If there’s one golden rule of business management, it’s this: never mix your personal and business finances. When starting a new venture, many business owners find it tempting to use their own credit cards. Whether they’re eager to get started, don’t realize the significance, or are afraid they won’t qualify, this is a bad idea. 

So, what do you do? The answer is to apply for a business credit card. But what is a business credit card, and how does it work?

What is a business credit card?

Business credit cards are specially designed to suit business owners’ unique needs. These cards usually has a higher credit limit, tools to manage spending, and employee card options. They also often include rewards features geared toward business owners.

Having a business line of credit can help when your cash flow is slow or erratic. For instance, seasonal businesses like construction have an “off season.” However, your business is still obligated to pay regular expenses, such as rent, utilities, and more. A credit card can help bridge the gap when you’re stretched thin.

These cards are also good for emergencies. Whether you’re faced with an unexpected expense or a global pandemic, your company may need extra support from time to time. A line of credit can make all the difference.

How does a business credit card work?

Business credit cards operate similarly to personal credit cards. Instead of paying cash or issuing a check, you can use the card. At the end of the billing cycle, you receive a statement of charges. This includes the total balance owed and minimum amount due.

Some business cards are strictly “charge cards.” That means you must pay the full balance each month. Compare this to credit cards, with which you may pay off debt in installments, with interest.

Business charge cards often do not have a set credit limit. Small and seasonal businesses may not benefit from this arrangement. If you’re hoping to pay off a large expense over time, charge cards are not appropriate. However, they are good for companies that regularly budget for high expenses.

If your business is small or has unpredictable cash flow, a business credit card is a better choice. Card holders can choose to pay in full each month or in installments. Just like with personal credit cards, any remaining balance accrues interest.

Credit card interest rates vary according to creditworthiness. The better your credit, the better the terms. They also allow you to build your credit. Some companies require a personal guarantee. This makes you personally responsible to pay off the debt—even if your business is a corporation or LLC.

Important tips for choosing a card

Keep in mind that business credit cards are not covered by the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009. The CARD Act protects consumers against raising interest rates without warning, among other protections. Some companies offer these protections regardless.

Furthermore, business credit cards are designed for business expenses only. For example, lunch with colleagues and clients is considered a business expense. Buying lunch for your kids is not. Some issuers may require you to prove an expense is for business purposes.

When choosing a credit card, look for a rewards program that works for your business structure. Different rewards structures may be better for certain businesses. Cash back rewards are ideal for new startups, while travel rewards are better suited to companies that conduct significant travel.

Finally, when applying for a credit card, the company may examine both your personal and business credit score. Some companies conduct a “hard inquiry.” This can temporarily decrease your credit score by several points.

What are the benefits of a business credit card?

Despite the restrictions, business credit cards offer plenty of benefits:

  • Expanded credit limits: Higher credit limits are better suited to businesses. They also allow your business to grow over time. You are free to invest in your business or spread out your large expenses over a longer period.
  • Easy expense tracking: Separating business and personal expenses is key to proper bookkeeping. Many business cards offer robust expense-tracking tools. Some may even integrate with your accounting software.
  • Better rewards structure: Business rewards are often more generous than personal credit card rewards. Certain reward structures may be better suited to your company’s needs than others.
  • Extended interest-free periods: Personal credit cards usually have a 21-day interest-free period, but business cards offer longer interest-free periods. This allows business owners more flexibility to invest in their company.
  • Employee credit cards: Most business credit cards allow employers to issue employee credit cards. With expense-tracking tools, you can easily monitor employee spending.
  • Potential sign-up bonuses: Business credit cards often offer generous signing bonuses, which are usually better than personal bonuses.
  • Travel perks: Many business cards offer additional travel perks, such as admittance to airport lounges, higher rewards on gas and car rental, and more.
  • Builds business credit: As you use your card and pay off the balance, your business credit will grow. This helps increase your credit limit and may lower your interest rate over time.
  • May not impact personal credit: Finally, cards that do not require a personal guarantee will not impact your personal credit. In other words, if your business is slow or unable to repay loans, your personal credit score will not suffer. Cards that require a personal guarantee can affect your score.

Is a business credit card right for you?

Now that you know what a business credit card is, you can decide whether it’s right for your company. While your credit limit, interest rate, and rewards structure may vary, a business credit card offers unique opportunities to ensure your company’s financial health.

When choosing a business credit card, be sure to read the fine print. Understanding your personal and business obligations, protections, and bonuses will make it easier to choose the right card for your company.

Not every company needs a business credit card. However, they can provide a lifeline and investment opportunities on demand. Most business owners appreciate the flexibility and protection they provide.

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