Recently, I’ve become the unofficial self-proclaimed hype girl for peer-to-peer lending (also known as P2P lending).
It had become my go-to topic around the dinner table, so much so that even my very-risk-averse husband grew an interest in it. He opened his own P2P lending account last month, and invested CA$1,000.
(Full disclosure: we invest through a Canadian company called Lending Loop. This article is written largely based on how this specific platform operates. At the time of writing, Lending Loop is only open to Canadians.)
If you’re unsure what P2P lending is all about, don’t worry, you’ll have a much better idea after reading this article. I promise.
What is P2P Lending?
In a nutshell, P2P lending is a method for businesses to get the funding they need directly from investors like you and I in exchange for monthly interest payments on top of ongoing principal repayment.
P2P lending lets retail investors lend money to businesses and earn monthly interests in return.
This way, businesses could get a loan quickly – whether it’s for capital expenditure, loan consolidation, inventory or marketing – without the hassle of dealing with traditional lending institutions.
Once a business’ loan application is approved by the lending platform, a funding request is then listed on the loan marketplace for potential lenders to invest in.
If enough investors are interested in a loan such that it gets fully funded within a set period of time, the deal gets finalized and repayment begins the following month.
Here’s how a real P2P loan worked in action:
An Alberta-based commercial welding company wanted to borrow CA$40,000 at 14.11% interest, and plans to pay it all back in 3 years. They applied, and successfully made their loan request available on Lending Loop.
After evaluating the business details, including their financials, I decided to lend them CA$25.
Enough investors were interested in this deal so the loan was fully funded within days, meaning the commercial welder got the CA$40,000 that they needed (minus applicable fees to the platform).
The repayment began the following month, and I receive roughly CA$0.85 per month, with interest being CA$0.29 the first month and going down subsequently as the principal owed decreases with each payment.
My total gain from this loan would be CA$5.61 at the end of year 3, which doesn’t sound significant. But considering that my original investment was a mere CA$25, my annualized ROI would actually be 6.98%. Not too shabby at all.
Advantages of Investing in P2P Lending
As an investment vehicle, P2P lending is more accessible. Almost anyone can invest through Lending Loop, regardless of their net worth and income. It is also easy to understand, and even easier to get started. As far as Lending Loop is concerned, you only need to deploy CA$200 to access the loan marketplace and start lending.
Worried about the lack of transparency? Not a problem. You have access to enough business and financial details to help you make informed decisions regarding which loans to invest in.
Of course, one of the biggest advantages of P2P lending is its attractive returns.
Currently, my Weighted Average Gross Yield is 12.7%.
So depending on the size of your initial investment and your risk tolerance, P2P lending could definitely become a decent source of passive income for you.
Now that I’ve talked extensively about how awesome P2P lending is, let’s talk about the drawbacks:
Disadvantages of Investing in P2P Lending
1. It’s risky
On Lending Loop, based on a business’ credit score, financial metrics, and the dollar amount that they’re seeking to borrow, each loan is assigned a credit rating ranging from A+ to E, with A+ loans being the safest.
Naturally, with great risk comes great reward. Here are the credit ratings and their corresponding interest rates (i.e. your annual returns) offered by Lending Loop:The underlying assumption is that, loans with “E” ratings have a much higher default rate than loans with “A+” ratings. But even with “A+” loans, there is no guarantee that you will recoup all of your investment.
As much as we try to invest in profitable, sustainable and trustworthy companies, sometimes stuff happens that is beyond any single person’s control – perhaps the local economy took a downturn, a new competitor took a big chunk of the market share, or a major client ran into cash flow issues themself and failed to pay on time.
At the end of the day, a business can do everything right but still defaults on their loans. It’s a sad but unavoidable facet of investing that we always have to keep in mind.
2. Your funds will be tied up for years.
In terms of liquidity, P2P lending gets a 3 out of 10 in my book.
Once a loan that you’ve committed to is finalized, you won’t get every cent of your principal back until the end of the loan term, which is usually between 2 to 4 years. That is a fairly long time to go without the option to withdraw all of your initial investment (even at a loss).
With that said, it’s far easier to stomach this level of illiquidity if P2P lending only constitutes a small portion (less than 10%) of your entire investment portfolio.
3. 100% of your interest income is taxable.
Unlike stocks and bonds, P2P investments aren’t eligible to be held within registered accounts like RRSP, TFSA or RESP. Therefore, all of your P2P earnings will be taxed at your marginal tax rate.
Depending on your taxable income and the province in which you reside, a significant portion of your P2P profits might be effectively wiped out by taxes, making it a less desirable investment than, say, select index funds that average 6% annual return that you can hold within your RRSP and TFSA.
One Platform, Two Strategies
My husband and I have invested CA$1,000 and CA$500, respectively, in P2P lending, but our strategies are drastically different.
Here’s how my husband approaches it (credit to my husband for his help in writing this part):
As a conservative investor who only held GICs in his RRSP for the longest time, he welcomed P2P lending with open arms (to my astonishment).
He very much embraced the idea of helping small Canadian businesses while making a buck in the process. And who can blame him!
Shortly after signing up, my husband noticed an odd (lack of) pattern: loan listings would sometimes arrive in droves, and then nothing new would pop up for days.
It’s hard to predict when new loans become available on the marketplace, so he decided to take advantage of Lending Loop’s Auto-Lend feature. As the name implies, Auto-Lend lets people automate the lending process based on pre-defined criteria.
My husband has set up his custom Auto-Lend plan to automatically contribute CA$50 to each loan that is in the A, B and C risk bands, as soon as they’re available. This way, he is happy with his returns (12.6% per year), and his portfolio is sufficiently diversified without exposure to too many risky loans.
Contrary to my husband’s passive approach, I used to evaluate every single loan request as if my life depended on it.
My assessment process was fairly thorough and tough (perhaps unnecessarily so).
First of all, I looked for loan requests that match my risk tolerance and liquidity requirement.
- Risk: Like my husband, I only invest in loans that are in A, B and C risk bands, for reasons stated above.
- Loan Term: I strongly prefer loans that mature within 3 years, though I have invested in 4-year loans in the past.
Then I looked for signs that the business has a great track record, opportunities to grow, and a proactive leader at the helm.
I’m not necessarily looking for boldness, innovative thinking, creativity, and charisma – traits that are traditionally associated with a successful startup founder. As far as I can see, the majority of businesses that chose to raise funds through Lending Loop are lifestyle businesses, in which case, attitude, integrity, attention to detail, and the ability to make rational decisions matter a great deal more to me.
Specifically, I asked myself these questions when evaluating a business:
- Website: Do they have a website? Is their website search engine friendly, well designed, and easy to navigate? Does it fulfill its purpose of converting site visitors into sales or leads?
- Loan Details: Does the business explain their business model and core strengths in a professional and logical manner? Is their reason for loan request reasonable? Do they provide compelling evidence to reassure lenders that they’re safe to lend to?
- Financials: Has their revenue been steadily increasing year over year? Are there financial discrepancies that need to be addressed?
- Q&A: Does the borrower promptly answer questions asked by potential lenders? Do they demonstrate business acumen? Do they provide satisfactory answers to tough questions?
Researching each company might seem like a lot of work. But believe it or not, I genuinely enjoyed it and didn’t mind doing the “work”. My hopes were that, by carefully weighing the pros and cons of investing in each loan, I would have a better chance of avoiding charge-offs and receive a higher return on my overall investment.
But my well-crafted plan sort of backfired.
Precisely because I took the time to evaluate each loan, I missed out on numerous loan requests that were funded within hours of being available (before the alert email even reached me).
So out of necessity, I have turned on Auto-Lend myself so I would never miss an opportunity again.
Overall, I’m happy with my returns and the Lending Loop platform, and plan to put even more money into P2P lending and reinvest the interests I earn.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you got any questions.