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What is Business Credit?

A company’s business credit refers to its perceived ability to make good on obligations according to the terms of its contracts. This is often expressed as a collection of scores and ratings found in a business’s credit file. When a company is said to have good business credit, it usually means the organization has a record of responsible financial behavior. Poor business credit is often the result of late payments, defaults, liens, or other financial woes. Business credit bureaus such as Dun & Bradstreet compile payment information and public records into various scores and ratings. Taken together, these comprise the business’s credit file.

Why Do I Need Business Credit?

Few small businesses can cover all of their needs with existing funds. Real estate, raw materials, machinery, and staff can be expensive. New opportunities or challenges may require an infusion of cash. For these reasons, many businesses find themselves in need of third-party financing.

When banks, suppliers, or customers consider extending credit to a business, most want to gauge the level of risk they’re taking on by providing funds. Potential lenders can look to a borrower’s business credit file for examples of past payment behaviors, including defaults that have been reported to business credit bureaus. You can think of consulting a business credit report as reading the financial biography of a company.

Building and maintaining good business credit can be important even when you don’t need to access money. Since so much information is contained in a business credit report, potential customers may consult your company’s records to help them determine if you’d be a reliable partner. The strength of your business credit could make the difference between winning a contract or being left out in the cold.

How Do I Build Business Credit?

Business credit is built up over time. New businesses may not have any credit history at all, and even established companies can miss out on opportunities to improve their business credit files. This is because a major source of financial information for business credit bureaus can come from trade references*. These past payment experiences can be forwarded to business credit bureaus to be considered for inclusion in the company’s credit report. If trade references aren’t reported by a business or its clients, those exchanges may not influence a business’s credit scores and ratings.

At the most basic level, businesses can do three things to begin building credit: borrow funds, make timely payments, and ensure that the payments are reported to business credit bureaus. There are other steps that business owners can take when building business credit, including registering for a free D&B D-U-N-S® Number.

Is Business Lending Limited to Banks?

No. In fact, many small businesses will find traditional banks reluctant to extend financing due to their lack of a payment history. There simply isn’t enough information for a risk-averse financial institution to analyze. Entrepreneurs may find themselves frustrated at the irony of being unable to access business credit because they haven’t accessed business credit in the past. Luckily, there are other sources of financing that can help a business owner access funds and begin to establish his or her business credit.

A common source of financing is trade credit, where one business invoices another instead of charging it for goods or services upfront. This can be especially helpful for a new business that doesn’t have much money in the bank. In addition to being convenient for many businesses, paying these invoices on time may be reported as a trade reference to business credit bureaus.

There are some sources of financing that may help businesses access funds, but may  not assist in building business credit. For example, in many cases business credit cards are not considered acceptable records by corporate credit bureaus. One reason is that these cards are often tied to a business owner’s personal credit file rather than the company itself.

What’s in a Business Credit Report?

People sometimes speak of a business credit score as if it’s one number. In fact, there are a multitude of ratings and scores that can go into a company’s credit file. One of the more important D&B scores is the D&B PAYDEX® Score, a dollar-weighted indicator of a business’s payment performance based on the total number of payment experiences (trade references) in D&B’s file. The Delinquency Predictor Score and Financial Stress Score are two other prominent values that can be found in a business’s D&B credit file.

Where Can I Get Help with Business Credit?

Dun & Bradstreet offers a variety of products to help businesses establish credit, including CreditBuilder™. Companies can easily submit positive trade references to D&B for its acceptance and approval, which attempts to confirm the transactions with the other parties. CreditBuilder also allows businesses to view their D&B credit file in real-time. Continuous access can allow a company to quickly respond to negative information or inaccuracies.

Business owners have plenty of things to think about every day. Investing the time to be proactive about business credit can pay off in real dollars down the road.

Photo Credit: adrianam, Twenty20

Gregory Sidor

Author:

Gregory Sidor is a freelance writer and online content editor. He’s worked on websites for Disney, Fox Interactive, and the Los Angeles Daily News. His interests include finance, technology, astronomy, and history.