Getting a business credit card issued in your company’s name can be an exciting milestone. Many small businesses lack the credit history to qualify for traditional loans, so credit cards can provide a valuable means to access capital. However, business credit cards may not help establish or improve business credit scores and ratings. In reality, many business credit cards are tied to the company’s owner rather than the firm itself.
The reason for this seeming contradiction is a business’s lack of a credit history. Lenders must rely on some information to gauge creditworthiness, and that often means consulting a business owner’s personal credit file. For entrepreneurs who don’t have established business credit, they may find value in business credit cards. But before we discuss the advantages, let’s return to the question at hand: How do you build business credit so the next time a lender accesses your business credit report your company looks its best?
Trade References*: Taking Care of Business
Nearly every business works with third-party suppliers. These suppliers often extend trade credit to customers – essentially providing goods in exchange for payment by an agreed-upon date. As the name implies, trade credit is a form of financing – one of the most common, in fact. When a business pays its bills in a timely manner, it establishes a credit history with that supplier. Assuming the supplier reports payments to one of the business credit bureaus, such as Dun & Bradstreet, it can help build a credit history for your business. As a firm continues to make full, on-time payments, business credit scores and ratings can rise. Trade references can be an essential means of helping establish strong business credit scores, so you may consider asking suppliers to report trade to the business credit bureaus.
Conversely, a record of poor payments can adversely affect your business’s credit scores and ratings. It may make potential lenders uneasy about extending funds, and can sour relationships with other businesses. Paying off debts on time or ahead of schedule can be important for companies big or small.
Benefits of Business Credit Cards
Since they don’t establish or help improve your business credit scores and ratings, why do many entrepreneurs choose to use business credit cards?
- There are several potential benefits, the most important of which is access to capital. Small businesses need money to grow. Business credit cards are usually easier to obtain than a loan, so they can serve an important purpose.
- A business credit card that is used solely for company purchases can also help track expenses. Rather than tallying up various receipts, costs are listed on your business credit card statements. You (or your accountant) will appreciate this at tax time.
- In addition to convenience, many business credit cards offer rewards programs tailored for growing companies. From discounts on hotels, airfare, and car rentals to cash-back rewards, these perks can add up over time.
The potential conveniences and benefits of a business credit card should always be weighed against your ability to pay the bill on time. Rewards can become very expensive if penalties and interest are applied. Avoid mixing business and personal expenses – it can be a headache to separate them on your tax returns, and you don’t want to lose track of company spending.
How to Find the Right Business Credit Card
Much like their consumer counterparts, there are a flood of business credit cards available to qualified applicants. Terms like secured, unsecured and debit carry financial implications, so business owners must consider their options. How can a small business owner separate the wheat from the chaff?
First of all, think about your costs. Does the card extend a sufficient amount of credit? If so, how high is the interest rate? The credit card industry has come up with some fairly creative fees, so it’s important to read the fine print before signing up.
Business credit cards aren’t subject to the terms of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009. The legislation included protection from lenders arbitrarily increasing interest rates. Finding a business credit card that voluntarily complies with the CARD Act can be a challenge, but they do exist.
When it comes to rewards programs, make sure that the incentives are relevant to your business. Airline miles or hotel discounts may not be useful if you rarely travel.
A business credit card should help you manage expenses – not add to them. Used responsibly, a card with a suitable credit limit, low interest rate and reasonable fees can be an asset to your small business.
*Trade References will be added subject to D&B® verification and acceptance. Please see http://www.dandb.com/glossary/trade-references/ for eligibility, process and other information regarding Trade References.
Image Credit: Flickr.com, frankieleon