Startups require cash and any credit card can help. Here’s how five successful entrepreneurs used personal credit cards to launch.
Just about every new business comes with at least some startup costs. As a founder, the outlay may be more than you can afford to pay for with cash.
Credit cards can play a vital part in getting your venture safely off the ground. Although there are plenty of excellent business credit cards on the market, personal accounts can also be used.
According to the Small Business Administration, 65% of small businesses regularly use credit cards, and about half of those accounts aren’t in the company’s name.
Here, five people who launched successful businesses with the assistance of their personal credit cards explain how they did it.
Lamar Romero, founder and CEO of Dragon Spirits Marketing: Replaced income with low-rate cash advances
“I started my business with a $55,000 cash advance at 2.99% APR on my Chase credit card,” says Lamar Romero, CEO Dragon Spirits Marketing. “It took 11 years to pay it down in full, but I finally did!”
Romero used the cash from the card as a salary substitute in his first year of business. It gave him the opportunity to do everything necessary to create the company. Dragon Spirits Marketing is now in the process of raising a million dollars in funding.
“No one would give me a loan, but this deal from Chase came along,” says Romero, who started the Austin, Texas-based company that hires gig workers to represent beer, wine, liquor, and food brands at events.
“I can’t remember the exact card, but I know the offer was an APR of 2.99% on cash advances for life. I called them up and asked if I can really take out that much money and the interest rate wouldn’t change. They said yes, as long as I made the payments on time. So I maxed out that card! I always paid more than the minimum.”
But that wasn’t the only personal credit card strategy Romero employed.
“I constantly played the 0% APR balance transfer game,” he says. “It was creative financing and I did it for a while. A credit card may not be right for every entrepreneur, but if you get a great deal and you can profit, do it. They’re fantastic financial instruments. My business is mature now and I don’t have to do it anymore, but it got me here. I would do it all over again.”
Elise Armitage, founder of What the Fab: Developed lucrative partnerships with trips from her travel cards
Elise Armitage, a Bay Area resident, spent her postgraduate years penning press releases and blog posts for a technology company, then moved to Google where she worked in branding and events.
What she really wanted to do, however, was write about her true interests. In 2012 she made the leap and launched What the Fab, a travel and lifestyle blog.
Armitage invested her savings and put her two personal accounts, a Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest® credit card (now the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™American Express® Card) to work.
“There were so many different costs to cover, such as website hosting, platforms for the email newsletter,” says Armitage. “It all added up. I upgraded to a professional hosting provider, which was $2,000 a year, and hired people to help me, including a virtual assistant and a publicist.”
Not only was she racking up points for travel, she used those award trips as a hook for more partners. “It all worked together,” says Armitage. “Meanwhile I was always paying the bills in full.” As her brand grew, so did the revenue from partnerships, ads, and affiliate links. Today, What the Fab is a multiple six-figure company.
“If you’re going to use credit cards, don’t spend more than you have in reserve because you can quickly dig yourself into a hole,” says Armitage.
“You have to be careful with your finances. When you get the cards, think about which will be best for you, your lifestyle, and your business. I still don’t have separate business cards. I asked my accountant if this makes sense and the answer was that as long as I’m diligent about tracking expenses, that’s fine.”
Sarah Hawley, CEO of Growmotely: Jump-started a U.S. business credit history with a personal card
In 2020, Sarah Hawley launched her Austin, Texas-based company, Growmotely, an online employment marketplace that connects job-seekers and companies on a global level.
Hawley didn’t intend to use a personal card but was having trouble qualifying for business credit. She’s from Australia and had a limited credit history. So she decided to use the account she had recently opened: The Platinum Card® from American Express.
Since the Platinum was a charge card, it had no preset limit. “We put a lot on that card but because it was still relatively new, we never knew when American Express would say it’s too much,” says Hawley.
“Sometimes in the first three months I’d have to call to get special approval. The upside is we eventually got a really big credit line, and ended up being able to make very large transactions. Though it’s a personal card we use it only for business. We put all of our expenses on the card, such as the technology platforms, providers who are building that technology, and to make payroll.”
“We’re fully funded now, but it was so great to have the card as an extra lifeline for the weeks and months when we were raising funds and the money would come in stages,” says Hawley. “It was a savior. A credit card is another tool to use when you’re figuring out cash flow, and the more tools you have, the more flexibility you have.”
With regular use and by keeping the debt down, Hawley established a strong credit history, and just got her first business credit card, The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express.
Nikki Gonzales, founder and partner of Adeline Homes LLC: Tapped personal credit line to renovate and rent out real estate
Purchasing not just one but many properties can be financially overwhelming. Yet that’s exactly what Nikki Gonzales, founder and partner of the McGregor, Texas, real estate company Adeline Homes LLC, does. She launched the company in 2019 with her Chase Freedom Unlimited and Delta SkyMiles® American Express Card.
Gonzales used to work in tech, and when she was pregnant she intended to return to work. Her daughter was born significantly premature, though, and she realized that her plans had to change.
“We buy and renovate homes from distressed homeowners and offer them as long- and short-term rentals to nurses and other traveling professionals,” says Gonzales.
“I started this business with no income, so I wasn’t a candidate for a loan. I decided to use the cards I already had. With the credit cards we paid for furnishings, renovation materials, legal seminars, filing fees and online education. This business takes a lot of capital. We had some savings, but we used the cards a lot. I used to keep a balance, but not anymore. Now I use them to fill in gaps. It’s one of the easiest ways to get capital, as all I have to do is ask myself!”
While Gonzales is a fan of using personal credit cards for business purposes, she offers a warning. “When you have high balances, your scores will go down, and that will hurt you when you apply for loans,” she says. “Have a clear plan of when or how you will pay the debt down before using them.”
Rory Cox CEO and founder of Yubalance: Took advantage of extra long 0% offers as start-up funds
Eight years ago, Rory Cox and his wife Shala were personal trainers eager to open their own gym, Yubalance, in San Francisco.
“I’d been doing research for years, and we had some money saved but didn’t have enough cash flow or investors,” says Cox. “I researched credit cards with 0 percent APR offers plus rewards, and then did the math. I got a Discover card with a really good bonus and 14 months to pay the balance off with no interest added.”
Cox charged liberally but prudently, buying everything they needed to build out the space. Eventually they put between $10,000 and $15,000 on the card. He didn’t want to be caught up in high debt, so was careful with spending and always made the payments on time. Instead of traveling with the points he earned, he paid off their last bill.
“When you need time to pay, the 0 percent APR personal cards are better than business cards because the deals tend to be longer,” says Cox. “It’s like a mini loan, but with free money. As a business owner you want to stay liquid because you never know what’s going to happen. We have three locations now, but lost 80% of our members within five days of the pandemic.”
Most important, says Cox, is to keep credit card debt down when the rate goes up.
“Any sort of debt with high interest is suicide,” he says. “But if you pay off your balance every month your credit score goes through the roof. I used to be scared to use credit cards and only used them for emergencies, but I learned a lot and now I’m a credit card nerd.”
Bottom line: Use but don’t abuse personal credit cards for business
As long as you manage your personal accounts strategically, they can help propel your enterprise from a cool idea to a thriving company. In fact, Christian Lavender started this very site, CreditCards.com, in part with his American Express Blue Cash card, which was giving 5% cash back way back in 2003 to 2004.
Lavender reinvested those rewards into the business – and now everyone can learn how to get the best credit cards for them and use those cards in both conventional and creative ways.