Green Sherpa Flexes For Competition With Mint/Quicken


A few days ago I had the opportunity to talk with Erin Lozano, the COO and founder of Green Sherpa about how the company has changed since the launch a year ago.

Green Sherpa ended its Beta program in August and launched its full subscription services. They now support more than 10,000 financial institutions and in addition to those already serviced by Yodlee, also can manually establish connections to their customers’ banks—a service the competition isn’t offering. They’ve also added more cash-flow planning tools and goal-tracking tools for users and are getting ready to debut a few more new tools in the next 60 days (though I don’t get to report on those...yet.).

Green Sherpa is one of the only hybrid aggregating services as they can combine automated aggregation as well as set up individual connections. Green Sherpa worked to establish additional layers of security beyond what is offered by their aggregation provider. They’re also one of just a handful of software-as-a-service (SaaS) or “cloud” software providers that is charging a fee for an online-only product in the personal financial management field.

The company is lean and mean, with six employees and a ridiculously low breakeven point of only 5,000 subscribers, but their personal touch and low price (US $7.95 a month or $5.95 for pre-paying a year) sets them apart from other companies who provide software. Greens Sherpa is striving to provide its customers with an intimate snapshot of their own financial progress and future, not data on a dashboard.

Green Sherpa eliminates the manual data of Excel and Quicken, but also allows customers to download their own data to save, archive and manipulate, even if they choose to cancel the service.

The company also has an active advisory team including former leadership from Commission Junction.

Green Sherpa rolled out an affiliate program this month, which is fully operated on their site, not served through an ad company.

I asked Lozano about how the marketplace has changed since we spoke last in March. She explained that Mint and Quicken have released features that are becoming more forward-looking, and hence now more competing in the same space. Following the recent announcement that Mint would be moving under the Intuit brand, Lozano surprisingly said this is good news to her. “We think that this validates the web based personal financial management space which will be good for all remaining players in the market, including Green Sherpa” she said via email in a follow up conversation.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Green Sherpa’s commitment to a valuable forward-looking product, zero conflict of interest (not advertising/selling to subscribers) and complete privacy to users.

Green Sherpa has changed in one way—temporarily suspending subscriptions, giving users a 90 day free trial period to use the service. Existing subscribers will receive an additional 90 days free. The official company announcement to subscribers is expected out this week.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer in Seattle, writing on family and personal finance. You can also find her online at www.jessicaward.me or www.thepennywisefamily.com

Lending Club Reaches Another Milestone

Lending Club began issuing loans in September 2007, and has just reached the $50 million loaned mark. Loan demand has surpassed $500 million (yes, folks, that’s half a billion—we’re almost talking government sized dollars here!).

Underwriting has kept Lending Club to issuing just the $50 million in loans, and investors have received a 9.64% net annualized returns (that’s doing the math after fees and bad loans are taken out).

This does make Lending Club the “biggest fish” in the P2P sea right now.

So far in August, Lending Club has issued $3.1 million in loans.

Author's note: This post replaces a post from yesterday which included a factual error. Apologies for the duplication.

Many Changes at Mint.Com


Earlier this month Mint.com received another $14 million in series C funding. This round was led by DAG Ventures, and includes Founders Fund. Already investing in Mint are Benchmark Capital, Shasta Ventures, First Round Capital, and Sherpalo Ventures.

Mint.com doesn’t disclose it’s revenues, but Aaron Patzer, CEO told TechCrunch earlier this month that revenue is up over eight times year over year.

Mint has 1.4 Million registered users, tracking $175 billion in transactions and $47 billion in assets.

Also this month, Mint has offered a new improved Web site to its users. Improvements include better graphing and trending tools as well as the ability to budget for income as well as expenses—which will better help users to project cash flow. Mint now has sixteen graphs that can show you the way around your personal finances.

The budgeting tools have also improved to include an “everything else” category (showing your spending in non-budgeted categories). Also, amounts can be rolled over in Mint from one month to the next. Refreshing indeed!

I’m especially enjoying the new traffic-signal type alert system that shows my budget categories as “All Good,” “Slow Down” and “Over Budget,” in the appropriate red, yellow or green, but responses on the Mint Blog are showing that many readers want the old “bar system” graphic returned (yes, it is helpful, so I can’t blame them).

The iPhone app came out a while ago, but there isn’t one yet for us Blackberry users, I’m hoping that will come soon.

Also, Mint is wisely beginning to utilize some of the vast amounts of consumer data that is available. Since membership is anonymous Mint users like myself don’t have to feel outraged, but companies can study consumerism trends from the data accumulated by Mint. This use will likely help to keep Mint free to users, and profitable, the elusive golden egg that seems to prove so troublesome for so many of these internet finance startups.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Wash. She writes on money, family and life at The Pennywise Family and DebtKid.

Spoke too soon?

I've had several corrections today about my earlier post today regarding Loanio.

I took their recent S-1 Amendment showing that they'd sold the code for cash as an exit strategy but some readers think that this is a reasonable strategy to maintain operations during a quiet period. Fair enough, I just can't understand what would happen when the quiet period ends, and they don't have the original code. Then what? Perhaps they've got a coder would could write a new one? Perhaps sell the entire operations? There are more opportunities than I'd initally estimated, and thanks for filling me in.

That said, that's my problem, and not Loanio's, and I don't want to lead anyone astray, so I'll retract my suspicions that they may be gone. Sadly, the quiet period leaves them unable to let us know what really is going on, so we'll just have to wait and keep watching.

My apologies for the hype/suspicions, and thanks to all the dedicated readers who took the time to set me straight either in comments or via email.

--Jessica

Another One Bites The Dust. Loanio Has Sold Code for Cash.


American peer-to-peer lending platform Loanio appears to be vanishing as well.

The company, which originally launched in October 2008 has only issued seven loans, one if which is now thirty days past due.

The latest amendment to their S-1 filing (August 14) discloses that they’ve permanently licensed their source code to an unnamed corporation. The code was sold for $375,000, of which $100,000 was the down payment, and the remainder will be paid over 18 months. The blog p2plendingnews.com notes that the Loanio engineering team has shrunk from five full time engineers to three part timers since their last filing with the SEC.
Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger from Seattle. She blogs on family and frugality at The Pennywise Family and DebtKid.


Review Those Statements! The CARD Act Is In Effect Now

Just a friendly reminder to our readers to check your credit card statements. Many Americans are discovering that in the month of July their credit card providers snuck up on them and slipped in fees, higher interest rates or other charges in advance of the enactment of the CARD Act, which will further regulate issuers of credit cards.

Here’s a breakdown of the phases and what they include.

First phase: August 2009
Consumers will now receive statements 21 days in advance of their payment due date. The industry standard before was just 14 days.

Card issuers must also give consumers 45 days of notice prior to an interest rate change.

Second phase: February 2010
Card issuers can only raise rates on existing balances if the consumer is A: 60 days or more past due, B: A promotional rate expired, or C: A consumer doesn’t complete the workout plan or D: A variable rate increase because of movement in an index.

The CARD act will also restrict access to credit cards for borrowers under the age of 21 without a co-signer. I expect that P2P lending will be a place to turn for these borrowers—and potentially as part of a long term trend, as these borrowers won’t be “hooked young” by credit in it’s plastic form.

Already credit card borrowers are turning towards peer to peer lending as a replacement/payoff strategy to their credit cards. Blogger Matt Jabs, of DebtFreeAdventure is conducting a “DIY Consolidation” with Lending Club after his credit card company hiked his rate up. I considered it myself after a credit card I no longer use increased its annual fee, but I decided instead to close the account, as interest on my remaining card is still low.

In sum, don’t forget to take a look at your latest statements to make sure that your credit card company didn’t sneak in adjustments to your agreement before the CARD Act took effect this month.

Say it Ain’t So! Could Pertuity Direct Be Gone?

I received a tip in my email box that a special meeting of shareholders occurred on August 21st for the board of Trustees at the National Retail Fund III. The purpose of the meeting was “to approve the liquidation and distribution of all shares of the fund.” Oh snap!

Say it ain’t so? Could Pertuity Direct really be leaving us? They’ve been pretty quiet in recent months, not issuing a press release since March, and no blog posts since May. A couple of months ago their Commission Junction account deactivated without warning to advertisers (I was very surprised by this as I’d been running their ads for some time on my Pennywise Family blog). Keep in mind, the company only went "live" in January of 2009.

A few prominent PD figures have recently vanished from the Twitterscape.

Today I tried to call, but the telephone numbers have all vanished from the Web site. I found a number for Gemini Fund Management, the “transfer agent” for National Retail Fund III. I don’t remember them being part of the picture when I interviewed the PD team back in March, but that is the sort of detail I may have forgotten.

I asked for a telephone for PD and found the number disconnected and forwarded, to CEO Kim Muhota’s cell phone. When I spoke to them in the Winter, I seem to remember there being a staff of eight, so this seemed like an unlikely transfer.

I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on, but for now this is where it stands—it looks like Pertuity Direct may be gone. I’ll post an update to verify when/if I’m able to learn more.

Jessica Ward is a freelance blogger and writer based in Seattle. She blogs on frugal living, and family life at www.thepennywisefamily.com.

Another Peer To Peer Lender in Spain: Lubbus


Lubbus is another Peer to Peer lender in Spain that I just learned a little about today. They’ve been in business since 2008, but the site launched on April 19th, being the first P2P lender in Spain. Another interesting thing is that Lubbus offers a secondary market like Prosper does.

I ran across an interview with the CEO online and at the time (sadly the article was undated) the hold up in licensing was data-authority security regulation (i.e. Web site security). Unsure if that has been resolved or not, but the site does appear to be functional.

Unfortunately, Lubbus.com is very graphics-intense, so computer translators don’t translate it well. If you read Spanish—would you take a look and see if you can tell what’s going on? I’d sure appreciate any help on that.

Comnitae offers P2P Loans in Spain


Comunitae.com has begun offering peer to peer (P2P loans in Spain).

According to Comunitae funded ten loans during June—their first full month of Activity. Comunitae is a bid-based peer to peer platform, similar to prosper. There are 5,000 registered users on the Web site, but only 645 are active investors and 780 are borrowers.

In the Comunitae system, borrowers are ranked by risk as “A,” “B” or “C” and interest rates range after bidding from 7-12%.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area. She writes on personal finance, family and adoption. Her Web site is www.jessicaward.me.

Zopa to Re-Launch In Italy

After being closed down for peer to peer loans since July, Zopa has reached an agreement to re-open in Italy in September. Loans already issued were being serviced but no new ones were made.

What makes this interesting is what caused the shut down. It wasn’t the peer-to-peer platform, or unregulated securities as in many other places—but the holding accounts where funds were held between being deposited and being applied to the fully-funded loan.

Because these “transit lender accounts” were aggregated they resulted in a sum warranting regulation by the Italian government.

Now Zopa will establish separate accounts for each lender, and re-developing their system to accommodate. They expect to be back online at the beginning of September.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer from Seattle. You can also read her posts on www.debtkid.com and www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com.

Lending Club Raises Rates, Prosper Responds by Hearlding Auction

Beginning July 30th, Lending Club has raised average rates charged to borrowers by 0.5% in response to increased interest rates charged by mainstream lenders.

Investors will be seeing increased rates, and already the current net annualized return of all Lending Club investors was over 9.5%.

Lending Club has continued to see increasing number of loan requests from prime borrowers and believes that the higher rate remains competitive. The very best, grade A loans, according to a company press release have actually been lowered by 0.46% to further attract the best borrowers.

Prosper.com has responded by further emphasizing its’ auction model, driving interest rates as low as its investors are willing to fund based on risk.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer from Seattle. You can also read her work at www.debtkid.com and www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com.

Back to School with Peer To Peer Loans

TuitionU is now offering two funding methods for college students seeking supplemental tuition funding.

They’ve partnered with GreenNote to offer peer to peer student loans at 6.8% plus a 2% origination fee. Lenders will get a 5.8% return on their investment with a $100 minimum investment. These student loans are disbursed to the institutions instead of the student, so you can feel good about not funding a keg party on Friday night with your investment. Not only can students solicit student loans online but they can also invite friends, families and social networks to contribute towards their loan. Prospective investors can search which loans to fund based on school affiliation, major, sports or even Greek societies.

Additionally, TuitionU is partnering with National Lending Associates to allow tuition loans to be stretched from the usual ten months to over ten years.

TuitionU is a division of Cology and makes its money by charging loan origination fees on the loans it issues. In 2008, 15 lenders offered $125 Million in private loans to students. This year, more than 100 Lenders are prepared to offer $400 million in loans.

The TuitionU alliances come at an excellent time, as Fynanz left the US market back in January as a provider of peer to peer student loans.


Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in Seattle, WA. She writes on personal finance, family and frugal living. You can follow her on twitter as @jessc098 or visit her online at www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com

DebtGoal Adds Aggregating Features

We’ve written a lot about DebtGoal (here and here)in the past here at PLR, so it seems like a good idea to point out some new features they’ve recently launched.

DebtGoal now has aggregating capabilities now! This will make the data-entry a lot simpler. Previously it required you to enter your statement, interest rate, new purchases and all payments made. I sometimes make several payments in a month, depending on how business is going, so I was spending a lot of time on the DebtGoal site punching in numbers.

DebtGol continues to improve the usefulness of their charts and graphs as relevant to the user interactive experience, however the “on track” features are still a little wonky. The sum of my minimum monthly payments is just $26. DebtGoal is “pushing” me to go to $91. Following this plan, I’ll be debt free sometime in 2045. Yay for me! Actually, we’re planning to be free and clear by the end of this year following a far more aggressive plan) DebtGoal’s slider will only go as far as $91, so I’ll play with it more and fudge my minimum payments a bit higher to see if that makes it work right for me.

What I’d really love to see DebtGoal do, is to add a calculator like CNN’s.The CNN calculator allows you to either choose what you can pledge towards your goal and get a date from that; or choose a date and get a dollar goal. So far, I haven’t found a way to change my DebtGoal “debt free date” to 12/31/09.

I see the value in most of the tools on the site, but my favorite parts are the blog and message boards, which are a wealth of information—especially for math nerds like myself who enjoy seeing compound interest reversed and reduced.

And yes, while DebtGoal is aggregating now, I’m passing on that feature and continue to manually-enter my data. I begged for an aggregating feature, but I’m still concerned about their ability to scale, and after my previous adventure—receiving someone else’s statement—I want to give them a little more time to work out any kinks that might arise before I air any more of my financial laundry than necessary.


Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger from Seattle. She writes on family, money and business. For frugal family tips you can also see her blog at www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com.

Where You Can Borrow and Lend With Prosper.com

Prosper.com is back in business with the blessing of the SEC. Not all of the states are on board, however, and Prosper is working to gain approval in the rest of the states. Here's a quick and easy list of where Prosper has gained licensees so far (updated late July, 2009).




Borrowers Lenders
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Kentucky
Louisiana
maryland
Massaschusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming
California
Colorado
Delaware
Georgia
Hawaii
Illinois
Minnesota
Montana
Nevada
New York
South Carolina
South Dakota
Utah
Washington
Wisconsin
Wyoming


Source: Prosper.com/help

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area. She writes on finances, business and family.

Review of SimpliFi: Virtual Financial Advisor




We wrote in the Winter about SimpliFi—a winner of the “best of show” award at Finovate Startup. SimpliFi is in private Beta right now and available to test drive so I took it for a spin this afternoon.

SimpliFi is a financial health assessment tool and bills itself as a “virtual investment advisor.” SimpliFi is even registered with the SEC as a Registered Investment Advisor.

The Web site is well organized, easy to use and clear. It doesn’t confuse the reader with mumbo-jumbo and I think would be accessible for individuals with any level of financial knowledge.

“Sophie,” the “virtual advisor” gives you the impression of a consultation, rather than working with a calculator, but ultimately to me, the results felt far more like a calculator.

After entering annual incomes for each member of our family and annual retirement account amounts, I was surprised to see that “Sophie” calculated the take-home-pay and taxes, and then returned a monthly take-home amount which was way off base. The system assumes that our retirement accounts are 401Ks with a monthly amount contributed. That is true for one job which has two retirement accounts drawn from it (there was only an option to show one), but for my retirement account, I write a check for $5,000 at the end of the year to fully-fund my IRA. I’ll have to fudge the numbers on this by saying I don’t have a retirement account, but instead have a short-term savings account depositing $416/mo, but I’m not sure how to record interest or growth except for to log in and empty the virtual “savings account” and manually adjust-up the 401K account.

Sophie doesn’t know we claim two children as deductions (you can enter this, but it’s not in the location you would expect to find it, nor is there a prompt to ask the question).

It took me a little monkeying around to discover I’d made a data-entry error in my account set up that made my monthly mortgage payment greater than the outstanding balance of my mortgage. I could tell that something was wrong (who has an annual budget shortfall of over $400,000…besides Congress?). I’d love to see a balance sheet that would allow me to check my data-entry work. Instead I flipped through every screen to try to tell where I’d made the mistake. Additionally, the automatic conversion from my annual data entry to the monthly result was confusing to me, because it didn’t tell me that it was going to do that.

The confusion continues when I see that SimpliFi promises to never sell me anything, but then provides free service by advertising products I might need. Maybe it’s the copywriter in me, but those two messages shouldn’t appear in the same collateral for any product.

Finally, I’m no professional, and I’m not registered with the SEC, but I respectfully disagree with Sophie’s investment advice. I’ve worked with several investment planners and they all scream bloody murder when they see how much life insurance I carry (about 4x the recommended amount). What they don’t know is that I have a special needs child, and want to ensure she has care if anything happens to my husband and I. Sophie didn’t bat an eye—or send a digital protest that I was over-insured (seeing as how eye-batting is a digital impossibility in her domain).

Also, Sophie recommended a massive reallocation of investments, including moving 32% of our investments to bonds. Are you kidding me? A two-income household with both adults under the age of 30, not planning to retire until 72, and we should have a third of our investments in bonds? I’ve certainly never heard *that* one from either of my planners.

Sophie also suggested I increase my monthly payment on my credit card to roughly 2/3 of my monthly income. Since Sophie doesn’t have to eat or feed children, perhaps that would be a reality for her, but my budget can only tolerate a payment of 1/6 of that. Sophie’s recommend “emergency fund” would keep our household operational for just six weeks. Perhaps she doesn’t live in the Pacific Northwest, where the economy comes and goes with volcanoes, earthquakes and tides?

All of this aside, Sophie gives me a B+ in my “Goal Point Average” for my 20 minutes of effort. I’m afraid I’ve got to give Sophie a D-, mostly for cool graphics and ease of use. The investment advice just isn’t my style. That said, I guess her plan is better than none at all, and I can see many potential improvements that could make this system very useful (for instance, I’d love to see it integrated with my actual balance sheet in Mint (then Sophie might know what it costs to feed my kids…).

Jessica Ward is a full-time freelance writer in the Seattle area. She writes on family and personal finance. You can follow her on Twitter as @jessc098 or read more about her family’s penny-pinching adventures at www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com.

People2Capital.com: Poised to Issue P2P Student Loans This Fall


I had the opportunity to hold an email interview with Alan Samuels, Chief Product Officer at People Capital this past week regarding their new P2P student loan platform.

People Capital will be launching this fall—first to institutional accredited investors under a private placement memorandum, and later they’ll be filling a S-1 to open their platform to all prospective peer to peer lenders.

People Capital will be providing legally-compliant “private student loans” which are not bankrupt-able, unlike other P2P loans. Mr. Samuels cites a potential $113 Billion gap in federal college funding limits and the actual costs of college attendance in the USA as a growing market for these private student loans. Also, many lenders are shying away from investing in student loans due to college students' lack of established credit history and the difficulty of measuring risk without a credit score.

Samuels explained to me how People Capital can navigate this marketplace better than any of the competition due to their patent-pending “Human Capital Score” which is a proprietary underwriting tool. The Human Capital Score will include the students’ field of study, test scores, and GPA to determine the student’s creditworthiness.

Loans will be available on a long term or short term basis, and a requirement of being a legally-compliant private student loan, enrollment verification is mandated. Like other P2P loans funding isn’t guaranteed, and depends on how attractive the borrower’s request is to prospective lenders, and how large the pool of lenders is.

People Capital is in Series B funding, and has just received an additional $500,000 from The Serious Change Fund, helmed by investor Josh Mailman. (Source: WealthReview News)

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer in the Seattle area and writes on family and finances. You can follow her on Twitter as @Jessc098

P2P Lending Co. NanoFin opens in India

NanoFin Enterprises, opened this month in Chennai, India to provide peer-to-peer lending using the Internet, similar to Prosper Marketplace and Lending Club.

According to a company press release, the venture is an attempt to consolidate the unorganized credit market and bring the borrower and lender under one roof for transacting business.

The initiative will facilitate direct interaction between lenders and borrowers in the same local area (matching lenders and borrowers via geography vs. risk like American firms). Loans will be available for education, personal, auto, business, home and equipment ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 2 lakh. (The smallest loans will be about $100 USD).

Nonofin will offer lenders and borrowers the opportunity to agree together on the amount of the loan, interest rates and the terms and conditions of the loan. In the NanoFin model, lenders must pay a fee of Rs 1,000 (about $20 USD) to become a member of NanoFin’s community.

I can’t help but wonder how they’ll manage the geographical matching of borrowers—what if a loan goes bad? Will there be a concern about neighbors taking enforcement of the loan into their own hands?

The Web site is available in English at www.nanofin.net.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area. She writes on family, money and more. You can read more at www.jessicaward.me or www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com

Looks Like Prosper.com is On Its Way Back!

I recieved an email this morning from Investar of the SEC Prosper and Investing Forums (The "quiet diary") about a possible re-launch of Prosper.com today.

I checked out Prosper, and sure enough, another one of those ominous "down for maintenance" pages like we saw the day before the Finovate Conference.

Paraphrasing Investar's email he says that the US SEC approved Prosper's new securitized note trading platform at 3:30 PM on Friday, and that they pulled the site down over the weekend through Monday.

Looks like we might get (another) launch tomorrow from Prosper.com. Really looking forward to seeing them back into the P2P world.

Thanks Investar for sharing the info, we really do appreciate it.

SacBee article about Peer to Peer Lending

I was interviewed last week on the subject of peer to peer lending. My comments aren't quite in context, but this is a nice intro/overview to peer to peer lending in the Sacramento Bee.

The points that I shared with the reporter are:
1. Lenders will have to see good management of receivables by their selected P2P companies to make P2P lending a long term "sticky" trend.
2. Borrowers will have to get a better interest rate than they can with traditional banking. If credit markets loosen up again when the economy calms down, I'd like to see P2P lending hold on, but if interest rates go down for borrowers, they're not getting better for lenders--how will P2P companies respond to hold on to lenders? My hope is that they'll lower their administrative fees and they'll be able to based on economies of scale. That said, I don't know how much administrative cost there is to running a P2P company, and I don't have a sense for how much the industry can benefit from scale.

I think Lending Club's IRA product is a very good way of hanging on to lenders longer-term.

This all presumes of course (my presumption) that credit will become less expensive in the consumer market. Consumer debt interest rates and credit availability cycle up and down, and my assumption here is that the current market will eventually relax.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger from Seattle. She also blogs at www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com and is guest bloging at www.debtkid.com.

Loanio Files S-1 With The SEC



Loanio.com of Nanuet, NY, has filed an S-1 with the Securities Exchange Commission as of June 22, 2009.


This is the first major step in resuming US peer-to-peer loan operations. Loanio opened in October of 2008, but put loans on hold shortly thereafter to come into compliance with the securities regulation.


The S-1 is filed, but not yet effective, so Loanio's P2P platform isn't available yet to borrowers or lenders. We'll keep you updated as we hear more about a launch date, or specific information about the states that Loanio will be approved to operate in.


Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area. She also writes about adoption at http://www.jessc098.blogspot.com/. You can follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/jessc098

Kiva.org Lends in America: How Do They Do It?

I was heartened to see Kiva.org’s new domestic program. The loans are slightly larger than most of their overseas lending opportunities, but still relatively small for traditional business lending. However, I couldn't help but wonder how they're able to do this when so many other P2P platforms have failed to lend domestically due to heavy SEC regulation.

What I’ve learned is that Kiva loans don’t pay interest to lenders, and aren’t securities, so as such, they don’t fall under the SEC umbrella. Additionally, as a micro lender, Kiva is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the government with oversight authority is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

This means that interest-bearing Kiva accounts are still likely to be a long way off (if ever), but that the program should be sticking around for a while for borrowers, which is great news for micro lending enthusiasts.

The initial domestic roll-out happened in early June and included 45 American entrepreneurs seeking loans from $1,025 to $10,000.

Kiva’s field partners are Accion USA and OpportunityFund.org.

According to an online article in OnPhilanthropy.com, Kiva has provided $76 Million in loans to help small businesses worldwide

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area. She writes on peer to peer finance, family and more. Her freelance portfolio is available online at www.jessicaward.me.

Dating Web Site Seeks P2P Loans Via Virgin Money USA

New York-based dating Web site GetSteady.com is seeking peer to peer loans for growth of its US business operations.

I interviewed its’ founder and President Michael Zuyus via email this week to learn more about the company’s plans for growth and how they are applying peer-to-peer lending to their business plan.

GetSteady.com is a dating web site which caters to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual (GLBT) community. The company is seeking loan proposals via Virgin Money’s “Business Builder” product, which is a promissory-note negotiated between the lender and the borrower, and then enforced and managed by Virgin Money USA. GetSteady.com promises interest rates better than traditional investments including savings accounts, CDs and blue-chip stocks.

Mr. Zuyus prefers not to disclose the amount of capital he hopes that this effort will raise, but is seeking minimum loans of $1,000. He has also declined to comment as to if anyone has elected to fund one of these loans.

The company makes an interesting differentiation between peer-to-peer loans as investments. I asked Mr. Zuyus if investors are guaranteed in any way to receive repayment, and he replied “I would like to stress that we do not have investors. If a bank granted my company a loan, they would not be an investor, it’s simply a business loan. In this case, it is a peer business loan.” I found this an interesting re-branding of peer-to-peer loans after hearing the term “investment” thrown around so frequently in reference to peer lending. (I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see this nomenclature adopted more broadly across the industry as a result of regulation?)

I questioned Zuyus about the decision to use peer-to-peer loans in lieu of traditional banking and he cited the recent decline of credibility in the banking community, later saying “Peer to peer lending has become a trusted and viable alternative [to traditional lending], furthering economic growth until banks begin to lend more freely to small business again."

A company press release from June 8, 2009 quotes Zuyus as saying “Using these funds, we aim to expand our marketing and advertising efforts responsibly, quickly capitalizing on the current online dating boom.”

Getsteady.com was founded in 2009 to provide low-cost connections within the GLBT community. The company focuses on serious-minded friendships and relationships based on trust. Members must be verified including their profile photos (Zuyus cites ongoing troubles with users on dating sites supplying false photos).

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area. She writes on peer to peer finance, family and more. She also blogs at www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com.

Movie Review: Maxed Out



If you enjoy banking, finance and lending, I'm recommending that you rent the film Maxed Out.




"Maxed Out" was released in the summer of 2007 as a documentary and shows inside stories and behind the scenes tales of the credit industry, collections and bankruptcy--and left me a bigger believer in peer-to-peer lending than ever.




The film is unrated and covers some pretty heavy topics. Language includes a couple of "F-Bombs" and some discussion of suicide, but it wasn't so offensive that I felt bad about letting my tween daughter watch the film for financial literacy.

The bonus features are also very good including a 1940's educational film about credit (a fun one to watch) and an interview with Dave Ramsey.

Maxed Out also shows debt from the view of the consumer, the investor, the collector and many other steps along the way. It also shares diverse perspectives from Dave Ramsey who doesn't believe in debt, to a Real Estate agent who sees debt as a tool and a way of life to Robin Leach of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. I was surprised at how well the movie showed such varied perspectives without feeling fragmented or disjointed.


The subject matter movie is a downer for sure, but the movie is eye-opening in so many ways. It has a perky soundtrack and comedic interludes (not kidding). I think will motivate you to humanize your finances more. If you've seen it--please comment and let us know what you thought.

IOUSOS.Com offers to "Cure Your Debt" With Medical Providers


I've just completed a post at Pennywise Family about medical bills. While planning that project, I was contacted by IOUSOS.com about their company. You might remember that IOUSOS.com was a presenter at FINOVATE, which we followed closely here at PLR, though since the company isn't a P2P or micro finance company we didn't profile them specifically at that time.

IOUSOS is a new venture of Brian Mullally from GlobeFunder, and while licensed as a collections agency, is more like an accounts receivable interface for medical providers and patients.

For medical providers, billing can be especially collections-intensive as the invoices aren't always understood by the patient, and there is sometimes miscommunication between insurance and the patient. Additionally the sheer volume of invoices overburdens many medical providers with administrative follow up. Finally, there is a growing number of people who simply cannot pay.

A Kaiser Health tracking Poll was referenced in IOUSOS materials, shows that one in five Americans have found themselves forced into serious financial straits due to medical bills. Those materials also report that health care providers are owed an estimated $100 to $200 Billion in unpaid bills.

IOUSOS aims to help medical providers speed up their AR turnaround and help get patients a bargain.

Patients or providers can initiate contact with IOUSOS. I like to test-drive everything I write about here, so I plunked in one of my daughter's medical bills for $500 worth of blood work from earlier this month (the bill has arrived, but is not yet due). They ask for the amount owed, account numbers and name and birth date (here I couldn't tell if that meant me, my daughter or my husband who is the insurance subscriber, so I guessed). After that information is put in the system, you make an offer. I offered $300.

I'm willing to pay the entire thing, and I will, but I'm going to pay it cash in 15 days. I'd just like to see how they treat it. Currently, my hospital isn't using their system, but IOUSOS will send a message to the hospital saying I've offered that payment to be made through their Web site, and ask if they will accept that as payment in full. (Don't worry, their web site says that it doesn't get reported to credit bureaus as a "charged off bad debt" I checked!).

The hospital can counteroffer, or offer a payment plan, or decline to work with IOUSOS and send me another invoice in a month, which is their normal practice.

While just a start up, IOUSOS has already registered 17,000 patient users and has $25 Million in transactions. Sixty percent of these were referred before the collections process began.

Medical providers can turn over their invoices immediately to IOUSOS, or at an aging point at which they want to stop pursuing them for collections. Friendly letters with the user's access codes are sent to patients who owe on a bill in the system, and patients can make an offer, pay by credit card, or establish a monthly payment plan at no charge--the medical providers provide all of the fees, and the fees are success-based, so IOUSOS keeps the collections moving.

I'll update with a comment when I hear back from the hospital about my daughter's bill. This could be a really convenient way to pay medical bills, especially the big ones for those who are under-insured or have serious medical conditions. It might even be a helpful tool for cheap people like me.

Overall, it's a well-designed site, and an idea a long time coming. The interface is friendly and easy to use and doesn't have a "collections" feel at all. It has the feel of an uninterested third party. In-reality they only get paid if the patient pays up, but this may be the critical breaking point between IOUSOS and a traditional collections agency (which usually buys the bad debt and then tries to collect more than they purchased it for). IOUSOS has to treat you well in order to get paid. I like that, and I hope more companies adopt this sort of an interface!

(More on collections soon--I saw a great film on the subject. Perhaps a post for tomorrow?)

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer in the Seattle area. She writes on personal finance, business and family.

Zensah fuels growth with Lending Club loan


PLR has decided to profile Peer to Peer users on a regular basis. Our first such profile is the athletic-wear company Zensah, which was founded in January 2004 in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Zensah is a privately held company which develops high-end performance clothing for runners, cyclists, tri-athletes and other serious athletes. They count among their customers MLB and NBA professionals. Their designs feature seamless technology. The name itself comes from the Italian word sensa meaning “without seams” to symbolize athletes without limits.

Zensah took out a loan for $12,250 at 10.59% with Lending Club to fund some growth. They were able to repay the money within six months, despite having been turned down for a conventional business loan by banks.

Ryan Oliver from Zensah says they learned about P2P lending from reading an article about the process, and found Lending Club very easy, and even says his loan was funded within a week. At the time of their Lending Club loan, they had also considered using Prosper.com, but he described the process as “too bureaucratic” and did not proceed with Prosper. He also says he would definitely recommend P2P borrowing for other companies looking to grow—he even says he wishes larger business loans were available—in the $100-$250,000 range.

I asked Ryan if P2P borrowing was part of a larger social media plan, and he replied that it isn’t now, but if they had a dedicated social media plan, it could be a component.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in the Seattle area. Her work can also be seen at www.jessicaward.me

Lending Club: How do you compare?

Back in May, Lending Club announced a tool in development which would allow lenders to view their performance and compare it to other members. Over the weekend they rolled the feature out for all members. Here are some screen shots:


The Net Annualized Return measure used by Lending Club is calculated daily as a weighted average return on invested capital and is based on actual payments received to date.

I rank in the bottom 13% of all investors, primarily because I am very risk adverse, but my performance is still a respectable 7.39%. How do you compare?

Prosper.com, The Only P2P Player on the Beltway?

If anyone has dealt with the brunt of regulation on the P2P lending space, it’s Prosper. They’ve been through all kinds of regulatory hurdles, and as mentioned earlier, are once again in a quiet period after a brief re-launch last month.

I was surprised to come across a lobbying report filed by their firm, Podesta Group, a major player in the Beltway scene showing a $60,000 expenditure on lobbying for first quarter of 2009.

What surprised me most is the figure--$60,000 over three months—not an outrageous figure, but remarkable, as they appear to be the only P2P lender that has any lobbyist presence in DC. Why so much when nobody else in the business seems to think it's a worthwhile expense?

As a former lobbyist myself (on the state and local level), I would have actually expected all of these firms to be lobbying, but when I checked in with Lending Club and Pertuity Direct, I was told, respectively “no comment” and “We are currently not supporting any active lobbying on behalf of the P2P space. Not sure what Prosper is doing.”

Most companies seeking changes to improve their business’ regulatory environment have a presence in DC somehow. Often this is through a trade association or contracted firm such as Podesta. The lobbyists for the agency would be working with the agencies and officials that would be regulating their business space, in this case, the Commerce Department, SEC, and any Congressional committees that deal with banking and finance.

However, as I read through the Podesta Group’s report (publicly available at http://www.opensecrets.org/), I see that Prosper hasn’t been lobbying the expected committees and agencies alone, but also lobbying the Exec. Director to the Congressional Black Caucus, and the DOL Employment Standards Administration , the Secretary of Labor’s office, and in the House of Representatives, the Budget, Appropriations and Oversight committees. An interesting combination for sure.

Why Appropriations, Budget and Labor? I can’t help but wonder if Prosper is working on a new initiative? As Prosper is still in a quiet period, so they aren’t answering questions yet, but once they’ve re-launched, I for one will be excited to hear what they’ve got in the works.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger based in Seattle. She writes about finance, business and family. You can follow her on Twitter as @jessc098 or visit her Web sites at www.jessicaward.me or www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com.

Financial Services and Web 2.0: Having your Cake and Eating it Too

I love my bank. I’ve been with them since I was sixteen and opened my first checking account.

The same banker added my husband to that same account the day before we got married (I was practical, I wanted him to be able to pay for dinner on our honeymoon).

As I’ve moved around, I’ve gotten to know people in the branches in the three different counties that I’ve lived in, with a 100 mile spread. My local branch cheered me on as I boldly opened my business account in the depths of recession. They’ve met my kids, they know my name.

They call occasionally to tell me I’ve made a math error on a deposit slip or something, but generally, they’re a nice, standoffish, reliable bank (exactly what I want in a bank I think).

Recently, I wrote about choosing to refinance my mortgage from our 30 year fixed rate to a 15 year mortgage. I wrote about Smart Hippo, and immediately got a follow from three SmartHippo twitter Accounts (@smarthippo if you want to follow their "tweets").

I shopped the amazing deals on SmartHippo and came away armed with the security of having a really, really good idea of what’s going on in the market, and I called my bank and asked them to make me a deal I couldn’t refuse. They did.

A few weeks later, I was surprised to hear from Smart Hippo again (via Twitter) saying “how’s that re-fi going?”

Whoa!! Step back a minute! This is a FREE service, and they have no need to work hard to retain me as a customer—how often does someone refinance? This is something new and different… a relationship with a financial services provider online…..

Yesterday we closed on our loan with Columbia Bank at 4.6%. Today, as I stepped out my door with the kids to walk them to school, a woman arrived carrying a box. Inside was this cake from Smart Hippo congratulating us on our refinance.

Well, we’re “tickled pink” by the prospects of owning our home outright 20 years sooner, but it’s cool to know someone else is excited about it too, and the kids…. Well, let’s just say, the cake has been the topic of the day and they keep asking when they can eat dinner so they can bust into the cake.

The poor delivery woman seemed confused though. She looked at me blankly and said “Let me get this straight. You refinance your house and a pink hippo sends you a cake?”

My oldest daughter said “Yes, I think that’s about it.”

The cake lady shrugged and left laughing.

Thanks @SmartHippo for managing relationships with your clients and showing the power of social media to spread the message. How often is it that we find a company or product that we’re so happy about that you want to broadcast it? I do this frequently on Twitter and have many Twitter followers within the companies. I’ve asked for web site and tech support help, and posted product requests (for instance “hey, Mint, I really want to see my assets in my account so it doesn’t look like a black hole) and Smarty Pig has helped me with several questions all via Twitter or Facebook.

In the spirit of #FollowFriday here’s my list to check out—companies that I’m super-happy with (as a customer) and would without hesitation (and with no need or expectation of baked-goods in return) recommend to others. @SmartHippo, @SmartyPig, @RobGarciasJ (from Lending Club) @Lisa_Pertuity (form Pertuity Direct) and @Mintdotcom. You can follow this blog @prosperlending.

Got an opinion? Tweet me at @jessc098 and tell me all about it (but I’m afraid my startup budget doesn’t include baked goods), so you'll have to settle for a prompt reply.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer in Seattle Washington. She blogs about motherhood, adoption, personal finance and business. You can read more about her at http://www.jessicaward.me.

IOU Central Launching in USA



Note: IOU Central was not available for comment, due to the SEC’s “quiet period” though they have been contacted for comment.

Look out Lending Club, Pertuity Direct and Prosper, Canada’s IOU Central is on its way to America.

IOU Central filed a registration statement with the SEC on May 13th in which they seek to “register the offer and sale of up to $225,000,000 in aggregate principal amount of Borrower Payment Dependent Notes.” The notes are to be offered on a continuous basis following the effective date of the registration statement.

According to the company’s press release notes “will be issued in series and the proceeds from the sale of each series of notes will be designated by the registered lenders who purchased the series of notes to fund an unsecured consumer loan originated through the IOU Central loan marketplace to a registered borrower.”

IOU Central first made news by becoming the first p2p lending company in Canada in February 2008. They were only open a couple of weeks before they halted operations to 'resolve a regulatory matter'. We are still waiting for the first p2p lending company to open in Canada. Right now the most likely contender is CommunityLend.

IOU Central purchased a P2P lending startup from Denmark called Fairrates. Fairrates was built in 10 months by Arkadiusz Hajduk and opened in April 2007. They had lenders willing to invest but had a problem finding and vetting good borrowers. In Denmark there is no access to credit history and Fairrates was hit with a couple fraud cases.

After little success in Canada, IOU Central will try its luck in the United States. Prospective borrowers and lenders registering on the site receive the following email:

Thank you for your interest in IOU Central!

We are getting ready to release an online marketplace that will revolutionize peer-to-peer lending. Our platform will give borrowers the benefit of a true marketplace that allows for better interest rates. The platform will also give lenders freedom in lending with our real-time bidding system. We will keep you notified of our progress as we register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Thanks for being a part of the IOU Central revolution!

See you soon!
The entire IOU Central team

We love hearing from you, so if you ever have any comments,
questions, feedback, ideas, etc. please don't hesitate to email us at
feedback@ioucentral.com. We have a lot in the works, so visit ioucentral.com
often..

From company news and press releases it appears that IOU Central will have a slightly higher credit score requirement than Pertuity Direct and Lending Club—according to an article on wiseclerk.com, a Equifax score of 670 will be required. Lenders will pay a 1% servicing fee (the same as Lending Club). Borrowers will pay a 2% loan origination fee, and borrowers can request loans of up to $25,000 in two separate loans.

IOU Central is a peer-to-peer lending company. The company’s internet-based loan marketplace enables borrowers to post loan requests and purchase notes from lenders. IOU Central launched in Canada’s Peer to Peer lending space in February 2008, but stopped shortly thereafter due to regulatory conditions. IOU Central is headquartered in Kennesaw, Georgia in the United States.


Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and editor, based in Seattle, WA and writes in the personal finance and microfinance space. You can check out her other work at www.jessicaward.me.

President Obama Nominates ACCION Executive to U.S. Department of State

President Obama has nominated Maria Otero, the Chief Executive of ACCION International to be the undersecretary of global affairs at the US Department of State. She has announced via ACCION press release that she intends to accept the nomination, provided that her appointment is confirmed by the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.

Ms. Otero is a native of La Paz Bolivia and has been part of ACCION since 1986 and CEO since 2000. She was honored in 2005 in Newsweek’s special report “How Women Lead” and was regarded as one of the 20 most influential women in the United States. She received Hispanic Magazine’s “Latina Excellence Award” and has also been featured in the magazine.

Since 1997 Ms. Otero has been an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies (source: Leigh Bureau speakers bureau).

The position of Undersecretary of Global Affairs in the U.S. Department of State is responsible for U.S. foreign relations on a variety of issues including democracy, human rights, environment, health, population, trafficking in persons, influenza and women’s issues among other things.

Catherine Quense, the Chief Deputy at ACCION will assume Ms. Otero’s duties immediately while the board conducts a global search for a successor.

ACCION is an international private non profit organization with the mission of giving the poor the financial tools that they need to work out of poverty. They provide microloans, business training and other financial tools. ACCION has disbursed more than 28.5 million loans in the last ten years, which total $23.5 billion USD (Source, PR Newswire).

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger who covers frugality and the financial sectors. She is based in Seattle. For more information, visit her Web site at www.jessicaward.me or follow her on Twitter as @jessc098.

New York Times: Brother Can You Spare a Loan?

The New York Times has an article about p2p lending this morning. Here's an excerpt:

The debt supply was abundant back in 2005, when Renaud Laplanche dreamed up Lending Club, now one of the best known of a batch of companies that have added Web-enabled “peer to peer” lending to the ways that individuals can borrow money. Like many online innovations, it adds scale to an old idea. In this case the old idea is borrowing money from your social network — “social network” having morphed from the people you have a personal connection to into its contemporary iteration of people connected by computer screens and servers. While starting up another company, Laplanche found it financially advantageous to borrow from friends, and he wondered whether an Internet version of this idea could be created for people without flush contacts.

...Certainly the credit crunch that started last year has made a lot more people interested in new forms of borrowing. “To some extent, we got lucky,” Laplanche admits. A little more than half of the requests involve restructuring current debt with better terms. These really took off recently, as credit-card companies jacked up rates on some balances. Meanwhile, someone has borrowed $25,000 to finish a recycling plant in Uganda; others are paying off college loans or covering medical bills. And some requests seem surprisingly dissonant with the downturn: home-renovation projects, somebody asking to borrow a few grand to take the family to Disney World, a triathlete who wants a new bike. “There’s a guy buying a pony,” Laplanche adds.

Open an account with Lending Club here.

Contest Announcement

Hello PLR Readers, Jessica here. The editors here at PLR have kindly allowed me to share a contest from my "regular" blog with you all here.

For those who didn't know, my PenywiseFamily blog is all about a family learning to live on less and doing more with it. (That would be the family of yours truly). We've recently launched a contest for others who want to join us in chopping up those credit cards and going debt-free.

A $100 prize (either a SmartyPig gift card or a Kiva Gift Certificate--winner's choice) will go to the person who submits the most creative photo of a recycled credit card by June 15th. You can email entries to me at jessc098@gmail.com or follow along the contest at www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com.

Prosper closes again - open less than two weeks

Last week Prosper re-opened to borrowers in all 50 states and lenders in California after a six-month quiet period. Prosper did not facilitate any loan activity or communicate with members while they registered their platform with the SEC. Now, after being open for less than two weeks, Prosper is closed again. Here's the announcement on the website:



Prosper is Currently in a Quiet Period

We have been overwhelmed by the outcry from potential investors around the country who want to participate in peer-to-peer lending. Thank you for your support and your letters to us.

After much consideration we have decided to voluntarily shut down our operation in order to complete our SEC approval for a nationwide peer-to-peer lending platform. As a result, due to regulatory concerns, and in the interest of working toward getting our registration statement effective as soon as possible, we are discontinuing our California intrastate offering at this time.

If you're an existing lender, your current lender agreements will be unaffected; your existing loans will continue to be serviced; you'll be able to track and monitor your loans; and you'll be able to withdraw funds from your Prosper account.

If you are a borrower with an existing loan, you will continue with your current borrower agreement and be unaffected by the registration process.

We want to assure you that Prosper is looking forward to being able to offer a transparent, durable and participatory lending institution very soon.

As a result of this decision, we will not be accepting new lender or borrower registrations or loans, or new commitments from existing lenders effective immediately. Until this process is complete, we are required to be in a quiet period and will be unable to respond to press, blogger or other inquiries related to our SEC registration process, even though we would like to.

We sincerely apologize to the Prosper community members for this inconvenience or disappointment our decision may have caused. We want to thank those of you who demonstrated your support through your active participation whether by investing with us again or referring friends to our site.

Thank you in advance for your understanding, support and patience once more. We look forward to serving the needs of the community in the hopefully not too distant future.


While Prosper is closed, Lending Club has the full blessing of the SEC and has facilitated nearly $40 million in loans.

A look at Lending Club's LendingMatch

Brandon Hansen has captured minor fame for his in-depth analysis of everything from how to beat traffic mathematically to putting gas prices in perspective. Now he takes a look at the LendingMatch algorithm as he decides to diversify his investments with Lending Club. Read the whole article here:

DebtGoal Responds to Security Breach

I want to clarify, I got this email a few days ago but I haven't been well and haven't posted DebtGoal's reply to my questions due to illness. I requested a more complete reply from DebtGoal about the nature of the problem and how they'd like to respond. I actually received the response on Sunday, and I'm attaching that below.

Here's a response that you can post on the blog. LMK if you think I could be more effective. We really do care about this stuff and work hard to make a great product. We missed something on this one and we learn from it and move on.

********************

Jessica

Thanks for your ongoing coverage of DebtGoal.com. You've been a great supporter and have given us a lot of valuable feedback that has truly helped us create a better service.

As you pointed out in your recent blog post, we did experience a bug last Friday where we sent out a limited number of monthly progress report emails with inaccurate statement data. We traced the issue to a memory buffer error that failed at high volumes to clear after each email was generated. We have implemented a fix for this bug and resent corrected monthly reports a few hours after the issue was identified.

We apologize for the error, as we know that you and our other users put your trust in us to help you manage your finances. As a result of this issue, we are revising our Quality Assurance practices to better detect these issues through automated validation and live error detection. It's never possible to eliminate all possibility of errors, but the changes we are implementing will lead to much more robust releases.

Above all, I want to communicate that we do take quality and security seriously. We will continue to proactively improve our processes and quality. As we're in Alpha release, some of this QA work is done by our users and we remain very appreciative for the suggestions and feedback that we get on a daily basis and thankful for their understanding when things don't go exactly according to plan. Thanks again for your support and feedback.

Scott Crawford
CEO, DebtGoal.com

DebtGoal: How big can a 'glitch' be and still be a 'glitch?'

Today I was shocked to learn that in the past month I've made zero progress towards paying off the balance on my Target Visa card, which sits at a whopping 20% interest rate.

Mostly, I was surprised because I've never had a Target card. I've also never had a credit card with a 20% interest rate. I'm sure you can imagine my shock!

That said, I'm sure someone else was even more surprised when they opened their DebtGoal statement and discovered that they owe USAA the cost of roughly one month in Africa plus airfare for three. (Sometimes I still surprise myself).

As it turns out, a "glitch" occurred in DebtGoal's system that mistakenly sent someone else's statements to "a limited number of users."

Thankfully, DebtGoal doesn't actually collect account numbers, and I didn't receive any identifying information about the person whose statement I received. I communicated with DebtGoal and was told it was an error, which affected only some of their users, and a few hours later received an accurate statement.

It did get me reconsidering though. I leave all of my organizing to the Web. I'm responsible for little file storage or organization of actual "paper" some free Web service is out there for everything. My digital photos are all stored online (presuming this to be FAR more reliable than my hard drive or a DVD my kids are likely to turn into a school construction project).

According to an article from TechCrunch in April, Facebook, Twitter and Google Documents have all recently had similar breaches. I myself have experienced mis-directed Twitter tweets, and even some people have complained of trying to view my profile and getting someone elses' (usually SPAM-intense or otherwise offensive) profile.

Just how much faith should we have in the cloud? What can our providers do to ensure that we won't have our personal information or bank account balances eventually being tied to our google profiles because of some security "glitch."

Which brings me to my last point...someone must distinguish the lines between a security "anomaly," "glitch," "error," "leak," and an all-out "hemorrhage."

Don't be mistaken, I'm not unhappy with DebtGoal, they didn't release sensitive information to me, mostly just confusing. I don't think they even store sensitive data (their structure wouldn't require it). That said, other sites I use regularly do. Sometimes I use a favorite site like Amazon, Paypal or other to see what my credit card number actually is--as I shredded it a few months ago. If they're the only ones that still know my credit card number, I really want to make sure its safe. Exactly how much should we be trusting "the cloud?"

Update: DebtGoal responds to security breach

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer from Seattle. She writes on personal finance, technology and family. To learn more, visit www.jessicaward.me or follow her on Twitter at @jessc098

Prosper among best of show at FinovateStartup09

Netbanker just announced the winners of the best of show awards at FinovateStartup09 and they are Prosper, BillShrink (our review), Silver Tail Systems and SimpliFi. The winners were selected by ballots from conference attendees.

After a six-month quiet period to register their platform with the SEC, Prosper re-opened yesterday at Finovate. They are currently serving borrowers in all 50 states and lenders in California.

Final presenters announced at Finovate

During FinovateStartup09 today, conference attendees voted on the companies they would like to see during the final session of presentations. The companies selected were - HomeATM, Green Sherpa, Silver Tail Systems, SimpliFi, SmartHippo, DebtGoal.com, Rudder, Prosper and Credit Karma. We have previously reviewed several of these companies in prepartion for Finovate.

Just in Time for FINOVATE: Many Companies Launching New Features

Just in time for FINOVATE many new features are being launched by participant companies, some of which we've profiled here before.

I'm following the conference online today via webcast, though wishing I could be in beautiful San Fransisco, which is lovely this time of year.

I'm starting this list with items I've already made notes of, but may update later during the day as I follow along the FINOVATE presentations today.

  • Mint (see previous my review) has added CD and Brokerage shopping options. I wish they had this when I choose my brokerage two months ago, but I'm glad they have it now, and I'm glad to see I chose well. They've also added the ability to change dates on transactions which is great for those checks that clear late and things like that, so you can keep your budget on track.
  • Lending Club is offering new lender features which Tom posted about earlier today.
  • Wesabe has a tagging system now, which will be a great asset to users.
  • UPDATE: It's 3:00 and I just got an email from GreenSherpa that their beta system is now available.
  • UPDATE: it's 4:30 and Rudder just launched an iPhone app. You can get it in the app store. Now word about what's out there for blackberry users.
  • SmartyPig continues to respond to customers in real-time, and has added a "lower this" to reduce your monthly savings if friends and family members' contributions to your savings goal has enabled you to choose between meeting your goal sooner, or reducing your monthly contribution. It suggests the difference for you too, so you don't have to do the math.

Jessica Ward is a professional writer and blogger based in Seattle, WA. She also blogs at www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com, to learn more about her visit www.jessicaward.me

Pay it forward and win a Kindle from Pertuity Direct

Coinciding with the Finovate Conference in San Francisco this week, is a contest from Pertuity Direct, which they're calling Pay it Forward, Pay it Down. Pertuity Direct is looking for people to vote for a $2,500 loan forgiveness. All "voters" will be rewarded with the opportunity to win a Kindle2.

You can find out more about the contest online here, or skip straight to voting here.

Voting closes on May 14th.

Lending Club previews new lender feature at FinovateStartup09

Today at FinovateStartup 2009, Lending Club previewed a new feature which shows lenders how their returns stack up against other lenders. Currently, the average lender makes 9.05% after fees and defaults according to Lending Club. This feature will show you, via a nice graphical interface, how you compare against others. See the screen shot below:


Lending Club also emphasized the success of their secondary loan platform which launched six months ago. Since then over $2,000,000 in loans have been traded and the time to liquidity is two days. In addition to providing liquidity to new lenders, this platform provides new investment opportunities. There are 1800 loans on secondary loan platform right now.

FinovateStartup09 kicks off today

FinovateStartup09 kicks off in a few minutes in San Francisco. We will be blogging and reviewing the financial technology startups here throughout the day.

FINOVATE Startup is billed as the "largest group of financial technology startups ever assembled in one place" with 57 companies in the lineup. All the major p2p lending players will be there including Lending Club, Pertuity Direct, and Prosper. Prosper has already announced the re-launch of their platform timed with the conference.

This year, for the first time, FINOVATE offers a real-time webcast. There is still time to purchase access to the webcast for $495.


Here is a complete list of companies featured today as well as links to our previous reviews:

Prosper launches to borrowers in 50 states; lenders in California

After a six-month quiet period to register their platform with the SEC, Prosper has re-opened to borrowers in all 50 states and lenders in California. They have simultaneously launched FixTheCreditCrisis.org which is a campaign to reach out to elected officials to allow peer lending in all 50 states.

Currently, Lending Club and Pertuity Direct are the only two p2p lending platforms available to most investors throughout the United States. Prosper's model is different because, among other things, loan rates are determined by an auction among lenders.


Here is an open letter from Prosper's CEO Chris Larsen about the new launch and an appeal to regulators to allow lenders to lend from all fifty states:

We are pleased to announce that Prosper is now open for business once again after a six month hiatus. At this time we are launching to borrowers nationwide and to individual and institutional lenders in California. We hope to be fully national soon.

First we would like to thank the Prosper community for your incredible patience and support. We’re especially thankful to the overwhelming number of lenders who have kept their funds in their Prosper trust accounts, eagerly awaiting our re-launch.

We also want to thank Governor Schwarzenegger’s team, particularly Preston DuFauchard of the Department of Corporations, for embracing peer-to-peer lending as a promising new technology and alternative credit system for getting credit flowing to consumers and small businesses at the very time they need it most. California regulators have always been known as innovation leaders and they just proved it again.

We remain hopeful that the SEC, which until now has effectively hamstrung the growth of the peer-to-peer and micro-lending industries in the U.S. will start applying the same common sense approach as California’s regulators. California has recognized that Internet auctions, just like the Google IPO, are the most efficient means of price discovery; that loan level transparency is better than the opaque loan pooling that brought the financial system to its knees; and that requiring regulatory filings every other day of web site transactions that are already visible in real time, is redundant and cost prohibitive.

We want our users to know that while we have been in a quiet period, we have been innovating. Most significantly, we are launching our Open Market initiative, which for the first time will allow other financial institutions, such as auto lenders, small business lenders and community development lenders, to place their already funded loans on our site for auction. This is both exciting news for lenders on Prosper as well as a much needed solution to the credit crisis.

As we all know, America is in the midst of the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression. Creditworthy consumers and small businesses can’t get loans. The government is scrambling to get money on the street by pumping hundreds of billions into our banking system. Yet, the banks are still pulling back and consumer loan securitizations, which make up nearly half of the lending market, are still frozen. We all know the causes of the crisis - lack of transparency, over-complexity and reliance on single points of failure.

The crisis is painful but is also a once in a lifetime opportunity to rewire finance in a way that is fundamentally more transparent, more participatory and more durable.

Prosper and our Open Market initiatives were built on these fundamental values.

Prosper’s Open market model could be the securitization market of the future. Rather than pooling loans, using rating agencies, and creating artificial tranches that are too complex, and opaque, Prosper now allows each loan to be sold separately, priced by the originator and auctioned in a fair and transparent Dutch auction. It uniquely provides a direct line of sight from the money invested to the loan itself.

In addition, Open Market brings the same social lending possibilities to securitization that we have always seen in the Prosper Loans Marketplace. For example, auto loans listed on the Open Market will show in which auto plant and city the car was made. That way fellow Americans who put a value on American jobs might make loans to cars made in Ohio, for example, at a better rate than loans to cars made in Germany. This could never be done with traditional securitizations because investors never had that level of transparency.

Obviously some areas of our financial system need more regulation and more limitations on what can be done. Understandably many in Washington now equate innovation with the toxic Wall Street concoctions like the Credit Default Swaps or CDO-squared monsters that nearly wrecked our economy. While these exotic instruments need to be reigned in, a sweeping ban on all innovation would be a grave error with lasting negative consequences. What we need is a common sense approach to innovation that is judged on its merits. For instance, shouldn’t innovations that result in more transparency, fairness and accessibility be embraced?

We can draw a parallel to how America is dealing with the on-going energy crisis. We know that we can’t depend solely on an oil based economy. The solution is not to just “drill baby, drill”, but to concurrently develop new energy systems that are cleaner, more sustainable, and fundamentally more diverse and durable. The same idea should apply to fixing our financial meltdown. If all we do is clean up the toxic mess while propping up the too-big-to-fail institutions, we will be engaging in a “drill baby, drill” mentality and will have missed a tremendous opportunity to rewire our financial system. As in the energy crisis, we need to encourage new alternative sources of credit by embracing innovation and entrepreneurs. This is at the heart of what makes the American economy continue to thrive.

But we need the help of our political and regulatory leaders. That’s why we are so grateful for California’s leadership in embracing peer-to-peer lending. And it’s why we’re asking for your help in encouraging other regulators and leaders across the country to take a similar view.

You can help us get this message to Washington and other leaders. We invite you to call or email your State’s elected officials using the tools we’ve provided for you at FixTheCreditCrisis.org. By reaching out directly to your state’s elected officials, we’ll ensure that our collective voices are heard.

Best regards,
Chris


Update: Prosper closes again after less than two weeks