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Online lending: It covers more than credit cards

Editor's note: In February 2002, NextCard's parent company, NextBank, was closed by Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was named receiver. The company no longer issues credit cards.

 

Instant credit and attractive loan terms
Online lending

While virtual banks try mightily to attract customers looking for low-cost checking accounts, other online companies concentrate on lending money. They figure that doing business online saves money, so they can lend at attractive terms.

The pioneer in this business is NextCard, which started taking credit applications online in 1997. NextCard promises instant approval and allows consumers to customize cards. For example, they can get a card with a low introductory rate that jumps higher after a few months, or get a card with an interest rate in the middle that doesn't change. One of the more successful virtual banks, Juniper Bank, offers checking accounts, but its primary marketing focus is credit cards. Juniper carpet-bombed America in autumn 2000 with direct mail offers for its cool-looking, translucent credit cards. Six months later, Juniper had 140,000 accounts. Most were credit cards, a spokesman says, but the bank expects some of its credit card customers to open other types of accounts as they get more comfortable with the service.

Credit cards aren't the only game in town. Some lenders offer instant lines of credit with online retailers, and other lenders offer mortgages and car loans.

Loan calculator Calculate your payment on any loan
 

NextCard and a competitor, eCredit, provide access to instant credit for customers of online retailers that sell big-ticket items such as computers, jewelry, furniture and art. NextCard will extend credit to online customers of Diamond.com and Etronics, for example, while eCredit finds lenders who will extend a line of credit to online retailers including Gateway and Hearts on Fire, a jeweler.

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Several companies are in the online mortgage business. Among the most prominent mortgage lenders are E-Loan, E-Trade Mortgage and Mortgagebot.com. IndyMac Bank Home Lending is highly regarded but perhaps less known.

E-Loan is the most prominent online provider of vehicle financing. Another well-known company, Lending Tree doesn't lend money directly but acts as a broker, helping consumers find mortgages, auto loans and other types of credit.

Thriftiness
 

Credit cards, auto loans and mortgages are much more complicated than checking accounts. Sometimes online lenders offer the best deals and sometimes they don't. It really depends upon your needs. Perhaps an online mortgage lender offers a loan with lower fees but slightly higher interest than your bank. Depending on how long you want to live in the house, either loan could be a better deal.

It definitely pays to shop online. E-Loan's president says 10 to 15 percent of mortgage shoppers in America visit his company's site, but most of them log off the Internet and ask local lenders to match loan terms they found online. That can be a pretty effective gambit. E-Loan's president would prefer that more of those shoppers stay online and get loans with his company.

Online car loans On the online road to a better auto
Convenience
 

Consider NextCard's application form. It's short, and the company promises that it will decide within 30 seconds whether to give you a card. Almost anywhere you apply online for a credit card or an instant line of credit, you can expect to get an answer within five minutes.

Mortgages are more complicated. When you apply online for a mortgage, you still have to complete a pile of paperwork that arrives in the mail a few days after you fill out the online application. While online mortgages are avaliable, most people only use them for comparison shopping.

Electronic mortgages Electronic mortgages slow to catch on
Safety, security and privacy
 

There always are security risks with entering personal information on Web sites. The transmittal of your information is pretty secure if you can see an icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of your browser window. That symbol means that the data in the forms you're filling out will be encrypted when it is sent.

Identity theft checklist Identity theft checklist
 

As far as privacy goes: When you apply for a loan, you always open yourself to an invasion of your privacy, whether or not you apply online. Expect to give out your Social Security number and for the prospective lender to look at your credit score.

Related Stories:
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How to cancel a credit card -- the right way
 
-- Posted: June 7, 2001
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