continue to improve their programs.

Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fynanz becomes the first P2P student loan marketplace

This week Fynanz became the first peer to peer lending company to specifically target the student loan market. Fynanz allows family, friends, alumni or just about any American with $50 to help students meet education expenses such as tuition, books, room and board, and living expenses. In addition to helping students, lenders have the opportunity to earn a fair return on their investment.

In a recent interview with PLR, Fynanz founder Chirag Chaman said, "We're in the business of making sure students get a competitive student loan and we believe that education is the best investment."

Borrowing initially open to New York and Florida. In this initial launch phase, borrowing is restricted to students with a primary residence in New York or Florida but Fynanz will gradually open to more states. Although the borrower's primary residence must be New York or Florida, the school borrowers attend can be in any state.

Chaman said, "We plan to start originating in five additional states starting next month." Fynanz is based in New York and wanted to start with nearby students. In addition, Fynanz picked Florida because of the unique market situation. "Recently, many have looked to tap the equity in their homes to pay for their children's education," explained Chaman. "However, many homeowners, especially those in Florida, are currently feeling the pinch from deflated housing prices and the current credit crisis." Lenders can be from any state.

Fynanz purposely launched during a student loan "off season" to ensure they have the technology right and all their systems are tested. "We expect the momentum to pick up in early May and grow steadily through August and September," Chaman said.

Loan amounts. Borrowers can take out loans in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $20,000. In addition, they can take out multiple loans - up to 4 loans per year, with at least 60 days between each loan request. The maximum aggregate loan amounts are $120,000 for undergraduates and $160,000 for graduate students.

Rates. Unlike Prosper and Lending Club, rates are variable and based on the LIBOR index plus a margin range which is set by lenders in the marketplace. For example, the current base rate from the LIBOR index is 3.62%. Suggested margin rates range from 3% to 7.5% for a typical overall rate of 6 to 11% before fees.

The base rate on Fynanz loans adjust once a quarter. The next rate adjustment will be July 1st and based on the average LIBOR rate from April, May and June. Today the 1-month LIBOR rate, as published by the Wall Street Journal, is 2.54%. Assuming the fed does not raise interest rates, it is possible Fynanz rates will drop about one percent in July.

Fees. Lenders pay Fynanz an annual 1% Servicing Fee. Borrowers pay 2.9%, 4.9% or 6.9% depending on their credit worthiness. This fee is added to the overall loan amount. In addition, there is a 1% fee which goes to a Default Prevention & Guarantee Fund. After borrowers have paid off the first 10% of their loan the 1% fee is removed.

Tax benefit. Interest payments on Fynanz loans may be tax deductible for borrowers since they are "qualified" education loans.

Lender and borrower verification. I found it much easier to become a lender on Fynanz than Prosper. In most cases, you will not have to fax documents. You do provide your social security number and answer questions from your credit report that only you should know. It does take a couple days to verify your bank account.

Borrowers, on the other hand, must meet more stringent verification requirements before their listing is posted. Chaman said, "Borrowers must either pass all eligibility criteria and be creditworthy on their own or utilize a cosigner, usually a parent, who is both creditworthy and can provide the required proof of income. Getting all the paperwork together and verified can take a few days."

Loan term. While Prosper and Lending Club loans are for three years, loans on Fynanz may be open for much longer. For loans less than $5,000 the repayment term is 10 years and loans greater than $5,000 the repayment term is 20 years. While in school, a borrower may choose academic deferment where no payment is due, and a six month grace period after completing or leaving school. Borrowers may also choose to make interest payments while in school. Fynanz indicates they may periodically offer to repurchase a loan at a small discount to face value to lenders who have held the loan for at least one year.

Default Prevention and a Fynanz Guarantee. Fynanz repurchases a loan which is fraudulently obtained through identity theft. In addition, Fynanz has taken a unique position in the P2P lending market where they will share the risk with the lenders. Fynanz guarantees range from 50% to 100% of the amount lent and are determined by the FACS Grade for the loan.

  • Platinum Honors - 100%
  • Platinum Plus - 90%
  • Gold Honors - 80%
  • Gold Plus - 70%
  • Silver Honors - 60%
  • Silver Plus - 50%
Fynanz Academic Credit Score (FACS). The FACS grade, which also helps determine the interest rate a borrower pays, is determined using a credit scoring model that uses academic characteristics to differentiate borrowers and ranks risk by expected default rates.

Chaman explains, "Unlike other P2P lending sites, having a great credit history does not automatically mean a borrower will get a lower rate. A borrower’s credit profile simply determines eligibility and access to our marketplace. The interest rate charged to a borrower will depend on the FACS Grade assigned to the borrower. The higher the GPA or the closer the student is to graduation is what counts. Our research shows that juniors and seniors tend to be a lower default risk, thus they will receive a higher FACS Grade and therefore a better interest rate, compared to a sophomore or freshman."

Rolling launch. According to Chaman several borrowers have started the verification process and the first loan requests should appear on the site next week. Lenders can sign up now, verify their account and prepare to transfer funds to bid on upcoming loans.

CBS Evening News features P2P lending

"Beating the financial giants at their own game. Now that's…priceless," reports John Blackstone from CBS Evening News.

CBS Evening News interviewed Justin Brown, a Lending Club borrower, who reduced his the rate on his motorcycle loan from 31% to 10%. They also talked to Alex Clemens who lends money on Prosper, Lending Club and Zopa. "I'm not giving them money, I'm loaning them money," said Clemens.

Article: In Credit Crunch, Lending To Each Other

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Prosper, Lending Club and Loanio to present at FinovateStartup 2008

FinovateStartup will showcase about 40 financial startups to hundreds of press, bloggers, analysts, venture capitalists, industry leaders and banking executives in San Fransisco on April 29th. Prosper, Lending Club and Loanio will each demo their platforms.

Last year at Finovate 2007, Prosper announced several new features and Lending Club highlighted Facebook social connections and their Lending Match technology.

Loanio has not yet launched but is expected to prior to the conference.

Here are Prosper's and Lending Club's presentations from last year:

Patrick Gannon from Lending Club was also interviewed by Visible Banking during last year's conference.

Here is the list of companies that will present at FinovateStartup 2008: Andera, Aradiom, Authentium, Boulevard R., Buxfer, Cake Financial, CAPS, ClairMail, Credit Karma, Diversinet, Expensr, First ROI, FindABetterBank, Guard ID, Guardian Analytics, IP Commerce, Jwaala, Lending Club, Loanio, Mint, Prosper, SmartyPig, SmartHippo, Simple Tuition, SocialPicks, TradeKing, TrustedID, Tyfone, Unified Money, VaultStreet, Vestopia, Vidoop, Wesabe, Wonga, WorkLight, Zecco and 3 others still in stealth.

Update (9/10/2008): Loanio screenshots

Monday, March 17, 2008

Eleven perspectives on P2P lending

We recently received a question from a reader who wants to get started P2P lending through Prosper. His situation is similar to many who discover P2P lending and are enticed by the attractive returns and wonder if it is too good to be true. We have collected eleven different responses from personal finance bloggers and lenders.

Most are cautiously optimistic but recommend lending only a small portion of your overall portfolio. If you do lend, start slowly and remain diversified.

Reader's Question: I am in my mid-30's. I am not rich, but I am pretty good at living within my means and have amassed a small nest egg, which I have slowly invested in different areas. I have some money in a mutual fund managed by Merrill Lynch, some in a similar IRA, some in a decent-yielding savings account (4%) and some, the largest portion, which I keep reinvesting in CD's. It is this portion that I am looking to try somewhere else, especially with the low CD return rates. Prosper seems like a great place to go, not only because of the higher return but because of the ability to choose whom you are helping.

My one financial question is this - if the loan is paid back slowly over 3 years, whereas a CD is usually short-term, say, 5-6 months on average, just how much better, really, is Prosper's return rate? Let's say you have $100k to invest and you have the following three choices:
  • a savings account with an APR of 4% (subject to market changes) for 3 years
  • a 6 month CD you keep reinvesting in, for 3 years, though, obviously, the market rate will fluctuate each cycle
  • an average of 10% ROI for $100k worth of 3 year prosper loans
Not knowing all the fees involved with Prosper, I'm a bit confused as to which of the 3 actually gives you the most money. Obviously, at first glance, Prosper is the best one, but...

Your thoughts on this would be much appreciated. I don't need liquidity; I just want something with a decent return. I have little faith in the future of the stock market, sensing major shifts in the world's economy over the next several years. For me, investing is important for the long term, so that by the time I'm old, my money is generating enough money to live on. I'm not sure I've found any investment strategy that would bring this about.

Matt from Prosper Lending Review

First, congratulations on your financial acumen. Living within your means is the most important thing when it comes to financial success. Investing for retirement in an IRA while you are still young is also a very smart course of action. As far as your question goes, there is not one investment tool that gives you the maximum return. Rather, there are investments that give you a potential for greater return, with the trade off being an increase in principle risk. Prosper is not FDIC insured and there is some risk to the invested principle, so it should really be viewed as a separate asset class. This should be kept in mind when comparing rates of return. That said, with a disciplined investment strategy I think you can earn a better rate of return at Prosper, though maybe not the 10% you are hoping for in today's market.

Let's take a look at the numbers.

These numbers represent Prosper's AA-B loans from its inception in November of 2005 through December 2007 with an observation date of March 5, 2008. These returns show past performance, and do not reflect some recent changes that have been made at Prosper. For example, Prosper no longer charges lenders a serving fee on AA loans. Nine months ago I wrote a article recommending investing in a diversified mix of A and AA loans. Although the default picture has grown worse since the post was written, following this strategy over the past year would have beat the 4% return from a savings account and the 5-6% rate of return on a CD. Note that 4% is currently a really good rate for a savings account (the national average is 0.41%), and 6-month CDs that were at 5-6% as recently as a year ago are now returning a dismal 3.1%.

So, what are the potential downsides of investing in Prosper in the near-term? First, the economic picture for the overall economy is starting to look worse. Default rates have been rising at Prosper as they are defaults on mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and most other types of credit. Higher future default rates have the potential to erode future profit margins. Second, it may take some time to invest $100K in AA and A loans. The market is not liquid enough yet to invest that much all at once in a diversified and targeted approach. Also, a small adjustment has to be made to the rate of return based on time that the money sits idle in your Prosper account. Money sits idle in a Prosper account earning no interest during the bidding process and the loan verification process. In some cases loans fail to fund due to failed verification or a borrower backing out at the last minute which can increase the time that the money is idle. Overall, the reduction to your first year's return is in the neighborhood of 0.5-1%, and since some loans pay off early the long term reduction to your return is probably around 0.5% APR.

What is the likely near-term scenario? If current trends continue I would assume that defaults increase to around 5% for AA loans and 9% for A loans as the economy worsens and existing loans age. Next, I would subtract the 0.5% for time when the money is idle and 1% on Prosper servicing fees on the A loans. This results in an expected APR of about 4%.

What is the worst case scenario? The worst case scenario is that the economy goes into a deep recession. Even people with good credit find it hard to pay back loans as people lose their jobs, inflation increases, and house prices continue to decrease. Under this scenario you could experience a negative return. I don't consider this to be the likely scenario, but it is important to realize that there are risks involved.

Now, what are the risks to leaving it in savings and CD accounts? The good news here is that the principle is FDIC insured, and you are guaranteed not to lose any money. The risk is that the Fed keeps cutting interest rates and your bank is forced to lower the interest rate on your savings account to 1-2%. CDs also follow the downward rate trend, and the 3.1% interest on 6 month CDs drops to 2% when you reinvest. Inflation picks up and comes in at 5% (we are currently at 4% inflation, with core inflation at 2.5%). Under this scenario, you are at a negative rate of return relative to inflation, while with Prosper there is a potential for keeping pace with or possibly beating the rate of inflation.

None of these are spectacularly exciting options, but with the looming economic slowdown I don't think investors should be expecting the same returns that we have seen in recent years regardless of the investment vehicle. Keep in mind that these are short term predictions. As the economy improves and Prosper's collection efforts improve I think we could see an overall decrease in the default rates over the longer term. As that happens Prosper's rates of return should improve. From a longer term perspective I think conservative Prosper portfolios should continue to outperform CDs and savings accounts.

What would I do? I would ask myself: In the event that things get really bad in the next couple of years would I lose sleep over a negative rate of return in the short term. If the answer is yes then I would keep the money in a CD or Savings account for the short term. If the answer is no then I would slowly start investing money into Prosper. If I were investing $100K I would start with about $1-2K per month until I reached a comfort level with my ability to understand and pick loans based on the credit criteria provided. Once I reached that comfort level I might increase the investment rate to $5K-$10K per month. The marketplace just isn't big enough yet to efficiently invest the $100K all at once while maintaining a diversified portfolio. Also, if you do make some beginner mistakes on loan selection it would be better to do that on a smaller portion of your portfolio rather than on the entire investment amount.

Another option if you want to put your money to work helping people while keeping the FDIC insurance is to take a look at Zopa. At Zopa your rate of return will be about the same as you get from a CD, but you will be able to pick the recipients of the loans. With Zopa you have to join one of their partner credit unions and deposit your funds with the credit union. The credit union assumes the default risk and keeps your money in a FDIC insured account.

Mike from Prosperousland

There are two elements to this question. First, which of three investments should be chosen? Your reader seems comfortable with locking money up for 3 years, but doesn't appear to be very risk tolerant. "Seasoned" Prosper lenders have had returns vary from +25% to -40%. (6 months or older average loan age, more than $5000 invested). And the median "seasoned" lender ROI, as estimated by, is closer to 5.3%. In other words, there's a lot of risk and possible volatility for a little increase over 4%. If this makes your reader at all queasy, they best avoid Prosper and go with one of the other alternatives. Prosper is advertising 10% returns going forward, but they do not have a large set of data to back up that history. It is Prosper's best guess, but that doesn't ensure success. Based on your reader's apparent risk aversion, I'd avoid Prosper. If Prosper can deliver more predictable returns for a couple years, then I would consider making Prosper more than a token (<5%).>

As to the second element to this question, I'm curious why your reader is only considering short term bank accounts (6-month CDs or savings accounts) when their time horizon seems much longer than 3 years. There's a wide variety of investment options that I'd consider that covers the spread between short term bank accounts and Prosper. Anything from long-term CD ladders (5-year CDs with staggered maturities) to a portfolio of index mutual funds in stocks and bonds should have more consistent returns with less uncertainty. I'd start there instead of moving aggressively into Prosper.

Response from Prosper

The three investment choices that are being considered all have very different characteristics so the choice of vehicle really depends on what is most important to the consumer. As stated in the question the consumer is looking for the best return and is concerned about liquidity. Given this set of objectives a portfolio of Prosper loan is an excellent alternative.

A savings account will have the lowest return of the three choices mentioned. In addition, the rates on savings accounts have fallen dramatically in the past few months with market rates. Most consumer savings accounts are paying rates below 2% today (there are exceptions… for example, ING Direct at 3.4%). The main advantage of a savings account is liquidity, and exchange for this the consumer will give up return.

The best way to compare a CD investment to a portfolio of Prosper loans is the match the average term of a Prosper loan to the current CD rate for a similar term. Because a Prosper loan is a amortizing loan with principal payments made over time the average life of a Prosper loan is less than two years, the best CD rate to compare to the return on a Prosper loan portfolio is 2 years. The national average rate on a two year CD, currently 3.1%, will roughly approximate the expected return on 4 consecutive 6-month CD investments. A two year CD has different liquidity characteristics than a Prosper loan portfolio, and commonly there is an option to pay a penalty to liquidate a CD before its term expires. If both are held to maturity the Prosper portfolio will begin returning funds more quickly, but the funds will be paid back over a longer term.

A portfolio constructed using Prosper’s Conservative portfolio plan has an expected return of 7.00%. Although Prosper loans have repayment risk, the expected loss rate on the conservative plan is 1.35%. Losses would need to be 3 times expectations for the return on the Prosper loan portfolio to fall to the level of the 2 year CD. Based on the stated preferences of the consumer, a portfolio of Prosper loans created using the conservative portfolio plan is the best choice. Depending on the consumer tolerance for risk, there is an opportunity to earn an even higher return than 7.00%.

Brett from Personal Loan Portfolio

Fantastic question! The primary goal is to maximize your return for the portfolio at your risk tolerance, so I am going to address more than just peer lending. You have a sum of money that can be diversified across several investments, so this is not an either/or decision. My primary recommendation is to spread your risk across a few different investment types.

Consider Fees: First, how much are you paying in fees on you Merrill and other IRA? I suggest that you check your fees and consider consolidating your IRAs at Vanguard in an index fund due to their low fees. (Check your capital gains tax consequences before selling a fund.) Consolidation also simplifies tax filing and account management. Reducing fees will have a significant impact on your returns over time. If you are concerned about the US stock market opportunities, consider a fund such as Vanguard's International Index fund. As for peer loans, typically you will pay 1% of the interest you receive in fees.

Consider Your Time frame: You mention you are looking for retirement income. Most of this money will be spent 30 years from now! There have been bumps along the history of the stock market. You might instead consider this down market a bargain rather than worry about any short term risks in the stock market.

Consider Taxes: Interest income is taxed as income while dividends are taxed at the lower capital gains rate. Stock price appreciation is taxed at the capital gains rate, and is deferred until the stock sale. I posted an analysis of tax impact on P2P loans. Over the long-term (using real historical data and not averages which reduce the impact of volatility), the S&P 500 seems to be a better investment than even a 12% return on peer loans. I included a spreadsheet in that post that you can download and change parameters on to compare the alternatives for your personal comparison.

Take advantage of all the tax-reduced possibilities available to you before peer loans. For example, if you are eligible for the ROTH IRA, I would recommend that as an investment before peer-to-peer loans. The Roth can be withdrawn without penalty in case of emergency, so I have occasionally drawn down non-tax-advantaged savings to fund my Roth IRA.

Consider Broader Market Risks: The market risks causing you concerns about the stock market are also impacting the credit market. The credit market that is driving you to seek higher returns from other options is also causing more risk from borrowers. Mortgage foreclosures are at an all-time high despite federal help. Homeowners may be turning to peer lending to patch (not stop) the bleeding caused by interest rate resets on variable rate mortgages. Energy prices could also impact borrowers. Could the borrower sill make payments if gasoline rises to $4 per gallon? What about $5 per gallon? Energy prices are also causing utilities and food prices to increase. Without a doubt, borrowers will pay their mortgage, their electricity, and their food bill before they pay you. After a loan goes into default, it is sold so even if the borrower recovers and pays off the loan you only got pennies on the debt sale.

Consider Wading Into Peer Lending: Peer lending takes some time to learn. Most of the more experienced lenders that I asked in my post about advice for new lenders indicated that they made mistakes at first. Therefore, I suggest that you slowly enter into peer lending. If you are doing this for the long term, the opportunity should still be available to you a year from now. So invest a reasonable sum each moth such as $500, and think about your choices for a while. Then, next month invest another $500. By the end of 12 months, you will have $3,000 invested and you will be able to see if you are making reasonably good choices in loans. Again, your time frame is 30 years so forgoing a small return differential while you learn the ropes will not have nearly the negative impact of diving in like a muleshoes -- notice the bid pattern and the rate of return.

Consider the Historical Peer Lending Statistics: There are lots of statistics available on the internet. I think one of the more telling statistics is the performance of the top ten lenders on Prosper which is available on Lending Stat's home page. Drill in to see their ROI. Only two of ten are projected to earn slightly more than 8% and they have not arrived to the end of their three year loan terms yet. Or consider this statistic: Of the Prosper investors who have invested more than $10K in more than 50 loans that are on average more than nine months old (link to data pull), after you consider a 1% fee, only 12 of these selected investors out of 1191 are projected to make more than 10%. Therefore, I would reconsider your projected rate of return.

Spread your risks and do not believe in magic bullets. Peer loans may be a part of a balanced risk diet one day, but for now their history is not long enough for you to drop the meat, vegetables, carbohydrates and fruits in your portfolio. So take small bites. Best of luck to you in your decisions.

Brip Blap

Prosper pays a better rate, despite the "locked-in" nature of the loans, for one reason - risk. A CD is far less risky than a loan to an anonymous stranger through the Internet, no matter how much information is collected about that person. If you are truly interested in wealth-building, Prosper (or any P2P lender) can never be more than a portion of your investment portfolio. I am skeptical of the 10% ROI on Prosper loans you mention, simply because we don't have a long history of default rates to study yet. With the worsening economy a possibility also looms that the default rate could significantly worsen. And Prosper itself operates in a new market niche - a "Prosper-killer" could come along and wipe out Prosper. All of these risks require the mitigating factor of above-average gains.

Yet at the same time, I can predict that a 5% CD will never earn more than 5%. A 13% Prosper loan (if it doesn't default) is better than a 5% return. If you are willing to put the time into studying borrowers and really minimizing your default rates, your rate of return will be better than a CD. Period. I would never make high-yield savings, CDs or P2P loans a significant portion of my investment portfolio but each of them has concrete value as a diversifying tool. Just keep increasing your financial knowledge - which you are doing by asking questions like this - and you can't go wrong.

A Lending Club lender

I suggest that he look at putting money into Lending Club. He has addressed two important components of an investment strategy: liquidity and return, but he is missing another important consideration: volatility and risk.

CDs are less risky, less volatile and slightly more liquid than P2P lending. P2P lending is less liquid (although the 3 year term is offset by the monthly principal and interest, which lowers the effective duration of the investment), more volatile, and has higher returns.

Within P2P lending, a lender can decide which end of the credit spectrum to lend to - the further up the credit score distribution you stay, you get lower returns, but much more predictably. If you stay in the mid range (12-18%), you are getting significantly higher returns with fairly predictable volatility.

Once you go much lower into the credit spectrum, you are potentially making great returns, but they are subject to a significantly higher amount of risk and volatility.

I also recommend that to reduce volatility, he lend to dozens or hundreds of borrowers in the risk/return range that he wants to pursue for added diversification and lower concentration risk.

Pinyo from Moolanomy

One thing that immediately jumped out at me is that you are comparing risk-free investments (i.e., savings account and CDs) with investments with risk (i.e., Prosper). It should be clarified right away that with savings and CDs, you can't lose your principal and the interest - it is guaranteed. On the other hand, you could lose all of your money with Prosper and other peer-to-peer lending networks (i.e., borrowers all decide to default). However, the scenario is unlikely if you choose borrowers with some due diligence.

Secondly, it seems that your view of the stock market is short-sighted. With over 30 years to go in your investment horizon, the stock market is still the most attractive option. Remember that the stock market has been around much longer than peer-to-peer network, and it has proven track record. Currently, peer-to-peer is less than 1% of my net investment, and I wouldn't allocate more than 5% of my net investment to peer-to-peer lending.

My suggestion is to first focus on investing in the stock market. I am not talking about picking individual stocks, or limiting yourself to U.S. equities. I believe the best strategy for new investors is to build a globally diversified portfolio of passively managed funds and ETFs(remember to keep the expenses low!).

Personally, my investment is about 70% domestic and 30% international witha plan to shift the allocation toward 50-50. In each category, I diversified across different size companies in different sectors with a good balance between value and growth companies. Also, it also doesn't hurt to invest a percentage of your portfolio in other types of investment-- i.e., bonds, precious metals, real estate, etc.

If you really want to try out peer-to-peer, I suggest that you start small and then build up your position slowly. Again, I wouldn't recommend investing more than 5% of your total investment.

Dough Roller

Your question raises a very important issue relevant to any investment-- risk adjusted returns. As you acknowledge, simply comparing the interest rate on several fixed income investments doesn't tell you all you need to know before making a decision. You also need to look at the risk of each investment. Here, both savings accounts and CDs typically are FDIC insured up to $100,000. That means, among other things, that the risk of loss on these investments is negligible. In contrast, P2P lending does come with the risk that the borrower will default on the loan. While some look at default risk with fear and uncertainty, it is actually the precise reason why a Prosper loan pays more interest than say a CD. Without that risk, you wouldn't be in the position to make more with your money. The key then is to make sure you mitigate that risk as much as possible. At Prosper, there are at least two ways to do this: (1) spread your money across many loans rather than concentrating your investments in just a few loans; and (2) invest in loans issued to borrowers that present varying degrees of default risk based on their credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and other risk factors.

Finally, I would encourage you to rethink your fear of the stock market. We certainly are living in volatile times right now, but that volatility could hit any investment, even a Prosper loan. I invest in Prosper loans, the stock market and real estate. Each of these investments present varying degrees and types of risk. But by diversifying across multiple types of investments (just like diversifying across multiple borrowers at Prosper) I mitigate the impact a loss from one investment will have on my entire portfolio. Of course, this is just my opinion, and you'll need to make your own decision based on what you think is best for you. Good luck!

Ana from Debt Free Revolution

That's a tough one, but I would personally snap up some more funds. I've been finding a lot of old articles from back in the late 70s saying the only people who still bought equities were the old folks, and how un-hip and un-savvy that supposedly was. Of course we all know what happened with the markets in the 80s.

Another thing I would look into if it were my cash, is to start looking for good real estate bargains. Experts are now saying real estate will be "down" for the next 3-5 years; translation "on sale." In The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas Stanley asked several high net worth folks when the best time to buy real estate was. Their reply was in the early 80s, when interest rates were astronomical and next to no one was buying at that time.

It's not "conventional wisdom" but then again I am not quite conventional!

Kevin from Rateladder

My response to your question sounds like I am talking you out of investing in p2p lending. Nothing could be farther from the truth, but within the framework of your question p2p lending is an unknown and your question does not support investing in an unknown. The returns may materialize and they may not.

As much as I believe that p2p lending will change the world it is an entirely new asset class. You cannot assume the published rates of return will be the actual rates of return. It is different than credit cards it is different from secure debt. I would not recommend putting more than 5% of your overall portfolio in P2P lending. If your 5% of your overall portfolio is less than $2,000 I would not invest in p2p. The tax treatment of a p2p lending portfolio is harsh.

If you are still reading my answer then you may like the rest of my response…P2P lending in fun. It is a wonderful feeling to both help someone and generate a return on your money. It is financial voyeurism…once you start you cannot stop. It is highly addictive and enjoyable to invest in p2p lending, but guaranteed results (or even significant past results) are lacking… Proceed with caution, fully diversify (I think at least 50 loans), and have fun, but don’t bet the farm.

Lazy Man and Money

I don't think tying the largest portion of your money for 3 years in P2P loans is a wise idea. In fact, the investment vehicle is so new that no one really knows how it will perform. I'd rather have more of my money diversified amongst US stock, international stock, bonds, commodities, and real estate. Along those lines, here are some ticker symbols of low-expense index funds to look into: VTI, VEU, BND, DBA, VNQ. I would feel comfortable with this diversification - I don't see everyone suddenly deciding that stocks (all over the world), bonds, food, and real estate suddenly have no value.

So I wouldn't steer you completely from P2P lending sites, but I think it's wise to dip a toe in over the next couple of years.

If you made it this far, consider these additional articles about peer to peer lending:

How does Prosper compare to other investments?
Prosper: A hands-on education in risk management
Why would a borrower use Prosper instead of a bank?
Borrowing money to lend on Prosper: Wise or Foolish?
Most Prosper lenders do not diversify
Are all Prosper loans within a credit grade created equal?
An analysis of pre-payment risk on Prosper loans
Are non-homeowners a safer lending risk in a declining house market?
What effect would a recession have on the Prosper marketplace?
Credit Scores on Prosper - Part 1 of 2
When to bid on Prosper loans

Prime borrowing on Prosper hits record levels

Last week Prosper has published their March 2008 Market Commentary:

"In February 2008, the percentage of prime loans funded on Prosper once again hit record levels, accounting for 43% of originations. At the same time, the percentage of prime listings on Prosper hit an all time high of just over 18% — a big jump from 9% in February 2007 and the previous high of 12% in December 2007 — while the percentage of sub prime listings hit an all time low of 33% and accounted for a mere 6% of funded loans."

"Some other key metrics we watch closely include the type of listings that are created and funded in the Prosper marketplace. Very broadly, we look at listings that, based on historical Prosper loan performance data, can be made at an attractive risk-return tradeoff and those that can only be made at an unattractive risk-return tradeoff. By providing more robust information to lenders on the expected returns of listings, we have seen an increase in originations from attractive risk-return listings of over 200% and a decrease in originations from unattractive risk-return listings of 80% over the course of the last year."

"As we discussed at our Prosper Days community conference, these dramatic and constructive shifts in the marketplace have been driven by three key factors: the pervasive credit crunch and sub prime mortgage meltdown; recently introduced performance data-driven tools and features; and, increasing mainstream acceptance of Prosper as an attractive funding source and asset class."

Press Release: Prime Borrowing on Prosper Hits Record Levels

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Perfect storm for P2P lending

Lending Club CEO Renaud Laplanche told The Kansas City Star the peer-to-peer lending industry is being aided by something of a perfect storm in the consumer finance industry.

“On the borrower side, banks are tightening the money supply,” he said. “On the lender side, the stock market isn’t performing well.”

Read more: Online loan sites bank on social networking
Related: Prosper Lending Review: P2P lending in a credit storm

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Hacker: Prosper security 'above average'

The hacker who exploited cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities on Prosper called their security "above average" in a post on Although their security is better than most financial sites, the XSS vulnerability is significant and could allow a site visitor to download unexpected images with malicious code among other things he said.

One Prosper lender showed he was able to change the displayed credit grade and DTI ratio of a borrower listing by introducing a style sheet in the listing description.

In other cases, XSS vulnerabilities have been used to:

  • allow an attacker to run code on a user's machine without their knowledge after visiting the infected page
  • trick the user into sending their username and password to the attacker by altering the original webpage
  • allow the attacker to steal the user's cookie which could enable the attacker to login as the user

According to Prosper, "there are no known cases of hackers exploiting these vulnerabilities to date." Prosper will release a patch this weekend to fix the vulnerability.

Friday, March 7, 2008

'Ninja' hacks Prosper

According to, Prosper's listing feature is open to XSS attacks and other hacks. GettoWebmaster demonstrated the potential by changing the background color of his own humorous borrower listing: Ninjas need funding for anti-pirate propaganda campaign.

According to a message he sent to Prosper, "Your member profile and listing pages are likely open to cross site scripting (XSS) attacks and other hacks at the moment. You can take a look at my profile and current listing to see that I did some light CSS tweaking to customize those pages. I didn’t test any potentially malicious stuff since this is a financial site."

Previously GettoWebmaster found vulnerabilities in the popular HotOrNot dating site. At that time he reported the vulnerabilities on HotOrNot could:

  1. Auto-redirect all visitors to my profile to the url of my choosing.
  2. Render the entire page blank.
  3. Replace the entire profile with an image of the profile which was linked to the url of my choosing. etc, etc, etc…

When borrowers create a new listing they have the option to edit the source html of the loan description as shown below. This is where the vulnerabilities were apparently introduced.

A discussion about the ninja listing can be found on the forums. It looks like Prosper needs that new software engineer ASAP.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New Prosper book assists borrowers and lenders

Prosper borrower, lender, and group leader Sean Bauer has just published a new book about Prosper - The Complete Guide to This 263 page book is a solid starter to help new borrowers and lenders avoid common mistakes and get started on the right foot with Prosper.

Most borrowers on Prosper do not get funded. Those that do often create more than one listing before they finally get a loan. The primary aim of this book is to provide advice based on research and experience to help these new borrowers create listings that will get funded.

This is a list of the chapters:
  1. How and why will revolutionize America
  2. Getting started on Creating an account
  3. Borrowing: Could/should you borrow with Prosper?
  4. Borrowing: Creating your borrower's listing
  5. Borrowing: Endorsements give you a helping hand
  6. Borrowing: Managing your loan
  7. Groups: Take advantage of their huge potential
  8. Groups: Starting your own
  9. Groups: Manage your group for success
  10. Lending: Becoming a lender
  11. Lending: Listings
  12. fees (Yes, they charge!)
  13. Tools for using
  14. Forums and conclusions: You've seen it all now

As I read the book I was reminded just how fast the marketplace is changing. It's hard to print a book about Prosper and stay current. There are several marketplace changes in the past few weeks and months that are not mentioned in the book. For example, the book does not mention the recent change in collection agencies, the changes in the official forums, or any of the changes announced at Prosper Days such as portfolio plans.

Although the marketplace is rapidly changing, The Complete Guide to does provides current, practical useful advice to help any new borrower or lender. If this book resonates with the P2P marketplace I see Bauer publishing a new edition every year.

Special offer (today only): In an effort to climb the Amazon bestseller list, Bauer has partnered with 13 different sites including Prosper Lending Review to provide incentives for readers to purchase the book on March 6th. Details about the special offer are on the Prosper book website. These are the bonus gifts:

  • SCOTT BILKER, Author of "Talk Your Way Out Of Credit Card Debt" – A FREE downloadable Mortgage Comparison Calculator
  • JUNE CAMPBELL, Writer, Internet Marketer and the Owner of Nightcats Multimedia Productions – A Twenty-Two Step Guide to Making Money Online
    DAWN VAUGHAN, Residential Designer, Vaughan's Home Design LLC – A FREE Stock House Plan: the "Laura Cottage" is an affordable starter or retirement home (valued at $600.00!)
  • MARK WALTERS, 3rd Generation Real Estate Investor & – Not Just One, But Three Valuable Bonus Gifts: "Real Estate Investing Tips & Advice" eBook, Free Real Estate Videos, AND "How To Get Out Of Debt & Create An Investing Machine" Video
  • DR. JOE VITALE – Invincible Marketing – The 7 Principles of Success in Business. In this 58 paged Special Report, Dr. Vitale walks you through each of his 7 principles about Invincible Marketing, as he is interviewed by Jeff Chavez for this live, once-in-a-lifetime teleseminar!
  • LEARNTOLEND.COM – Free Membership. Get your peer lending questions answered with the Lending Profits Guide, helping you succeed in peer to peer lending at both and
  • BRUCE LIU, Primemax Marketing Group – FREE eBook entitled "7 Secrets Guaranteed To Boost Your Credit Score!" Discover the "little-known" secrets that guaranteed to raise your credit score.
  • WAHMCART.COM – Special Report on "The Key Components of a Successful Website".
    JOAN SOTKIN – FREE "Basic Money Management" eBook
  • PROSPER LENDING REVIEW – Ten articles for Prosper lenders from the Authors of Prosper Lending Review in one easy to read PDF.
  • LAZY MAN AND MONEY – 37 Tips for Living Your Life Better.
  • S&S INVESTMENTS, LLC – Three Articles: Simple Money Management 'Check-Up' Strategies, The Power of Compound Interest, Choosing the Right Mortgage for You.
  • THEDIGERATILIFE.COM – Four Articles: 8 Lessons I Learned From The Cheapest Family In The Nation, The Brand New World Of Peer To Peer Lending, Top 10 Wealth Building Ways Of Ordinary People, Bad Ways To Use Credit: A List of 21 Credit Card Mistakes.

More information:

Monday, March 3, 2008

WP: Borrower reduces debt through Lending Club

The Washington Post profiled a borrower who reduced her monthly credit card payments from $450 to $301 by consolidating them in a loan through Lending Club .

Some people, such as Phyllis Wright, 48, are just looking for a way out of debt. The customer-services representative who lives in Clinton borrowed $9,000 from the Lending Club to pay off some of her credit cards. "I knew that I had so much debt that I didn't even bother to try to get a loan from the bank because I knew I would have been turned down," she said.

She got a 12 percent interest rate, much lower than the rate she had on her credit cards. She had been paying her credit cards about $450 a month. Now she pays Lending Club $301. She still has credit card debt, but "that was a big help," she said.

Since September, when the Lending Club expanded from a Facebook group to a public Web site, it has issued about $9.5 million in loans, said Renaud Laplanche, founder and chief executive. Last month alone, it doled out about $3 million. Laplanche attributed the rapid growth to the credit crunch that has squeezed the mortgage market and seeped into other forms of lending.

Laplanche said borrowers must have a minimum 640 credit score, no more than a 30 percent debt-to-income ratio and no delinquencies. To minimize risk, lenders make small loans to each person. That way, if one recipient defaults, lenders are still likely to get a return from their investments in other people's loans. So far, Laplanche said, fewer than 1 percent of all loans have been in default.

"People tend to not default on other people in a community if they feel connected," he said.

Payday loan guidance for borrowers

P2P loans start at $500 for Lending Club and $1000 for Prosper and typically take 2-3 weeks to complete. What if you don't need that much money, need it sooner, or cannot qualify for a P2P loan?

Many people who fall into these categories turn to payday loans. A payday loan (also called paycheck advance, payday advance or cash advance) is a small, short-term loan that is intended to cover a borrower's expenses for a week or two until payday.

Several months ago I found a listing on Prosper where a payday lender was looking for a $25,000 loan to help his business. I was intrigued that a payday lender would be seeking a P2P loan. I exchanged a few emails with him. He defended his business and explained how he is often the only option available to consumers with bad credit.

Many lenders on Prosper who loan to high risk or borrowers with low credit have faced high defaults and negative returns. Critics (including me) have sometimes blamed payday lenders for exploiting people's financial hardship for profit. Some of these payday borrowers ultimately look to consolidate multiple payday loans on Prosper or Lending Club. I wondered if payday lenders have high default rates and expensive collection efforts which require high fees to stay profitable.

According to a study by the FDIC Center for Financial Research, "operating costs lie in the range of advance fees" collected and that, after subtracting fixed operating costs and "unusually high rate of default losses," payday loans "may not necessarily yield extraordinary profits." Perhaps some payday lenders have difficulty producing positive returns after defaults and paying for the administrative overhead to collect outstanding loans.

I was recently contacted by a payday loan company called National Payday that was interested in advertising on PLR. After reviewing the site, I accepted their offer. They currently offer a free payday loan to first time borrowers. If you borrow $200 and pay back the full amount by your next payday there are no charges. Miss the payment, however, and you will be charged 25% of whatever you fail to pay. It is very important with payday loans to pay off the full amount promptly and then build an emergency fund so you do not have to borrow again.

The Federal Trade Commission provides the following guidance to individuals seeking a payday loan:
  • When you need credit, shop carefully. Compare offers. Look for the credit offer with the lowest APR - consider a small loan from your credit union or small loan company, an advance on pay from your employer, or a loan from family or friends. A cash advance on a credit card also may be a possibility, but it may have a higher interest rate than your other sources of funds: find out the terms before you decide. Also, a local community-based organization may make small business loans to individuals.

  • Compare the APR and the finance charge (which includes loan fees, interest and other types of credit costs) of credit offers to get the lowest cost.

  • Ask your creditors for more time to pay your bills. Find out what they will charge for that service - as a late charge, an additional finance charge or a higher interest rate.

  • Make a realistic budget, and figure your monthly and daily expenditures. Avoid unnecessary purchases - even small daily items. Their costs add up. Also, build some savings - even small deposits can help - to avoid borrowing for emergencies, unexpected expenses or other items. For example, by putting the amount of the fee that would be paid on a typical $300 payday loan in a savings account for six months, you would have extra dollars available. This can give you a buffer against financial emergencies.

  • Find out if you have, or can get, overdraft protection on your checking account. If you are regularly using most or all of the funds in your account and if you make a mistake in your checking (or savings) account ledger or records, overdraft protection can help protect you from further credit problems. Find out the terms of overdraft protection.

  • If you need help working out a debt repayment plan with creditors or developing a budget, contact your local consumer credit counseling service. There are non-profit groups in every state that offer credit guidance to consumers. These services are available at little or no cost. Also, check with your employer, credit union or housing authority for no- or low-cost credit counseling programs.

  • If you decide you must use a payday loan, borrow only as much as you can afford to pay with your next paycheck and still have enough to make it to the next payday.
National Payday is a sponsor of PLR. If you are interesting in becoming a sponsor, email

Top P2P lending articles in February

Here is a quick look back at the most popular articles here on PLR for February:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Waterboarding not part of Prosper's new collection strategy

Many lenders are pleased with Doug Fuller's new aggressive collection efforts. It was, however, a little surprising when the Consumerist briefly reported yesterday that Prosper is facing a lawsuit for waterboarding employees after confusing Prosper with Prosper Marketplace - two separate companies.

The report claimed, "Online peer-to-peer loan-making site Prosper is the subject of an unusual lawsuit: 'A accused of waterboarding an employee in front of his sales team to demonstrate that they should work as hard on sales as the employee had worked to breathe.'"

The report linked to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, Employee's suit: Company used waterboarding to motivate workers, about a motivational coaching business in Utah named Prosper, Inc. This was briefly confused with Prosper Marketplace, Inc., the P2P lending company.

This is not the first time name confusion has caused problems for Prosper. Two months ago Prosper's legal team sent a report to Prosper Report accusing the site of cybersquatting, trademark infringement, and unfair competition. Prosper Report published a copy of the official forums which had previously been deleted by Prosper.