If your small business relies on one or more sets of wheels – such as a plumbing company, a mobile dog grooming service or a pizzeria that delivers – a fleet card could help you keep it running smoothly. However, these cards have a few potential drawbacks. Here’s how to choose between a fleet card and a general small business card.
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If your small business relies on one or more sets of wheels – such as a plumbing company, a mobile dog grooming service or a pizzeria that delivers – a fleet card could help you keep it running smoothly.
Unlike most general small business credit cards, fleet cards offer special benefits for businesses that need a steady flow of fuel to keep company vehicles on the road.
Businesses with two or more vehicles that buy at least 1,000 gallons of gas a month may want to consider a fleet card, says Jordan Tarver, credit analyst for FitSmallBusiness.com.
“Fleet cards can help business owners take control of their gas-related purchases and earn gas discounts at the pump,” he says.
See related: Small-business guide to credit card merchant fees
Fleet card vs. business credit card: Which is better?
Not sure whether to get a small business credit card or a fleet card? You may need both: a business credit card can help you earn rewards while paying for general business expenses, and a fleet card lets your drivers buy gas and possibly pay for vehicle repairs.
Fleet cards also offer some benefits that business credit cards lack. For instance, fleet fuel cards allow you to:
Track fuel purchases in detail. Fleet cards offer detailed information about each fuel purchase, says Tom Coffey, senior vice president of sales for Merchants Fleet, a national fleet management company that offers fleet fuel cards.
For example, a fleet card typically shows you: the number of gallons of gas purchased, the odometer reading on the vehicle, the date and time, the total cost and the name of the driver who filled up the tank, Coffey says.
“That’s information that’s all available pretty much in real time or within hours,” he says.
See related: Best fleet fuel cards
Stop fraud with tighter controls. A fleet card may be helpful if you’d like to provide cards to drivers but worry about unauthorized service station purchases like stocking up on snacks or siphoning off extra gas for a home lawn mower.
Fleet fuel cards provide point-of-sale security and controls, so a business owner can determine ahead of time which charges will be authorized, says Paul Clinton, senior web editor for Automotive Fleet Magazine. For example, a business owner may set the card to allow only gas purchases, and only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
“This was initially referred to as the Twinkie defense, so fleets could prevent employees from buying food items or charging fuel during nonbusiness hours,” Clinton says.
Track the fuel efficiency of your fleet. Another benefit of detailed tracking is that you can find out whether your vehicles are operating at peak fuel efficiency.
Because you get the odometer reading each time the tank is filled, you can learn how many miles per gallon each vehicle is getting, Coffey says. And poor gas mileage could tip you off that you need to inflate the tires or put the brakes on bad driving.
Get rewarded for buying a lot of gas. Do you buy 1,000-plus gallons of gas or diesel fuel each month? A fleet card that offers volume discounts on fuel may help you save money for your business.
Discounts vary, but fleet cards commonly offer one to five cents off per gallon. Some cards offer tiered programs, meaning the more fuel you buy each month, the more you save.
However, fleet cards have some downsides, which is why they can’t replace small business cards. The disadvantages of fleet cards include:
- Purchases must be vehicle-related. Fleet cards allow you to purchase fuel from service stations, and some also permit you to pay for other vehicle-related expenses such as maintenance from auto repair shops. But you’ll also need a small business credit card to make general business purchases, from conference travel to printer paper to the coffee that fuels your employees.
- Merchant choices may be limited. Depending on the fleet card, you may also be limited as to which merchants you can use. For example, you might be restricted to a specific branded gas station chain or confined by geographic area.
- Fleet fuel cards are not all created equal. Do you think a fleet card could help fuel your business success? It’s important to read the fine print to find a card that’s a good match for your business.
“The best thing to do is shop around,” Clinton says.
Here are four questions to ask to find the fleet card that’s right for you:
1. What are the fees and perks?
Different fleet cards have different fee structures, so it’s important to know the interest rate and any fees. Some cards charge no monthly fee and others waive it if you buy a certain amount of gas per month.
However, some cards charge a flat monthly fee, $10 for example, or a fee of $2 or $3 per month per card, which can add up if you have multiple drivers. Also, find out whether you get a discount on gas and crunch the numbers based on your own fuel purchases to compare costs to savings.
2. What are the payment terms for the fleet card?
Do you pay the card balance once a month or more frequently? For example, some issuers require you to pay your bill once a week or every two weeks, Coffey says. It’s also a good idea to check the late fee charged by the issuer in case you slip up on a payment.
3. How can you track fuel purchases?
Most companies offer a web portal where you can check your data, Coffey says. You should also be able to set up text or email notifications to get alerted to purchases based on criteria you set. Make sure the portal is user-friendly and offers speedy updates, Coffey says.
4. Which vendors can you use?
Find out exactly where your drivers can use the card to purchase fuel or get maintenance done. Check the total number of U.S. merchant locations and any brand limitations.
If you get a dual use card, which allows you to pay for maintenance as well as fuel, the reporting typically won’t be as detailed on the maintenance side, Coffey says. For example, say your driver swings by the shop to get a service performed on one of your vehicles.
“Was it an oil change, a brake job or a tire rotation,” he says. “A dual-use card is not going to give you that level of data on maintenance.”
See related: 3 ways to stack your rewards at the gas station
Small fleet? You may be better off with a cash back card
Fleet fuel cards can be an excellent tool to help business owners save on gas, manage employee purchases and track vehicle fuel and maintenance. But they’re not for every business, says Cristopher Carillo, a partner with Allied Payments, which offers credit card processing for merchants.
“For smaller fleets, it may be better to get a cash back credit card with no annual fee and just trust your employees to use it for gas,” he says.