Unfortunately, it’s becoming harder and harder for small businesses to borrow money. In addition to economic uncertainty, many lenders tightened their standards following the banking crisis earlier this year. As a small business owner, this makes it more important than ever to build a business credit history.
Your business credit history is a record of how well your company handles credit. A strong business credit score will help you access credit when you need it, potentially qualify for better terms, and could also strengthen your hand in supplier negotiations. If you don’t have a score at all, the opposite could be true.
Just as you can’t build personal credit overnight, establishing business credit also takes time. Here are five steps to take if you want to build your business credit score.
1. Establish your company and get an EIN
An EIN is an Employee Identification Number that’s issued by the IRS. Think of it as a bit like a business Social Security number. You can get an EIN whether you’re a sole proprietor, corporation, LLC, or partnership. Indeed, depending on your business type, tax wise, you may need to get one anyway. Even if it isn’t necessary, an EIN will make it easier to open a business bank account and establish credit.
2. Register for a Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S Number
There are three main business credit bureaus, Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax, and Experian. You’ve probably heard of the other two as they also monitor personal credit scores, but Dun & Bradstreet is 100% focused on business credit. It’s free to register, and you’ll need to provide basic information about your business. It can take 30 days to process your application and send your D-U-N-S Number.
3. Open a bank account
There are several excellent business bank accounts on the market. Not only will opening one help you keep your personal and business expenses separate, it also helps demonstrate that you know how to manage your money. Look for an account that has the features you need, such as mobile banking or branch deposits. Pay attention to any fees and minimum balance requirements.
4. Apply for a business credit card
The catch-22 when it comes to building credit is that you need to have credit in order to show you can manage it and pay it back on time. Business credit cards often get approved on the back of your personal credit score, so if that’s in good shape, it’s a great start.
If you’re worried about the impact your business card may have on your personal credit, it’s understandable. There’s a hard credit inquiry when you apply for the card which will ding your score slightly. Outside of that, assuming you pay your bills on time, many business credit card issuers won’t report the activity on your business card to personal credit bureaus. Check to see what the card’s policy is.
In addition to boosting your credit score, business credit cards can pay rewards on business-related spending. Plus, while it can get expensive to run up a balance you can’t pay off at the end of the month, your business credit card can tide you over if you’re facing cash flow difficulties.
5. Pay your bills on time — or even early
A credit score gives potential lenders an idea of how good you are at managing credit and how likely you are to pay back a loan. Dun & Bradstreet use something called a PAYDEX Score, which ranges from 1 to 100. The higher the score, the better. A score of 70 or above is considered to be a good score. To get into the excellent zone, businesses need to not only pay bills on time, but also pay them early.
An excellent score gives potential suppliers, lenders, or even landlords the reassurance that they won’t have to chase you for payment. Encourage your suppliers to report your on-time payments to Dun & Bradstreet if they don’t already do so.
Monitor your credit history
Once you’ve got the bases established, your business credit history will start to build itself. But don’t sit back and forget about it. Check in regularly to find out how you’re progressing and know what information other people can see about your business. This will also help you catch any fraud or mistakes and rectify this information if necessary.
Many businesses rely on credit to get started or expand their operations. Don’t wait until you need a loan to start thinking about your business credit score. Take these straightforward steps today so you can build a strong record of on-time payments and make your business a more favorable loan candidate.
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