Free business credit reports for anyone? Yes, from Capital One

Business CreditWise aims to make business credit easy to understand

Jeff Herman
Managing Editor
Career news journalist who enjoys chasing trending stories

Capital One's Business CreditWise

Capital One’s new Business CreditWise promises free business credit reports and a way to get business credit report errors fixed at no cost to the business owner.

And like the bank’s CreditWise for consumers, you don’t have to be a Capital One customer or even own a business credit card to use Business CreditWise. 

The bank and credit card issuer debuted Business CreditWise, which is live and also still in beta testing, on the first day of the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this month. While Capital One’s issuing of virtual card numbers received more news coverage, Business CreditWise may will have a much bigger impact.

The problems with (and costs to get) business credit reports

Business CreditWise’s immediate impact will be on the wallets of small-business owners.

Why?

Getting a copy of your business credit report costs – often hundreds of dollars – depending on which of the more than half a dozen companies you ask for your report.

For example, Erik Folden, who owns a real estate firm in Frisco, Texas, and was in the audience at the Capital One’s SXSW session, said Business CreditWise will save him the $950 every two years that he spends to get a copy of his business credit report.

Beyond the money he will save, Folden says being able to check his business credit anytime and not having to call to update his business credit report will save him time. “The time this will save me is worth way more than money to me,” Folden said.

Business CreditWise also aims to simplify business credit.

When Capital One surveyed 300 small-business owners in November, it found only 19 percent consider themselves very familiar with business credit, and even fewer find the process easy. That’s surprising because business credit is a key aspect of securing funding for growing businesses.

Of the business owners surveyed, 60 percent said they had never accessed their business credit report, and the same percentage said they are confident that the information in the report would be accurate or up to date.

Of those who did access their business credit reports, 20 percent found an error in their reports.

How business credit and consumer credit differ

“If business credit was like personal credit, that would be fine,” says Joe Whitchurch, head of customer experience and innovation, small-business credit card at Capital One. “But anyone who has the money can get your business credit report.”

That means your business credit report is available to anyone (including your competitors, suppliers, customers or even curious reporters) willing to pay for it. Your consumer credit report, on the other hand, is available only to you and would-be lenders. The Fair Credit Reporting Act covers who can and cannot pull your personal credit report.

While consumers can get a copy of their credit reports for free from the three big U.S. credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com, it costs a small-business owner to get his or her business credit report. (Consumers also can get a free TransUnion credit report and VantageScore anytime from CreditCards.com.)

While there are two consumer credit scores (FICO and VantageScore) and both have the same 300-850 range and the same basic scoring factors, business credit scores have various ranges.

“There is no one business credit score,” Whitchurch says. “There are 12 or so. Some the range is 0 to 100, others it’s 200-900 or 0-1,000. With some, a high number is good, but sometimes high is bad.”

How Business CreditWise looks at business credit

This lack of a consistent business credit score is why Business CreditWise doesn’t have the same big credit score odometer found on the homepage of Capital One’s consumer CreditWise, Whitchurch says.

Instead, Business CreditWise’s dashboard looks at the drivers of business credit – business details (number of employees, etc.), payments (accounts on time and accounts past due), credit usage (percent utilization and biggest credit line) and public records (liens, UCC filings and such).

The goal? “How do we use data to help small businesses be successful?” Whitchurch says.

“Artificial intelligence picks the report that we think is the most accurate,” he says. That’s the business credit report that is front and center on your homepage.

How can a business owner fix business credit report errors?

What if you, a small-business owner like Folden, spot an error on your business credit report now? You will have to pay to have it corrected, and the onus (and related expenses) of proving that a business credit report entry is wrong also falls on the small-business owner.

With Business CreditWise, “Fixing business credit report errors is simple, easy and not your problem,” says Whitchurch.

Report the error on a form on your CreditWise dashboard and Capital One takes it to the data supplier and has it corrected.

Folden says that’s huge for small businesses. “And the fact that Capital One is doing all of this on their nickel” is incredible, Folden says.

How is Capital One able to get business credit report errors fixed fo free? Whitchurch says it’s in the contract the bank signed with its data providers that if something is wrong, it will be fixed.

And why is Capital One offering free business credit reports when others are charging for them?

“Everybody wins when small businesses grow. You win, we win, everybody wins,” he says.

Business CreditWise’s official rollout is tentatively scheduled for summer 2018.

If business owners would like to contact Capital One to be considered for the next round of beta users, all they need to do is email BusinessCreditWise@capitalone.com including their name, business name and contact information (email and phone number).

See related: How to check a small business’s credit report7 things to know about business credit cards, Infographic: How small business owners use business credit cards


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Updated: 12-12-2018