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What Is DeFi Lending? A Beginner’s Guide

May 20, 2024

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The DeFi markets enable participants to lend or borrow funds via peer-to-peer (P2P) lending protocols without the need for a bank or intermediary, opening up a new market for crypto-native lending services.  

Read on to learn about DeFi lending, how it works, and the risks involved.

What Is DeFi Lending?

Decentralized Finance (DeFi) lending refers to Internet-native peer-to-peer (P2P) lending and borrowing that eliminates traditional financial intermediaries. Users borrow against their crypto holdings as collateral to get instant access to funds.

DeFi is a blockchain-based ecosystem of financial applications operating without a third party or intervention by a central administration. The foundational layer is self-executing smart contracts that don't require third-party oversight, providing a transparent and permissionless financial service environment.

DeFi lending platforms allow users to deposit their cryptocurrencies on lending protocols to earn interest or secure DeFi loans through a trustless banking system that sidesteps traditional financial brokers and intermediaries.

How Does DeFi Lending Work?

DeFi lending protocols provide a marketplace for crypto lenders and borrowers.

Lenders in the DeFi ecosystem, also known as liquidity providers, deposit their crypto assets into a lending pool to earn interest. The lending protocol determines the loan’s terms, including lending rates, loan expiration dates, and repayment terms. DeFi lending rates primarily reflect a crypto asset's supply and demand dynamics.

Borrowers, on the other hand, borrow crypto assets from lending pools, providing collateral in the form of a different digital asset. The crypto asset offered is locked in a smart contract to act as collateral. In exchange, borrowers receive funds they can use to invest, trade, or access capital without selling their crypto holdings.

Interest rates for DeFi loans depend on numerous factors, including the amount borrowed, the collateral period, and specific policies associated with the DeFi lending protocol in question. Depending on the platform's governance structure or design, the protocol could collect a percentage of the interest that borrowers pay as fees.

Examples of DeFi Lending Protocols

Let’s take a look at examples of leading DeFi lending protocols.


Aave enables users to earn interest, borrow assets, and build applications. The protocol employs the pool approach to determine the amount of interest earned based on the rate of utilizing the lending pool's assets.

The protocol has also positioned itself as the go-to DeFi protocol for flash loans, a type of uncollateralized loan where someone borrows a large amount of crypto as long as they repay within the span of the same block. It’s important to note that flash loans are considered very risky due to their uncollateralized nature, which requires careful handling to prevent abuse.

Compound Finance

Compound is a DeFi lending platform that operates open financial DApps based on an autonomous interest rate. The DeFi lending protocol allows users to lock up their crypto assets to earn interest or take out DeFi loans.

The lending platform uses an algorithmic model to determine interest rates, which are adjusted automatically depending on the dynamics of demand and supply.    


dYdX operates a wholly trustless and decentralized system offering DeFi lending, spot trading, and margin trading. While the platform is primarily an exchange, it also allows users to earn interest on their crypto assets.

Besides offering collateralized DeFi loans, dYdX also offers flash loans, which are uncollateralized loans that borrowers must repay within the same transaction block. Unlike other protocols, dYdX provides flash loans without charging any fees.  

Benefits of DeFi Lending

DeFi lending offers several benefits not found in the traditional lending markets.

  • Democratization of finance: DeFi lending allows anyone with an internet connection and a crypto wallet to access financial services.
  • Security and transparency: DeFi applications are built on blockchain technology where transactions are transparent, and anyone can audit them, reducing the risk of fraud and corruption. The P2P system also ensures users have control of their assets and personal information.      
  • Efficiency: DeFi lending cuts off the lengthy processes involving intermediaries and paperwork which can slow down transactions. The result is fast and efficient transactions, especially in cross-border transactions, as the system is available 24/7 and doesn't operate in specific time zones.  

DeFi Lending Risks Explained

Despite the advantages found in the DeFi lending markets, it is a highly risky undertaking that arguably only crypto-savvy investors who are comfortable with the level of risk involved should consider exploring.

Let’s take a closer look at the risks involved in DeFi lending.

  • Code risk: Errors in smart contract code could lead to a loss of funds if vulnerabilities are exploited by malicious parties or operational errors occur as a result.
  • Cybersecurity risk: The DeFi markets have been a prime target for hackers looking to exploit vulnerabilities in DeFi protocols, which has led to the loss of billions of dollars over the years.
  • Lack of consumer protection: DeFi platforms don’t have the same level of consumer protection enjoyed by traditional finance institutions.  
  • Regulatory risk: The DeFi markets are de facto unregulated, creating regulatory risk should governments decide to implement anti-crypto regulations.
  • Yield risk: DeFi lending participants have to grapple with fluctuating yields as a result of fluctuating cryptocurrency prices.  

The Bottom Line

DeFi lending aims to democratize the lending markets by allowing anyone with a digital wallet and an internet connection to access loans and earn interest on their digital assets.

However, due to this market's nascence, it remains highly risky, primarily attracting experienced crypto investors who are comfortable with the risky nature of DeFi lending.  

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What is the difference between traditional lending and DeFi lending?

DeFi lending runs on blockchain platforms without relying on traditional financial intermediaries. Unlike traditional lending, which involves third parties like traditional banks or financial institutions as intermediaries in borrowing and lending activities, DeFi lending relies on self-executing smart contracts and collateral.