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Author: Kendall Little | Last Updated: July 18, 2019
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Choosing the right business credit card for you
Business credit cards can be game-changing for small-business owners. Accumulating rewards bonuses that maximize your necessary expenditures can help you and your employees conduct business more easily.
If you’re looking to streamline your business-related purchases and earn rewards that can help you save money, a business credit card is a great option. Read our guide to learn all about how these cards can improve your business and which one might be a perfect fit for you.
In this article:
Recap of the best business credit cards of 2019
How we choose our top picks
Bankrate’s team of financial services experts understands that every business is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to your business-related needs. In order to help you narrow down which cards will work for you, we impartially review each business credit card based on the following criteria to help you to make the most informed decision.
Each business credit card has been assigned a Bankrate score out of five. While we consider all of the features of the card when making our score, for this category, we’ve prioritized the criteria most valued by business owners looking to maximize their value from operational spend while mitigating their exposure to interest. Scoring on this page placed a weighted emphasis on:
- APR: Putting pragmatism first, our most important criteria for business credit cards focuses on the repayment flexibility attached to each product. Some cards offer lower variable APRs, while others afford business owners to repay credit interest-free with either a zero interest period or a balance transfer window.
- Rewards Rates: In addition to serving as a line of credit, we view credit cards as viable instruments for earning value on expected purchases. When evaluating each product, we consider both the earning structure rate and corresponding redemption values that a small/medium business owner can expect with every swipe.
- Bonuses & Discounts: Many business cards have very generous sign-up bonuses that bolster its first-year value. For each sign-up bonus, we weigh the preset spending requirements and compare this spend with the redemption value that each card brings to the table. On top of the bonus, we layer in additional perks like free employee cards and rental car insurance to calculate the total expected value.
Bankrate’s Picks: Top business credit cards of 2019
Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business
The Capital One Spark Cash for Business card is great for business owners who spend big and want a generous cash back rewards program to match. With unlimited 2% cash back earnings, including on free employee cards, and straightforward redemption options, simplicity is one of its biggest perks. You should avoid carrying or transferring a balance with this card. It has a 19.24% variable APR—slightly higher than other cards—meaning incurring interest would ultimately negate any cash back returns.
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For cash-back lovers, the Spark Cash for Business is a formidable alternative to Chase’s popular Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card.
Both options offer competitive sign-up bonuses and cash back, but Spark Cash for Business offers an unlimited flat 2% rate on all purchases while the Ink Business Unlimited offers 1.5% cash back, like Capital One’s other flat cash back business card, the Spark Cash Select.
If you spend enough on business expenses to justify the $95 annual fee and don’t need to transfer a balance, the Spark Cash’s 2% rate is likely a better choice for you.
Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business
The Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business is a straightforward, no annual fee business rewards card. If you’re just making the move to a small business card, this is one to consider. It earns an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, which will stack up quickly if you’re charging all your business expenses to the card. Capital One is also currently offering a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.
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The Spark Cash Select for Business is little sister to the Spark Cash for Business. Spark Cash Select has the same no-frills flat cash back rewards structure as the Spark Cash, but falls short of the Spark Cash’s unlimited 2% cash back and $500 bonus when you spend $4,500 within the first 3 months of account opening. In order to outearn the Spark Cash $95 annual fee in cash back, you’ll need to spend more than $19,000. Otherwise, the no annual fee Spark Cash Select is your better option.
Bank of America® Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card
This is also a great card for any business owner that enjoys customizable rewards, especially those who already bank with Bank of America. The Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard rewards 3% cash back on your choice of 6 categories:
- Gas stations (the card’s default)
- Office supply stores
- TV/telecom and wireless
- Computer services
- Business consulting services
You’ll also earn 2% back on dining (for the first $50,000 on combined choice category and dining annually, then 1%) and unlimited 1% on all other purchases. The card offers a $300 statement credit after spending $3,000 in net purchases within 90 days of account opening.
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In addition to the Cash Rewards credit card, Bank of America also offers a Business Advantage Travel Rewards credit card, both with no annual fee and boosted rewards for Preferred Rewards for Business members.
Instead of cash back, Travel Rewards cardholders can earn 3X points on travel purchases booked through the Bank of America Travel Center and unlimited 1.5X points on all other purchases. If you need more flexibility in your rewards earnings, the Cash Rewards is likely the more lucrative choice. But if your business requires frequent travel and you prefer flat rate rewards, the Travel Rewards card is likely a better option.
The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express
For business owners looking to consolidate business debt or extend payments on the cost of a big purchase, the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express is a great choice, as long as your credit score is within good to excellent range. It offers a 12 month introductory 0% APR period on purchases and balance transfers (then a variable 15.49%, 18.49% or 21.49%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors as determined at the time of account opening). This card also currently offers a flat 2X rewards rate on up to $50,000 in business purchases every year.
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Like the Blue Business Plus, Bank of America’s Platinum Visa® Business credit card offers a competitive APR.
If you’re looking for short-term benefits, the Platinum Visa Business not only offers a competitive 0% introductory APR on purchases for your first 7 billing cycles (after which it becomes a variable 11.49% to 22.49% rate), but you can also earn a $300 statement credit after spending $3,000 within 90 days of account opening. It doesn’t have an intro bonus, but the Blue Business Plus annual rewards structure and extended introductory offer will bring higher long-term value and earning potential for many business owners.
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business
For simple travel rewards, the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business card is hard to beat. You can earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend on all purchases. If your business has varied expenses that aren’t concentrated into typical business spend categories like office supply stores, then this card offers extra flexibility. As it charges no foreign transaction fees, you won’t rack up extra fees traveling outside the U.S. This card is a good fit for business owners who travel often but want to avoid the complexity associated with some travel rewards cards.
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For business owners looking for simplicity, the Spark Cash card’s flat cash back rewards are likely best. Spark Miles, on the other hand, takes a bit more effort to redeem; miles are redeemed for travel booked directly through Capital One, by transferring them to a Capital One airline partner or as credits towards travel purchases made with the card within 90 days. If you’re willing to put in a bit of extra time for travel rewards, Spark Miles may be best for your business. Otherwise, the ease of Spark Cash is hard to beat.
Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business
The Capital One Spark Miles Select for Business is another great option for frequent business travelers. It comes with a solid 20,000-mile intro bonus when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening and earns 1.5 miles per dollar on all purchases. Those miles can be redeemed for travel purchases through Capital One’s travel portal or through Purchase Eraser, a statement credit back towards travel expenses you book on your own using the card. Spark Miles Select has no annual and no foreign transaction fees.
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The Spark Miles Select offers a smaller sign-up bonus compared to the Spark Miles’ 50,000 after spending $4,500 in the same period and lower rewards rate (1.5 miles per dollar versus 2 miles per dollar). The Spark Miles Select does not charge an annual fee, though, so if your business can’t justify enough of an annual spend to surpass the annual fee in rewards value but you still want great travel rewards, the Spark Miles Select may be the better option for you.
The Business Platinum® Card from American Express
For business travelers who want to fly in style and don’t mind paying the price, the Business Platinum Card from American Express delivers the goods. This card comes with a welcome bonus of up to 75,000 points after spending $20,000 in the first 3 months. You’ll also get 5X points per dollar on flights and prepaid hotels through amextravel.com. The card’s perks include lounge access across the globe, Hilton Honors™ Gold Status, up to $200 in statement credits for incidental fees by your qualified airline choice and much more, although the $595 annual fee is hefty.
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When it comes to premium business credit cards, the Business Platinum may have the biggest reputation, but Chase’s Ink Business Preferred is an alternative worth consideration.
The Chase Ink Business Preferred offers 80,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 within 3 months of account opening, which the issuer values at $1,000 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Bankrate values the Business Platinum’s 75,000-point welcome offer at $1,500. The Ink Business Preferred rewards are more diverse, with 3X points on the first $150,000 spent combined annually in categories like travel, shipping and online advertising, then 1X points on all other purchases. Frequent business travelers with the spending power to justify its cost will find the Business Platinum card hard to beat. Otherwise, the Ink Business Preferred is a great premium choice.
American Express® Business Gold Card
The American Express Business Gold Card is a fantastic option for small-business owners who don’t spend as much as the big guys but still want good points redemption. American Express automatically awards 4X points in the two categories where your business spends the most each month (up to $150,000 in combined purchases each year) among six categories:
- Airfare purchased directly from airlines
- Advertising (purchased in the U.S. to promote your business online, on TV or on the radio)
- U.S. gas stations
- U.S. restaurants
- U.S. shipping
- U.S. computer hardware, software and cloud computing purchases made directly from select providers
You’ll also receive access to expense management tools like Quickbooks and 1-year free subscription to ZipRecruiter Standard and G Suite Basics (for up to three users), all hugely beneficial perks for a lot of growing businesses. These added extras also make for a decent return on the $295 annual fee.
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While the Business Platinum card is great for travel, business with high spending across categories may see more value from the Business Gold.
The Business Gold’s flexible earning structure can help your business maximize purchases you already make regularly, with added travel perks through the Amex Travel portal. And while the welcome offer is smaller (35,000 points after spending $5,000 within the first 3 months of account opening), the annual fee is considerably less. If your business can’t justify the heavy travel spending required for the Business Platinum, the Business Gold is a great premium alternative, especially if your cash flow is focused in the eligible 4X points categories.
What are business credit cards and how do they work?
You can qualify for a business credit card whether you’re a sole proprietor, business owner or freelancer.
These cards work similarly to the personal credit cards you may already be familiar with, just tailored to business needs; they can provide businesses with returns on their everyday spending, help cover expenses during seasonal periods and allow businesses to build credit, making it easier to borrow in the future.
Business owners are increasingly seeing the benefits that business credit cards can offer–according to TD Bank’s annual Small Business Survey, the number of business owners who said they have or will apply for credit within the next 12 months increased from 21% in 2017 to 46% in 2018.
The business credit card application process is similar to applying for a personal credit card. For small businesses, cards are often secured by a personal guarantee. That means you can be held personally liable if your business is unable to make payments.
You can use your business credit card for any expenses your business incurs. That includes anything from new ink for the office printer to hotel stays for employees conducting client visits. In order to simplify your accounting and tax preparation, you should be disciplined in guaranteeing you only put business expenses on the card.
Another major draw of business credit cards will be their rewards offerings. Rewards are often tailored to the categories in which businesses spend most, allowing you to save money on common expenditures. Depending on which type of card you choose, they often come with additional perks and upgrades, including:
- Airport lounge access
- TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application rebate
- Cell phone and rental car insurance
- Purchase protection
- Travel and emergency assistance
- Free additional employee cards
- Merchant discounts
A business credit card can make your life and your employees’ lives easier. These cards provide an automatic method of keeping business expenses separate from personal expenses, which makes tax records simpler to unravel. You may also be able to deduct business credit card-related expenses on your businesses’ tax return, including your business card’s annual fee and any interest accrued.
Invest a bit of time determining the ideal business credit card for your business in order to reap the benefits with most value to you.
- Many business cards offer high rewards rates on business-related spending like office supply stores.
- Using a business credit card helps your business build a credit profile.
- It can be easier to qualify for a business credit card than a line of credit or a bank loan.
- Many business cards offer quarterly and year-end summaries to track expenditures.
- Putting all expenses on one card can streamline accounting.
- A business credit card can help mitigate cash flow concerns.
- More purchasing power. A higher credit limit will come in handy if, for example, you have to buy several 50-pound cases of chicken for your restaurant or a $1,000 conference table for your office.
- Some card issuers have deferred payment policies tailored to the demands of operating a business.
- You may be personally liable for any unpaid debt on the cards, which can affect your personal credit score.
- Due to the high-interest rates, carrying balances could incur some very high costs.
- Business credit cards are not required to offer the same consumer protections as personal cards under the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which can lead to unexpected fees and interest rate increases.
How to choose the right business credit card
Types of business credit cards:
- Cash back: Just like personal cards, cash back business cards are a popular choice for business owners looking for simple ways to save without having to analyze points valuations or redemption quality. Some cash back business cards offer a straightforward flat rate on all your business expenditures while others have tiered rewards in different categories that may be more useful if they align with your spending.
- Travel: If your business requires frequent travel, a travel credit card is a great way to not only save but also take advantage of added perks like lounge access and travel insurance. You may benefit from choosing a card not only tailored to the way you travel but also allows you to earn bonus points on your other expenses, like dining and office services. You can often increase the value of the points you earn on these cards even more by redeeming them through issuer membership programs, like redeeming American Express Business Gold Card points through American Express Membership Rewards.
- Charge cards: Charge cards work in largely the same ways as credit cards, but unlike credit cards, they have no pre-set spending limit. Instead, purchases are approved based on a number of factors in your financial history and you must pay the balance in full each month. Charge cards may be a good option if you have large purchases planned, but make sure your business has the cash flow to cover any charges you make month-to-month. Charge cards are primarily issued by American Express. Examples include the Business Platinum and Business Gold cards from American Express.
- Balance transfer: If your business has taken on high-interest debts in the past, transferring the balance to a business credit card with a lower APR can help you clear debts more quickly and save money on incurred interest. Business cards are less likely to offer 0% introductory balance transfer rates than personal cards, but you can find some with low variable rates that allow a low or no-fee transfer. Make sure you understand the terms and calculate whether the interest savings are worth any fees you’ll incur. Examples include the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express (0% APR on transfers for 15 months) and the Capital One Spark Cash for Business (no fee to transfer balances, but no introductory rate)
Types of cards to consider based on your business:
- Sole proprietorships or side-hustle businesses: Even if you’re a party of one, you can benefit from keeping your business expenses separate from your personal spending. Consider flat cash-back cards or cards that add value in areas where you spend the most. For example, if you’re selling goods or services online, a card that pays rewards for Internet access or online advertising may be the right fit. A card with flexible redemptions and 2X rewards rate across categories like the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express is great for small businesses.
- General partnerships of two or more people: If you’re business has a small staff, you may want to consider a business credit card that includes free employee cards, like the Capital One Spark Cash or Spark Miles for Business. The main cardholder will accrue any rewards and monthly statements will show a breakdown of what each employee spent on which card.
- Tech-heavy businesses: If most of your spending is on computers and technology-related spending, consider a card that offers benefits in these areas. Or, if your expenses vary, a flat-rate rewards card that offers the same rewards no matter what you’re buying, like the Capital One Spark Cash for Business, may be a happy medium.
- Brick-and-mortar stores: If you own a small business where you sell goods or services in-store, you may benefit most from a card with strong rewards on your utility costs and phone services. A card like the Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard credit card that allows you to choose your highest rewards category can help you maximize spending in these areas.
- Delivery businesses: Businesses that conduct deliveries are likely going to get the most value on rewards for their high spending at gas stations. Look for a card that offers cash back or points on purchases at the pump and low annual fees.
- Travel-based businesses: Anyone with a business that requires frequent employee travel by plane or car, plus overnight hotel stays, should consider a business credit card with travel rewards. Many travel-related business credit cards offer perks beyond points and miles, like free Wi-Fi, priority boarding and other benefits. If your business travel is often international, make sure you choose a card without foreign transaction fees. Examples include the Business Platinum Card from American Express and Capital One Spark Miles for Business.
How to apply for a business credit card
When you apply for a business credit card, the information an issuer asks for may differ depending on the type of business. Regardless of how your business is structured, though, issuers will be looking for signs of good financial health and at least good credit, while some may require an excellent credit score.
According to the Fed’s Small Business Credit Survey Report on Employer Firms released in 2018, 87 percent of employer firms rely on the owners’ personal credit scores to obtain financing.
Here’s more info by business type on the information you should be prepared to share:
Sole proprietor or freelancer:
- You’ll likely only need to provide the same personal information required for personal credit card applications, including your name, social security number (in some cases you may use an employer identification number instead), address and income.
LLC or corporation:
- Your personal information.
- Information about your business, including name, tax identification number, address, business income and more.
- After receiving an initial approval, you may also be asked to provide additional information and documents related to your business for verification.
Regardless of your business type, the issuer will also pull a hard credit check on your personal report, even though the business line of credit will be separate from your personal accounts and won’t affect your personal credit utilization rate.
Similar to applying for personal credit cards, you should evaluate your financial health before submitting any applications. Evaluate the length of your credit history, whether you have any negative activity on your report and your credit score itself. Don’t apply for any cards that you know you’re unlikely to qualify for, as too many applications in a short time period can affect your score negatively. Always be sure to also provide all documentation the issuer requests, or you’ll risk your application being discarded.
Business credit cards vs. business loans
Consider whether a credit card or a loan is the better option for you to get your business up and running. Generally speaking, a business credit card is easier to obtain than a business loan. Even if your credit is just average, you may still qualify for some business credit cards, like the Capital One Spark Classic for Business. There are also secured business credit card options, like the Wells Fargo Business Secured Credit Card, in which you put down an initial deposit that acts as your credit limit, which can help if your credit score is less-than-stellar.
A business loan, however, would be much more difficult to qualify for with anything less than a strong credit profile, as you’d be deemed too big of a risk. It can take months to get approved for a business loan, which may also require collateral, potentially putting you at risk if your business runs into financial trouble.
However, business loans do typically have much lower interest rates than business credit cards. If you need large amounts of cash upfront, a lump sum may also be a better choice than a revolving line of credit, especially if you’re likely to carry a balance on a credit card. But if you’re able to pay the card balance in full every month and you can obtain a large enough credit limit or have the cash flow for a charge card, you’ll likely benefit more from the rewards and perks of a business credit card.
Generally, business loans are a good choice for refinancing or one-time large investments, while business credit cards are ideal for ongoing expenses.
Bankrate’s Business Loan Calculator can help you decide which is best for you.
How do business and consumer credit cards differ?
Business credit cards operate similarly to personal cards and offer comparable rewards structures, but there are some differences.
One of the most important differences that you should be aware of is that business cards lack many of the same protections as consumer cards. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 limits unexpected interest rate hikes, requires clarity and disclosure of changes to consumers and other consumer protections.
These protections don’t extend to business credit card issuers, though. Some may opt-in and protect business cardholders according to the same standards as personal cardholders, but it is not required. You should be aware of the fine print held in your agreement before applying for a business credit card.
Business cards generally have higher fees and interest rates than personal credit cards, but they also may have greater welcome offers and rewards bonuses. Business cards act as a separate line of credit from your personal line of credit. Depending on whether the issuer reports activity to consumer credit bureaus, activity on your business card may or may not affect your personal credit score.
Still, there are some qualities that make these cards similar. Cash back rewards and points are often redeemed in the same way through issuer portals, partners or statement credits. They run on the same card networks, so you shouldn’t have an issue with your business credit card anywhere major networks are accepted. And like personal credit, the more responsible you prove yourself to be with business credit, the less risky you’ll appear to issuers and lenders, allowing you to access increased lines of credit and lower interest rates on business loans.
When to choose a personal card over a business card
Business cards aren’t always the solution for people who incur business expenses.
If your business spending comes from a side hustle or you’re just starting your sole proprietorship, taking on a new personal credit card that you designate for business expenses can help you keep your expenses separate while still providing strong protections from interest rate hikes and fees not required for business credit cards.
If you’re looking for assistance with your debt, business cards typically don’t have lengthy 0% introductory APR offers or balance transfer options that you can find with personal cards. You may be better taking on a personal credit card with a competitive balance transfer offer to help pay any debts you’ve already incurred.
If you do choose a personal card over business, look for cards with rewards that align with your spending in order to benefit even more.
How to use business credit cards
Do your research
Here are a few factors you should consider:
- Typical expenses and rewards: Become familiar with which categories you spend in most frequently in order to choose a card with rewards that will maximize those expenses.
- Annual fee: Look at your spending history and what you expect to spend annually to determine whether a card’s annual fee is worth its rewards.
- Interest rate: If you know there may be times where you risk carrying a balance, whether you’re anticipating periods of slow growth or you’re planning a large purchase to grow your business, you should prioritize a low standard APR card to help mitigate interest payments.
- Extra perks: Look further than cash back percentages and points rewards to see what else a card has to offer, from airport lounge access to free additional employee cards and other tools that can help your business grow.
Have a plan
Establish spending guidelines to ensure you don’t take on high-interest debt using your business credit card.
Outline what constitutes a business expense, set your own spending limits outside of the designated credit limit and have a system in place for tracking purchases to ensure adherence to the rules. If your business is made up of multiple employees, have a clear policy in place to decide who will receive an employee card. Most importantly, communicate all policies and guidelines across the business.
Even if you’re a freelancer or business of one, you should outline these guidelines for yourself to keep you accountable for any purchases you make with your business credit card.
Use your card for business expenses only
The more you use your card, the more rewards you will receive. Use your card responsibly, but don’t forget to actually use it. Especially if your card charges an annual fee, you’ll want to ensure you’re maximizing your rewards and getting the most value out of your spending. Stay diligent in keeping your personal expenses separate from your business expenses to simplify bookkeeping.
You also shouldn’t let your cash back or points rewards gather dust in your account. Redeeming your rewards regularly can ensure that cash back or points value is invested back into your business.
Record-keeping assistance with your business credit card
In addition to keeping personal and business expenses separate, many business credit card issuers also offer expense-tracking features to help simplify your accounting.
American Express’ Spend Manager app allows employees to upload their receipts and generate expense reports. Account Managers can track and manage employee card spending within the app. If your business uses QuickBooks, you can even opt to have expenses automatically sent to your QuickBooks account each day.
Using Chase’s Ink mobile app, Ink Business cardholders can track spending, record receipts and even categorize expenses. Managers can track employee card activity and adjust spending limits within the app.
Capital One allows Spark business cardholders to manage accounts through their mobile app and track employee cards. Account holders can also receive itemized year-end summaries and download purchase records to multiple formats for accounting purposes, including Quicken, QuickBooks and Excel.
If you want a deeper look into how each card may serve your business’ needs, check out our expert reviews on all of the major business credit cards on the market today.
These reviews are up-to-date with the latest offers and our opinions on them.
More info on rates and fees for the American Express® Business Gold Card.