Peer to peer (P2P) lending is designed to cut out the middle-man between savers and borrowers by offering a platform where people can lend to (and borrow from) each other directly (or semi-directly).
But is P2P lending safe? How much could you make or lose – and what’s the risk of not getting your money back?
Read on to discover the advantages and disadvantages of peer to peer lending and more.
In this article:
What is peer to peer lending?
Peer to peer (P2P) lending lets people lend money to those who wish to borrow it without going through a bank.
This more direct approach allows lenders to earn a higher rate of interest and borrowers to pay a lower one because the P2P platform has fewer overheads than a bank.
P2P lending doesn’t cut out the middleman completely. The P2P platforms still do a lot of heavy lifting, such as vetting borrowers, chasing repayments on the lenders’ behalf and managing the transactions, and for this, they take a cut of the money.
How does peer to peer lending work?
There are plenty of P2P platforms to choose from. As a lender, you’ll register with a chosen platform and pay in money using a debit card or direct transfer.
You’ll set or agree to a fixed interest rate and choose the period of time you’d like to lend the money (typically one to five years).
At the end of this term, once your loan has been re-paid with interest, you can withdraw your cash or reinvest your profits to grow your money further.
Some sites let you select exactly who you’d like to lend money to. However, it’s more common for sites to divide your money between several borrowers to manage risk on your part (more on that later).
There are different products on offer, each with varying interest rates, risks and terms of withdrawal. For example, you could invest £1,000 for two years at a fixed interest rate of 3.5%, with a 1% fee on total funds if you wish to access your cash early.
Is peer to peer lending safe?
P2P lending is also known as ‘investing in loans’. Just like any form of investment, potentially securing a return from a P2P loan means taking a financial risk.
In the UK, every P2P platform is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This protects lenders from malpractice by the provider. However, it doesn’t protect you from losses or provider insolvency.
Unlike banks or building societies, P2P lenders are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. If the platform goes bankrupt, your money could be lost altogether (though, as a creditor, you might receive something through the liquidation process).
Similarly, if the money you loaned is not paid back, you’re not protected by the government and may lose money.
Many of the bigger P2P platforms have a large reserve fund to protect against this so that money can be repaid to lenders even if borrowers default. However, such emergency funds are not bottomless, and in exceptional circumstances (such as a financial crisis or a ‘run’ on that platform), they might be exhausted.
Is it common for P2P borrowers to default on their loans?
Borrowers defaulting is one of the biggest risks with P2P lending, but thankfully, reputable companies plan for this outcome.
The major P2P lending platforms make an effort to be transparent, either giving each borrower a risk rating or factoring ‘bad debt’ (i.e. borrowers who might not pay) into your projected return.
You’re able to see this rating or risk category when investing so that you can make an informed choice based on your risk tolerance.
What are the other risks of peer to peer lending?
With P2P lending, you make money based on the interest rate you set or agree to. Typical interest rates can vary, depending on the risks you’re willing to take. Even higher interest rates can be found, but again, this implies a much higher risk of losing your money.
In addition to the risk of losing money, the three other main risks of P2P lending are:
Risk of not getting your expected return
If a borrower repays your loan early or late, you could make less profit than anticipated. Your money also only starts earning interest once it has been lent out, not while it’s sitting in your P2P account waiting for borrowers.
It could take a few days to find a borrower or if you’re investing a lot, it could take longer for it all to be loaned.
Risk of a P2P platform going out of business
It’s possible for P2P providers to fold. UK firm Lendy collapsed in 2019. P2P platforms are still relatively new and are yet to be tested by severe economic recessions or other significant market disruptions.
For this reason, the FCA requires P2P lending platforms to keep lenders’ money in ring-fenced accounts separate from their own.
It can be tricky to withdraw your money early
Many P2P lending platforms give you the option to withdraw money early. However, it might not be available to take out immediately, or you might be charged interest for it.
What are the benefits of peer to peer lending?
For those willing to accept the risk, P2P lending can generate a good return and doesn’t require much effort, as the platforms do most of the admin and debt-chasing.
Additionally, money earned through P2P platforms is usually classed as income. That means it’s taxable, though most lenders won’t pay any tax thanks to the personal savings allowance.
Which companies do peer to peer lending?
There are several P2P lending platforms in the UK, including Kuflink and easyMoney.
Kuflink offers up to 9.8%, and you can choose to allocate your money and diversify your funds across multiple loans. As these rates are very high, this is high risk, so you should do your research or consider financial advice before investing.
easyMoney offers rates of between 5.28% and 8% depending on how much you have to invest, with the highest rates allocated to investors with more money. As with any investment, it’s worth getting financial advice or doing your research so you fully understand the risks.
How much should I put into peer to peer lending?
You can get started on a P2P lending platform for as little as £100, with no maximum limit. That said, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK has imposed a limit for first-time P2P lenders to protect them against default.
New investors cannot put more than 10% of their investable assets into a P2P lending platform unless they have had independent financial advice. Every P2P platform in the UK is FCA-regulated, so they must comply.
If you’re keen on becoming a P2P lender, it’s worth taking the venture on as part of a balanced portfolio of other investments so that you’re managing your risk.
So, it’s worth talking with an IFA to select a P2P investment amount suitable for your goals and risk appetite. But remember the golden rule: never put in more than you can afford to lose.
What are the alternatives to peer to peer lending?
One alternative to using P2P lending directly is the innovative finance ISA. This is still a form of P2P lending, but your loans are held in an ISA tax wrapper so that you don’t pay income tax on the interest.
Another alternative to P2P, which works similarly, is to buy corporate bonds. These are also a form of loan to businesses but may be lower (or higher) risk than P2P loans, depending on the company involved.