Prosper: Investing on YOUR Terms

Note: I've received many questions about Prosper, but I've never used it. Here's a post from Frykitty, the very very quiet second author at Get Rich Slowly. She recently set up a Prosper account and has written to share her experience.

Last December I discovered Prosper, a site that connects private lenders and borrowers, and manages the resulting loans. Because I'm not a fan of the stock market, this looked like a perfect opportunity to invest on my terms, to help individuals with faces and stories, rather than contribute to the bottom-line culture. I decided to start the new year by testing Prosper with a set amount of funds to see how it performed.

Borrowers sign up on Prosper, then post a request for a loan and the maximum amount they're willing to pay in interest. Lenders then bid to fund all or part of that loan, at an interest rate of their choosing. You win a bid by coming in at a lower interest rate than your competitors.

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Your money or your life review

Every year I try to review the steps in Your Money or Your Life to see how we're doing. It's been about two years since my last review, but much to my delight, I found we are following most of the steps well, and I just needed to update some numbers.

Step 1: Making Peace With The Past

Determine your total lifetime earnings

The book was written before the Social Security Administration started sending out statements. If you have earned income all your life through regular jobs, this is extremely handy. I needed the numbers from my last review in 2004, Social Security statements, and our last tax return. The combined number for me and the Spousal Unit: $865,872.

Determine your net worth

So what do we have to show for all that moolah? Often, this is a depressing part of the assessment. Until recently, I came up in the negative, which is fairly common. For the last review, my net worth was a whopping $2,869. So. Add up assets: I include anything in the house that I could sell for cash, all bank accounts, current market value on the house, investments, etc. $316,183. Now for liabilities: the balance on the house, any other loans or credit card balances, and a tax debt from being a goob last year: $231,690. Net worth: $84,473. Hey! That's not entirely bad. I can tell you this: most of that increase is because we stopped throwing money away on rent and bought a house.

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Start Late, Finish Rich

Just finished David Bach's Start Late, Finish Rich. At 42, I thought it would be a good intro to Bach's many treatises on personal finance. I'll come right out and say I highly recommend this book. It was full of great information, and took an optimistic, yet realistic tone. I'll try to touch on some key points.

Yes, because you started late, you are going to have to work twice as hard to put away some cash for later, but there are ways to make it less painful. Look at your every day expenditures. Is there something simple you can do without? He calls this the "Latte Factor", because so many of us spend a few bucks a day on fancy coffee. My personal Latte Factor is buying lunch and snacks, instead of bringing them from home. I can spend up to $12 a day on soda, breakfast, lunch, etc. I've cut that down to once or twice a week, and it's making a big difference. Not to mention the fact that my own meals are more healthy and delicious than anything I can buy.

Credit cards: it's the interest. Bach gives instructions on how you can call your credit card company and get them to lower yours, or how to transfer your balance to a card with a no-interest introductory offer, and make a big dent in the debt before fees and interest kick in. That last idea is a particular winner. Imagine you have $3000 credit card debt, at 18% interest. Your minimum payment is $50/month (always pay more than the minimum! But for this exercise, we'll stick to it). At the end of the year, your debt is $2940. Yes, you've just been paying interest. On the other hand, if you transfer to a card that offers no interest for a year (and don't forget to cancel that first card!), and make those same $50, at the end of the year your debt is reduced by an additional $540. Maybe it's time to take a closer look at those ubiquitous credit card offers.

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