Within the first year of business, roughly 20% of new small businesses will fail. Only about half of new businesses make it to the five-year mark — and the rate drops down to one third for businesses that make it a decade or more.
Given the odds, it makes sense for business lenders to want a little security when it comes to handing out business credit; after all, chances are high that your company will fold within a few years. Hence, the personal guarantee required by many issuers of business credit cards that puts cardholders on the line for any credit card debt accumulated by their business.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of small business credit cards come with a personal guarantee requirement. The only real ways around a personal guarantee are for businesses large enough to provide a measure of security to the lender — and that usually means older, established corporations with revenues in the millions.
Best Business Cards with a Personal Guarantee
As we mentioned above, a personal guarantee on a business credit card makes you, the cardholder, personally responsible for any unpaid balance on the credit card account. In other words, if your business goes under with an outstanding credit card balance, you’re still legally obligated to repay that balance yourself — regardless of the state of your business.
Essentially, a personal guarantee means you’re effectively cosigning your company’s credit card. So, as part of the application process, you’ll be required to provide your Social Security number and give permission for a personal credit check.
Since opening credit cards simply to rack up debt you don’t intend to pay is typically considered to be fraud — which is illegal — the personal guarantee shouldn’t impact most business cardholders (the exception may be for cards that report on personal credit reports — see below). And, agreeing to the personal guarantee unlocks a host of potentially lucrative business credit and charge cards.
Top Business Credit Cards with Rewards
For some folks, the biggest perk of being a business owner is unlocking a whole new realm of business rewards credit cards. And this isn’t surprising, as you can find a number of very valuable rewards cards for business owners, including card options for points, miles, and cash back rewards.
Not all rewards cards will be ideal for all business owners, of course. To maximize your rewards, look for the expenses on which your business spends the most money — then, find a card that offers the most value for those purchases.
at Chase'ssecure website
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
- Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases - with no limit to the amount you can earn
- Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
- No foreign transaction fees
18.24% - 23.24% Variable
Anyone looking to maximize rewards should consider this card, which earns versatile Ultimate Rewards® points on every purchase, with up to 3X points per dollar on purchases in several useful bonus categories. Points can be redeemed for travel through Chase or be transferred to one of a dozen hotel and airline partners for even more potential value.
at the issuer'ssecure website
- Earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
- Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
- Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
- Earn 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn
- 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases
- Employee cards at no additional cost
0% Intro APR on Purchases 12 months
15.49% - 21.49% Variable
Straddling the line between simple rewards and maximizing your earnings, this card offers easy cash back rewards that can be redeemed for statement credit, and high rewards rates in several useful business categories that include communications services and office supply stores. Not bad for a card with no annual fee.
- Earn unlimited 2% cash back for your business on every purchase, everywhere
- Earn a one-time $500 cash bonus once you spend $4,500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
- $0 annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
- $0 Fraud Liability if your card is lost or stolen
- Free employee cards, which also earn unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases
- Rewards won't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem your cash back for any amount
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
This card is a solid choice for business owners who want simple rewards, offering an unlimited 2% cash back on every purchase and a waived annual fee for the first year. (If you’re not going to make well over $4,750 in yearly card purchases, then consider the Capital One® Spark® Cash Select for Business, which has no annual fee and may provide better value to businesses with limited expenses.)
The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express is good for businesses that don’t want to deal with bonus categories, as cardholders earn 2X points per dollar on every purchase, regardless of category, on up to $50,000 in purchases each year.
- Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points per $1 on the first $50,000 in purchases each year
- Earn unlimited 1X points per $1 thereafter
- Pay $0 annual fee
After hitting the spending cap, purchases earn unlimited 1X points per dollar. This card charges no annual fee, and new cardholders can enjoy 12 months of 0% APR on both new purchases and balance transfers.
The U.S. Bank Business Edge™ Select Rewards Card is a very versatile rewards card that offers users a choice of 3X points bonus rewards from three broad categories that each encompass at least five merchant types.
- Earn 3X rewards points on a broad bonus category of your choice, including day-to-day expenses, automotive, and travel/entertainment
- Earn unlimited 1X point on all other purchases
- Pay no annual fee
Non-bonus purchases earn an unlimited 1X points per dollar. The U.S. Bank Business Edge™ Select Rewards Card charges no annual fee, nor does it charge for employee cards. New cardholders can enjoy an introductory 0% APR offer as well as a signup bonus with a reasonable spending requirement.
Top Business Cards for Owners with Limited Credit
One of the most common reasons business owners look for cards that don’t require a personal guarantee is their concern about their personal credit. Cards that require a personal guarantee will also require a personal credit check — and subpar personal credit can definitely have a negative impact on your business credit card application.
Fortunately, you can find a handful of business credit cards that are available to business owners with fair or limited personal credit. What’s more, these ground-floor business cards tend to offer nice perks like employee cards and purchase rewards.
- Enjoy no annual fee
- Earn 1% cash back on every purchase
- Build business credit with responsible use
- Fraud coverage if your card is ever lost or stolen
- No foreign transaction fees
- Enjoy business benefits including Year-End Summaries, employee cards at no extra cost and experienced small business customer service
Average, Fair, Limited
This is one of the very few unsecured options for business owners with less-than-good personal credit. Despite being for the fair-credit market, this card has a lot going for it, including a $0 annual fee, unlimited 1% cash back on purchases, and free employee cards.
The Wells Fargo Business Secured Credit Card charges a small annual fee, but the purchase rewards may help make up for that — an annual spend of around $1,700 would earn enough rewards to negate the annual fee.
- Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase made with your card, redeemable as a statement credit or check
- Access credit lines from $500 to $25,000
- Pay $25 annual fee
Wells Fargo Business Secured Credit Card requires a security deposit to open and maintain, and it has a minimum deposit requirement of at least $500. Qualified applicants may be able to put down up to $25,000 for a larger credit line, though not all applicants may be eligible for the largest credit line.
(The information related to Wells Fargo Business Secured Credit Card has been collected by CardRates.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.)
The BBVA Secured Visa® Business Credit Card is a solid secured card that charges a moderate annual fee, though it’s waived the first year. Users earn bonus rewards at office supply stores and gas stations, with unlimited 1X points per dollar on everything else.
- Earn 3x points at office supply stores and 2x points at gas stations and restaurants
- Earn 1X point per $1 on all other purchases
- Pay no annual fee the first year, then $40
This card requires applicants to open a Secured Credit Card Savings Account with a minimum deposit amount of $500. The credit line that you receive will be equal to 90% of the deposit amount. This card is only open to residents of Alabama, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, California, and New Mexico.
Top Business Charge Cards
In the earliest days of payment cards, most of what you were offered were charge cards — credit lines that you had to pay off in full every month. While the credit card, with its revolving credit line, has come to dominate the market, American Express still offers a number of lucrative charge cards for consumers and businesses alike.
If one of Amex’s charge cards appeals to you, but you’re loath to give up the ability to carry a balance at need, don’t worry — you may still have the option. These cards typically come with a pay over time feature for purchases over $100 that allows you to carry eligible purchases for longer.
The American Express Business Platinum Card® is a top-tier card best for businesses with a lot of travel expenses, as the card’s main rewards categories include flights and prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com (and flights booked directly with the airline).
- Earn 5X points per $1 spent on flights and hotels booked through amextravel.com
- Earn 1.5X points per $1 on purchases of $5,000 and up
- Pay $595 annual fee
Large purchases over $5,000 also earn 1.5X points per dollar. In addition to bonus rewards on travel, the card has a number of valuable travel perks, including airport lounge access through the Amex Global Lounge collection, elite status with multiple hotel brands, and an annual airline fee credit.
The American Express Business Gold Card has a somewhat uncommon structure that automatically provides 4X Membership Rewards® on the two categories with the most spend each billing cycle from a list that includes things like advertising, gas stations, and shipping.
- Earn 4X points per dollar on the 2 categories in which you spend the most each month
- Earn 1X point per $1 on all other purchases
- Pay $295 annual fee
This card has an unusual set of new cardholder perks that includes a Membership Rewards® points bonus, up to one year of free G Suite Basic, and up to one year of ZipRecruiter Standard. The annual fee is on the high side, but the rewards, extra perks, and new cardholder benefits can balance this out for users who can maximize them.
The Business Green Rewards Card from American Express is a lower-cost travel card, earning 2X points per dollar on eligible purchases through amextravel.com and unlimited 1X points on everything else.
- 2X Membership Rewards® points per dollar on eligible purchases through amextravel.com
- Charge card with no pre-set spending limit
- Pay $0 annual fee the first year, then $95
The card’s annual fee is waived the first year, and the first purchase unlocks a 5,000-point bonus. Account holders can track and manage employee expenses with free employee cards, and employee cards also earn purchase rewards.
Meeting Revenue Req’s May Waive Personal Guarantee
The personal guarantee on a business credit card is the issuer’s way of reducing its risk; if the business can’t pay its debts and closes while it still has outstanding credit card debt, the issuer has some recourse for getting its money back.
Personal guarantees are found in the form of specific clauses in the card’s terms and conditions that spell out your personal liability for the debt. (If you’re unsure if a specific card has a personal guarantee clause, just scan your terms and conditions for the word “liability” and you’ll likely find it. As a rule, any application that asks for a personal SSN will likely have a personal guarantee.)
Since financial institutions are loathe to forgo the security of a personal guarantee, the only real way to avoid it is to have a business that is large enough and profitable enough that the apparent risk goes away. In general, this means being in business for several years and having enough revenue to qualify for a corporate card.
Corporate Cards with No Personal Guarantee Requirement
Corporate credit and charge cards are the main way to get around a personal guarantee for a business card, but they’re definitely not for every business. For one thing, your company will generally need to be an actual corporation — e.g., an S or C Corporation — to qualify (though some cards will allow LLCs).
Additionally, corporate cards are typically reserved for companies that have revenue of at least $1 million a year, with some cards requiring annual revenue of $3 million or more. At this size, your business likely has its own business credit, and banks will consider your business solid enough that you won’t be required to guarantee the card yourself.
The transition to corporate cards can also be beneficial from a financial perspective. By the time your business reaches the point where it brings in millions of dollars in revenue each year, chances are good that your financial needs aren’t going to be met by a basic small business credit card.
Corporate cards are designed specifically with the unique needs of large corporations in mind, with management and accounting features that can scale with your company. Many major credit card issuers also offer corporate cards:
- American Express Corporate Cards
- Brex Rewards Card
- Capital One Corporate Cards
- Citibank Corporate Cards
- JPMorgan Chase Corporate Cards
- Wells Fargo Corporate Cards
Obtaining a corporate credit card account for your company will often require a conversation with a corporate account manager at the bank, though a few issuers may offer online applications to get the process started. Be prepared to provide data and documents about your business’s financials, including revenue statements and bank account information.
Retail Business Credit Lines with Waivable Guarantee Requirements
In some cases, you don’t need a corporation-specific card to avoid the personal guarantee requirements. A very small number of retail co-branded small business credit cards are reported to offer the option to waive the guarantee requirement if you meet specific revenue requirements.
The one card that shows up on every list of cards with waivable guarantees is the Sam’s Club Business Credit Card — which makes sense, as this card makes it easy to find the requirements for waiving the requirement. Specifically, the card application gives four cases in which you need a personal guarantee:
Basically, so long as your company makes over $5 million a year, is more than two years old, has more than 10 employees, and is filed as an LLC or corporation, you’re good to go. If this sounds an awful lot like a corporate card, well, you’re right; the Sam’s Club Business Credit Card has effectively rolled its small business and corporate card products into one product.
Other retail cards that offer similar waivers tend to operate in much the same way, with basic revenue and company size requirements that — despite being occasionally marketed as small business cards — make them corporate cards in practice.
Who Qualifies for a Business Credit or Charge Card?
The question of who can qualify for a business credit card is one of those things that has both a short answer — and a longer one. In this case, the short answer is simple: If you have a business, you can apply for a business credit card.
Any size or type of business can be enough to qualify you for a business card, regardless of its years in business or number of employees. This includes:
- Side hustles
- Sole proprietors
So, in theory, the answer is that any business owner can qualify for a business credit card. Of course, theory is often different than practice.
The longer answer to the question of who can qualify for a business card gets more complicated. You see, much like consumer credit cards have credit score and income requirements, so, too, do business credit cards.
And, we’re not strictly talking about business credit, either (though that can factor into the decision). As we’ve explored throughout this article, your personal credit will have a major impact on your ability to get a business credit card due to the personal guarantee required by most issuers.
In other words, if you have poor personal credit and your business doesn’t qualify for a corporate card, then you will have a hard time qualifying for a business credit card as a result of that poor credit. (If you have a long history with the bank, some exceptions may be made — but don’t count on it.)
Similarly, having a low business income can also factor into whether your application is approved — though issuers tend to be flexible about this knowing that many businesses aren’t necessarily profitable in the first year or so. (Regardless, never lie about your income — or your company’s income — on a credit card application.)
And, as with consumer cards, there are additional issuer quirks that can impact your ability to get a small business credit card. For example, Chase’s 5/24 Rule extends to its business cards; if you’ve opened five or more credit card accounts in the last 24 months, your application for a Chase business card will likely be denied.
Can You Build Business Credit without Personal Credit?
Although we’ve shown that you’ll more than likely need at least so-so personal credit to qualify for any kind of small business credit card, there is no rule that says you actually need that business card. While business credit cards can be useful, plenty of companies were successful long before credit cards — and, doubtless, some modern businesses likely forego them, as well.
- Apply with the IRS to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN): An EIN establishes your business as its own financial entity, and it will be required for things like filing business taxes.
- Establish an individual business bank account: You’ll need a business bank account to keep your business finances separate from your personal finances. Many lenders and vendors will require you to have a business checking account.
- Register for a Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S® Number: As the main business credit bureau, Dun & Bradstreet data is used by many major business lenders and vendors. That said, you should consider creating accounts with other major business credit reporting bureaus, as well.
- Open business credit lines and vendor tradelines: The types of accounts that can help you establish and build business history can include business credit cards, business loans, and bank-extended credit lines. Many business credit scoring models will also incorporate payment history from tradelines, or vendor and supplier credit lines.
- Use your credit wisely: Many of the same rules of consumer credit apply to building good business credit, starting with the golden rule: always, always, always pay on time — or early, as some reports indicate early bill payment can boost your business credit score.
In general, business credit cards have two main benefits: reliable financing and business credit reporting. Depending on your company’s needs, you can probably get both of these features from other forms of credit, including merchant credit lines and small business loans.
For a new business or one with modest revenue, vendor credit lines are likely the easiest route. You can open accounts with office supply stores, water delivery services, manufacturers — any service that will send you invoices will likely report to at least one business credit bureau.
As with consumer credit, the most important part of your business credit profile is your payment history. At the very least, you need to pay on time. Yes, that’s right — at the least. To get the best results, you should be paying all of your vendor accounts and other business-related debts early. Early payments can unlock higher business credit scores.
Do Business Cards Show Up On Consumer Credit Reports?
While it’s always best to keep your business and personal finances separate, until your company reaches corporation size (and revenue), your business and personal credit will be at least somewhat linked because of the personal guarantee requirement.
This requirement means that, at the very least, your business credit card will impact your personal credit with a hard inquiry on one or more of your credit reports. As with any other hard inquiry, credit pulls from business credit card issuers can last two years on your personal reports, and hard inquiries can be detrimental to your credit if you have too many in a short period of time.
The extent to which a business credit card impacts your personal credit after application will vary based on the issuer and card. Several issuers will report business credit cards to the consumer credit reporting bureaus, which means they’ll show up, in their entirety, on your personal credit reports just as your personal cards do.
The downside to business cards reporting to the consumer bureaus is that you should see a lot of instability in your personal credit score. For example, making large credit card purchases for your business could cause your personal score to decrease due to the inflation to your utilization rate.
Fortunately, less than a handful of major issuers report to the consumer bureaus. For the most part, business card issuers only report activity to your personal credit reports if your business account becomes delinquent. So, if you fall more than 60 days behind on your business credit card payments, be prepared for a fairly substantial ding to your personal credit scores.
Use Your Business Credit Wisely
For the most part, starting a business isn’t that hard. All you really need is a business name, some paperwork, and a couple hundred bucks. However, as the statistics show, if starting a business is easy — building a successful business is very, very hard.
And few industries likely understand that as well as the financial industry, which is the source of the credit that makes many new businesses possible. Banks and lenders know the statistics better than anyone, so is it really a surprise that they want some way to hedge their bets?
In the end, most business owners don’t let a personal guarantee stop them from obtaining the revolving credit their company needs. And smart business owners use that credit wisely, building up their company’s business credit one tradeline at a time.