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- Small-business cards are typically designed to meet the needs of small businesses, while corporate credit cards are better suited to the needs of corporates with millions of dollars in annual revenue.
- You will typically be personally liable for payment on a small-business credit card while there is no personal liability with a corporate card usually.
- Employees can be made jointly liable for purchases they make with a corporate credit card, while that’s not the case with small-business credit cards.
Whether you’re a freelancer or you own a business with hundreds of employees, having a dedicated credit card for your business can make a lot of sense.
Having a dedicated business credit card makes it considerably easier to keep all your personal and business spending separate for tax purposes and bookkeeping. It can also provide valuable protections and cardholder benefits, like cash back or points.
But not all credit cards are created equal, and there are significant differences in debt liability, eligibility and perks between small-business credit cards and corporate credit cards. Read on to learn which option is best for your business.
What’s the difference between a business credit card and a corporate credit card?
Most of the differences between small business and corporate credit cards stem from one key distinction: liability. With small-business credit cards, the debt liability falls on the business owner, typically. The business owner is personally responsible for paying any debt acquired on the business credit card, and their credit will be impacted by the (good or bad) account activity. With corporate cards, the debt liability usually falls on the business itself. That means that the business owner is usually not personally responsible for the debt.
This fundamental difference is why corporate credit cards have stricter approval requirements than small-business credit cards. Let’s dig into some of these distinctions.
Small-business credit cards
Business credit cards are designed for small-business owners, but they generally work the same as traditional credit cards for consumers. Businesses of all types and sizes (from side gigs to multi-million-dollar empires) are eligible for business credit cards. To be approved for a small-business credit card, you’ll usually need:
- At least a “fair” personal credit score, though higher is always better
- Your business’s tax ID (EIN) or your personal Social Security number
Small-business credit cards are generally easier to qualify for than corporate credit cards. Still, there are pros and cons to this option.
- Earn rewards on your spending and your employee spending
- Easy to compare credit card options online
- Pool rewards on personal and business cards in the same program
- Easy to get approved without an extensive business credit history, which makes them a better option for startups
- The business owner is usually personally liable for business debts acquired on the card
- Cannot make employees jointly liable for purchases made with employee cards
- May not come with as many expense-tracking tools as corporate cards
Corporate credit cards
Corporate credit cards are designed for larger, more established businesses. To be approved for a corporate credit card, you’ll usually need:
- Several millions of dollars in annual revenue
- Established business credit history
- Corporation status (C-Corp, S-Corp or some LLCs)
Even if that sounds like your business, know that corporate cards come with their share of advantages and disadvantages.
- Allow you to manage and monitor expenses for hundreds of employees
- You may be able to earn cash back
- You can make your employees jointly liable for purchases they make
- Not as easy to apply for online
- They tend to come with fewer protections on purchases
- You need an established business credit history to be approved
Key differences between business and corporate cards
|Business credit cards||Corporate credit cards|
|Who’s liable?||The business owner usually signs a personal guarantee, making themself liable for all debt (including any debt charged by employee cardholders).||The business owner is typically not required to assume liability for the debt. Employee cardholders may be partially liable for debt.|
|Who’s eligible?||All business types, including informal and unregistered businesses. There is usually no required business size, business credit score or revenue.||Established corporations with multi-million dollar annual revenue, good business credit and the ability to meet a high spending threshold. Specific requirements will vary by issuer.|
How to decide between a corporate and a business credit card
Here are some of the issues you should consider as you decide between corporate cards and small-business cards:
- Do you want employees to be jointly liable for purchases made with their cards? If you want employees to be jointly liable for any purchases they make with their card (including personal expenses they charge), then a corporate card is your best bet. If you just want your employees to have a way to charge purchases, and you don’t mind taking on all the liability, however, a small-business card account may be just fine.
- Do you want to earn traditional credit card rewards? Small-business credit cards tend to offer better rewards programs than corporate cards, and you may even be able to earn the same type of rewards you earn on your regular spending. If you have a personal credit card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, for example, you could sign up for a Chase business credit card that offers the same rewards and pool all your points in a single account.
- What kind of cardholder perks are you hoping for? Perks offered by both types of cards vary. If you’re hoping for a business card with a 0 percent intro APR offer or consumer protections like travel insurance, a small-business credit card is probably a better bet.
Making the switch: Moving from a small-business card to a corporate card
If your business has grown to the point where you suddenly have hundreds of employees to manage, then you may want to consider a corporate credit card instead of the small-business cards you have used in the past. It can make sense if you want access to the detailed spending reports some corporate cards offer or if you want to have employees be jointly liable for purchases they charge to their accounts.
That said, corporate credit cards are generally best for businesses that rake in millions of dollars each year and those with large numbers of employees who are making purchases on behalf of the business. Your business will also need an established credit history before you apply, which will be reviewed as part of your corporate credit card application.
The bottom line
Getting a credit card for your business is an important part of being a business owner, and that’s true whether you employ hundreds of people or just yourself. Just make sure you’re getting the right type of business credit card for your business and that you have access to the tools and resources you want the most.
Also, remember that the best business credit cards should let you earn cash back or travel rewards, which can add up quickly if your business spends a lot on miscellaneous purchases or inventory each month.