When you want to buy a home, a new vehicle, or apply for a new rewards credit card, your credit score is one of the most important factors in getting approved.
If you own a small business, your business has its own credit score too! If you ever plan to open a business credit card or take out a business loan at any point in the future, your business credit rating may be very important.
While business credit score components are similar to personal credit score factors, including a strong history of on-time payments, they work a bit differently than personal credit scores. If you want to build business credit, follow these steps to get started.
When it comes to starting a new credit file from scratch, there is no exact rule or timeline defining how long it takes to build business credit. However, you can take some steps to speed up the process.
While it seems counterintuitive, it takes credit history to build credit history. When building a personal credit score, the best steps to take are to open new credit accounts, pay them on time and make sure they report to the credit reporting agencies on a regular basis. The same is true as a business owner, though you’ll want to pay early instead of simply by the due date for your business.
According to the business credit website Nav, you’ll need at least two tradelines (credit accounts) with at least three past payments to get a PAYDEX score, the credit score issued by business credit scoring company Dunn & Bradstreet. Equifax and Experian, who also run consumer credit scoring divisions, also track business credit scores.
That means it can take months or years to build credit depending on your business’s financial needs and arrangements. You can take a few steps in advance to get on track to build your business credit and take control of the outcome.
If you have a business entity, such as an LLC or S-Corporation, your business is considered its own legal entity separate from you. With a sole proprietorship, you and the business are the same entity. If your business is its own entity, even if it is a part-time side hustle, it can qualify for its own business credit score.
The first step in establishing business credit is to establish your business with the credit scoring agencies. Unlike a personal score, which is completely automatic, you can make sure your business is properly registered with Dunn & Bradstreet so your business credit is reported properly.
You will need to do this and get a D-U-N-S Number to work with the US government, Apple and some other businesses. Equifax and Experian charge a fee to register your business profile. Thankfully, the more significant Dunn & Bradstreet offers a free and fairly painless process.
It takes about five minutes to fill out the D-U-N-S number form if you have all of your information readily available.
I once listed an app in the iOS app store and had to go through the process for my own online business. In the signup process, I was able to claim my business, which they already knew about and had in the Dunn & Bradstreet database.
I got my D-U-N-S number, entered it in my Apple developer account, and listed the app shortly after. In less time than a lunch break, you can take control of your business credit.
Each of the business credit agencies has its own rating and scoring system. Here's a breakdown of the different business credit bureaus and how they rank your business credit score.
The Dunn & Bradstreet Paydex score is a zero to 100 scale. A score of 80-100 is considered low risk. A score below 50 is considered high risk.
Equifax calculates three different business credit scores:
The payment index, from zero to 100, shows your on-time payment history.
The credit risk score, from 101 to 992, shows the likelihood you can continue to make on-time payments.
The business failure score, scored from 1,000 to 1,610, indicates the likelihood the business won’t remain in business.
The Experian business credit score ranges from zero to 100. This score, called CreditScore, is a hybrid of several factors that aims to show both payment history and future risk in one number.
Once you establish your profile, make sure all of your business credit lines are properly reported and included in your business credit report. Whether you use business credit cards or buy inventory on credit from a supplier to manage your business expenses, you are in a perfect position to build your business credit.
Establish trade lines with suppliers and creditors to make sure your credit payments are properly reflected in your business credit. Nav, quoted above, has a paid service that assists with this process. If you have a good relationship with vendors and suppliers, it may be easy to handle directly with them. Read more about getting a business line of credit from BlueVine.
You could potentially take advantage of an early payment discount when you pay an invoice early, which has the added benefit of an early payment on your credit. That’s a big win-win for your business if you can afford it.
With personal credit scores, all that matters is making your payment by the due date. With business credit, try to pay as early as possible to get the best possible score.
You may be able to get a business credit card or small business loan using your personal credit score as the backstop for your application, but in the long-run, it is best to build your personal and business credit separately.
There are many benefits to building your business credit. In the future, you may be able to utilize your business credit to apply for its own loans, removing your personal liability from business loans. It can also help you qualify for more favorable loans, whether they be larger, for a longer term, or for a lower interest rate.
If you can get approved for the best lending products and terms, a strong business credit profile may save you money through lower interest rates.
Many entrepreneurs and small business owners fund their initial business growth with their personal credit. However, keep in mind that doing so puts your personal credit on the line. If you don’t pay the loan, your personal assets and credit score are at risk.
But once you get beyond the bootstrapping phase, your business can eventually stand on its own credit. That’s a win for you and your business.
Eric Rosenberg is a former bank manager and corporate finance worker. His work is featured at Business Insider, Credit Karma, The Balance, Investopedia, and many other fine websites and publications.