In Credit Crunch, Lending To Each Other

At a time when credit is hard to come by, more Americans are turning to a new source for money: each other. It's called person-to-person lending, and it's expected to rise 800 percent in the next couple of years.

Justin Brown didn't think he was being extravagant when he borrowed $4,700 to buy his motorcycle. But he already owed $5,000 on his credit card and the interest was crushing, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

He was paying 31 percent on his credit card. And now he's paying …

"Ten percent," Brown said.

That's not bad in these times of tighter credit. He found a place filled with lenders ready to give money at a good rate.

"I'm not giving them money, I'm loaning them money," said lender Alex Clemens.

But the lenders aren't bankers; they're just folks like Clemens.

"This is a simple way for Americans to figure out, 'hey, I need a couple bucks and I'd rather pay a human being the interest'," Clemens said.

Those with some money like Clemens, and those who need some like Brown, are now able to get together on Web sites like LendingClub.com and Prosper.com.

Since CBS News first reported on Prosper.com a year ago the credit crisis has made person-to-person lending take off, nearly tripling Prosper's customers to 630,000.

"The people that really used to have options everywhere," said Chris Larsen, Prosper.com's CEO. "They could get a home-equity loan, they could get zero percent on their credit cards. And that's really changed."

Those options are off the table. So we're seeing those people turn to other Americans.

Other Americans who see person-to-person lending as a haven away from the chaos created by the experts on Wall Street.

"It's certainly more interesting than playing the stock market," said Clemens. "And slightly less heart-wrenching as the Dow goes up and the Dow goes down and the NASDAQ goes sideways."

And while big financial institutions have been losing billions, even going under, Clemens says so far his person to person loans have been paying off nicely.

"This is a democratization of the finance market," Clemens said.

What appeals to lenders and borrowers both is cutting out the big banks. You're essentially cutting out the middle man.

"Yeah, exactly," Brown said. "And I think that's why you can get better rates. You know, there's less red tape, less bureaucracy."

Beating the financial giants at their own game. Now that's…priceless.
  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.

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