Credit card issuers take aim at small business owners


Small business credit cards represent a great market for issuers, but business owners need to consider certain factors before signing up for a business credit card.

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Credit card issuers are targeting small business owners with a wealth of new card products.  Small business credit cards represent a great opportunity for issuers at a time when the broader corporate market has been sluggish.

Small businsesses pay more than 45 percent of the total U.S. payroll, and card companies have taken notice, offering an array of credit card products in hopes of luring business owners to use their cards.

Small business owners should comparison shop and consider a variety of products before they apply, just as consumers should do when looking for a personal credit card.  There are a number of factors to consider with business credit cards:

• Interest rates — While cardholders may not be concerned with the APR on a personal credit card if they pay off their balances each month, business owners might need to revolve sizable balances occasionally if revenue slows.  For businesses that make purchases costing several thousand dollars, and then pay them off over several months, fixed-rate credit cards provide greater stability than credit cards whose variable rates change with short-term interest rates.
• Cash-back rewards — Business credit cards offer cash-back rewards just like consumer credit cards do.  But before small business owners are drawn in by cash back offers such as 5 percent on office supplies, 2 percent on gas, and 1 percent on all other purchases, read the card’s terms carefully.  Often, carrying a balance at a high interest rate erases any savings such a credit card provides.

• Foreign exchange fees — Business owners often place orders for items from overseas suppliers, meaning they are more likely than consumers to get hit with these fees, which often amount to 3 percent of the purchase cost.  But there are credit card issuers that leave off foreign transaction fees (sometimes callled currency conversion fees).  Consumer Action urges small businesses to learn how large foreign purchases are treated by the credit card issuer.
• Universal default — Certain credit card issuers will instantly boost interest rates by up to 31 percent if a consumer makes lake payments on other borrowed money, such as a car payment.  Business credit card customers are not exempt from universal default.

See related story: “5 ways to avoid being stung by small business credit cards

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Published: December 13, 2006

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