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Your guide to choosing the best small-business credit card
A business credit card can be game-changing for a small-business owner. 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 guide:
Comparing the top business credit cards
|Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card
||Unlimited 1.5% Cash Back on business purchases
(Read full card review)
|Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
||5% cash back on internet, cable, phone services and office supply stores (up to $25,000 a year in combined purchases)
(Read full card review)
|Capital One Spark Cash for Business
||Unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases
(Read full card review)
|The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
||0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from account opening, then 13.24% – 19.24% variable
(Read full card review)
|American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card
||2% cash back on up to $50,000 per calendar year, then 1% (Cash back earned is automatically credited to your statement.)
(Read full card review)
|American Express® Business Gold Card
||4X points on up to $150,000 per year in two select categories your business spends the most in each billing cycle and 2X points on rental cars booked through AmexTravel.com
(Read full card review)
|Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
||3x points per $1 on the first $150,000 annually in combined travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services
(Read full card review)
|Capital One Spark Miles for Business
||2X miles on every purchase
(Read full card review)
|Bank of America® Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card
||3% cash back in choice category and 2% cash back on dining (on the first $50,000 in combined choice category/dining purchases each calendar year)
(Read full card review)
A closer look at our top business credit cards
Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card
Best for unlimited cash back
- This card is a good fit for: Small-business owners just starting out with rewards.
- This card is not a great choice for: Those looking to earn rewards in specific categories. If that sounds like you, the Ink Business Cash is a good choice, because it rewards at a higher rate on office supply stores, internet, cable and phone services (5 percent cash back in combined purchases of the first $25,000 spent each account anniversary year), as well as gas stations and restaurants (2 percent cash back in combined purchases of the first $25,000 spent each account anniversary year).
- What makes this card unique? It’s not uncommon for business credit cards to charge fees for additional employee cards, but the Ink Business Unlimited provides them for free. You can also set individual spending limits for employee cards.
- Is the Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card card worth it? With no annual fee, a reliable rewards structure and money-saving perks, this card definitely carries its weight. Plus, new cardholders have the opportunity to pocket the $750 bonus after spending $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Read our Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card review.
Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
Best for office supplies
- This card is a good fit for: Businesses with traditional office setups.
- This card is not a great choice for: Businesses that operate mostly digitally.
- What makes this card unique? The bonus categories, which include office supply stores and utilities such as cable, internet and phone services are uniquely valuable to many types of businesses.
- Is the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card card worth it? The 5 percent bonus categories are extremely valuable if the bulk of your business expenses fall within them. If you were to max out the $25,000 annual spending cap within that category, you would earn $1,250 in cash back before dropping to the 1 percent rate, which is pretty incredible (25,000 x .05 = 1,250).
Read our Ink Business Cash® Credit Card review.
Capital One Spark Cash for Business
Best for 2% cash back
- This card is a good fit for: Small-business owners who want to avoid keeping track of bonus categories.
- This card is not a great choice for: Business owners seeking the best sign-up bonus.
- What makes this card unique? In general, a flat cash back rate of 1.5 percent is pretty good, so the Spark Cash for Business sets itself apart by offering a 33% higher rate.
- Is the Capital One Spark Cash for Business card worth it? The tradeoff for a high rewards rate is a $95 annual fee, which is waived for the first year. It would take $4,750 of spending to earn $95 in cash back, so as long as your annual credit card charges are greater than that, you’re in the green.
Read our Capital One Spark Cash for Business review.
The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
Best for everyday business expenses
- This card is a good fit for: Small-business owners who want to redeem rewards for travel.
- This card is not a great choice for: Those who want to redeem rewards or cash back.
- What makes this card unique? For travelers, the perks aren’t limited to redemption options. The Blue Business Plus comes with rental car insurance as well as access to the Global Assist® Hotline, which can help with emergencies such as a lost passport or missing luggage.
- Is The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express card worth it? If your business requires you to fly or book hotel stays often, the 2x points earned on every purchase (on up to $50,000 per calendar year) will certainly be of value. If you max out the annual spending cap, you would earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points before dropping to the 1X rate. American Express Membership Rewards points are generally valued at two cents apiece, so that puts your annual rewards value at an eye-popping $2,000 (100,000 x .02 = 2,000).
Read our The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express review.
American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card
Best for startups
- This card is a good fit for: Newer businesses seeking flat-rate cash back
- This card is not a great choice for: Business owners planning to use their card for much more than $50,000 per calendar year. Once you reach this spending cap, your rate drops to 1 percent cash back.
- What makes this card unique? This card offers Expanded Buying Power, a potential game-changer for a new business. This benefit gives you the option of exceeding your credit limit without having to pay an over-limit fee. If you need to make a large purchase that would put you over your credit limit, the flexibility of extended purchasing power could help you get over the hump. Just remember that the amount you can spend over your normal limit isn’t unlimited and that it changes according to payment history, credit record and other factors.
- Is the American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card card worth it? For smaller businesses, the Blue Business Cash may be the sweet spot — a high, flat rate of cash back plus no annual fee is a pretty appealing deal. However, your earning potential slows down when you spend much more than the $50,000 annual spending cap.
Read our American Express Blue Business Cash review.
American Express® Business Gold Card
Best for variety of rewards categories
- This card is a good fit for: Small-business owners with ever-changing spending habits.
- This card is not a great choice for: Business owners seeking a card with a low or no annual fee.
- What makes this card unique? American Express offers six valuable, business-oriented rewards categories. Each billing cycle, you’ll be rewarded at a rate of four points per dollar in whichever two categories you spent the most within (up to $150,000 in combined purchases per year).
- Is the American Express Business Gold Card worth it? You’ll get the most value from your rewards by redeeming them for travel, in which case they’re typically worth two cents apiece*. If you’re hoping to redeem for gift cards or statement credits, it may be tougher to recoup the value of the $295 annual fee.
Read our American Express® Business Gold Card review
Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Best for flexible travel options
- This card is a good fit for: Small-business owners seeking travel rewards and an impressive sign-up bonus.
- This card is not a great choice for: Those who refuse to pay an annual fee.
- What makes this card unique? The rewards rates alone make this card valuable for business travelers, but the real icing on the cake is the wealth of redemption options. You can redeem your points for 25 percent more value for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, but you also have the option to transfer your points 1:1 to big-name airline and hotel partners like United, Southwest, British Airways, Marriott and Hyatt.
- Is the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card card worth it? In addition to the long-term value, this card offers a massive sign-up bonus: a whopping 100,000 points to those who spend $15,000 within the first three months of opening an account. According to Chase, the welcome offer is valued at $1,250 in travel purchases when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, which is enough to pay for the annual fee 13 times over.
Read our Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card review.
Capital One Spark Miles for Business
Best for business travel rewards
- This card is a good fit for: Budget-conscious business travelers.
- This card is not a great choice for: Business travelers seeking luxury benefits, like airport lounge access. If that’s what you’re after, consider The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
- What makes this card unique? While some travel credit cards have complicated rewards structures, the Capital One Spark Miles for Business keeps it simple, offering unlimited 2X miles on every purchase. Redeeming your miles is simplified, too. You can book travel through Capital One or use your miles to cover travel-related purchases made on your card within the last 90 days, including airfare, hotel bookings, transit and more.
- Is the Capital One Spark Miles for Business card worth it? The $95 annual fee is waived the first year, but there’s still the question of how much you’ll need to spend within each subsequent year to make the card worth it. Capital One miles are generally worth 1 cent apiece, so it would take 9,500 miles to make up the cost of the $95 annual fee in rewards value. That translates to $4,750 spent on the card (4,750 x 2 = 9,500).
Read our full Capital One Spark Miles for Business review.
*Point and mile valuations are sourced from The Points Guy’s monthly valuations.
What are small-business credit cards?
Business credit cards are similar to personal credit cards, only tailored to business needs. They can provide businesses with rewards on their everyday spending, help cover expenses during seasonal periods and assist in building business credit, making it easier to borrow in the future and qualify for a lower credit card APR.
You don’t need a traditional or formal business to get a business credit card. Usually, as long as you sell a good or service, you’re considered an eligible small-business owner.
How do they work?
In practice, business credit cards work the same as consumer credit cards: You get approved for a specific credit limit, which serves as your spending maximum. Your available credit decreases as you make purchases, and it increases as you pay off those purchases. Business credit cards often come with rich rewards programs, sign-up bonuses and money-saving perks.
While plenty of cards offer rewards, business credit card rewards are often customized to fit the categories in which businesses spend most, allowing you to effectively save money on common expenditures. Your business credit card can earn rewards for any eligible expenses your business incurs, from copier ink to hotel stays. The rewards typically come in the form of cash back or travel miles.
Depending on which type of card you choose, business credit cards often come with additional perks and upgrades, including:
- Airport lounge access
- TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry application rebate
- Cellphone and rental car insurance
- Purchase protection
- Travel and emergency assistance
- Free additional employee cards
- Merchant discounts
Types of business credit cards
Invest some time in determining the ideal business credit card for your business so that you can reap the benefits with the most value to you. Here’s a breakdown of different types of cards and how they might appeal to you based on your business objectives:
Cash back cards
Good for: Helping small businesses maintain cash flow
Just like personal cards, cash back business cards are a popular choice for business owners looking for simple ways to put money back in their pockets. Some cash back 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 rewards cards
Good for: Owners who want to offset costs of business trips
If your business requires frequent travel, a business travel credit card is a great way to not only save but also take advantage of perks like lounge access and travel insurance. 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.
Balance transfer cards
Good for: Businesses that need to manage and consolidate debt
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.
Before completing a balance transfer, make sure you understand the terms and figure out whether the interest savings are worth any fees you’ll incur. You can run a simulated balance transfer with Bankrate’s Credit Card Balance Transfer Calculator
Good for: Owners who want to maintain financial discipline
Though they work in largely the same ways as credit cards, charge cards differ from credit cards in that 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.
Pros and cons
More than half (53 percent) of small employers use credit cards on a regular basis, according to the Federal Reserve’s 2020 Small Business Credit Survey. Business credit cards can be a great tool for managing your business’s cash flow, earning rewards and staying organized, but they aren’t for every situation. Like any form of credit, there are benefits and drawbacks.
Pros of small-business credit cards
- It can be easier to qualify for a business credit card than a line of credit or a bank loan.
- Using a business credit card responsibly can increase your business credit score, which looks better to vendors and can get you the best interest rates on business loans.
- They usually provide higher credit limits than consumer credit cards.
- A business credit card can help address cash flow concerns.
- Keeping business expenses separate from personal makes tax records simpler to unravel.
- Some card issuers have deferred payment policies tailored to the demands of operating a business.
Cons of small-business credit cards
- You may be personally liable for any unpaid debt on the cards, which can affect your personal credit score.
- Business cards generally have higher fees and interest rates than personal credit cards.
- 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.
Who should get a business credit card?
Business credit cards are, of course, designed for small-business owners. While that might bring to mind an image of someone operating a physical storefront, small-business owners take many shapes. Freelancers, contract workers, eBay merchants, and all kinds of gig workers can qualify for business credit cards.
Business credit cards are useful for small-business owners who want to …
- Earn some extra cash — Even if you’re just using the card for occasional purchases — a client lunch here, supplies there — cash back will rack up over time. Why not earn cash rewards that can help boost your bottom line?
- Use point or miles to cover business travel — Whether you’re a current or aspiring business traveler, a travel rewards card can put you one step closer to a free flight or hotel stay with every eligible purchase.
- Separate business expenses from personal — One of the most basic reasons to have a card dedicated solely to business is to track and manage your business expenses. Not only does this help with budgeting, but it makes doing your business’s taxes much simpler.
- Finance a large purchase — If you’re dreaming of taking your business to the next level but don’t quite have the funds to comfortably cut a check, a business credit card can help. Not only can you split up the payments over several months, but you can also avoid interest entirely by making use of a 0% introductory APR period.
- Take advantage of unique perks — Business cards often come with benefits designed to appeal to small-business owners. Common perks include free employee cards, expense tracking tools, quarterly summaries, merchant discounts, purchase protection and travel benefits.
Read more: Should I get a small-business credit card?
Why 2021 is the year to start your small business
Starting a business is a leap of faith, and it’s important to know when the time is right. After a year of uncertainty and shaky economic conditions, the question of timing is more pertinent than ever.
Bankrate columnist and small-business expert Erica Sandberg says that 2021 could be a springboard year for small businesses, with hardships of the pandemic waning and consumers beginning to feel hopeful and spend more freely. In her column, Sandberg notes several reasons why 2021 is the year to start your small business.
- Affordable commercial space – With many businesses going entirely remote, demand for commercial spaces is lower than it once was. That’s good news for businesses that require a storefront, like restaurants or gyms, because it means rent is often discounted or negotiable.
- Pent-up consumer demand – For most, 2020 meant pressing pause on leisure activities like travel, dining, and shopping. With restrictions lifted and spirits high, some economic forecasters predict a spike in consumer spending in the coming years.
- Increased career autonomy – According to the Congressional Research Service, 22.1 million jobs were lost between January and April 2020. For many who were laid off in 2020, small-business ownership is attractive because it doesn’t require relying on an employer.
“As long as you’re excited and prepared, this is a uniquely ideal year to launch,” writes Sandberg.
Funding resources: you have options
If you’re like most prospective business owners, getting your business off the ground will require more cash than you have in savings. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get the funding you need. Common small-business funding sources include crowdfunding platforms, bank loans, SBA loans, investors and credit cards.
According to the Federal Reserve’s 2020 Small Business Credit Survey, credit cards are the second most common form of financing for small businesses, used on a regular basis by 53 percent of small-business owners. Plenty of business credit cards come with introductory 0 percent APR periods, which allow you to carry a balance for a number of months without accruing interest. These intro APR periods are often a year or longer, giving you some time to purchase startup materials and solidify your income streams without racking up interest charges.
“I firmly believe that 2021 will be a yearlong springtime for small businesses,” Sandberg writes. “With intense hardships receding into the past, passionate new entrepreneurs are ready to burst onto the scene.”
How to choose the best credit card for your business
- Assess your spending. Be aware of the categories you spend in most frequently in order to choose a card with rewards that will maximize those expenses.
- Sum up your expenses. Look at your spending history and what you expect to spend annually to determine whether a card’s annual fee is worth its rewards. An easy way to get a rough estimate is to multiply one credit card statement by 12.
- Plan ahead. If you know there may be times when 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.
- Check out additional card 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.
How to apply
The business credit card application process is similar to applying for a personal credit card, but not entirely. Here are a few things you might want to prepare for:
Submitting your information
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, though there are a few business credit cards for bad credit.
As a 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.
As an LLC or corporation, be ready to provide:
- Your personal information
- Information about your business, including name, tax identification number, address and business income
- Additional information and documents related to your business for verification after receiving an initial approval
- A personal guarantee stating that you’re personally willing to assume liability for any debt your business incurs. This is required by most business credit cards, with a few exceptions.
Always be sure to also provide all documentation the issuer requests, or you’ll risk your application being discarded.
Be aware of effects on your credit score
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.
Tips on how to use small-business credit cards
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t let your cash back or rewards points expire. Redeeming your rewards regularly can ensure that cash back or points value is invested back into your business rather than going to waste.
What is the highest-paying business cash back card?
That question doesn’t have a truly definitive answer, mainly because of the way cash back credit cards work. Some cards offer the same (relatively low) rate of cash back on all purchases. These are called flat-rate cards. Others, often called tiered category cards, feature higher rewards rates in particular spending categories limited by spending caps.
Because there are different earning structures, the highest-paying card for you depends on your spending habits. That said, we can offer a detailed analysis of several business cash back cards available from our partners to help you make your own decision.
Flat-rate with spending caps
The American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card earns 2 percent cash back on all eligible purchases, but only on up to $50,000 per calendar year, after which the rate slides to 1 percent. Cash back earned is automatically credited to your statement.
If you made $50,000 in purchases with this card in a calendar year, you’d earn $1,000 in cash back at that 2 percent rate. You would continue to earn after reaching the $50,000 limit, but at the reduced rate of 1 percent.
Even with the spending cap, the potential to earn at least $1,000 in cash back per calendar year should hold some appeal for just about any small business owner.
This card offers a welcome bonus currently, which is pretty competitive for an American Express card. It’s also one of the few American Express cards that doesn’t charge an annual fee.
Tiered categories with spending caps
Things get a little more complex with the Bank of America® Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card. It has two bonus cash back categories, but your combined earnings in those categories have a $50,000-per-calendar-year limit. The card also earns 1 percent cash back on all other non-category purchases.
|3% choice, which you can select from a list of six options including office supply stores and travel
||Combined $50,000/per calendar year with dining category
|2% on dining purchases
||Combined $50,000/per calendar year with choice category
|1% on all other purchases
The most cash back you could earn in the combined choice/dining categories in a calendar year would be $1,500 ($50,000 at 3 percent). You would also earn an unlimited 1 percent cash back on eligible purchases outside the bonus categories.
If your business spends a lot of money on purchases in the choice and dining categories, you could earn cash back at a significantly faster rate with this card than with most others — at least until you hit the $50,000 threshold. Overall, this Bank of America card (which has no annual fee) could generate a tidy sum of cash back for a particular kind of business owner.
Small-business credit cards vs. corporate credit cards
Small-business credit cards and corporate credit cards can both achieve the same goal of financing a business. However, they’re designed for different types of businesses. Corporate credit cards are usually only accessible to larger businesses with millions in annual revenue, while small-business credit cards are designed for all types of small-business owners.
In general, corporate credit cards are much tougher to get. Corporate cards typically require the business to have good credit, several million in annual revenue, and a certain number of authorized cardholders. Also, the card issuer often conducts a financial audit before approving or denying the corporate card application.
Small-business cards have much fewer barriers to entry. With good personal credit, some basic information about your business and the willingness to provide a personal guarantee, you’re eligible for many of the best business credit cards.
Lastly, there are some key differences in how debt liability works. With small-business cards, the debt burden always lies with the primary cardholder – the person provided the personal guarantee. With corporate credit cards, liability may fall solely on the business or be shared between all authorized cardholders.
Those are the largest differences, but check out our full comparison of corporate and small business credit cards for the finer details.
How we choose our top business card selections
While we consider all aspects of a credit card when calculating the 5-star Bankrate score, the criteria for business cards emphasize features most valued by business owners. Scoring on this page places a weighted emphasis on factors including:
APR (Annual Percentage Rate)
Some cards offer lower variable APRs, while others allow business owners to manage debt from large purchases or other credit accounts with 0% intro APR offers.
When evaluating each card, we consider both the earning structure rate and corresponding redemption values that a small/medium business owner can expect with every eligible purchase.
Bonuses, discounts and perks
For each sign-up bonus or welcome offer, we compare the spending requirements 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.
More research on credit cards for businesses
If you want a deeper look into how each card may serve your business’s needs, check out our expert reviews on all of the major business credit cards on the market today.
Stay in the know and get informed with the latest business credit card news and advice.
More info on rates and fees for the American Express® Business Gold Card.
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