Lending Club Borrowers Are Paying Off Really Early – And There’s Something Weird About It
This week I surpassed more than 500 lifetime early note payoffs on Lending Club. Considering that loans on the platform are either for a fixed term of 36 months or 60 months, I was quite surprised to see that the average early payoff was happening just 10 months in. My portfolio is too young for even the first loans I ever bought to have reached maturity so the data isn’t entirely statistically relevant. But to put what I’ve experienced so far in perspective, out of every note I’ve ever bought on this platform up to and including today, 17% of them have already paid back early in full.
One borrower paid back their 3-year loan in just 8 days!
Of the 145 5-year notes I bought just 20 months ago in May 2014, 36% of them have already paid back in full. This is astounding, but apparently old news. A PeerCube analysis conducted two years ago revealed that 80.6% of all fully paid loans were pre-paid in full before reaching maturity.
At face value, these statistics could be used to boost investor confidence. The loans are so affordable that just look at how many people are paying off early! But according to Anil Gupta at PeerCube, these borrowers might not be paying these loans off at all. Lending Club might be refinancing the loans with a new loan, which cashes out the original investors early in the process. As said in his analysis:
A PeerCube user who is also a borrower on Lending Club mentioned that he has been receiving requests from Lending Club to refinance his loan. Such offers are very attractive to borrowers whose FICO score may have gone up since taking the first loan. In this case, the second loan may come with lower interest rate due to improved credit score. Moreover, there is no deterrent in the form of pre-payment penalty for borrowers to refinance the loan. Lending Club benefits from a borrower refinancing an existing loan by charging additional origination fee from the second loan, i.e. more revenue.
Lending Club’s website says that to be eligible for a second loan, borrowers have to have made 12 months of successful, on-time payments on their existing Lending Club loan. “Sometimes,” however, they “identify customers who are eligible for an additional loan before those 12 months and ask them to apply.” That’s the policy for having two active loans at once, not for refinances specifically.
Lending Club’s quarterly earnings reports make no clear mention of repeat borrowers and there’s no way for an investor to know if the debt consolidation loans they’re taking risks in are really just refinances of existing Lending Club loans. But even if they were, that wouldn’t necessarily make them a bad thing.
Would you rather invest in a borrower who has already proved 12 months of positive payment history OR somebody brand new? But then again, would you rather invest in a refinance of a loan that was originally taken to refinance a credit card?
There’s a downside to loans being paid off early. If an equal reinvestment opportunity does not exist to immediately replace the paid off loan, then the investor loses. If they are no longer reinvesting anyway, then an early payoff deprives the investor of the interest to offset future chargeoffs from the remaining loans that will go bad. And worse yet, investors are forced to pay a penalty to Lending Club for any loan that pays off early after the first 12 months in the form of a 1% fee on all outstanding principal. Seriously, investors are penalized for early payoffs for which they have no control over and are not allowed to know why or how the borrower paid off earlier.
Sounds very weird to me…Last modified: April 18, 2019
Sean Murray is the President and Chief Editor of deBanked and the founder of the Broker Fair Conference. Connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on twitter. You can view all future deBanked events here.