Prosper.com and The Lending Club make it possible for individuals to invest in private, unsecured loans taken out by individual borrowers. An unsecured loan is, by its very nature risky. Prosper investing and Lending Club investing take some of the risk out of the equation by allowing the investor to choose loans and risk levels. The purpose of this article is to address the exact nature of those risks.
If a borrower stops making payments on a loan in which you are invested, the bank will take action. If the borrower actually defaults, the bank will pursue collection action. This might or might not result in you recovering some or all of your investment. The smart money says that your investment will not be recovered. Your job, if you have done it well, is to make sure that this default is a bump in the road rather than a disaster.
Avoiding a disaster begins with taking a close look at the loans and borrowers you can choose from. A borrower's loan will have a letter grade issued by Prosper or The Lending Company. Prosper investments are graded A-E, and then HR for high risk. The Lending Club investments have over 25 subgrades, namely A1-G5. Different interest rates are attached to each grade, and they range from 7% all the way up to over 30%. So why not just invest in the high interest loans?
The reason why that is a bad idea is because the higher interest rate loans carry much higher risks. Prosper, whose loans creep into the high ranges more readily than The Lending Club's, attracts more borrowers who present a risk of default. This is especially true given that Lending Club fees and Prosper fees, as well as a 1% commission charged to investors, are not included in the face amount you are getting from the loan. The borrower is actually paying more than what you are being paid.
The truth is, though, very few Prosper and Lending Club loans can truly be said to be low interest. There is some default risk no matter what the interest rate. The only sure way to protect oneself from default risk is to diversify the loan portfolio.
This means spreading your money across as many different loans as possible. Even a single loan at a relatively low rate can pose a risk. What if the borrower loses his job? He may default and you will have lost not only future interest, but your investment as well. This could be avoided by spreading the same money across many other loans. Recall that the minimum Lending Company investment or Prosper investment is only $25.00. Both Prosper investing and Lending Club investing can be made easy by investing in the pooled noted above
Unless you can truly afford to lose money, it is very important to diversify. The real world risk of default can be drastic. Even as few as 15% of loans going into default can drop the return on an investment you thought would pay 25%, to one that might only pay 7%. Both companies publish projected default rates for any grade of loan, which can reduce expected performance rates anywhere from 2% to 10%. Check these figures carefully and read the prospectus before investing.