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Lending Club Review: Be a Fat Cat Banker

Peer Lending Investing lets you in on the profession of the super-rich, follow this Lending Club review and learn how to be a Fat Cat Banker

I’ve always loved reading about financial history and I’ve always been a little jealous of the famous banking families. From the Rothschild family to the Medici, the owners of finance have always enjoyed a privilege of which the rest of us could barely dream.

In fact, possibly the only easier way to make money other than owning a bank is to own a casino.

It only took a little over 600 years of organized banking but regular people like you and me can now be the fat cat banker. Peer lending allows you to make loans directly to borrowers, collect the interest and plan your family legacy as only the 1% could do before.

We’ve already talked about peer lending and investing in p2p loans a few times on the blog. One of our first posts was an interview with a peer lending investor that has booked over $10,000 in profits and a 12% annualized return over the last six years. We’ve also talked about avoiding the three biggest investment risks in peer lending.

For this post, I wanted to take a closer look at the world’s largest peer lending site. Use this Lending Club review to understand the peer lending process and how you can open your own bank to make money on peer loans.

If you’re looking for a Lending Club review for loan borrowers, check out this post on how to get a peer loan.

Lending Club Review: How to Open a Bank

Lending Club was founded in 2006 as an online credit marketplace. It’s basically just a website that connects borrowers with lenders and takes a fee off the top. Unlike traditional banks, Lending Club doesn’t take any risk with loans so there’s no chance that the company is going to go belly up on the next financial crisis.

Lending Club has funded $13.4 billion worth of loans to September 2015, with more than $2.2 billion of that just in the last three months. In fact, Lending Club has nearly doubled the amount of loans it funds each year. Former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers believes that Lending Club could, “profoundly transform traditional banking over the next decade.”

The way Lending Club works is surprisingly simple. Borrowers fill out a loan application just as they would for a traditional bank loan. Personal loans are available for up to $35,000 while business loans can be made for up to $300,000 and on fixed terms up to five years. Lending Club checks the borrower’s credit report and assigns an interest rate and risk category on the loan.

If the borrower accepts the terms, the loan goes live on the site and investors can decide whether they want to invest from $25 per loan. Once a loan is fully funded, the borrow gets the money and pays Lending Club directly each month. Investors are repaid interest plus principal on a monthly basis until the loan is paid off.

Loans are available to borrowers in nearly every state with most loans going to pay off high-interest credit cards or for debt consolidation. With the average credit card rate of 17.5% according to Credit Card Monitor, borrowers stand to save big money by refinancing into a lower-rate peer loan.

lending club review open a bank

Review the Lending Club loan data and you’ll find that most borrowers are doing pretty well financially. The average borrower has a credit score of 699 and over 16 years of credit history. They are doing pretty well with an average $74,414 in annual income which puts them in the top 10% of U.S. workers.

Other than picking loans for your portfolio, Lending Club handles the entire lending process for investors. The site charges a 1% fee on each payment received to cover the costs of collecting and distributing payments to investors. If a borrower does not make their payments, Lending Club passes the loan to a collection agency which charges a fee on any money recovered.

How to Open an Account on Lending Club

Opening an investment account on Lending Club is a pretty easy process so we won’t spend much time on the review. You’ll first decide whether to open a regular investment account or a tax-deferred investment account, more on the advantages of this later.

After filling out your contact and tax information, you can transfer funds from your bank account through an automatic transfer, wire or by check. You need to be at least 18 years old and have a verifiable social security number. Some states require that you have a minimum income level, usually about $70,000, or have a net worth of over $250,000 to qualify for investing on Lending Club but the site is not required to verify the income or net worth that you report on your application.

There is no minimum amount for investing accounts but you will probably want to start with at least $2,500 to make sure you can buy enough loans for investment diversification.

How to Pick Loans for your Peer Loan Portfolio

Once you’ve funded your Lending Club account, you’ll want to start picking loans in which to invest. Money just sitting in your account isn’t going to earn anything so you want to stay as close to 100% invested as possible.

Investing on Lending Club and picking loans for your portfolio should always be done as a part of an overall investment strategy built on your own needs and tolerance for risk. Think of peer loans as an asset somewhere between bonds and stocks. Peer loans are fixed-income investments, with a set interest rate and maturity, but they offer returns closer to what you’ll see in stocks. The loans are not secured on any property like a mortgage but do get reported on the borrower’s credit report.

Adding peer loans to your investing strategy can actually lower your risk in a portfolio of bonds, stocks and real estate. Since peer loans pay off more quickly than longer-term bonds, interest rates won’t have as much effect on the investment. Even though the loans are unsecured, the average borrower is financially secure and payments should hold up well in an economic downturn.

If you want to see how to determine your financial goals and risk tolerance, check out my ebook Step-by-Step Investing on Amazon. You’ll learn how to customize an investing strategy according to your needs and how much you should invest across stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets like peer loans.

Lending Club separates loans by seven risk categories according to the borrower’s credit history and loan terms. Loans in the safest category have a default rate of just 4.5% but offer the lowest return. A return above 5% may not seem so great against rates in the other categories but the loans are extremely safe and still very attractive when you consider returns of less than 3% on similar corporate bonds.

lending club review peer investing returns

As you consider loans in riskier categories, understand that you’re going to have more than a few defaults. The default rate on loans in the E category is 20% which means that for every 100 loans you hold, you could see around 20 of them not pay off. It can be difficult and even frustrating to see a borrower stop paying but understand that it’s not personal and is just a fact of being a bank.

The chart above shows that even on higher default rates, the average return on riskier categories is still very good. A few loans may not pay off but the ones that do pay so much interest that you can still earn upwards of 10% a year.

The Lending Club investment screen shows bonds available by several factors. You can invest as little as $25 in any loan and can screen the loans according to different criteria. Loans for 60-months and for higher amounts tend to pay higher rates compared to shorter-term loans for smaller amounts.

When you’re ready to invest in a loan on Lending Club, all you have to do is put in an amount for ‘Investment’ and then click ‘Add to Order’.

lending club review how to pick loans

Lending Club Investing Strategies

Just as with stock market investing, different investors will need different p2p investing strategies. If you are a younger investor with a high tolerance for risk, you might choose to invest in riskier loans for higher returns. If you are a retiree looking for monthly income then the safest loan categories will be more appropriate.

Don’t think that peer loan investing is just for a certain type of investor. P2P investing is for everyone and there are investing strategies that will work with any needs.

Choosing loans with special criteria is the best way to make a higher return and lower your risk of default. There are plenty of Lending Club investing strategies for picking loans but you don’t really need to get too complicated in your criteria.

I like to invest in loans with the following criteria:

  • 60-month loans
  • Maximum debt-to-income ratio of 30% for borrowers, meaning they spend less than a third of their income paying off debt each month
  • No delinquencies on loans
  • A good work history with preferably 10+ years in their job
  • Employment in government, education or another field that benefits from union job protection or tenure

These criteria don’t guarantee that the loan will pay off but the default on my portfolio has been lower than the Lending Club average and returns have been higher. I like to invest in loans across categories C through E which means gives me a good trade-off between risk and return.

At times, it might be difficult to find enough loans that fit your criteria exactly. You might have to relax your criteria a little to invest all your money or increase the amount you invest in each loan. I invest between $150 and $200 in each loan and try to keep around 150 loans in my portfolio. This means that any one loan is only about 0.7% of my portfolio so a default isn’t going to hurt my returns much.

For investors that want less risk in their peer lending investments, I would suggest you stick with the first three risk categories of loans plus the criteria above. This is a safe Lending Club investing strategy but can still provide stable monthly income and annual returns of 6% on your money.

Type of InvestorBest Lending Club Loan CategoriesP2P Loan CriteriaExpected P2P Investing Return 
Needs reliable income, low riskA, BHome owners, income verified, debt-to-income <20%6.5%Click to Start Investing
Reinvest money but does not want much riskB, C, DMix 36- and 60-month loans, no delinquencies, home owners, DTI < 30%8.5%Click to Start Investing
Long-term and wants to maximize returnsD, E60-month loans, no delinquencies, DTI < 30%10.5%Click to Start Investing

Lending Club also offers a cool automatic investing feature. You set the criteria for the loans in which you want to invest and the site will automatically invest your money in those loans when they become available. Loans can get funded really quickly so it’s a good way to get access to all the loans you want without having to log in and manually invest all the time.

Since Lending Club doesn’t charge you each time you invest in a loan, it is easy to reinvest your money. This is a problem with bond investing and other fixed-income investments because you usually have to pay a trading fee to reinvest your regular payments. On Lending Club, you can set up to automatically invest the cash in your account when your loan payments come in without worrying about fees.

One of the best strategies for investing in peer loans is through a tax-deferred individual retirement account (IRA). Lending Club allows you to open an IRA account and invest for retirement. Any money you put in the account gets taken off your income so you don’t have to pay taxes in the current year. Your interest payments from loans are not taxed until you withdraw the money in retirement.

Since interest you earn on peer loans in a non-retirement account is taxed as regular income, the tax advantages of an IRA can be huge. For someone in the 28% income bracket, you’ll save $320,000 in taxes on a one-time deposit of $100,000 and an annual return of 7% in an IRA account rather than a taxable investment account.

I shared three Lending Club investing strategies for different types of investors on my investing blog earlier this year. Click here for ideas on investing on Lending Club that are right for your needs.

Is Peer Lending Investing on Lending Club Safe?

lending club review how to open bankBeing the bank and investing in personal loans isn’t without risk. The most obvious risk is that people will stop making their payments on loans. The average default rate across all loans is 11% or about 1 in every nine loans. The default rate might increase a little when the economy falls but most Lending Club borrowers are in good financial shape. Make sure you have more than 100 loans in your portfolio so a couple of defaults will not affect returns too much.

As with all bond and fixed-income investments, high inflation will eat into your returns. While stocks tend to do well when prices increase, the return on your loans will not increase with inflation. Since peer loans pay off within three- or five-years, you really don’t have to worry too much about inflation unless it jumps all at once.

Rising interest rates are a problem for bonds because investors can get higher rates in new investments compared to the same payout in older bonds. It’s the same for peer loans but doesn’t matter if you hold your peer loan investments until they pay off. There is a growing market for selling your peer loans but this is generally a bad idea because you’ll pay a fee to trade and might be tempted to panic-sell your loans if rates increase.

Lending Club Investor Reviews

I thought I would pull some Lending Club investor reviews off the internet and from other investors I know. It’s one thing to read my opinion on the p2p investment but it always helps to get perspectives from others.

My cousin has been investing in peer loans for more than nine years. He admits that it was a little rough during the financial crisis but he’s booked 12% annual returns since 2009. He told me that there were several times over the last few years that his stock market investments tumbled like in the beginning of this year but his peer loan investments helped him to keep calm and not panic-sell.

James Turner – Madison, Wisconsin
Joe reached out for a Lending Club investor review and I can’t say enough about peer to peer investing. My wife lost her job last year and it was four months before she found another one. We were able to use the monthly returns on our p2p investments to help pay the bills.

Rebecca Siena – Phoenix, Arizona
I have only been investing on Lending Club for two years but am happy with what I’ve seen so far. I invest across different loan categories and use a few of Joe’s criteria for finding peer loans. I hold about 100 loans and reinvest the proceeds every month. It’s a great passive investment and pretty much runs itself.

Lending Club Review Summary

I hope I’ve answered your questions about peer lending investing in this Lending Club review. Feel free to email or use the comment box below if you have any questions. Peer loan investing on sites like Lending Club are just beginning to gain popularity but I think will be an accepted part of everyone’s investing strategy within a few years. The loans pay a fixed amount each month and can help reduce the risk of a complete wealth strategy.

Benefits of Investing on Lending Club

  • Safety of bond investments with the higher returns of stocks
  • Regular monthly cash return is a great way to plan and pay expenses
  • Manageable risks that can help diversify your overall investment portfolio

Drawbacks of Investing on Lending Club

  • High defaults in riskier categories may be too volatile for investors that prefer less fluctuations in their investments
  • Since peer lending has been around for less than a decade, we really don’t know how loans will react to different economic cycles
  • Returns are taxed as income, unless invested in a retirement account

Low Volatility. Monthly Cash Flow. Solid Returns. Invest In Lending Club Today!

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Joseph Hogue, CFAAbout Joseph Hogue

An investment analyst by profession, I run two blogs (Crowd101 and PeerFinance101) in personal finance, peer lending and crowdfunding. I've been on both sides of the table as a lender and a borrower and am excited to be a part of the peer movement. With the power of the internet, people are helping other people manage debt and raise money in ways never before possible.

A veteran and Iowa-native, I now live in Colombia with my wife and son. Like so many people, I was once trapped into the money myth and what it means to be successful. After taking control of my finances and learning how to make money in a job I love, I found a level of financial freedom that just has to be shared.

Comments

  1. My p to p accounts made money last year; my brokerage accounts did not.

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