Market crash exposes the risks in P2P lending sites

The increased risk that goes with the supercharged returns from P2P lending is coming to the fore.

In the past, low interest rates have driven many savers to try peer-to-peer (P2P) investing in order to boost their returns. With interest rates of anywhere from 3% to 15% a year, P2P looked attractive. But now the increased risk that went with that supercharged return is coming to the fore. To get the big returns, you had to lend your money to people or small firms looking for loans.

The risk was always that your borrower wouldn’t be able to repay the loan, leaving you out of pocket. If a lender defaults you could at best see a dent in your returns, but at worst lose some of the capital you invested. Now the downturn could wreak serious damage on P2P investors’ savings. Many borrowers won’t be able to repay their loans.

While some platforms have tried to protect investors by tightening lending criteria and increasing interest rates for borrowers, many people want to take their money out of P2P and put it somewhere safer. But you may not be able to withdraw your cash. The Times reports that “investors have been desperately trying to reclaim money stuck in peer-to-peer platforms as companies either freeze withdrawals or impose heavier exit penalties”.

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There are two ways to get your money out of P2P. You either wait for your loans to be repaid – which can take years – or sell your loans to other investors on the so-called secondary market. But several P2P firms, including big players Funding Circle and Zopa, have tried to curb their secondary markets after the number of customers trying to withdraw cash rocketed. Funding Circle has closed its secondary market, while Zopa has introduced a 3.56% market-adjustment fee that has to be paid on top of the 1% exit fee if you want to sell your loans.

Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings accounts and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance.

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping, among many other titles both online and offline.