What is peer to peer lending?

Peer to peer lending is a way to loan money to borrowers using an online platform.

Because of the nature of peer to peer, as a lender, you could also be referred to as a saver or investor.

You could earn higher returns on the money you add to the P2P platform, than you would if you put the money into savings. But it is riskier than depositing your money into a traditional savings account or ISA.

Borrowers may choose peer to peer because the interest rates on repayments are lower than with banks and other lenders.

How peer to peer lending works

Peer to peer lending is only available online. You lend money you want to invest to an individual, a few individuals or a start-up business.

You do not lend the money directly to the borrower, but through an intermediary, or 'platform'.

As with any financial product, it's good practice to shop around for one you like.

The P2P process

  1. Add money to your chosen P2P provider's platform

  2. Choose which borrower or borrowers to lend your money to through the P2P provider

  3. The borrower repays the money with interest over a fixed term

  4. You (hopefully) make a profit

How long can you lend money for with peer to peer?

You can usually lend money for as little as 31 days up to 6 years.

There may be penalties for withdrawing early, so be careful about how long you tie up your money for.

How much can you invest with peer to peer?

Depending on the P2P platform, there may be a minimum investment amount. This could be as low as 10.

There used to be no maximum amount you could invest, but that's changing in December.

From Monday 9th December 2019, lenders operating without financial advice can only loan up to 10% of their investible assets. These assets do not include your main residence.

When do you get your interest on peer to peer lending?

When you get the interest you've earned on your money depends on if you lend your money on a fixed or rolling term basis:

  • For fixed term lending, you can either receive your interest monthly or at the end of the term, when you get back your capital

  • For rolling term lending, you'll get back a portion of your capital plus the interest every month for a set term. This means you can withdraw or re-invest your monthly capital repayments if you want.

Who can borrow through peer to peer lending?

Peer to peer borrowers can either be:

  • Individuals, who may have been unable to borrow money from a traditional lender

  • Start-up businesses looking for investment to develop their business. This is most commonly known as 'crowdfunding'.

Borrowers must pass a series of checks before they're approved by a peer to peer provider. These include:

  1. A hard credit check

  2. An affordability assessment

  3. An identity check

  4. An anti-fraud background check. This is only if the provider is registered with the fraud prevention service, Cifas

Peer to peer investors choose which borrowers to lend to. Providers categorise individuals based on their credit history.

Borrower's credit historyRisk to your moneyYour interest rate
ExcellentLowLow
PoorHighHigh

This could have an impact on the amount of interest you can get in return for your money.

The pros and cons of peer to peer lending for borrowers

As with all financial products, there are pros and cons to borrowing through peer to peer lending.

  • Competitive borrowing rates

  • You can make early repayments

  • You can overpay

  • You can get a quote with a soft credit search

  • You need a good credit score to get the best rates

  • You may have to pay a fee

  • Only available online

  • You may not be able to afford the repayments

  • You can only borrow up to 35,000

Is peer to peer lending safe?

Since April 2014, peer to peer providers have been regulated by the FCA.

But they're not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which offers compensation up to 85,000 per financial institution. So, you'd likely lose your money if you save through a provider that goes bust, even though the provider is regulated.

Peer to peer lending can be risky, so platforms need to be sure you know what you're doing when you invest.

They must also:

  • Use language that is clear and easy to understand

  • Give lots of information on the risks involved

  • Include advice on what to do if it goes bust

  • Have at least a 50,000 buffer should anything go wrong with repayments

  • Have plans in place to collect your money if their platform collapses

Search the FCA register to make sure your provider is regulated.

Some peer to peer providers offer their own protection schemes covering your investment if a borrower defaults on a payment.

But if a lot of borrowers default at the same time, there may not be enough money in the provider's scheme to cover your loss.

Make sure you check the details of any protection scheme before you invest.

How much does peer to peer lending cost?

Most providers charge an annual servicing fee of around 1%. It's taken from each repayment before it gets to you.

If you withdraw your investment before the agreed term is up, you'll be charged around 0.25% as a 'sale fee'. This should cover the cost of finding a new investor to put in the amount you withdrew.

You will not have to pay a fee if you wait until the end of your fixed term to withdraw the money.

Do you have to pay tax on P2P?

Yes, you do have to pay tax on your P2P interest if it exceeds your personal savings allowance (PSA).

For basic rate taxpayers, your PSA is 1,000, and for higher rate taxpayers, it's 500.

You're not charged tax automatically though. You'll have to declare your peer to peer earnings on a self assessment tax form.

Can you use your ISA allowance with P2P lending?

Yes, you can invest in peer to peer using your tax free ISA allowance using an innovative finance ISA.

Your annual ISA allowance is 20,000. Any interest you earn on this amount is tax-free, so you will not need to fill out a self-assessment tax form.