How To Invest $500 in P2P Lending

I always talk about the importance of diversification and that investors need at least $2,500 and preferably $5,000 to be well diversified. But what if someone just doesn’t have that kind of money to invest? Should they even consider p2p lending?

While $500 is only enough to invest in 20 different loans I think it is acceptable to start here if that is all an investor can afford. But I think a conservative investment strategy is in order.

Invest in the Lowest Risk Loans

With only 20 notes you want to avoid defaults at all costs. If you get one default immediately you will have lost 5% of your original investment. That is very tough to recover from.

So, I would focus on the very lowest risk loans, which means A-grade loans at Lending Club or AA-grade loans at Prosper. While you won’t be able to earn double digit returns with this kind of investment you will reduce your possibility of defaults greatly. And if you are only investing $500 that should be your goal.

Take a look at this graphic below (click on the image to view it in full size). This is from Nickel Steamroller and it shows the returns on completed 3-year loans for all loan grades from 2007 through July 2010 at Lending Club. Take a look at the two numbers inside the red circles. A-grade loans earned 5.39% for investors, not a bad return. But the second column is even more important for a less diversified investor. The default rate on those loans was only 2.481%.

Lending Club Nickel Steamroller Completed Loans

Now, if I was making this investment I wouldn’t choose just any A-grade loan, I would apply some filters here to further reduce the likelihood of defaults. Let’s just take some simple filters anyone can use and apply it to this same batch of loans:

  1. Inquiries = 0
  2. Income >= $7,500 per month
  3. Loan type: credit card, debt consolidation

If we run the same query with those three filters applied then you can see how the estimated ROI increases but more importantly in this case the default rate drops dramatically to 0.482%. Now, I should point out that the sample size here is pretty small – we are only looking at 113 A-grade loans from this period. But if you take a larger sample size by selecting a more recent time period you will see a similar trend. My point is that with some prudent filtering you can reduce your chance of defaults even with A-grade loans.

Lending Club Nickel Steamroller Filtered Loans

I truly believe that everyone should have a p2p lending investment account. Even if an investor only has $500 to invest they can get started. Then as they add to their account they can slowly expand their horizons beyond A-grade loans into some of the lower grades. But I think it would be unwise to do that until they have significantly more invested.

What do you think? I would love to hear some other opinions. If you only had $500 to invest what would you do?

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Sep. 19, 2013 7:30 pm

It is funny that you wrote this post because I myself started with $500 to test the waters. I’ve since added thousands to my account and am diversified into hundreds of notes. The notes I bought during my first $500 investment are mostly gone now either from being fully paid or selling them in the secondary market to reinvest them in lower grade notes. From what I remember I bought 18 A grade loans, 1 B and 1C . My thinking was similar to your logic – reduce the potential for defaults. I would give a similar recommendation to small investors to stick with A grade notes, especially the ones with the least amount of default risk!

Sep. 19, 2013 9:58 pm

I started this way myself. Three years ago I started building my account with Lending Club with only 300 dollars invested and I was investing only in A or B grade notes. Today my account is almost 19,000 and I invest in F and G notes, since I am very greatly diversified (some 960 notes in total). To keep high diversification I strictly invest $25 per note, never more. Works like a charm!

Neal S
Neal S
Sep. 20, 2013 12:13 am

it’s tempting to look at the very low default rates and conclude that the $500 investor is unlikely to experience any defaults. Statistically, it’s not so.

Without the filters, there were 144 defaults out of 2847 loans or 5.06%. The chance of having at least one default in a portfolio of 20 is 1 – (1 – 5.06%)^^20 or 64.5%.

With the filters, there were 2 defaults out of 113 loans, and the chance of at least one default in the portfolio is 30%.

So, the strategy presented is excellent, but new P2P investors should not be surprised if they do experience a default. Anyone who is going to be upset by defaults should not be a P2P investor.

Simon Cunningham
Sep. 20, 2013 2:07 pm

Dang. Nice article idea Peter. If a newbie like my brother wanted to try his p2p hand with $500, would you suggest he start with Lending Club or Prosper? I’m tempted to say LC for the long-term stability, but Prosper for the friendlier interface and hover-over definitions.

Sep. 26, 2013 12:12 pm

There is another way to get more then 20 notes with $500, after funding your Prosper or LC account, purchase small valued (<$25) notes on FolioFn, the secondary market.

Oct. 1, 2013 9:23 pm

Great article Peter, as usual:)
I started w/$50. only, approx 4-5 years ago, and am now in the tens of thousands $, w/thousands of notes.
Very time consuming, but am adding funds as needed, and am mixing mostly B, C,D’s and some E’s w/ $25. each allocation, which take a LOT of time.
The returns have been in the 10-11% range for one of the older portfolios, w/other newer approx.1 yr, riskier portfolio of approx. 15%…which I know will keep decreasing due to defaults, and inability to find notes on the platform of LC.
Have not been too successful to sell notes at face, or premium, at all, and have some sold at deep discounts on LC, as Prosper doesn’t let one sell any late notes. Thus have closed my Prosper account.
Keep up the great journalism, and information. Looking forward to new ideas, and investments all the time. Thank you again.

Oct. 4, 2013 10:59 pm
Reply to  Peter Renton

The only catch is that I sell notes…for a fraction of their worth if late. Some have come back, making the person’s who pick up my notes at a discount some money.
I am prepared to cut my losses, even if I get a portion of my investment.
Thought about $50’s, but then I still would be getting less for my resells, reducing my returns I guess…
I still can’t believe that this P2P lending really works, but, evidenced by my very positive experiences, it really does….now I’m busy adding larger funds weekly to invest:)
By the way Peter, I always give credit when and where due, and you certainly have had a positive impact on me, along w/a few others, indirectly w/your support and exposure of the P2P field.

Oct. 4, 2013 7:04 pm

I’m an investor of 10 month at Prosper and around 5 months for Lending Club, and I started small. I invested $300 in each account. So far, no defaults yet. I do have one note that keeps on paying at least 10 days late. Earns me more interest, but I sure do hope he won’t default. Enjoying my experience investing. Just last week, I had an excellent experience borrowing from Prosper, too. I could share that with your blog, too. I’m excited about the investment possibilities with P2P lending.

Feb. 16, 2016 9:47 pm

Is p2p lending a better investment than an ETF at this low of a budget? I believe the returns are similar maybe slightly less for an ETF but it seems the risk of p2p is substantially higher even with filters.

Apr. 13, 2016 10:57 am

Hi Peter,

I will give the p2p lending a shot, I will keep you posted on my experiences


Feb. 27, 2020 7:47 am

Great article!
What do you think about Credible vs lending club? I am new to p2p investing and deciding between the two. Any insights would be helpful.

Sep. 26, 2020 3:59 pm
Reply to  Sneha

I don’t know for sure. I have used LC for 5 years with small investments. I have made $600 on a $1100 investment or around 10% on 202 loans with 8 going into default. None of my class A borrowers have defaulted. Most defaulted loans paid back the principle I invested. LC aggressively goes after defaulted borrower, and I receive settlements from time to time. The class A loans often pay back early. This is a good thing. An early pay back increases my profits I manually invest which is an enjoyable hobby for me, but some may find it too time-consuming. I researched how to invest in LC before I invested by reading the internet. I filtered all the available loans with the advice I found. The only filter that doesn’t work well is the review status. Don’t use this filter. Most income/information is verified later by LC. The borrowers are higher income individuals with poor money management skills. They can pay, but don’t always pay the LC loan on time which increases later fees paid to you. This is a good thing, but is frightening to see when I look at my investment notes. I don’t use the state filter either, but if you hate a certain state, feel free to exclude that state. The purpose of the loan filter will exclude too may loan. There aren’t enough loans on LC to use this feature. I will use it in the future if LC blows up. Use the filter system and set up an auto investing algorithm base on your loan criteria for a hands-off approach. I will invest more money over time. I love LC as an investment. The small investor gets F’ed on the site by taking too many risks. Maybe the big balls large sum investors have good luck with risky loans and can handle the higher default rates. My balls are big. I love risk, but the amount I can invest is laughable. I will consider doing auto invest too when I have a larger portfolio. The same criteria will apply there too. The loan quality has gone up over the last year, which has decrease the amount of loans available. This will be a good thing in the long run. More investors may choose to invest and give LC a good rep. Most of my loans are A. Usually pick high interest A loans. The bad: I don’t like the LC interface. I don’t like Charles Schwab’s interface either. Clunky is the best way to describe it. I think a simple Amazon like filter system would work almost as well. Or just show me the loans that I like. YouTube and Facebook feed me the same stuff that I like all the time. Cat videos are killing my feed. The anal investor would hate the reduced filter options. I don’t like that LC holds my transferred money for many business days. Bottom line: This will be a go-to investment for a lot of risk adverse investors once it hits an economy of scale and can branch out on the types of loans offered on LC. It’s big bank investing for the little guy. Why should JP Morgan rake in all the profits. This is my long term read on the company.