Micro-Grants, in Person-to-Person fashion: DonorsChoose.org

DonorsChoose.org facilitates privately-funded Micro-grants benefit students in the classroom. The non-profit was founded in 2000 by teachers in the South Bronx as a way to help support their classrooms.

The platform allows donors to choose the classroom and project that they would like to fund. From literacy and music programs, all the way down to “we need more pencils.” Donors can contribute any amount they want to support these classroom projects.

Prospective donors can sort by the urgency, geographic location, academic subject or even the poverty level of the school program they would like to support.

DonorsChoose has received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, and 86% of their income directly supports programs. Also, their nearly $16,000,000 budget is entirely supported without government support—driven only by donors.

If a program is not fully funded by the date the funding is needed, the money is returned to the donor, who can reinvest it in another project.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger in Seattle. She also blogs at http://www.pennywisefamily.blogspot.com/.

Kiva Adds Currency Risk Protection

I recently read Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus, and was surprised that one of the primary barriers to stability in the microfinance business is currency fluctuations between countries.

It makes sense that the countries most vulnerable and in need of microfinance are often the countries at the greatest risk for fluctuations.

That of course got me thinking about my own Kiva Account. Would my paltry $25 be there to re-loan when the loan was repaid?

It doesn’t surprise me to see that Kiva has already thought about that. In June, Kiva.org launched a currency risk protection tool to better protect Kiva Borrowers against fluctuations in their borrower’s native currency.

The tool works by limiting the foreign currency risk for field partners to a devaluation of 20%. Any amounts beyond that is shared by Kiva lenders, if the field partner organization has selected to use the currency protection tool.

Next time you fund a Kiva loan you can check on this by viewing “About the Loan.” In the section there is a label titled “Currency Risk” and there are three risk statuses.
1. Covered: If the field partner has not opted in to the risk sharing program.
2. Possible: if the field partner has opted in to risk sharing.
3. N/A: if the partner doesn’t need to take risk precautions as they disburse loans in US Dollars.

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer and blogger in the Seattle, WA area. She writes on family, money and business. You can learn more about her projects at www.jessicaward.me

Paying for college the peer to peer way

With Fynanz exiting the US student loan market earlier this month there’s still room in the student loan market for a peer to peer player.

Lending Club requires a swift three-year repayment, and the interest is higher than some commercially-available student loans. Some students may want to turn to Greennote as a funding option. Greennote.com has a fixed interest rate of 6.8% and doesn’t require citizenship or a co-signer. (Prospective investors, take note.) Greennote is backed by Menlo Ventures and is based in Redwood City, CA. They launched in June 2008.

Another alternative for students is a mico-grant program found at CollegeDegreeFund.com. Students establish a profile and companies and individuals can provide a sponsorship of any amount towards his or her needs. Funders can contribute as little as $1.00. This is not an investment program, but a micro-grant program of essentially free money for college students. I’ve sent an e-mail off to the managing partners to see how many sponsorships have been funded so far as they reach the one-year mark of operation and I will update here when I hear back from them.

A Note on Note Trading

Peer to Peer lending has been around via Prosper.com and LendingClub.com for a while now, but another option that is less prominent is after-market note trading on these sites.

There are many advantages to after-market note trading. For sellers, this means having some liquidity in your investment—being able to cash out before the loan fully matures—shortening a three year loan into one or two years or even less time.

For buyers, the advantage is being able to see some repayment history on the loan. If you’re unsure about jumping into peer to peer loans, this might be a good way to go.

Also, for prospective buyers on Prosper, a note is a loan that has already funded, so you don’t have to wait for an auction or funding period. Your note will be earning interest and expecting payment much faster.

Prosper.com uses Folio Investing as their note trading partner, and charges sellers a 1% transaction fee. LendingClub.com uses Foliofn and also charges a 1% seller fee.

Prospective note buyers should remember that they’re not circumnavigating the investor account maintenance fees at 1% at both Prosper and Lending Club—regardless of if you bought the loan at issuance or the note later in the after-market, if the money is owed to you, the maintenance fees are charged to you.

Also, at Prosper the note trading platform only applies to notes issued after July 13th of 2009. At Lending Club your notes can be a little older if you want to re-sell them. The Lending Club platform extends to notes issued back to October 12, 2008.

Overall, the note trading process is fairly smooth. You usually have to digitally “sign” an agreement with the trading platform but otherwise the sites are smoothly integrated. You don’t have to open another account or fund another account—your funds will move fairly seamlessly between your Prosper or Lending Club and the designated note trading platform account whether you’re buying or selling the notes.

If you've done any note trading, I'd love to hear your feedback and comments. I haven't tried this system myself yet, but may consider it in the future.

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

Mint Selling to Intuit for $170 Million

Mint.com, the leader in online personal financial management has just signed an agreement to be purchased by Intuit (makers of Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax) for an amount disclosed as “approximately $170 Million” in an Intuit press release.

Intuit’s Quicken Online is a competing free service to Mint.com and users of both services may be wondering “will Quicken Online/Mint remain free?”

Josh Smith, of Wallet Pop cleared that up for everyone in a story released today, quoting Scott Gulbransen of Intuit who assures users that both services are expected to remain free.

Mint.com CEO and founder Aaron Patzer will be joining Intuit as the General Manager of the Personal Finance group where he will be responsible for “online, desktop and mobile consumer personal finance offerings” for the company.

Patzer reported on the Mint.com blog that the sale is good news for Mint users who will gain from Intuit’s size and status as a leader in financial software citing that “by joining Intuit, we can accelerate our ability to add more fantastic new product functionality into both Quicken and Mint."

The transaction is expected to close by the end of the year.

Since launching two years ago, Mint.com has garnered 1.5 million users and is tracking $200 billion in transactions according to an Intuit press release.

Intuit was founded in 1983 and had an annual revenue of $3.2 billion in FY 2009. They have 7,800 employees worldwide according to their press release.

Intuit Press Release

Mint.com blog Post

Jessica Ward is a freelance writer based in Seattle. She also blogs at The Penny-Wi$e Family and DebtKid.com


The following is a press release from People Capital, posted exactly as sent to Prosper Lending Review.

New Web Tool Allows Student and College Planning Consultants to Compare College Options

NEW YORK – People Capital (http://people2capital.com/), a Web resource for college students to obtain student loans via an online lending exchange, has launched the Human Capital Score™ College Planning Tool (http://www.humancapitalscore.com/). The new Web tool is designed for students (and college planning consultants) who want to use the Human Capital Score to compare multiple projected income scenarios based on colleges they are considering attending.

The Human Capital Score College Planning Tool is a Web based college scenario planner that is targeted for students who are planning to go to college and need help measuring the economic value of various schools they are considering. Namely, the tool can help students decide whether it is worth the money spent to go to one school as compared to another, based on the income potential from the academic choices they make. The planning tool works when a user inputs key data about themselves (GPA, SAT scores, planned college major) and the various schools they are considering. The tool then calculates the data and presents a graph and chart documenting results of several scenarios (up to five maximum) of the user’s potential income 10 years after graduation, allowing the user to compare the results between colleges she is considering. This tool can also be used by college planning consultants and high school guidance counselors with a professional version available for their consulting needs.

The Human Capital Score College Planning Tool is predicated on the Human Capital Score, a Web calculator developed and launched earlier this year by People Capital. Built on research developed at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania Insurance Department, the Human Capital Score helps students assess their student loan risk by using academic merit data such as GPA, standardized test scores, college and major, along with traditional demographics data and metrics, to give insight into their future earnings potential.

“Since launching the Human Capital Score earlier this year, we have received feedback from users who found the tool helpful and insightful, but thought that the ability to compare various college scenarios would be an added benefit,” said Thomas Shelton, founder and CEO of People Capital. “The Human Capital Score College Planning Tool now adds this level of functionality; as students can use it to create multiple scenarios to help them better evaluate their loan risk, future potential earning income and possibly the college or university they will spend the next several years at.”

The Human Capital Score College Planning Tool is available in three tiers of pricing:

· $19.95 – Compare and contrast up to two scenarios at a time, for one time use only

· $29.95 – Compare and contrast up to five scenarios at a time, for one time use only

· $199.95 – Compare and contrast up to five scenarios at a time for six months with unlimited usage

About People Capital

People Capital (http://www.people2capital.com) was founded by a team of world-class talent with backgrounds in student loans, consumer finance, credit ratings and new media in order to develop the next generation of credit risk management and funding for student loans. Its lending platform allows students to finance their college educations through improved access to private student loans. Its patent-pending Human Capital Score™ (http://www.humancapitalscore.com) measures students without credit history by using academic and credit data to model future individual income levels, and therefore their future ability to pay off the loan.

Some news from SmartHippo

We covered SmartHippo back during Finovate Startup, but wanted to update our readers on some exciting developments at their firm. Please see the attached press releases for more info.

SmartHippo names former LendingTree GM Lori Collins CEO
Previously grew revenues from $7 million to half a billion over seven years
SAN FRANCISCO, CA AND MONTREAL, CANADA -- October 14, 2009 -- SmartHippo,
the first web site that let consumers use the power of the community to shop for
financial products, announced today it has named Lori Collins as its new CEO.
“Weʼre very excited by Loriʼs unique experience in both the web and finance sectors,”
said Founder George Favvas, who will continue his involvement in the company as VP
Corporate Strategy. “Iʼm confident that with Lori at the helm we are well positioned for
our next phase of revenue growth.”
As General Manager of the LendingTree Exchange, Collins was responsible for sales,
relationship management, and product management for the LendingTree lender
network. She was part of the executive team which increased revenues from $7 million
to $476 million over seven years.
“SmartHippo has a very compelling business model,” Collins said. “Community-driven
product comparisons have become the norm in other industries, and Iʼm excited to be a
part of the company that is bringing these innovations to the financial space.”
Unlike intermediary web sites which match consumers with lenders based on business
relationships, SmartHippo is an open, transparent marketplace where consumers help
each other find the best financial products. They can ask questions, compare rates and
share reviews and experiences with other consumers and make a more informed
decision. Lenders and brokers participate by answering questions and posting rates,
and consumer feedback keeps them in check.
In another announcement today, SmartHippo announced it is expanding into the
Spanish market with the launch of HipoListo.es in partnership with Financialred

About SmartHippo
SmartHippo.com is the first-ever website that uses the power of community to help
consumers find the best mortgage rates and save money. SmartHippo allows any
individual to post information and feedback on the rate they received, and to compare
rates with other members of the community with similar profiles. Members of
SmartHippo can see real rates reported by real consumers, and sort through banks
based on feedback posted by other members of the community. The company is
privately held with offices in San Francisco and Montreal. www.smarthippo.com
George Favvas
Founder and VP Corporate Strategy
george (at) smarthippo.com
(514) 242-5730
Media advisory: Lori Collins will be delivering the closing keynote at Startup Camp
Montreal tomorrow, October 15th. The event takes place at the Society for Arts and
Technology, 1195 Saint-Laurent boulevard, Montreal from 6pm to 11pm. Admission is
free. For info see: http://www.startupcampmontreal5.wikidot.com


SmartHippo expands into Spain with launch of HipoListo.es
Joint venture with Financialred Networks poised to become leading player in market
SAN FRANCISCO, CA and MADRID, SPAIN -- October 14, 2009 -- SmartHippo, the
first web site that let consumers use the power of the community to shop for financial
products, announced today a strategic partnership with Financialred Networks which will
see the launch of HipoListo.es in the Spanish market.
Under the terms of the agreement, Financialred has acquired an exclusive license to
market the SmartHippo brand and technology platform in Spain.
“The web finance space is in its infancy in Spain and we believe we have an opportunity
to rapidly establish HipoListo as the dominant player in a market of 50 million
consumers” said Jesus Perez, Chief Strategy Officer of FinancialRed. “By leveraging
the SmartHippo platform we were able to significantly reduce our time to market.”
As part of the partnership, SmartHippo will manage the software platform while
Financialred focuses on localization and sales and marketing. As of todayʼs launch,
HipoListo.es mortgage vertical, with other verticals planned for early 2010, he added.
“Weʼre thrilled to be a partner in bringing the first social financial comparison shopping
engine to Spain,” said Lori Collins, CEO of SmartHippo. “Our partnership with
Financialred signifies our commitment to work with and drive profitability to media
companies with existing user bases.”
Separately today, SmartHippo announced that Collins, formerly GM at LendingTree, has
joined the company as its new CEO, taking over from George Favvas, who will remain
onboard as Founder and VP Corporate Strategy.

About SmartHippo
SmartHippo.com is the first-ever website that uses the power of community to help
consumers find the best mortgage rates and save money. SmartHippo allows any
individual to post information and feedback on the rate they received, and to compare
rates with other members of the community with similar profiles. Members of
SmartHippo can see real rates reported by real consumers, and sort through banks
based on feedback posted by other members of the community. The company is
privately held with offices in San Francisco and Montreal. www.smarthippo.com

Financial Start-ups Form ‘Coalition for New Credit Models’

Washington, D.C. – October 20, 2009 Amid historic regulatory reforms being considered by the new administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the Coalition for New Credit Models announced its formal launch today as its representatives descended upon Washington. The Coalition is made up of non-profit, for-profit, and social enterprises using new technologies, products and business models to provide credit and information to millions of consumers and small and midsized businesses. These models serve as innovative alternatives to existing banking and financial institutions and are backed by venture and social capital to stimulate the economy, shore up financial markets, and enhance local communities. They have a special focus on bringing transparency, fairness, durability, and accountability to consumers and to our credit markets.

Chris Larsen, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Prosper, America’s largest peer-to-peer lending marketplace, said, “This country has been in an energy crisis for years and we are now in a financial crisis. America’s economic future depends on new and alternative credit models being embraced in the same way green technologies are being nurtured by policy leaders to help solve the energy crisis. We are at risk of being suffocated by rigid regulations that threaten rather than embrace new technologies and models.”

The current regulatory environment has stifled many entrepreneurs in this nascent industry, and it is clearly time for new policies and fresh thinking from lawmakers and regulators. At a time when the credit crisis and recession have adversely affected consumers, families, small and mid-market businesses, Coalition members have created alternatives and innovations that will make the country less dependent on any single point of failure, or institutions that are too big or too interconnected to fail.

James Gutierrez, Chief Executive Officer of Progreso Financiero, said, "Without new innovators providing better options, millions of Americans will be left out, far away from the American Dream and stuck with predatory choices, simply because they lack established credit history. We believe government can do more to provide greater access and financial inclusion to all consumers, especially the underbanked, and help cultivate new models that do so on responsible terms."

Nicolas Perkin, President of The Receivables Exchange, said, “Now more than ever, America’s businesses should have unfettered access to alternative and reliable sources of capital to meet their business financing needs. As the economy regains momentum and technology continues to accelerate the pace at which business is conducted around the world, only innovation and an uncompromised focus on transparency and responsible financing models will drive sustainable growth and prevent businesses from being reliant on a single source of funding, and thereby exposed to unnecessary risk.”

The Coalition for New Credit Models recommends that Congress and the administration:

1. Adopt legislation classifying person-to-person lending as a consumer banking service, not a securities offering.

2. Create a liquidity fund to provide capital for companies making small consumer loans to underbanked individuals.

3. Establish a federal backstop for small and mid-sized businesses to provide access to working capital through electronic marketplaces.

4. Enable the emergence of a robust U.S.-based private company stock market to provide the exit path necessary to attract investment capital back to this country, bolstering domestic small businesses, innovation and job growth.

5. Create a Start Up Liaison at Treasury Department or within banking regulators to guide and fast-track the development of new financial products by start-up companies and organizations seeking to innovate the way consumers and businesses raise and access capital.

Background on Coalition Members:

  • Credit Karma (San Francisco, CA) is the consumer’s advocate for demystifying credit, is the only Web site that provides consumers free access to their credit score, and has a range of tools and information resources to help them monitor and manage the credit aspect of their financial health. Credit Karma’s goal is to help consumers easily digest the contents of their credit report and understand what makes up their credit score. Credit Karma works with a range of partners, including mortgage lenders, credit card providers, banks, and wireless providers.
  • Loanio, Inc. (Nanuet, NY) is an Internet-based peer-to-peer lending platform where individuals can request personal loans that are funded by other individual (or corporate) investors. Interest rates on loans are set by auction, where lenders/investors bid on loan requests that they find attractive. Through patent pending features such as Platinum Verification and Co-borrowing, Loanio’s goal is to provide access to a significantly underserved borrower market and stronger security for its lenders/investors. Loanio, Inc. suspended its business activities in November 2008 and is currently registering its securities with the SEC.
  • ProFounder (Palo Alto, CA) is a platform where entrepreneurs raise seed funding from their social network and affiliates through a legally compliant and dynamic process; and individuals invest small amounts of money in companies in exchange for ownership. ProFounder is co-founded by Jessica Jackley, Evan Reas, and Dana Mauriello. Jackley is Co-Founder and former Chief Marketing Officer of Kiva.org, the world's first peer-to-peer microloan website which has made almost $100M in loans since its inception at the end of 2005.
  • Progreso Financiero (Mountain View, CA) is the leading provider of consumer friendly loans to underbanked Hispanic families in America. Progreso has developed a proprietary credit score based on over 25,000 initial loans, and in turn, can lend money at fair rates and lower losses to families who lack FICO scores and traditional banking relationships. Progreso's mission is to help its customers build a credit history and fully realize the American Dream, and to provide ground floor innovation that helps move the underbanked up the financial services ladder. With over 100 employees and $26 million in venture capital, Progreso is rapidly expanding throughout the Southwest, and aims to serve over 1 million underbanked families with credit, debit, savings and other mainstream products by 2012.
  • Prosper (San Francisco, CA) is America’s largest peer-to-peer lending marketplace. Since its launch in February 2006, over 850,000 Americans have joined the community and $180 million in loans have been facilitated. Prosper is an auction-based platform, where borrowers set the maximum rate they’re willing to pay, and individual and institution investors bid at or below the rate set by the borrower. In October 2008, Prosper halted its marketplace and entered a quiet period as part of the process of registering with the SEC. Nine months later, in July 2009, Prosper’s registration statement with the SEC was declared effective. Notes offered by Prospectus.
  • The Receivables Exchange (New Orleans, LA) is a real-time, online competitive marketplace for accounts receivable that gives small and medium-sized businesses the ability to generate cash flow quickly and as competitively as possible. The Receivables Exchange allows businesses to sell their receivables to a global network of institutional investors and access working capital in as little as 24 hours. When you consider the typical remittance term of 48 days, or as much as 180 days, The Receivables Exchange is a welcome financial tool for small and mid-sized businesses.
  • SecondMarket (New York, NY) is the largest centralized marketplace for illiquid assets, including auction-rate securities, bankruptcy claims, collateralized debt obligations, limited partnership interests, private company stock, residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities, warrants/restricted securities in public companies, and whole loans. SecondMarket’s online trading platform has more than 4,000 participants, including global financial institutions, hedge funds, private equity firms, mutual funds, corporations and other institutional and accredited investors that collectively manage over $1 trillion in assets available for investment.

Analyzing Prosper data

Prosper has created a set of 3rd party tools that allow developers real time access to lending data on Prosper. This has allowed enthusiasts and academics to create all kinds of different ways of looking at the data. The most popular 3rd party site, LendingStats, allows you to view anyone's profile, get breakdowns of loans by state, credit grades, and group statistics. Other sites like Eric's Credit Community allow you to be notified when a lender places a bid so you can decide if you want to copy someone's movements, and lets you track "What if" profiles. Some websites have tried to quantify and graph exactly what the risk is associated with number of credit lines, number of inquiries, DTI, monthly income, and home ownership.

The fun part, for those of us who like databases, is that anyone can put all the data into a database and analyze it and graph it anyway they like. Right now only 18 months of data exist because Prosper has only been around for about 18 months. As time goes on, this data will become more detailed and much more accurate.

Theoretically, once the risk factors have been quantified for each item in a credit report, it should be possible, with a diversified portfolio, to calculate an approximate rate of return after accounting for expected defaults. Right now on the different websites you will see things like estimated ROI, Experian ROI, and EricCC ROI. Everyone uses different methods to estimate the expected return, and right now these can vary quite a bit. As more data becomes available these estimates should improve.

The current consensus based on analysis done to date is that on average HR loans return a negative rate of return after accounting for defaults. E's are slightly positive, and loans in the remaining credit grades average between 5-12% after defaults. Some people still go after the lower credit grades and try and cherry pick the better loans out of group with the hope that if they avoid too many defaults they will end up with a high rate of return.

I prefer to stick to higher credit grades with the knowledge that 5-12% is better than I can get in a CD or a savings account, and it is much more fun than buying a CD. It is a feel good investment knowing that there is a person on the other side of the loan that is being helped out by having access to needed money.

An introduction - lending through Prosper

Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for their work making small loans to poor people with big dreams. Prosper is a website that tries to extend the microcredit idea via the web to all people, including but not just limited to the very poor. It's been called the eBay of Loans by Forbes Magazine, the #1 website of the year by Time Magazine and has received plenty of other rave reviews. Prosper describes their service here:

The way Prosper works is intuitive to people who have used eBay. Instead of listing and bidding on items, people list and bid on loans using Prosper's online auction platform. People who want to lend set the minimum interest rate they are willing to earn and bid in increments of $50 to $25,000 on loan listings they select. People who lend can easily diversify using "standing orders", which automatically make many small loans to different borrowers.

Although it may seem somewhat risky, Prosper takes many more steps than eBay to prevent fraud. Everyone's identity is verified. Credit scores are checked. Those borrowing money basically go through the same rigid process required by any normal lender. Monthly payments are made by automatic withdraw from the borrowers savings account. So far Prosper has been very successful with over $67,000,000 in loans. It provides loans to people who need it at a lower interest rate than they would be able to get through a bank or credit card and provides lenders (you) a higher interest rate than they might get through a savings account, certificate of deposit, or other investment.

My brother Matt has been lending money on Prosper for nearly a year. He's careful about who he lends money to. Mostly he loans money to people with AA credit ratings. So far he's earning more than an 11% return on his money. None of his borrowers have been late with a payment. This is his lending profile.

Some people choose to lend money to people with poor and high risk ratings. Although the average interest rates can be as high as 26%, the default rates are also quite high for E and HR. Prosper reports defaults to the credit agencies and hires a collection agency, just like a normal bank or credit card company would.

With a careful investment strategy, it looks like Prosper may provide good returns with managable risk. Here are some of Matt's lessons learned from his months of studying and investing on Prosper. He has posted these on the Prosper Forums:

Its up to the lenders to read the text. I don't rely on that for the loan though. I look at verified stats, and things that the group leader can vet. Something in the listing could encourage me not to lend, but I don't think anything written in the listing could get me to fund a listing that I wouldn't fund based on the verified stats alone. I am happy with Prosper overall. (forum post - Would you stop lending if...)

No lates for me yet, but I enjoy reading these threads to see what to avoid. So far I am learning to avoid:

  • New business Ventures
  • People with high number of inquiries
  • Nurses who can't spell Nurse
  • Real Estate Ventures
  • All HRs and Es
  • People going through divorces
  • Georgia
  • Autofunding loans listed for a short time period
  • People who should be able to get more traditional financing (for something like a car purchase)
  • Anyone who has an abnormally low interest rate just because of a really nice looking photo
Anything I am missing on my list? I am sure some loans will still default for me, but just trying to learn from the collective experience out there. (forum post - The official 1 month late loan club...)

Shameless plug here. Prosper just announced a new referral program where they give $25 to both parties when you invite a friend to the program. If you decide to start up you should use this referral link to sign up so that you start of with an extra $25 in your account. Of course, I don't mind the $25 either. :) Details about the referral program.

This referral program reminds me of PayPal. They had amazing growth when they offered a free $5 to both parties when you refered a friend. That's when I signed up. It will be interesting to see how Prosper grows with this new referral program.