Though payday loans may be convenient, they can be dangerous.
With annual percentage rates ranging from 200% to 675%, a missed payment can quickly become a debt free-fall you can't escape from.
Even if you do keep an eye on your payments, not all payday lenders are honest, and the smallest keystroke from a malicious payday lender can destroy your credit and deal damage to your financial reputation that will take years to repair.
LendUp provides a better alternative.
What is LendUp Financial?
LendUp Financial's mission is to " … provide anyone with a path to better financial health."
According to the company's About page, over 47% of Americans could not cover an emergency expense of more than $400 without borrowing money or selling some of their belongings.
On top of that, over half the country has a FICO score below 680—too low to qualify for credit at most banks.
As LendUp states, "[people] continue to get by—but they never get ahead."
LendUp provides its customers with an alternative to payday loans that carries much less risk.
They promise no rollovers and no debt traps, and customers work with the company to set the terms of the loan before agreeing to anything.
LendUp is a startup based out of San Francisco, founded by graduates of Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup accelerator, relying on venture capital to get its start, as a result.
LendUp did well and received $14 million in its first round of funding.
Since then, the company has gone on to help hundreds of people with low-interest short term loans.
LendUp's innovative approach to payday lending keeps those in financial difficulty out of the muck while giving them the funding they need to make ends meet.
How does LendUp Financial work?
LendUp allows customers to borrow up to $250 for 30 days.
Given that it is an alternative to payday loans, the repayment times is short.
LendUp isn't meant to become a financial crutch, but rather a way to make ends meet during the hard times while simultaneously rebuilding and repairing damage to credit.
Customers aren't required to have good credit, and they receive an instant decision on whether their loan is approved or not.
The most notable aspect of LendUp Financial is the LendUp ladder.
The company believes that the current payday loan system is broken; customers who pay on time, every time are treated exactly the same as those that struggle to meet their due date.
There are four levels of the LendUp ladder, but not all levels are available in every state.
- Silver ranked members can borrow up to $250 on a single payment loan.
- Gold ranked members can borrow up to $250 on a single payment loan or $200 on an installment loan.
- Platinum ranked members can borrow up to $250 on a single payment loan or up to $500 on an installment loan with optional credit reporting.
- Prime ranked members can borrow up to $250 on a single payment loan, up to $500 on an installment loan with optional credit reporting, or up to $1,000 on a prime loan with automatic credit reporting and an APR below 36%.
Customers increase in rank by earning points.
Points can be obtained by paying a loan back on time, taking the free education courses offered by LendUp, by referring friends to LendUp, and by sharing your story.
There are also other ways of obtaining points, like completing all of the education courses and taking out more loans.
What services are offered by LendUp Financial?
LendUp Financial offers four main services: personal installment loans, short term loans, the L Card, and educational services.
Personal Installment Loans
An installment loan is a type of loan that is repaid over a set amount of time, from as little as a few months to thirty or more years. What sets personal installment loans apart from other types, such as mortgages, is that these loans tend to have much shorter repayment periods and lower lend amounts.
Short Term Loans
A short term loan, by definition, must be repaid in less than a year. Like personal installment loans, short term loans tend to have lower lend amounts due to the rapid maturation date.
The L Card is designed for people who are new to credit or have poor credit ratings. The card helps them rebuild their credit over time, including walking cardholders through the educational aspects of credit. If all payments are made on time for the first six months, the spending limit is increased, sometimes by more than double. The card has a $36 annual fee, but requires no security deposit and has a 19.99% APR. The card is available on a limited basis; interested parties must first applyand then be approved until it has exited its Beta program.
LendUp offers numerous educational ‘classes.' Each completed class grants 125 points, and finishing the first six gives a 250 point bonus. These points can be used to climb the rungs on the LendUp Ladder. Courses range from "Credit Building Unveiled," "Know Your Credit Rights," and "The True Cost of Credit" to more advanced topics like "Beating the Card Risk" and "Building Your Financial Future."
How much does LendUp lend up to?
First-time customers at LendUp can borrow as much as $250, but continued use of the service opens up higher loan amounts and lower interest rates.
The highest loan amount possible is $1,000 via a Prime Loan, but it sets itself apart with an interest rate under 36% APR.
Prime Loans are not immediately available to new customers.
Since Prime Loans are the highest loan possible, customers have to continue to use LendUp's service and rise through the ranks before these loans become available.
What are the loan terms of the services offered by LendUp Financial?
LendUp's terms are designed to make it easier for borrowers to repay their loans, but are still strict enough that missed payments can cause financial difficulties.
For example, residents of California who borrow $100 for a length of 14 days has a fee of $12.80, which makes the total repayment amount $112.80.
LendUp's deferred deposit transaction fee won't be higher than 15% of the amount the customer must repay.
If a customer makes a payment, but has insufficient funds in their account, LendUp charges an additional $15 penalty fee.
The specific terms that apply will depend on your state of residence.
However, on their Rates and Notices page, LendUp offers users the ability to view the terms they will be working with based on where they live.
Just select your state from the drop-down box on the right side of the page.
Users must also agree to the company's Terms and Services, which include consenting to potentially be contacted via telephone, email, or postal mail.
What are the interest rates?
Payday and short term loans are traditionally known for their over-the-top interest rates.
These rates are charged due to the short length of the loans, but also the high-risk nature; someone borrowing a short-term loan may be in financial difficulty and unable to repay it.
With LendUp, the shorter the length of the loan, the higher the interest rate.
For example, $100 borrowed for 30 days will have an APR of 185.50%, resulting in an additional fee of $15.
Borrowed for only 15 days, that APR jumps to 255.50% with a fee of $10.50.
LendUp's loan calculator can help you determine exactly how much interest you will be paying before you commit to the loan.
The L Card, on the other hand, has a purchase APR of 19.99% and a cash advance rate of 29.99%. It also has a penalty APR of 29.99%.
How does the BBB rate LendUp Financial?
The San Francisco-based branch of LendUp has a 1.37 out of 5 rating from the Better Business Bureau, with 72% negative and 28% positive ratings from users.
The disclaimer states that this rating is due to 66 complaints filed against the business, as well as failing to respond to 5 of those complaints.
It's letter rating is an F. LendUp does not have BBB accreditation.
How to use LendUp Financial's Services?
To apply to LendUp, you'll need to submit your address, income amount, social security number, and checking account to the website through one of its secure forms.
Residents of certain states may need to submit documents to verify their income; in those cases, the documents would be uploaded to the site.
The site boasts that the application process takes only five minutes.
From the "Get Started" button, you are asked to enter a valid email address, password, and to acknowledge that you accept the terms and ladder agreement.
This first step creates your account and once you've completed it, you will receive a verification code via your phone or your email that must be entered.
To apply for the L Card, you must visit the L Card Page and apply or, if you received an offer via mail, enter the 12-digit code.
The eligibility requirements are low, beginning with no minimum credit score requirement, since LendUp is designed to help people who may not qualify for traditional loans.
You must be 18 years of age and a legal resident of the United States.
LendUp is only available in 32 states.
The District of Columbia has also banned payday loans.
Each of the 32 states that do permit payday loans has its own standards that lenders must follow.
If you live in one of the states that prohibits payday loans, the LendUp is not available to you, but the company is striving to establish a presence in every state it can.
How user friendly is LendUp Financial?
The website and application process is user-friendly and intuitive.
However, it can be difficult to find information about some of the company's services; for example, the LendUp Ladder offers points to help increase in rank, but finding out what the point requirements are is nigh-impossible.
We reached out to LendUp for more information, but our questions went unanswered or we were directed to the website for more information.
It felt like the customer service agents weren't reading the questions, but only responding with form letters.
Curiously, all of their names started with the letter "D"—which led us to wonder if the answer was automatically generated, with the name serving as a placeholder.
How is the customer service?
As stated above, our personal experience with customer service leaves something to be desired, but it's possible LendUp treats actual customers differently.
Online reviews are a mixed bag; some customers talk about how great the service is, while others say their first experience was great, but the second was not—or vice versa.
Is LendUp Financial safe and legitimate to use?
LendUp's entire site operates under HTTPS, a more secure form of HTTP that is typically only used when entering sensitive information.
The fact that LendUp takes the extra step to encrypt their entire site says a lot about their security, but declaring the site safe to use takes a bit more than that.
First, take a look at the information LendUp collects: personal information that is voluntarily entered, and usage information that is automatically generated.
The usage information is more or less harmless; it's used to determine site metrics and figure out what pages people spend the most time on.
The personal information that is collected includes your name, address, phone number, email address, social security number, date of birth, employment status, income, and bank account and routing numbers.
However, you also authorize certain rights you might not expect.
On their Privacy page, it reads:
COLLECTION AND USE OF BANK ACCOUNT INFORMATION:
As part of our application process, we require banking information. In processing your application, we may detect additional bank accounts under your ownership. We will consider these additional accounts to be part of the application process. By applying, you authorize us to search for and evaluate bank accounts under your ownership for this purpose.
While it isn't likely someone applying for a payday loan would have hidden bank accounts full of cash, you might have secondary accounts for paying specific bills, for a struggling business, etc.
Even if the amount contained within these accounts is minuscule, you give LendUp permission to examine them for use in their decision.
On the other hand, turning over all of this information isn't necessarily a bad thing.
LendUp uses this information to verify that the person creating the account is actually you, and not someone attempting to steal your identity.
With identity theft increasing each year, more websites are taking steps to be proactive in preventing it.
LendUp doesn't store payment information or related data at their offices:
"Instead of storing payment information on company systems, LendUp stores this information in PCI DSS Level 1 certified secure data centers located only in the United States. This information is protected by physical, electronic and procedural safeguards in compliance with applicable US federal and state regulations. Our data is stored in a physically protected environment. Physical access is strictly controlled."
By securing both online and physical access, LendUp makes it extremely difficult for anyone to steal your data.
The company also makes it clear they do not sell your personal information to third parties.
It's clear that LendUp has made its services as safe to use as possible, which helps believe in their legitimacy.
That said, take a look at what else the company does.
By setting itself apart from other payday lenders with strict repayment schedules and low loan amounts, LendUp actually does help.
There are numerous reviews from satisfied customers about how they managed to rebuild their credit score from the ground up.
However, you should be aware that the company recent experienced a large controversy.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered LendUp to pay more than $3.6 million in fines for allegedly misleading customers in its advertisements. There is more on this below.
LendUp's Strengths & Weaknesses
LendUp has quite a few things going for it that make it a solid choice for someone needing a short term loan.
- LendUp is the first lender whose loans appear on your credit report and the payments count toward your credit score—a great feature, especially if you're trying to rebuild your credit score.
- LendUp offers competitive rates and fees that won't drown you in repayment penalties.
- The reward system allows you to borrow more at a lower interest rate in the future.
- LendUp provides you with a decision about loan approval immediately.
There are several glaring downsides to the company's services.
- LendUp is not available in all states.
- The company is not BBB accredited.
- LendUp has a limited maximum loan amount for a first time client is $250.
- There is no chat option available to speak to representatives.
These are some of the questions that come up most frequently with regard to LendUp.
- Is it easy to get a loan from LendUp?
LendUp caters to individuals in dire financial straights. This means that the barrier to entry is extremely low. All it takes to get a loan is to sign up and go through the application process. If you apply before 5 PM PST on a weekday and are approved, the funds will be transferred into your account within one business day.
- Is LendUp Financial trustworthy?
LendUp Financial has hundreds of satisfied customers who have higher credit scores as a result of the service. That said, the controversy surrounding false advertisements and a number of complaints from customers show that there are problems. While the company is trustworthy most of the time (and they do work to correct mistakes they make), you should be wary.
- What can I use my loan toward?
LendUp is a payday loan lender. This means that they lend you roughly as much as or less than the amount you would receive from a paycheck. While you could use this amount toward whatever you want, if you need your paycheck ahead of time, it's likely because there are insufficient funds in your account to meet pressing needs.
- Can I refinance my LendUp financial loan?
You cannot refinance your LendUp loan, but you can use a LendUp loan to pay off other short-term debt. It's important not to rely on this, however; you're trading off one debt for another with potentially higher interest rates. While it can be a valid option in emergencies, it's better to pay off the debt as soon as possible.
- Will I get multiple calls or emails after signing up with LendUp Financial?
After you sign up for LendUp financial, you'll receive several emails to complete the sign-up process. However, the company does not reach out frequently and does not spam you with calls and emails. While there are some instances of customers experiencing this, it isn't common.
- Does LendUp Financial run or affect my credit score?
LendUp does not perform a hard inquiry when you apply for a loan, and late payments on single payment loans will not affect your credit score in any way. However, the service is designed to help people build and repair their credit, so it can affect your score that way. Certain loans offered by LendUp Financial report to the three major credit bureaus.
- Can LendUp garnish my wage if I am unable to pay?
LendUp offers multiple repayment options, including automatic debit, MoneyGram, and via check. If you're unable to pay your loan on time, you can request an extension or set up a payment plan. The company's goal is to be flexible in helping those in financial need. If you're still unable to pay, the company provides a contact number to call so you can discuss possible options.
- What are the most common complaints about LendUp Financial?
The most common complaint we found from customers was about the customer service. Multiple people complained that the representatives did not listen to them or gave them half-answers; for instance, one man commented that he wanted his personal information removed after he signed up and was denied a loan. LendUp refused to remove it because of ‘audit' purposes. Another frequent complaint concerned delays in payment; in some instances, the payment wouldn't show up in the customer's bank accounts for several days to a week.
- Should I use LendUp to build my credit?
LendUp's target demographic are those with financial difficulties, but if you are in a well-paying job and have poor credit, their services could help you, too. If you approach LendUp as a way to increase your credit and avoid using the money for frivolous reasons, it can be a tremendously useful tool. If you're a student or someone with poor credit, LendUp can improve your score.
It's difficult to increase your credit without a credit card, but those without credit cannot get a credit card. LendUp provides a way around this paradox.
In 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered LendUp to pay $3.6 million in penalties and refunds over allegations that the company mislead consumers.
The company advertised its services as available nationwide, but the truth is that some or all of these services were unavailable to customers in certain locations.
For example, anyone living in any of the 18 states that ban payday loans will be unable to use LendUp's services.
As part of the penalty, LendUp must refund $1.83 million to more than 50,000 customers and pay $1.8 million in penalties to the CFPB.
In addition, LendUp was required to change the wording on their website to reflect the true availability of their services.
This has already been completed, but some of the refunds may still be pending.
While the controversy may cause you to think twice about using the service, the company's willingness to comply helps restore customer trust.
It's entirely possible that the advertisements were a mistake; LendUp is, after all, a startup.
To LendUp or not to LendUp?
That is the question, isn't it?
Payday loans are best avoided whenever possible.
Work on your budget, reduce your expenses, and do what it takes to get your finances under control.
However, if a situation does arise where you need a payday loan, LendUp is a better alternative than many of the shady brick-and-mortar lenders you'll find.
The company has a proven track record of helping customers, and the educational resources can help you learn how to make smarter financial decisions in the future.
Do your best to budget properly, set aside money for emergencies, and work on eliminating your debt.
But if a time does arise when you need money fast, LendUp is a solid option in a world of underhanded lenders.