Small Business Credit Profiles

Getting schooled on credit union business cards

A private school found success thanks to a smaller, regional bank believing in its mission


The Polytech, a private school in Seattle, caters to students who have extenuating circumstances surrounding education. Suited to those in grades 11 and 12, The Polytech has been able to help students gain their diploma who may have otherwise believed it to be impossible. Read on to find out how a credit union business card helped this school with its mission.

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Ruth Wilson

Ruth Wilson

As a high school principal and board-certified educational therapist with over 25 years of experience, Ruth Wilson knows the traditional school model isn’t a good fit for every student.

Children with learning disabilities, attention deficits, chronic physical or mental health issues often need extra care. Others have unique circumstances, such as working actors or athletes in training, and spend a lot of time traveling as a result. “In these cases, earning a diploma may feel out of reach, but it doesn’t need to be,” says Wilson. So, she cofounded The Polytech in 2019, a private school in Seattle, for students in grades 11-12.

“At our campus, students work one-on-one with their teacher or in small groups to earn high school credits, and they also take a specialized course titled ‘College and Career Readiness,’” says Wilson. “Through partnerships with local community colleges, The Polytech offers advanced training in health care, business and IT, education, engineering and manufacturing, so students don’t just explore career options; they experience them.”

Wilson is finding that launching a new school with a unique curriculum is a challenge that’s worth taking. Thankfully, a credit card with a cash back feature is making it a little easier.

See related: An unexpected descent into entrepreneurship

Your school is still in its infancy – how is the financing aspect going so far?

There are many legal and technical aspects to set up a private school, and some of the initial requirements involve your physical space, as it is essential that the facility is comfortable, clean and meets all safety requirements. This meant that we had to sign a lease, complete a remodel and pass all required inspections before even applying to operate as a school.

Our team has a lot of experience, so we were confident that we could write an acceptable proposal. But it is still quite a large commitment of time and money before getting the written reassurance that we would, in fact, be able to offer our services as a legal high school and not just as a tutoring center.

This uncertainty – all at the same time we were spending lots of money – caused a great deal of stress and soul-searching. Clearly, we truly believe in the services we offer and were willing to take the financial risk to fund our startup costs privately through our own savings.

Even though we found excellent vendors and purchased many furniture and supply items used, there were still unexpected costs and the overall volume of what we needed added up to more than what we had budgeted for.

How are credit cards helping?

Our credit union offered a 3 percent cash back introductory deal with a credit card. This was an unexpected, but welcomed, surprise. We have the Boeing Employees Credit Union Business Visa with Cash Rewards.

We tried to stack as many of our launch purchases as possible onto that card, buying us an extra 30 days to pay the expenses while maximizing the cash back bonus. By shopping carefully – doing as much work ourselves as possible – and maximizing credit card benefits, we look back on our remodel expenditures with confidence, knowing we built our campus as efficiently as possible.

With three owners, who are sometimes moving in different directions, this card allows us to make necessary purchases independently. Because the cards are linked to one account, I can track spending and make one payment to clear the balance.

We get a combined statement of the entire account, as well as individual statements for each cardholder. This makes it very simple to pass out statements to the proper individual, and then they can hand it back to me with receipts attached.

In the meantime, I still know the balance due and can update our accounting software and make payments without delay in case anyone is out of the office or late on turning in receipts.

Are you usually leveraged, or do you remain debt-free? 

We attempt to be debt-free and pay off the balance in full every month – but sometimes need to spread repayment over a few months since our business is seasonal and corresponds to the school year. Using the credit card for large purchases is one of the easier ways to manage cash flow.

What are the future plans for the school? 

We intend to grow as a school, not just by expanding the number of students we serve but also by increasing our partnerships with local community colleges. This will enable us to offer training in an even broader range of career pathways and match students with the environment that best suits their learning style.

Currently, we offer industry training in five pathways: health care, engineering, business and IT, education and manufacturing. While these options connect to many careers and a wide variety of studies, we’ve heard from students there is an interest in more creative and artistic options like filmmaking and visual arts.

We would love to add these to our standard offerings and add credentialed staff to support the additional content areas.

What have you learned about borrowing money along the way?  

Strategic planning is essential. There are so many needs fighting for your attention and especially when working as a team, all three owners must be focused on the same priorities.

We frequently discuss and reorder our priorities to guide our purchases based on what is needed today versus what can be postponed. An additional consideration is whether or not the purchase can enhance services to assist in retention, increase enrollments (revenue) or reduce workload.

When there is a chance the expenditure actively helps the business to grow then it’s much easier to move forward, and a lot more satisfying than responding to something that meets a legal requirement but doesn’t necessarily grow or better the business.

It’s not easy when you are first building infrastructure, and everything seems essential to move the business forward. But recognizing that we’re not only spending our own personal money, we are also spending loans that must be repaid helped us concentrate our efforts and our spending on true priorities.

Borrowing strategically and with a specific goal in mind has been very worthwhile, but it’s part of a proactive plan and not a reaction to an unforeseen or underestimated situation.

Even though growing a business can be stressful and a financial strain in the beginning stages, it is so satisfying to watch an idea turn into an actual business and see our services improve the quality of life for students. Small wins quickly become large wins, and virtually every day my team has something to celebrate!

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