Rebuilding credit to run your new business
Your Business Credit
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.
Ask Elaine a question
or read her prior answers in the 'Your Business Credit' archive
Dear Your Business Credit,
am in the process of starting my own online record label. I know the importance
of having a business bank account separate from a personal one. I'd just like
to ask: If my credit is shot, how can I apply for and get a business credit
card to be able to separate it from my personal account? I have bad, bad credit.
Or is there absolutely no way of doing so? Thanks so much for your help with
this question. Any suggestions/feedback would be absolutely wonderful. -- Lin
Don't get discouraged.
Michael Jeffrey Gunderson, a bankruptcy attorney with
Gunderson & Tharp in Chicago, says he often works with small-business
owners who have run into problems with their credit -- and it's very possible
to turn things around.
There are a couple of credit card options for people who are
trying to repair their credit. The best route is a secured credit card. For
these cards, you make a security deposit the card issuer can use to pay your debt if you fall behind on the bill. For a secured card
with a $500 limit, you might make a deposit of $500 and then be free to charge
up to that amount. Sometimes you might get a credit limit higher than your
deposit. "It doesn't work like a debit card," Gunderson notes. You would use
it like a regular credit card -- and pay it off monthly. You can compare
terms for many secured cards on CreditCards.com's secured card comparison page.
Another option is a low-limit card. These cards typically
offer maximum credit lines in the $300 to $500 range, but they should only be used as
a last resort. While the Credit CARD Act of 2009 caps first-year fees to 25
percent of available credit, issuers have gotten around that rule with application
fees that don't fall under that cap.
The First Premier Bank Gold credit card, for instance, will
give you a credit limit up to $300. But first you have to pay a $95 processing
fee and a $75 annual fee. So you're forking over $170 to get
that $300 line of credit. The cards do report on-time payments to the credit bureaus,
so they can help rebuild your credit, but at a very high cost.
Once you build up a strong history of timely payments, your
credit score should improve, giving you access to a wider range of credit card
That's just one part of improving your credit score, though.
If you have outstanding credit card debts, it's important to pay them down in a
timely manner, to reduce your overall credit utilization ratio, Gunderson says. Your
credit score is based, in part, on how much of your available credit you use.
To head off future credit problems, pay close attention to
how you manage debt and cash flow in your business. "The biggest mistake is taking on too much debt, too soon,"
While borrowing small amounts to fill gaps in cash flow
is fine, don't rely on plastic as your major form of financing. Think of it as one
tool in your arsenal -- a small one. "It's more of a Swiss Army knife, as opposed
to a fork lift," he says.
Where many small-business owners get in trouble, he says, is
borrowing heavily to finance a new venture before it is bringing in much money.
With limited revenue, they find it hard to keep up with monthly credit card and
In a business such as yours, securing about $1,000 in credit lines on credit cards, using it for
routine gasoline and stationery purchases, then paying it off monthly can help
you build good habits without too much risk. As sales grow, you will be able to take on more debt safely -- as long as you do it gradually, Gunderson says.Your use of credit "should be commensurate with how the
business is doing and never more," he says.
Make sure you take into account the likelihood that you will
have unsteady cash flow -- and significant overhead -- in running your
business. If you bring in $50,000 your first year in business, your
financial situation will be very different from a friend in a traditional job
who earns $50,000. While your friend may be able to count on paychecks every
week or two, your customers will likely pay you at varying speeds -- and if
they hit a rough spot, it may take months. It's just a reality of doing
business. "Small-business owners typically do not have uniform pay like someone
in a traditional job would," says Gunderson. "It's often feast or famine."
To avoid relying too heavily on credit cards to get you through
periods of slow cash flow, you'll need to keep more cash in reserve. It's also
important to stay on top of invoicing. The quicker you get paid, the more money
you'll have in your bank account.
Some business owners have come up with payment plans in
which customers pay upfront and get a discount for doing so. This obviously is
beneficial for cash flow.
Make sure you don't overlook big expenses in your business
and personal life that may affect how much money you have available to cover
business expenses. Unlike a friend whose employer deducts taxes from his
paycheck, you'll need to set aside money to pay your taxes yourself. And if you
need health insurance and can't get it through a spouse or parent (if you're
under 26), you may need to pay for it out of pocket. It's never cheap.
That means you'll probably need to live below your means, which takes discipline. But it can have a big payoff for your business.
See related: Is bad credit bad for small-business startups?, When does bad debt fall off credit reports?, How to get a credit card if you have bad credit
Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts
Vexed by a personal finance problem?
CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers every weekday. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.
Updated: October 20, 2014
Three most recent Your Business Credit stories: