If you’re applying for a loan product that’s critical to your business, you may want to get credit reports from Dun & Bradstreet, Experian and Equifax.
If you run a small business, it’s crucial to stay on top of your business credit score. Knowing where you stand can help you make the most of your credit when you’re applying for loans and business credit cards.
Getting a business credit score is a little different from getting a personal credit score. So is checking it. Although you can get a personal credit score for free and can usually check it for free at least once a year, there is generally a cost for viewing your business credit score.
First, do a cost-benefit analysis to determine how important it is to have your score right now and if spending the money makes sense at the moment. Some small businesses that rely heavily on credit may need to check their business credit scores frequently to keep track of their progress in building strong business credit and qualify for better interest rates. They may need to subscribe to a service that allows them to do this frequently. Others may only need to check once a year.
Do you need to check all three credit scores? For many small businesses, checking their scores with just one bureau will give them a clear enough idea of their business’s credit profile to operate strategically. If you’re applying for a loan product that’s critical to your business, however, you may want to get all three reports.
There’s one more reason you may find these reports valuable: to stay on top of the credit profile of your customers. Many business owners have ventured into new markets or sought out new customers to respond to current market conditions. If you’re shipping a large order to a new customer or signing a big contract, it never hurts to know what their past track record of paying bills actually is. You’re always better off safe than sorry.
How to check your business credit score
Here’s a crash course on how to check your score with the three major business credit bureaus:
Dun & Bradstreet (D&B)
To get a credit score from D&B, you must apply for a D-U-N-S number. The easiest way to check your business credit score after that is to sign up for D&B’s free CreditSignal service. This service will only tell you when there are changes to your business credit score.
You can also pay to see your complete report. The Credit Builder Plus service, available for $149 a month, allows continuous online access to your credit score. This service may be useful if you’re looking for a business loan or new line of credit, doing an expansion, embarking on a new partnership or seeking to win a major contract.
Knowing where you stand can help you take steps to shore up your score, such as asking suppliers to furnish D&B with your payment performance history so your application doesn’t get denied.
The least expensive way to check your business credit score from Experian is to buy its CreditScore Report ($39.95 for one-time access). It gives you access to a business’s credit score, financial stability risk rating, bankruptcies (if there are any) and other key elements of its credit profile. Before you purchase it, use the “Search for a Business” tool on the site to see if Experian is tracking your business.
Experian also offers several more robust sets of data. They include:
- The ProfilePlus Report ($49.95 for a sample report for one business) provides the basics in the CreditScore Report, as well as some extras, such as trade payment details and corporate financial information.
- The Business Credit Advantage ($189 per year) provides a year’s worth of data for one business. It provides trade payment details, corporate financial information and business identity monitoring, among other extras.
- The Business Credit Score Pro ($1,495 per year) lets you track the information in the ProfilePlus Report for up to 30 businesses per year. If your small business serves multiple clients you don’t know well, this information may be useful.
For $99.95, Equifax offers its Business Credit Report, which enables you to check your own business’s credit or that of another company it tracks. It also offers a Business Credit Report multi-pack (five reports for the price of four, or $399.95).
One interesting feature is the “payment trend” and “payment index” reports, which allow you to see how you compare to your industry. The “business credit risk” score indicates your likelihood of paying 90 days late or more, while the “business failure score” shows your chances of business failure or bankruptcy.
Of course, if you’re staying on top of your business’s finances, you won’t need to worry about either of those scenarios. You can build the foundation for a stronger credit profile even if you can’t afford to check it every month.
It helps to set up best practices. Keep a cash cushion in your business bank account to avoid overdrafts, invoice promptly so you don’t over-rely on credit and set up automatic payments on business credit cards so you don’t rack up late payment fees and interest.
Knowledge is power, especially in the data-driven world we live in, and that’s particularly true when it comes to your business credit score. Whichever of these options you choose to monitor it, you’ll have valuable information that helps you keep improving how you manage your cash flow, so you can qualify for lower interest rates when you seek business credit. That, in turn, can free up the cash you need to keep growing your business, something most small business owners are always happy to have.