Splitting reward points from a small business

Rewards usually belong to the account holder, but business partners should talk about how to use them


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
Do business partners share reward points accumulated from business expenses, or does only the guarantor own the rewards points? -- Mary

Answer Dear Mary,
Credit cards are important to many small businesses. Companies often turn to credit cards as an essential way to keep their businesses afloat. Roughly one-third of small businesses say they use credit cards as a form of financing, according to surveys by the National Small Business Association.

Besides financing, businesses are also drawn to credit cards because they are easy to use, and many business cards give owners detailed reports of spending so they can easily see where the money is going. For small businesses, having a separate business card keeps accounting cleaner and more straightforward, without the need to comingle personal and business expenses. 

And, of course, there are the rewards. Many of the most well-known personal credit cards have business versions, and there are also cards aimed specifically at businesses that give extra reward points for expense categories such as shipping, computer hardware and office supplies.

As far as who can use the rewards, the answer is going to depend on how exactly the cards are set up, and there are many different possible configurations. At the large company I used to work for, employees were issued corporate cards to use for travel expenses, but any rewards went back to the company. Sometimes in those situations, companies have an option to allow their employees to use the points. 

For instance, American Express says that “eligible companies can choose to consolidate earned points from multiple enrolled corporate cards for company redemption … or allow employees to redeem them individually.”

I suspect that in your case we are talking about a small business, not a big corporation. But again, the answer will depend upon how the cards are set up. 

Ordinarily, whoever’s name is on the account is responsible for the charges and has the benefit of access to the rewards. In some small businesses, it can make sense for record-keeping purposes to have multiple cards associated with one account.

The account holder will probably be the only one who can access the rewards, but you should check with your bank, because different banks might have different policies. 

This is similar to the rights of an authorized user on a personal card. Authorized users have their own card linked to the account of a main account holder, but they are not responsible for the charges and typically have no access to the accumulated rewards. In some cases, though, they might, so if this concerns you, it’s best to check with your card issuer.

In your case, there is also the separate issue of openness in a business relationship. From your question, I’m not sure who has access to the reward points, but I would advise having an honest conversation with your business partner about how those points are to be used. If you are truly partners, it seems unfair for just one of you to use all of the points accumulated from your shared business for personal use. 

A fairer approach would be either for you both to split the points for personal use, or to channel the points back into the business and use them to pay for business travel or other expenses.

That might be a tough conversation to have, but it is better to have it before one of you becomes bitter that the other has flown to Aruba for a week using points in a business you both own.

See related: Risks of getting a credit card with a business partner, Are rewards earned on my employer's credit mine, and are they taxable?

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Published: June 7, 2016

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Updated: 10-25-2016

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