Q: I just started a new business. How long do I have to wait before I can get a small business credit card?
A: You don’t have to wait until your business has been established for a specific period of time before you apply for a small business credit card. Most card issuers will base their decision on your personal credit scores, along with financial information you provide on your application, so as long as you have good personal credit scores and meet other requirements (such as income) you should qualify.
In fact, now may be the perfect time to get a small business credit card. Separating your business and personal finances from the outset offers a number of advantages. For one thing, you’ll find bookkeeping easier, helping you avoid tax-time headaches that can arise when you mingle accounts. Plus, if you have incorporated your business, keeping accounts separate will help protect the integrity of the corporate structure. And credit cards offered to small business owners often come with rich rewards and generous sign up bonuses.
Using a business credit card provides another valuable benefit. It can help you weather bumps in cash flow while protecting your credit. Most business credit cards don’t report activity to owners’ personal credit reports unless they default. (This chart explains how the major issuers report business cards to personal credit.) That means if one month you need to charge a large amount to stock up on inventory, for example, your personal credit scores are immune from a high balance that can hurt your scores.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carefully watch what you spend on one of these cards, though. You’ll no doubt sign a personal guarantee when you apply, so if your business folds before you pay off the balance, you can’t just walk away from the debt. In addition, most issuers share account data with business credit reporting agencies, which means large balances or late payments can hurt your business credit scores. On the other hand, using one of these cards responsibly will help build strong business credit scores, which will serve you well down the road should you seek additional financing.
If you recently left your job and you have no income to speak of, however, you may have a hard time qualifying. (Keep in mind, though, that issuers may allow you to include other income available to you, such as your spouse’s income.) Applying before you quit your day job often makes sense.
Also, business credit cards are not covered by the CARD Act, the federal law that protects consumers from costly gotchas like interest rate hikes at any time and for any reason, or shifting due dates. But many card issuers have extended some or most of these protections to their small business cardholders as well. (You might want to read that cardholder agreement and save a copy to make sure you understand the terms. It is your loan contract, after all.)
Overall, though, the pros of getting a small business card when you start your business will usually outweigh the cons. There’s no need to wait.
Gerri Detweiler is Head of Market Education for Nav, which helps small business owners monitor and build strong personal and business credit, and create financially healthy companies. She is the coauthor of Finance Your Own Business with attorney Garrett Sutton. She’s been answering credit questions for more than twenty years. Email yours to her at creditquestions@Nav.com.
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