Let’s say you’re about to take a running leap into the great unknown and launch that business you’ve been thinking about for years. Congratulations! You’re about to join a class of people who receive more performative displays of respect (if nothing else) from the powers that be than anybody this side of The Troops and Olympic gold medalists: small business owners.
As you begin your journey amidst the peril and the pitfalls, you might be tempted to get a business credit card. It’s what you’re supposed to do, right? They wouldn’t put “business” in the name otherwise, would they?
As it happens, a business card may well be a sensible option for you. Or it might not be! A personal credit card may well fit your enterprise just fine. It all depends on the nature of your business, how you plan to use your credit card, and how you weigh the relative risks. Let’s go through some of the ways personal and business credit cards differ from one another.
Personal Credit Cards Have Stronger Consumer Protections
One difference that isn’t widely recognized is the fact that the Credit CARD Act of 2009 gives users of personal credit cards legal protections that do not apply to users of business credit cards. Among other reforms, the Act mandates that credit card companies give cardholders at least 45 days notice of a rate increase, that consumers get at least 21 days to pay their bill, that low introductory rates be offered for at least 6 months, and that payments are applied to the consumer’s highest interest rate balances first.
Now, if you have a business card, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your credit card company is going to engage in all the practices outlawed by the Credit CARD Act. In fact, many issuers of business cards extend most of these protections to consumers as a courtesy. However, not all credit card companies offer such protections, and the majority may not offer all of the protections listed above. For instance, your business card issuer may apply your payment to your lowest interest rate balance so they can leech more in interest charges. What’s more, history and experience suggest that big financial companies aren’t the most meticulous institutions when it comes to protecting consumers’ interests in the absence of legal mandates (and even then, their record is spotty, to put it mildly).
If you plan to sign up for a business credit card, read the fine print on the agreement before pulling the trigger. You should also closely monitor your charges and your monthly statements. Of course, you’re no dummy — you probably knew to do that already!
Personal CCs & Business CCs Tailor Their Rewards Programs Differently
Here’s one difference that shouldn’t come as a surprise: Business credit cards often have rewards programs that offer perks tailored towards the kinds of purchases typically made by businesses, such as office supplies and phone services. Meanwhile, the rewards programs offered by personal credit card issuers normally focus on categories average consumers spend on.
Naturally, many business owners and entrepreneurs will be attracted to business credit cards on this basis. But what if you don’t spend much on typical business categories in your particular enterprise? You might be running your business from home and have little use for, say, rewards programs geared toward office supplies. Suffice it to say, you should pay attention to the rewards categories offered by the credit card company in question (whether it be a personal or business credit card) and think long and hard about whether said rewards make sense for you and your business.
Business Credit Limits Are Often Higher
Businesses tend to spend more money than consumers. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those applying for business credit cards normally qualify for a higher credit limit than those applying for personal credit cards.
This means that with a business credit card, not only will you be able to spend more and not hit your limit, but this higher credit limit can boost your credit score as well.Â Business credit-reporting bureausÂ Equifax and Experian (not Dun & Bradstreet) use your credit utilization to determine your business credit score. A higher credit limit can therefore boost your standing, as you’ll be using less of your total available credit when your high credit limit kicks in.
A Business Credit Card Builds Your Business Credit
One advantage of using a business credit card is that it establishes and helps build your business credit; you cannot build credit for your business by charging business expenses to a personal credit card. Your business credit score can determine whether or not your business qualifies for loans, credit lines, and other financial products. It can also affect the price you’ll pay for business insurance.
If you’re an entrepreneur with no business credit history to your name, a business card can be an essential tool for building credit.
Business Cards Can Affect Your Personal Credit Too
When considering which type of card to use, know that how you use your business credit card can affect your personal credit as well as your business credit.
Getting a business credit card usually involves a personal guarantee, making you personally liable for your business’s debts if your business misses payments, so your business card issuer will likely consider your personal credit score when determining how much credit to extend to you. In addition, some business card issuers, like American Express and Capital One, report your business card activity to both business and personal credit bureaus. Others, like Chase, report your activity to business credit bureaus only. So while using your business card can definitely affect your personal credit, the exact mechanisms by and the degree to which it will do so can differ. Do your due diligence!
This is admittedly a familiar refrain at this point, but do your homework and examine the terms and conditions closely when applying for a credit card, whether it be personal or business. As for which one to choose when you’re starting a business, that all depends on your expected spending habits and your priorities.
If your goal is to establish business credit and your business expenses jibe with the reward categories offered by most business cards, a business credit card may be the way to go. If, on the other hand, you’re a sole proprietor who doesn’t anticipate spending much on the reward categories of business cards and building business credit isn’t your priority, you could definitely get by with a personal credit card.
Just remember that credit card issuersÂ are in the game for profit, not public service. Trust your investigative ability, not the purity of their motives.
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