Searching for the right loan, whether home, auto or personal, can be a crazy process.
There are percentage rates, fees and long-term implications to take into account, as well as the reputation of your lender. Life would be much easier if you could go to one website to find loan offers instead of having to search them out yourself.
With this in mind, LendingTree is a popular, free platform where consumers can sign up for offers from various lenders for home, auto, student, business and personal loans; as well as credit cards. They also offer refinancing options for home and auto loans.
The LendingTree concept – they bring you up to five lenders for each inquiry – is a simple and effective one. However, we know there’s always more to the story that what you initially read or see.
So, we’ve researched the company’s history, who their lenders are, what the site’s reputation is with your fellow consumers and dug through the fine print.
At the end of this review, we’ll offer you our conclusions about the service.
What’s the history behind LendingTree?
LendingTree launched its website in 1998 with the purpose of providing consumers a one-stop-shop for loans. In 2003, a media mogul bought LendingTree, adding it to a portfolio that included Ticketmaster and other well-known companies. In 2008, LendingTree broke away to join a financial matchmaking site called Tree.com.
In 2014, Tree.com rebranded itself as part of LendingTree, giving us what we now know as LendingTree.com. The company is publicly traded on the NASDAQ as “TREE”. At the time of our research, the company was trading at $85.14 per share.
They’ve served more than 30 million consumers to date, according to their website.
Who are LendingTree’s Lenders?
We feel as though this is a very important question. Why? Because LendingTree makes it clear that they’re only a middle man – they don’t give you the loans, their network of lenders does.
Lenders pay an undisclosed amount to participate in LendingTree’s site, which could make them a lot of money. National organization LeadsCouncil recently awarded LendingTree a gold medal for the number of leads the company generated.
Lenders also get to filter borrowers on the site. Their Lenders page reads, “Target the exact type of borrowers you want while filtering out those you don’t.” We believe this puts the consumer at a disadvantage because lenders have their list of consumers from which to choose, but consumers don’t get to choose their lenders.
Now, who exactly are those lenders? LendingTree’s website doesn’t provide a specific list. They do, however, provide borrower-generated ratings of lenders across all 50 states. So, when you receive offers after your loan inquiry, you can use their site to check lenders’ credibility based on the opinions of the LendingTree community.
This past summer my wife and I did a mortgage inquiry through the site. Our parameters were a $150,000 loan for a home in Jacksonville, Florida. Within minutes we received 10 loan offers from four different lenders:
- First Commonwealth Mortgage, Inc.
- Capital One Home Loans LLC
- Mortgage Lenders of America
- Quicken Loans
As you can see, the results gave us a cross section of well-known and not-so-well-known names.
That being said, we want to give a friendly warning about this instant-quote style of lending. LendingTree’s FAQ section says that there are no upfront fees charged. However, they also offer this warning: “Beware if you are asked for a fee or ‘insurance’ before completing an application with a loan officer. No legitimate lender does this.”
Based on this verbiage, we’re concerned that LendingTree may allow illegitimate lenders onto their site as long as they pay for access to the site’s borrower database. There’s no way of knowing how many shady lenders could be on the site, so we’re not saying you should stay away. But, it does concern us that less-than-desirable lenders can sneak onto the site.
And, when you think about how lenders can filter through borrowers to find the right match, you can see how it’s possible (though we stress that this is only a theory) lenders with a bad reputation can zero in on certain types of borrowers.
What are consumers saying about LendingTree?
Our research turned up an interesting Jekyll and Hyde kind of situation.
To its credit, LendingTree has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The company has been in business for a long time, the number of complaints it had in the past three years (369) is relatively small compared to how many people use the site. According to the BBB, Lending Tree has done a good job of resolving customer complaints. All these factors play a part in their good standing.
From the consumer side of things, we see a bit of a different perspective. Users on the consumer credit website Credit Karma aren’t particularly happy with LendingTree’s auto loan services. Common complaints are that loan inquiries have resulted (within minutes of their inquiry) in many phone calls from lenders as well as all kinds of hard credit checks (more on that in a second).
We found the same type of complaints from people on Consumer Affairs’ LendingTree page, where the company received a 1-star rating.
Based on the reviews we’ve seen, the majority of customer complaints aren’t about LendingTree itself, but about the lenders who contact them via the inquiry made on LendingTree.com.
We want to take this a step further, though, and address the issue of hard credit checks. LendingTree says they only do soft credit checks (don’t affect your credit score), and that the lenders who provide you with pre-approved loans may do a hard credit check (affects your credit score for up to 2 years, but mostly in the first six months) before they pre-approve you.
It really concerns us that you, the average consumer looking for a loan, could take a serious hit to your credit score if the lenders you’re connected with decide to run a hard credit check before contacting you with a loan offer.
If you decide you want to wait on your loan, you’re stuck with a lower credit score and may have to pay higher interest rates when you finally decide to take a loan. You end up paying for credit checks you didn’t ask for but consented to when you agreed with the terms and conditions of LendingTree’s service.
What Does the Fine Print Say?
Whenever you do an inquiry for loan offers, you’ll usually get a list of lenders and their APR/closing costs. The APR and fees may seem appealing, but each of these offers comes with a disclaimer included near the bottom of the page.
The disclaimer says the quotes aren’t final. Though you could receive the rate you’re quoted, you won’t know until you complete an application with the lender and provide the documentation they require.
There’s a possibility that what you were quoted could be different than what you’re actually offered. Again, that doesn’t mean you won’t get the rate you were initially offered.
Also, we found another bit of information that will help you. When you go to LendingTree.com, you’ll usually see offers like “5/1 ARM Rates as low as…” and other similar offers.
Those rates, according to LendingTree’s advertising disclosures, are based on the following assumptions:
- You have a FICO score of at least 720 (the credit score used by many lenders to determine your loan amount and APR)
- You can pay a 20% down payment
- You live in a state where the offer is available
We weren’t able to find out how many Americans make a 20% down payment, but we do know this: About 60% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings account and about half of Americans have a FICO score of 700 or higher. So, that tells us there’s a good chance less than half the people won’t get the rate they initially see on the LendingTree home page.
Our Conclusions About LendingTree’s Loan-Matching Service
In principle, LendingTree is a great site. They make it really easy for you to get loan offers from up to lenders. In that sense, they take all the initial effort out of your loan search.
However, the ease with which you can get these loan offers is like a double-edged sword. Many customers have complained that, within minutes, they get phone calls from lenders.
We feel it’s in the best interest of the consumer to only use LendingTree when you are serious about getting a loan. Because you don’t have control over the lenders who contact you nor the lenders who run your credit, there’s a certain cost to you every time you make a loan inquiry.
Now, for all the warnings we’ve give you, we want to reiterate that LendingTree itself is a highly-rated, reputable company.
So ask yourself how comfortable you are with the prospects of having reputable and possibly not-so-reputable lenders contacting you about loan offers. Are you willing to wade through the process to secure the money you need? If so, LendingTree is a good choice.
However, if you would rather hand-select your lenders from a pool of your choosing, we think it may be best for you to do the research on your own rather than using a third-party site like LendingTree.
2 out 3 people found this review helpful
While LendingTree is a good concept and allows access to a large number of lenders, my experience was that there is very little ethical oversight of these lenders. they try to make a fast sell regardless of sound economical factors, as a few years ago when the house market went down.
The lenders at that time wanted to give me an adjustable mortgage when everyone new at the time that it was not a good thing for the client and as I refused the offer of the adjustable mortgage deal, as the agent was hanging the phone on me, he said, “Stupid idiot!” Lending Tree should be more careful as to who they refer clients to. Thanks
Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend