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LendingTree is one of the first and largest peer-to-peer online lending exchanges, first established in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1998. Its purpose is to bring borrowers and multiple lenders together so that they can agree on arrangements for personal and business loans, auto loans, student loans, and new and refinanced mortgages.

LendingTree.com also offers personal finance services and tools, such as providing information about credit cards and credit scores. LendingTree is an alternative way to borrow, because the loans originate from individual investors and small companies, as well as from traditional lenders like banks.

Borrowers benefit by the competition among different lenders that can result in lower interest rates and access to loans even when banks have declined your loan application.

LendingTree is strictly a matchmaker — it arranges introductions between lenders and borrowers, and collects fees for its service, but does not itself offer loans or credit. It has handled millions of inquires since its inception.

Application process

The loan process is fairly standard, although the information you enter varies with the type of loan you request. For example, if you apply for a personal loan — that is, a loan that is not backed by collateral such as your home or car — you’ll first be asked the purpose of the loan, anything from debt consolidation to vacations, major purchases or wedding expenses.

You then specify a loan amount, from $1,000 to $35,000, and your estimated credit rating (excellent, good, fair, or poor). Next it will ask you about your employment and pre-tax income, your address and type of residence, and personal identification information, include email address and the last four digits of your Social Security Number.

LendingTree only offers to provide you with your actual credit score after you finish the application. It asks a series of questions to confirm your identify first. It then shows you all the offers available for the loan amount you requested, including the lenders’ name, the amount, the APR, the number of years to repay, the monthly estimated payments and a phone number to call.

You can ask for additional detail or immediately apply for one of the offers, in which case you will have to enter additional information. All during the application process, LendingTree will send you emails telling you your status. You can easily complete the entire procedure in 15 to 30 minutes.

Be aware that your credit history will be pulled one or more times during the process. In most cases, multiple inquires count as a single one during a 30-day period. An excessive number of credit inquiries can lower your credit score.

LendingTree also has a LoanExplorer page that displays current quotes base on several parameters you can enter without identifying yourself. We found that LoanExplorer seems to be customized to mortgage loans only.

Lending terms

Lending terms vary considerably, depending on your credit score, income, type and amount of loan and other considerations. Typically, loans have a length of three years or longer. We saw advertised 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages starting at 2.97 percent APRs, but your APR could go as high as 29.9 percent. Some states might not permit LendingTree-arranged loans. LendingTree’s website points out that you can search for loans without first giving information (through its LoanExplorer), that there are no commitments and that the quotes are personalized.

Loan funding

We found a range of loan funding sources, from banks to mortgage lending companies to bids from unknown lenders that may be small companies, partnerships or even individuals.

When the lender is an unknown entity, you don’t know about its long-term viability. On the other hand, do you really care? You shouldn’t be affected if you secure a loan from a lender that subsequently goes bankrupt — the loan will transfer elsewhere, but your terms are not altered.

As far as the viability of LendingTree, it has withstood the test of time, but not always profitably. During the third quarter of 2015 revenue of $115 million was up 104 percent higher from a year ago, with loan originations up 92 percent. Profits were $1 million, compared to a $7.4 million loss during the same quarter a year ago and a $4.1 million loss in the second quarter of 2015.

Consumer complaints and reviews

LendingTree has been a Better Business Bureau accredited business since 1998, and as of December, 2015, had a rating of A+. Out of 356 BBB closed complaints in the previous three years, 204 stemmed from advertising/sales issues and 148 were attributed to service problems. Of course, these numbers represent a very small percentage of LendingTree’s transactions. Out of 23 BBB customer reviews, 17 were negative. Bear in mind that disgruntled consumers are the most likely to leave reviews.

Anecdotal evidence from a number of forums points to unwanted spam and persistent phone calls from potential lenders as the biggest concerns. Note that the calls are not from LendingTree itself, but directly from its funding sources. Nevertheless, it could be held as a negative against LendingTree that it apparently does not police or restrict the marketing behavior of its lenders.

Some consumers felt that their credit reports subjected to too many inquiries from the lenders, and thought that LendingTree should instead perform one set of inquiries and then disseminate this information to potential lenders. Other reviews included satisfied consumers who said they were more or less happy with the services provided by LendingTree.

By agreeing to LendingTree’s terms of service, you agree to submit to binding arbitration to settle any disputes with LendingTree. In general, LendingTree accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the lenders and advertisements on its websites – consumers are using the site “as is.”

Is LendingTree a good choice?

In all fairness, LendingTree has been able to survive for almost 20 years with a minimum of controversy. If you are looking for one-stop shopping for loans or credit and have a decent or better credit score, LendingTree appears to be a convenient way to receive multiple bids from lenders.

It may be easier to get a personal loan or other type of credit from LendingTree than it is from a bank, but you’ll expect to pay a higher APR for this greater acceptance rate. LendingTree fees will cost you money one way or another, and you may feel harassed by lender spam.

In the end, LendingTree is a useful service that allows you to conveniently compare rates from competing lenders, thereby boosting your chances of finding the best possible deal for your situation.

Compare rates and terms offered by multiple, vetted lenders at Credible.com.

Eric Bank writes about small business, personal finance and science. He holds a master’s of science in finance from DePaul University and an MBA from New York University.