Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending has taken off in recent years, with many savers seeing platforms, such as Zopa and RateSetter, as a better home for their hard-earned cash than ordinary savings accounts – and a way to beat the low returns available on the high street.
At the same time, more and more borrowers are viewing the sites as a way to get credit at an affordable level.
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How do the sites work?
Online platforms all match up ordinary savers who are willing to lend out spare cash with people who want to borrow money. With Funding Circle, savers supply loans to businesses.
As P2P effectively cuts out the middleman – by bypassing the banks – both lenders (savers) and borrowers should secure a better rate.
While P2P firms do take their cut, it is far less than the amount taken by banks and building societies.
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Lending through a P2P site
As a lender (saver), you can decide how much money you want to lend, and over what period of time.
You can start with a small amount, such as £10 and £100 until you get used to the way whichever site you choose works.
Once you’re happy, you can then look to build up the amount you lend.
You don’t need to be super-rich to lend your savings via a P2P firm.
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Borrowing through a P2P site
As a borrower, you can request to borrow money, but will usually have to undergo a rigorous credit check before being accepted.
Firms will only offer loans to people with good histories.
What rates are up for grabs?
Lenders (savers) can earn rates in the general region of 5% to 12%, depending on the lender. This easily beats the rates paid on the best bank or building society accounts.
Note, however, that rates do - and will - fluctuate.
As Funding Circle is a P2P platform for business borrowers, the rates it charges will also vary, and each application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Beware of the risks
While the rates paid to people who lend via one of these sites are higher than those paid by standard savings accounts, it’s important to be aware of the risks.
P2P lenders are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), but money held with these firms is not protected under the Government’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).
This protects deposits of up to £85,000 if your bank or building society goes bust.
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Safety nets are in place
While P2P firms are not covered by the FSCS, most schemes do have some kind of safety net in place.
RateSetter, for example, operates a “provision fund” to help protect its lenders. This is made of up of fees charged to borrowers and is used to cover any late payments or defaults.
Zopa meanwhile spreads people’s money among many customers to minimise risk, and also runs a contingency pot to cover any losses.
Both Funding Circle and Lending Works also have safeguards to help prevent savers from losing their money.
So, while these established sites may not be risk-free, the default rate has on the whole been low.
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Beware of crowdfunding P2P sites
When looking at P2P sites, it’s important to differentiate established platforms from the new breed of “crowdfunding” P2P sites, as these often invest in highly risky start-up businesses.
Crowdfunding is a way of raising finance by asking a large number of people each to invest a relatively small amount of money in a scheme, such as property or green energy.
Once again, there is no Government protection under the FSCS if disaster strikes, and the firm holding your money fails. But unlike sites such as Zopa or RateSetter, nor is there a safety fund to pay you.
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Established P2P firms have a solid track record of lending to individuals and businesses, and delivering returns to savers. But many newer, fly-by-night sites have neither track records nor recent accounts. And you don’t want that.
This makes it hard to know whether the business is viable in the long term. You need to be highly wary before parting with any cash, and should not save money in P2P unless you understand how it will be used.
For more tips and useful information, browse our money articles