Key takeaways

  • Both corporate and small business credit cards are available for business use, although their benefits and credit reporting practices vary.
  • Corporate cards are available for large, established businesses and are less likely to affect the personal credit of users.
  • Small business credit cards typically require a personal guarantee from the business owner and may affect the credit of owners and authorized users.

While small business credit cards and corporate credit cards are both used by businesses to make purchases, there are many differences between these two types of cards. The effect on cardholders’ credit scores is one factor, but that’s not the only variable. There’s a lot more that employees and business owners need to know.

Key differences between corporate and small business cards

The most noteworthy differences between corporate and small business credit cards include the size of the business they’re intended for, the rewards they offer and the personal liability associated with them.

Business size

Generally speaking, corporate credit cards are intended for larger businesses, often those with established track records that have at least a few years in business and $1 million or more in annual revenue. Small business credit cards are for smaller companies, of course, but also sole proprietors, freelancers, gig workers and the like.

A lot of people don’t realize that. You don’t necessarily need to have formally registered your business in order to sign up for a small business credit card. You can apply using your Social Security number if you don’t have an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. One catch is that you’re only supposed to use the small business credit card for business-related expenses.


You would think giant companies that spend enormous sums of money would receive the best credit card rewards. While corporate card rewards can certainly add up at scale, they’re often pretty meager in terms of the rate the business earns on every dollar it spends — often no more than 1 cent in rewards for every dollar spent.

Rather than rewards, corporate credit cards are more likely to emphasize other selling points. For example, large credit lines, plenty of extra cards for employees (potentially with customized spending limits), easy tie-ins with the company’s accounting and expense reporting software and the lack of personal liability.

Small business cards, on the other hand, often include very generous rewards and other useful perks. As you would expect, their rewards tend to focus on business-friendly categories, such as office supplies, phone and internet service, travel, dining, online advertising and more. Small business cards regularly extend lucrative sign-up bonuses as well. The best options tend to exceed what even the best consumer cards offer.

Personal liability

Corporate cards are typically backed by the business, whereas small business cards are much more likely to require a personal guarantee from the cardholder (likely the business owner).

In other words, if a small business goes under, the owner could be held personally responsible for paying the card issuer back. Their personal finances and personal credit score could suffer.

If you’re an employee using a small business credit card, chances are that you’re an authorized user, in which case you would not be liable for unpaid charges.

Corporate Credit Cards Small Business Credit Cards
Availability For larger, established businesses often with revenue of $1 million+ For small companies, sole proprietors, freelance workers, gig workers, etc.
Hard Inquiry of Personal Credit (Applicants) Unlikely Likely
Hard Inquiry of Personal Credit (Authorized Users/Employees) Unlikely Unlikely
Negative Information Affecting Credit Should not affect personal credit May appear on personal credit reports, including those of authorized users
Usage Affecting Business Credit Score Yes Yes
Rewards Relatively light on rewards; Focus more on large credit lines, extra cards for employees, customized spending limits, compatibility with accounting/expense software, etc. Generous rewards on things like office supplies, phone/internet service, travel, dining, advertising and more; Often include large welcome bonuses
Personal Liability No; Liability is typically tied to the corporation Possibly; Business owner is likely personally responsible for debts (Authorized users generally bear no personal responsibility for repayment)

Credit reporting

When you apply for a small business credit card, the lender will probably check your personal credit score. This hard inquiry is likely to temporarily trim a few points off your score.

Corporate credit cards are less likely to affect your personal credit score, although Experian reports that corporate card issuers sometimes check authorized users’ credit profiles, resulting in hard inquiries on their personal credit reports. For what it’s worth, I’ve had two corporate credit cards and neither affected my personal credit.

If you’re an authorized user on a small business credit card, the issuer is unlikely to check your credit. But derogatory information associated with the account (such as late payments or too much debt) could appear on your personal credit reports. The good news is that it’s usually easy to have those blemishes removed right away, if you request to be taken off the account. If you’re using a corporate credit card, late payments and other maladies shouldn’t affect your personal credit.

By the way, only a few notable small business card issuers report all account activity on personal credit reports (for example, Discover and some Capital One cards). If the account reaches default status, a much longer list of small business card issuers will ding your personal credit reports.

When you apply for a small business credit card or corporate credit card, the lender will probably also check your business credit score (assuming your business has a credit profile). Your usage of a small business or corporate credit card certainly affects your business credit score.

How to build business credit

To build business credit, begin by applying for a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number from Dun & Bradstreet, one of the three major business credit bureaus. It’s an important step in establishing business credit which is separate from personal credit. So we’re talking less about sole proprietors, gig workers and freelancers here — this is targeted more at small businesses that employ additional employees all the way up to mid-sized and larger enterprises.

As Dun & Bradstreet explains, it’s also useful to bulk up your business’ financial footprint by applying for an EIN from the IRS and opening a business bank account. Some business loans and lines of credit report to business credit bureaus. Business owners can also take matters into their own hands and report lines of credit to Dun & Bradstreet as trade references.

Which is better, a corporate card or a small business card?

In some respects, the decision might be made for you. That’s certainly the case for employees, who rarely have a direct say in which type of card their employer uses. But even for business owners, once the organization crosses $1 million in annual revenue, it’s likely the card issuer will recommend a corporate credit card program as opposed to a small business card.

Corporate credit cards typically have much higher credit limits, allow a lot more authorized users and are more likely to integrate with the company’s accounting software. Ironically, corporate card rewards programs aren’t typically as lucrative as those offered by small business cards, but these other advantages can be beneficial to business owners and their accounting teams.

There’s also much more separation between personal and business finances when using a corporate card, as opposed to a small business card which can affect the personal credit scores of small business owners and even some employees. Corporate credit cards, on the other hand, can be thought of as tools that larger companies and their employees can use to buy supplies and pay for travel, entertainment and other business expenses.

If you use one of these, chances are it’s because your employer gave you one, and it won’t affect your personal credit score in most cases. Small business credit cards are products that anyone can apply for (as long as they have a business purpose). These are much more intertwined with one’s personal credit history — especially if you’re the primary account holder.

The bottom line

When choosing between a corporate credit card and a small business card, the primary consideration is likely the size of the business. North of $1 million in annual revenue, you’re probably going to be better off with a corporate card, especially if you have numerous employees. Smaller businesses, as the name suggests, are likely better off with small business cards.

And remember that even sole proprietors, freelancers and gig workers can be good candidates for small business cards that allow them to earn better and more targeted rewards — all while separating their personal and business finances.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at and I’d be happy to help.