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It’s a Brave New World: A Comprehensive Upstart Review

Published By Faith Stewart at April 18th, 2019

How Artificial Intelligence and Alternative Data are Changing the Face of Lending

For ages on end financing has been extended to borrowers based on their perceived risk.  This risk is determined based on an ancient secret formula. It combines the special ingredients of financial information and credit score in a way even those who use it do not understand. The secret recipe was locked away a zillion years ago, and the key has been lost. It is running on autopilot and the fate of every borrower trying to get financing with a traditional financial institution is at its mercy.   This Upstart review will show you how one lender is breaking away from this antiquated format and opening up a brave new world for lenders and borrowers. 

What is Upstart?

Upstart is an innovative online lender.  They question the ability of financial information and FICO alone to truly determine the risk associated with a particular borrower.  Instead they use a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning to gather alternative data. They then use this data to aid credit decisions.

Alternative data can include such things as mobile phone bills, rent, deposits, withdrawals, and even other information less directly tied to finances.  The company’s software learns and improves on its own. Not only do they use this software to lend directly to borrowers, but they also provide traditional lenders with the software service calling it “Powered by Upstart.” 

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Brave and New

This innovative new way of determining fundability is a trip through previously uncharted waters.  As such, there is no real precedent for oversite.  Upstart has worked with regulators from the beginning to ensure they play by all the rules. 

Compliance was a good move, because during our Upstart review we discovered that they were the first company to receive a “no action” letter from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB.  It basically says that the CFPB has no intent of taking action against them, as they want to see how this plays out.  They know it could potentially be a better way, but they also know they need to keep a close eye on things. 

They letter says that Upstart must consistently report lending and compliance information to the Bureau to reduce risk.  The goal is for the bureau to try to understand the real-world impact of alternative data use in lending decision making.

What Kind of Lending Information are They Required to Report?

Upstart will share information with the CFPB about:

  • Loan applications received
  • The decision approval process
  • How their model reduces risk to consumers
  • How the model expands access to credit for traditionally underserved populations
  • Application of management systems for compliance

What’s So New?

Not many people know it, but you can already ask landlords and utilities to report payments to the credit agencies to boost your credit score.  The use of this type of information in lending decisions is not a totally new concept.  It may not be used directly, but it can, and has, been used.

Upstart reviews not only this type of information, but also education and employment history. They see that, in theory, despite a not so great credit score, you may still be a great borrower.  They have found that if your education is solid and your job experience and history is stable, it is less risky to lend to you. Based on the numbers so far, they seem to be right.

What Do They Offer?

An Upstart review would not be complete without examining what sort of financing products they offer.  They offer various types of financing products to fit a broad range of needs from credit card refinancing to student loans and pretty much anything in-between.  Debt consolidation and personal loans are included, as well as business loans.

You can get a quote on a loan to start or expand a business.  Quotes are available online in a matter of minutes.  The most you can borrow for a business loan is $50,000, and for the purposes of this Upstart review, we got a quote just to see if it was as easy as they said it would be.

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The Quote Process

First, I had to enter how much I wanted to borrow.  This is how I found out the $50,000 maximum limit!  I asked for $100,000 and got an error message that said the amount had to be $50,000 or below.  Later I realized it says it right there on the screen.  I went big, asking for $50,000. 

Next, I had to tell them the purpose of the loan.  Since we are a business credit company, I of course went with a business loan.  Then I had to enter general name, birthdate, and contact information.  The form also asks for highest level of education and primary source of income, as well as how much you have in savings and recent loan history.

After this is done, they ask how you heard about Upstart.  You will also have to click to agree to the terms.  I got my quote almost instantly after I hit submit, and it was a soft pull on credit so there was no impact on the credit score.  Of course, before closing should you choose to pursue the loan, they would make a hard pull on your credit report. 

I found it intriguing that I could use the quote tool to play with different amounts and terms to see the various interest rate possibilities.  In general, business loans are available in amounts from $1,000 to $50,000.  Interest rates range from 7.5% to 35.99%.  You can choose either a 3 year or 5-year repayment term. 

There is no penalty for prepayment, and usually funds are available the next day after approval. 

Loan Eligibility

To be eligible for a loan with Upstart, you must meet the following qualifications:

  • Credit score of 620+
  • No bankruptcies or negative public records
  • No delinquent accounts
  • Meet debt to income standards (they only note they will check this ratio, not what their standards are.)
  • Have fewer than 6 inquiries in the past 6 months on credit report, not including those related to student loans, vehicle loans, or mortgages

In addition to these that they list on their website, an independent Upstart review notes that the requirement for the debt to income ratio is 45% maximum. It also states that there is a minimum annual income of $12,000.  I cannot corroborate this information on the website, but it is worth keeping in mind.

Additional Eligibility Requirements include:

  • A U.S. residential street address
  • Not living in West Virginia or Iowa
  • 18 years old or older, 19 years old or older if living in Alabama or Nebraska
  • Valid email address
  • Verifiable name, date of birth, and Social Security number
  • Full-time job, offer for full-time job starting within 6 months, regular part-time job, or other source of regular income
  • Personal banking account at a United States financial institution with a routing number

If you are already an Upstart customer, there are additional eligibility requirements.  For example, the past 6 months of payments have to be on-time.  Also, there can be no more than one outstanding loan with Upstart when you apply.  With that one loan, if there is one, there can be no more than $50,000 of the total principal outstanding at the time of loan origination. If you have paid a loan off, you have to wait for one month before applying for another loan.

Upstart Review: Loan Requirements

As loan requirements go, most of these are pretty standard.  However, I admit I found the current and

previous customer requirements confusing in some ways.  For example, you can have no more than $50,000 of the principal balance of a current Upstart loan outstanding at the time of origination for another Upstart loan.  However, I could not find a loan with Upstart that could exceed $50,000.  Basically, that requirement is unnecessary because you also cannot have more than one loan outstanding with Upstart when you apply for another Upstart loan. 

In addition, there is a requirement that you must wait one month after paying off a previous Upstart loan before applying for another.  So, you can have two loans at once, but not if you paid off a previous loan less than a month ago?

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After giving it some thought, I think this scenario is related to those customers that have two loans already.  After one is paid off, they are then eligible for another loan.  Not for a period of one month however.  It apparently applies even if you only have one loan and pay it off. Meaning you could not apply for another loan for one month, but if you applied before payoff of that one loan you could have another loan in place when you pay off the first.

It is somewhat complicated and confusing, but with some thought it makes sense.

How Can This Upstart Review Help You?

Most traditional financial institutions require a higher credit score than 620 for approval.  If you have a minimum of a 620-credit score, you could get a loan to start or expand a business with Upstart.  The interest rate doesn’t have to skyrocket either.  They take alternative data into consideration when making decisions on approval, rate, and terms. 

So, if after reading this Upstart review you feel Upstart could be right for you, then this review has helped you.  There is more, however.  Once you have the loan to help you achieve your business goals, on-time payments will help increase your personal credit score.

Consider this however. Once you have the loan and are able to open your business, you can then work on building business credit. 

Why Business Credit?Upstart Review Credit Suite

Business credit is similar to your personal credit, but attached to the name of your business directly rather than you personally.  This is good, because it keeps your business finances from directly affecting your personal credit report.

Imagine this.  Your business is booming.  You have credit cards that you use in the course of business.  You pay them off regularly. However, because they are attached to your personal credit their limits are not as high as business credit cards. 

This means that you are frequently getting close to your limit.  Even if you pay off your cards, this high debt to income ratio reduces your personal credit score.  It can affect your ability to gain financing for personal endeavors such as automobiles and home improvement.

Most of the time, when you get a business credit card using business credit, the limits are much higher.  This means you do not need as many cards.  Also, you do not have such a high debt-to-income ratio. Most importantly, your personal credit is out of the equation.  If it isn’t great, it doesn’t matter.  You can still access funding for your business.  Also, if your business runs into problems, it will not affect your personal credit score.

How Can a Loan from Upstart Help Build Business Credit?

It can’t directly.  It can, however, help you get your business up and running, after which you can start building credit in your business name.  Be sure to start off on the right foot by incorporating rather than operating as a sole proprietor or a partnership.  Also, get an EIN so you can use that along with your business name when you apply for credit, rather than your personal name and social security number. 

Where to Go from There

After your business is incorporated and you have an EIN, set up separate contact information so that it isn’t connected with your own contact information.  Using that information, you can obtain a free DUNS number from the Dun & Bradstreet website.  They are the largest and most used credit agency. You cannot have a business credit profile if you do not have a DUNS number.  Note that they will try to sell you other services, but they are unnecessary, and the DUNS number itself is free.  It is also totally necessary.

Once these things are settled and your business is up and running with the funds you received from your Upstart loan, you can use your new business credit to order items you use in the everyday course of business from starter vendors. 

What are Starter Vendors?

These are vendors in the vendor credit tier that will extend net 30 invoice terms and report payment to the business credit agencies without a credit check.  This means you can have these payments reported to your business credit profile even if you do not have business credit established yet. 

As these payments are reported, your business credit score will grow. You will then be able to apply for credit from the other credit tiers, including store credit cards, fleet credit cards, and eventually standard business Visa and MasterCards. 

Upstart Review: Conclusion

They are a young company and their true impact remains to be seen.  The fact that the CFBP is watching then and wants to learn more without taking action is promising. As with any review, I began my Upstart review by looking them up on the Better Business Bureau website and seeking out reviews by previous users.  I could not find a file on the BBB. I am not too concerned however, in light of the fact that the CFBP is monitoring them closely. There are not a ton of reviews out there at all, but the ones I did find were not negative.  I say if you need funds to start your business, give them a shot.  They are having some great success. 

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