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Key takeaways

  • A personal guarantee on a business credit card means you are personally liable to pay off the card, and the issuer can take your personal assets to make card payments if necessary.
  • There are business credit cards that don’t require a personal guarantee, but it’s more difficult to qualify for such cards.
  • If you don’t make payments on a business credit card that’s personally guaranteed, your credit score could be impacted.

There are lots of good reasons that a small business owner may want to get a business credit card. For starters, business credit cards offer unique rewards and perks that are specifically designed for small business owners, many of which can be earned simply by using the card for everyday expenses. But before you apply for a business card, it’s important to understand what a personal guarantee is and how it applies to business credit cards.

A personal guarantee is a standard feature of business cards, so it’s best to know how you, as an individual, may be liable for any balances incurred for business expenses. That way, you can make the most educated decisions for you and your business’s finances.

What is a personal guarantee on a business credit card?

A personal guarantee is a clause in a credit agreement that outlines your liability for the account. When you sign the document, you form a contract with the credit issuer that holds you responsible for paying the bill out of your own assets. When searching for a business card, you’ll want to look for this clause in the fine print, or the business card’s terms and conditions.

For example, the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card has the personal guarantee clause listed in the Pricing & Terms section: “Individual and Company Liability: You understand that by responding to this offer you agree to be personally responsible, both individually and jointly with the Company, for payment of all balances incurred on all cards and accounts issued pursuant to this application now or whenever such additional accounts may be established in the future. You understand that if you leave the employment of the Company, you will continue to be responsible for the outstanding balances on the accounts. You must notify us immediately to close the accounts and prevent further usage.”

What is the difference between a business card personal guarantee and liability on your personal credit card?

When you accepted the approval for your personal credit card, you agreed to be liable for repaying the full balance you’ve accumulated on the account. The same is true with a personal guarantee for a business credit card. If your company becomes insolvent and can’t repay the debt on the account then you would be personally liable for repaying the debt.

The main difference with a personal guarantee on a business credit card is the option for limited or unlimited liability. With limited liability, you would only be liable for a set dollar amount for an account in default. Unlimited liability means you’d be responsible for the full balance on the defaulted card. To determine which kind of liability you have, you would need to check the fine print on your personal guarantee contract.

Why does a business card require a personal guarantee?

Business credit cards are personally guaranteed because most of these products are unsecured. In other words, there is no business collateral for the issuer to claim if the account goes into default. And since credit lines on business cards can be very high, extending the credit lines can be risky for the lender. A personal guarantee lowers that risk.

So, if you’re getting a business credit card, you’ll need to be comfortable with a personal guarantee and use your business card carefully. Only charge when you’re sure you can make the payments, and try to keep the balance well below the credit limit.

A word about corporate cards

Small business cards are issued to individuals to use on behalf of their business. A corporate card, on the other hand, is issued to a corporation with significant assets and credit history. That means the business entity is liable for the account and a personal guarantee isn’t required.

What happens if you can’t make payments on your business credit card?

In the event you stop making payments and the business credit card account goes into default, the issuer can (and will) turn to you for total repayment of what’s owed. It doesn’t matter that the charges weren’t for your own needs: You’re liable for the company’s card and the expenses charged.

Also, be aware that a business card can affect your personal credit, depending on the issuer and account. In many cases, the issuer reports your business card account activity to the three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Sometimes they only report negative information, but nearly all major banks report at least that. In this situation, a business card won’t help your personal credit score since positive behavior isn’t reported, but it can hurt it.

Consequently, that account can factor into your credit scores. This means not keeping up with payments on your business credit card could negatively affect your personal credit score.

Steps to take if you can’t repay your business card

Take action early if you foresee trouble paying your business credit card debt, and take the following steps to more effectively manage your business debt:

  • Cut unnecessary expenses. Look for areas where you can cut costs in your business and minimize unnecessary spending. Direct any savings gained toward paying down your credit card debt.
  • Consider a balance transfer credit card. Balance transfer credit cards allow you to consolidate your existing credit card debt — including business card debt — to a new card with a low- or no-interest introductory APR. By consolidating your business card debt, you’ll save on expensive interest charges. But make sure to pay off the entire transferred balance before your introductory rate expires.
  • Look into a small business loan. A small business loan can help you pay business credit card debt, often at lower rates than you’d pay with a business card. Compare terms and interest rates of the loan to ensure it’s the best for your business finances and goals.
  • Contact your card issuer. Many card issuers offer hardship programs that may allow you to defer or delay payments, reduce your interest rate temporarily or work out a modified payment plan that fits your current financial situation. It’s crucial to reach out to your issuer as soon as possible, ideally before you miss a payment, to discuss your options.

Can a credit card company take legal action for unpaid business credit card debt?

Yes, credit card companies can take legal action against you for any unpaid business card debt. The personal guarantee on business credit cards enables issuers to sue you for your assets to recoup the losses your business subjected them to by not paying its debt. But they typically do so only in extreme circumstances where the debt is substantial or late by six months or more.

If you receive a summons from your issuer, do not ignore it. Confirm the debt and contact an attorney for guidance.

Can you get a business card without a personal guarantee?

If you’re uncomfortable with a personal guarantee, there are a few credit cards that do not require a personal guarantee, but these are typically corporate cards and require high annual revenues to qualify. For example, the Office Depot® Business Credit Account* requires corporations to be in business for more than three years with more than $5 million in annual revenue.

Then there’s the Brex Card*, which is not available to sole proprietors or unincorporated partnerships, but doesn’t require a credit check or personal guarantee. That said, Brex outlines a list of eligibility requirements on its website. Requirements may include more than $1 million in annual revenue, a minimum linked bank balance, equity investment criteria or a minimum company size, making it difficult for some businesses to qualify.

The bottom line

In the end, a personal guarantee shouldn’t scare you away from getting a top business credit card. When you open any credit card, you’ll sign a contract where you’ll pledge to treat the account according to the terms outlined. If you charge but do not make your payments as agreed, late payments will negatively affect your credit rating, and the issuer can take steps to collect if your account goes seriously delinquent.

But if you use a business account responsibly — with on-time payments and well-managed debt — you will enjoy all of the great aspects of a business credit card. You’ll create and sustain a positive credit history and build your business credit, all while protecting your personal credit.

 *Information about the Office Depot® Business Credit Account and Brex Card has been collected independently by Bankrate. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.