Last year I began an experiment with PROSPER peer to peer lending. The concept is great – cut out the banking middlemen and middlewomen, delivering higher returns to lenders and more borrowing power to investors. Years ago PROSPER struggled with its initial implementation, running into SEC issues which, I think, related to them effectively overreporting the interest PROSPER lenders could reasonably expect to get. Part of the trick here is that as far as I can tell their are a LOT of borrowers on Prosper who have no plans to ever repay the loans. They are assuming, perhaps reasonably, that collections on these small, unsecured loans in this wild online environment will be inadequate and they’ll simply default on them without much consequence.
My strategy last year was to start by lending a total of $500 to the “higher risk, higher return” types of loans. After noting that the return appeared positive I added $2000 to this amount for a better test of the overall return.
I pretty much forgot about this experiment until last week when I logged in to see what was going on with my PROSPER investment. Unfortunately it’s very hard to tell if the return is even positive. They provide me with several numbers but they are confusing. The 4% return they cite seems like the return I’m getting so far – clearly NOT good enough to hassle with this and take the risks, even though it appears I also have an extra 2% from “bonuses” that are given for investing in certain loans at certain times.
All that said, it’s possible I’m going to start to make a much higher return now that the “bad loans” appear to have defaulted. I intentionally picked risky loans that said they’d have a much higher net return and I’m still not clear if Prosper reflects this in the current stats. The average “expected” return on my loans per Prosper would have been well over 10%, so if I wind up with 4% it would seem Prosper could be up to their old trick of under-reporting the risks and/or inflating the expected returns.
Note that with fairly small investments – like my $2,500 in this Prosper Experiment – your TIME starts to matter more than extra money. Making an extra 1% on 2500 is only $25 per year, so it’s worth an hour or two of hassle time but NOT WORTH many hours of hassling, extra tax issues, etc.
I’m skeptical that Prosper offers more than a few extra percent if even that much. THUS thus it would only be worth hassling with if you were investing tens of thousands. In THAT case there is some serious uninsured risk involved, so I’m leaning against Prosper until I see more results from others who, like me, have tested them out and hopefully, unlike me, can figure out the Prosper reporting.
Prosper loans are often paid early or defaulted, which complicates the earnings calculations a lot. They also do NOT pay interest on the ‘float’, or time between funds going into your account and getting invested. Thus you’ll always have some days – perhaps months – where you earn 0% interest. Not a big deal in the current interest environment but even a few weeks at 0% will trim a total rate down quickly. I think there are “auto invest” options to lower this float time and I don’t think it’s scandalous – but it’s not a good thing.
Also, the tax issues alone appear like they may be a major hassle with Prosper. I think one may need to report the total interest and then deduct the “bad loans” as capital losses or gains to avoid overpaying on interest received. This is NOT a simple deal since one generally funds dozens of notes per year. I’m still confused by this part of the PROSPER adventure.
Of course if LENDING is a bad idea at Prosper, Borrowing may be a GOOD idea, though I’m wondering if those who simply default immediately are the big beneficiaries here. The interest rates on borrowing seem incredibly high with Prosper – much higher than a home equity line or even many auto borrowing situations, so if you pay it all off you are going to be paying … a fairly high rate of interest on these small loans.
Overall I’m thinking this may be a “high risk” loan environment and therefore not all that Prosperous one for anybody.
I’ll have more in another post where I’ll show my statement to see if others can figure it out.