Without an established and positive business credit history, it may be difficult to get approved for unsecured business credit cards. Somewhat ironically, it can be tough to build credit without owning those products.
Establishing business credit requires time, patience, and proactive planning, which is why it should be a priority in your business strategy — especially if you can’t get a business credit card. Here are some simple ways you can start to build a business credit history, no matter the size or age of your business, or the number of credit products you currently own.
Establish a business bank account
If you haven’t already, secure an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for your business from the Internal Revenue Service, and establish its proper legal structure (which may be an LLC, partnership, S-corp, or C-corp). These steps help to legally establish your business as an entity separate from you as an individual, and you’ll need this information to open a business bank account.
If possible, establish a deposit relationship with a bank that also offers business credit cards. Your relationship with the bank won’t guarantee approval for a business credit card right away, but could work to your advantage once your business credit history is established enough to justify applying for an unsecured business credit card.
Secure a dedicated business phone number
Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax and Experian are three major credit reporting bureaus that monitor business credit history. While each bureau has a unique formula for how it determines a businesses’ credit profile and corresponding credit score, Experian recommends business owners should establish a listed phone number that’s associated with the business name as a first step in establishing a business credit profile.
Apply for trade lines
Do you purchase office supplies from one specific vendor who offers a branded credit card, or consistently buy from a vendor that offers a line of credit? Ask if the credit activity is reported to business credit bureaus (often referred to as “business trade” activity, or trade lines). If it is reported, applying for and using these types of business credit lines can help you establish a business credit history.
Your business credit score can be based on a number of factors including the number of trade lines and business credit cards you have, any outstanding balances on them, your payment history and the amount of the credit you use. To ensure you don’t risk missing a payment, use too much of your available credit, or cost your business in the form of interest rate charges, limit your use of business credit only to business expenses you could theoretically pay for in cash. Until you’ve established your business credit history, pay your balances in full by the payment due date each month (to avoid interest rate charges), and try to use no more than 50% of your credit line, at any time.
Apply for a secured business credit card
Secured business credit cards may require that you pay an annual fee (which may range from $35 to $125+ based on the card you choose), and deposit money with the card issuer to secure the credit line, but can help you build the credit history required to be approved for an unsecured credit card. In the meantime, secured cards are a major credit card you can use to pay for some business expenses, like travel.
Once you’ve owned a secured card for several months and demonstrated that you consistently make timely payments and manage your account balance (not using more than 50% of your available credit line), the creditor may invite you to apply for an unsecured business credit card. (You’ll get the money you deposited with the secured credit card back when you decide to close the account).
Check your business credit reports
Unlike a personal credit report, a businesses’ credit history can be obtained by anyone willing to pay for it. (Unfortunately, that also means business owners may have to pay to access their own business credit report). However, Experian allows business owners to check if they have a credit profile for free. Dun & Bradstreet allows business owners to establish a D-U-N-S number free of charge, to begin the process of building a credit profile on its site. Equifax allows business owners to search for their credit report for free, and access the report (if they have one) for a small fee.
Don’t neglect your personal credit
An established business credit history can ensure you don’t have to rely on your personal finances to support your business, but your personal credit history may be one factor creditors consider to determine how robust your businesses’ financial and credit history must be in order to be approved for an unsecured credit card or similar type of product .
Your personal credit score is determined by a combination of factors including payment history, the amount of available credit you use, the length of your credit history and the types of credit accounts you own. Many banks and credit card companies now offer free access to your personal credit score (in addition to the free credit report you’re entitled to at AnnualCreditReport.com). Check your personal credit score on occasion to make sure it’s as positive as the business credit history you’re working to build.