Lending Club Review: An Investors Secret Weapon
- Review by Andrew Fiebert
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Lending Club’s returns are great! I’ve made over 18% returns doing what banks have done for ages – lending people money. A strategy few experts talk about.
Banks lend you money because it’s extremely profitable. A major share of a compan like Bank of America come from mortgages and credit cards – loans to individual people. The rates that most of these loans go for are pretty solid and always based upon fixed payments.
Imagine lending someone $200 at 18%+ like a crazy profitable bank. You would earn $36 a year. Yes, that’s nuts. Guess what, now you can get in on the gravy train too and this particular gravy train is called Lending Club.
This is my Lending Club Review using my current investment summary:
What is Lending Club?
Simply put, Lending Club is a peer to peer lending service. That means, instead of going to a bank for a loan, you can get a loan from a group of random people. On the flip side of things, you can also contribute to funding a loan for other people allowing you to get in on the bank’s profit engine.
Borrowers use Lending Club because they get better rates then they would with a bank loan and loans are issued much faster through the power of the crowd. The crowd will also approve loans that normally banks may not. For example, if you run a small business and need $30,000 to get started, a bank may flat out say no where there will almost always be average investors interested in helping to fund your loan.
Personally my investment focus is on Small Business loans as the returns are excellent and they are often made by people willing to work hard – something I always invest in.
Lenders show up and participate in Lending Club because the returns are incredible, they only need to put $25 in per loan. That means they can significantly reduce the risk of any single loan. There are also mountains of statistics at their disposal to help build the strongest portfolios possible.
Lending Club is geared towards helping the lender as much as possible because without them the system wouldn’t work. They have a vested interest in lenders being more successful here than other investment opportunities.
How It Works
Lending Club functions similar to a mortgage company in that they help broker deals for amortized loans. Amortized loans are just loans that are front loaded with interest payments and are structured such that overpayment simply reduces the overall term of the loan, not the monthly payments.
Loans like this are stacked in the lenders favor as the lender will receive a higher portion of interest earlier in the loan allowing the lender to not really care too much if the borrower pays the loan off early. The one major difference between Lending Club and a mortgage company is that Lending Club contributes no money toward funding loans. All loans are funded by people like me or you.
The primary objective of Lending Club is to make sure all loans are accurately classified in terms of risk. It is often that I try and invest in a loan and it doesn’t reach 100% funding. What happens is, when I invest in a loan Lending Club holds that money in escrow until they officially fund the loan. In this limbo period, Lending Club is investigating all of the information entered by the potential borrower for accuracy. The majority of loans that don’t get funded are due to incorrect information entered by the borrower. Lending Club will help you broker a loan, even if you have the worst credit in the world, however they won’t let you post up a loan with incorrect information.
As a borrower you will have to make monthly payments to Lending Club much like you do with your mortgage. This can be automated just like your mortgage – through a linked bank account. You can also overpay your loan with no penalties allowing you to end your loan at any time. Lending Club even encourages you to call them so they can walk you through completely closing out a loan early if you’re able to.
If you’re an investor it’s even easier. You link your bank account, transfer the funds over to your personal Lending Club account and then begin investing. As for the details of how to invest, picking the best loans, etc.. we will detail that in a bit. Beyond investing, the only thing you need to be concerned about is payment. Lending club details all of this for you so you know exactly how much income to expect and when. After you receive your monthly payment you can leave it in the account, withdraw it back to your bank account or reinvest it in another loan once you accumulate at least $25.
The beauty of the treasure trove of data which Lending Club makes available is it allows you to have realistic expectations around the entire process, as a lender or a borrower. Based on the data I saw it seems nearly all loans get funded within 24 hours and become active within 7 days. Having a loan become active just means that the money you invested which starts off in escrow with Lending Club gets sent to the borrower and the loan term begins. On the other side of the coin that means it’s very realistic to expect the whole loan acquiring process for a borrow will last less than 7 days where the end marks cash in their bank account.
How to Invest with Lending Club
There are a ton of different strategies to investing with Lending Club. I’ve only been using it for about 6 months now and I’m doing pretty good so far. That said, I’m sure I’ll get a few bad loans along the way but I think through diversification and strategic offloading I can keep returns pretty high. Below are the details of how I pick an investment in Lending Club.
Since Lending Club’s returns can be pretty high I wanted to see if I can keep my Net Annualized Return at 12% or higher. Net Annualized Return is simply the expected amount of money you will receive every annually after charge offs (delinquencies or defaults) and fees (what Lending Club takes as payment). That means, with an investment of $2,000 and a Net Annualized Return of 12%, I can expect to make an income of $240. And by income I mean cold hard cash that I can withdraw and spend or invest in other new loans.
In order to get 12% returns or higher, I turned to Lending Club’s data (login required) to make my decisions. Remember, our goal is to shoot for the average optimized portfolio although I think that if we’re thoughtful about our investments we can do even better. Based at no more than 5 minutes at the summaries on their data portal we we can tell that the highest portfolios:
Are Grade E with an interest rate of 11.04%.
Have higher return rates the more money you invest. This is interesting and I’m guessing because as you get more and more diverse, each bad loan hurts less.
Have more than 100 individual investments ($2,500+)
Yup, that’s it, statistically, if you do that you’ll exceed our 12% goal. Now we could just blindly pick all loans that match these categories or we could be more thoughtful and try to add a few more restrictions. I don’t want to be giving a loan to any deadbeats who likely won’t pay me back. Worst case, if a loan does go sour, I can always try and sell it before it goes completely bad. I can do this through FolioInvesting (FAQ) but that’s going to be annoying and there will be no guarantee I’ll actually be able to sell them. Instead, I’m going to try to proactively avoid these bad loans.
That begs the question, who is the type of person we want to lend to? We’ll I want them to be decent debt handlers and have decent credit, no delinquencies in the past 2 years, and no major derogatory marks. I want them to have a relatively reasonable amount of credit utilization because I don’t want the loan I invest in to be too much for them. Finally, I’ll be a total dick and judge them on their job and gross income ;) The best part is if they lie on their loan application, Lending Club won’t issue the loan.
This is an example loan that I invested in right before I wrote this article (I always reinvest loan income). Now, it meets our core requirements of having a decent credit score and a solid credit history but you’ll notice one crazy thing. Look at that Revolving Credit Balance! It’s $139,638! That’s a crazy high number but if we look at the Debt-to-Income ratio, it’s 22.67%. Woah, that means his yearly income is $615,960.
How could this be? Figure the guy or girl got their first credit card as soon as they turned 18 (like most of us did) then that means if their first credit line was in 1993 they must be 39. Ok, now it’s sounding a little better. Also, they are opening up a small business loan. So, maybe this money is going into an existing business for an experienced guy who knows what he’s doing and really doesn’t have much debt. If so, I’m in luck!
Of course you can’t always get lucky so sometimes you have to give loans out to people who much more normal. In fact, some of the best ones I invest in are for Credit Card Refinancing. That’s a cause I can get behind and something I definitely recommend using Lending Club for.
This is an example of what I invest in – not always according do the core rules and definitely skewed towards higher interest loans.
Since it’s hard to just look at loans as rates of return, I like to personally classify them by type of investment. I figure this may tell me a few interesting things over time and since it takes only an extra minute with each order, I decided to set it up.
So, will this all work out? I have no idea but based on the data it looks like 92% of the people who have 100 notes or more worth $2,500 or more make a return of at least 6%. Since that’s not far from the market average I figure it can’t be that bad. Right now my Net Annualized Return is 19.30% so I’m off to a good start!
Are you thinking about using Lending Club? Do you use it right now? Let us know in the comments!
UPDATE: Lending Club reached out to me and whispered that they will be launching a “Small Business product soon”. I would be lying if I wasn’t really excited. As soon as I hear anything I’ll be updating this post so check back!
Featured Image Photo Credit: “Left Hand – Kolkata” by Biswarup Ganguly