Banks Say No? Online Lender Says Yes!

Lara Miller, a 27-year old fashion designer, started with a dream to "be another great American designer," she tells CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.

Miller set up business in a Chicago apartment. But after borrowing from her family, friends and credit cards, she ran into a cash squeeze.

"I'm very young. I don't own anything. I have no collateral," Miller explains. As a result the bank said "absolutely not. There's no way."

Then Miller heard about a new online lending venture called Prosper.com that allows almost anyone to become a borrower or lender.

"It was amazing. I posted the loan," Miller explains. And, almost as soon as she posted her pitch asking for $3,000, she had 8 bids. "I had already started to get funded," Miller says.

"What we always thought was, how can we create an eBay for money," says Chris Larsen, founder of the San Francisco-based Prosper.

Larsen says the company runs fraud and credit checks on everyone. If you pass, with as little as $50 investment, you can become a "member."

"And so far those members have lent out over $34 million," Larsen says.

They've lent money to borrowers like an Atlanta couple trying to refinance their mortgage, to a Colorado mother looking for a tuition loan, to an Illinois woman trying to fund her cancer fight.

By linking small lenders and borrowers, Prosper is filling a void, helping people like Miller caught in a credit gap.

"When I read the story, I said, 'Wow, I can't believe that. I'll lend to her,'" says John Verrilli, a police officer from Staten Island, N.Y.

He's loaned out $1,400 so far, spreading his risk in small amounts like the $100 he loaned to Miller. And then he did something a banker would never do.

"I sent her a message saying good luck, and I hope when you make it big like Donna Karan or Martha Stewart, you can send an autographed picture or something," Verrilli says.

"You're not going to get some computer at a bank going, 'Wow, I really like your clothes," Miller says.

Miller just went back to Prosper for another loan to expand her Web site.

"Hey, it went down to 11.25. Ahhh!," she says.

That's the sound of her interest rate dropping, as lenders bid on her loan. Rates vary with each loan.

"I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing now if it wasn't for Prosper," Miller says.

The banks wouldn't touch her, but for Miller, borrowing online has become a lifeline.

MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved
  • Melissa McNamara

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