You don’t need to have 1,000 employees and a mahogany-walled board room to reap the rewards from business credit cards this year. Small businesses with few employees, sole proprietors, and independent contractors can all use business credit cards to manage cash flow and earn rewards on their spending.
In fact, even if you don’t have a business set up, you can reap the benefits of the best business credit cards. Yes, that means freelancers, financial advisers, and any other person can potentially qualify for a business card if they are established as a business.
I have been self-employed the majority of my working career consulting and freelancing, and I always use a credit card to keep track of my expenses. I started with a personal credit card, but recently upgraded to the Chase Ink® line of cards for my LLC. I found several benefits after switching from a personal credit card to Chase Ink®.
In the process of selecting these cards for my business, I buried myself in business credit card research. This guide details my selections for the top business cards on the market today and explains how I arrived at my decision.
No matter what your revenue level is, you can use one of the best business credit cards on this list to boost cash flow and earn top-notch rewards to use how you like.
The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks
Here are the 8 best business credit cards of 2014:
Update: loyal readers will know that I own and previously recommended the Chase Ink Bold® card as my top pick. However, after receiving many notes from readers about how the Bold® is actually a charge card and not a credit card, (I explain the difference later) I amended my top picks to reflect this difference.
- Chase Ink Plus®
- Chase Ink Cash®
- Chase Ink Bold® (Charge Card)
- Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN
- Capital One® Spark Cash for Business
- SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express OPEN
- Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
Chase or Amex?
I’ve personally used two cards on this list for businesses I’ve been a part of — the Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN, and most recently, the Chase Ink Bold®.
These cards are comparable in many ways, like their rewards programs and bonus rewards categories. I have always wanted to use American Express because of the prestige the brand carries, but I’ve just never been able to find the right level of value for my lifestyle.
However, the signup bonus for the two cards is vastly different: 25,000 points for The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN and 50,000 for the Ink Bold®. Amex Gold carries a $175 annual fee, while the Ink Bold® has a $95 annual fee. Some of the American Express cards cost even more, if you look at the $450 annual fee that comes with the American Express Business Platinum Card®!
Chase Ink®: Best All-Around Business Credit Cards
As I said earlier, I own the Chase Ink Bold® for my business, but the Chase Ink Bold® card and the Chase Ink Plus® are virtually identical with one main difference. In fact, I put Chase Ink Plus® as the best card for the majority of people because it is a true credit card as opposed to a “charge” card. I’ll explain in a second.
Chase Ink Plus®
Chase Ink Plus® Highlights
The main difference in the cards is that the Chase Ink Bold® is a charge card that must be paid off each month. The Chase Ink Plus® is a more traditional credit card with the ability to carry a balance. Since these cards are almost identical, the choice comes down to preference and is largely situational.
I chose the Chase Ink Bold® charge card because I never plan on carrying a balance, BUT many businesses can use a good credit card as a line of credit in an emergency. If you fall in this camp, choose the Chase Ink Plus®
What makes the Chase Ink Plus® the best?
Earn 50,000 bonus points after required spend
This is one of the top signup bonuses in the industry, but what makes it really valuable is how you use the points with the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform. If you redeem points for travel booked through the Ultimate Rewards website, those points are immediately worth 25% more. So, if you book your next business trip, that’s $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
5X point categories
I’m always outraged at how expensive my Internet, business phone line, and cell phone bills are each month, but at least I can earn 5X points on those bills by paying with my Chase Ink Bold® card. I just went to each company website and hooked up the card for autopay. Earnings on just these expenses alone nets me over 20,000 points.
As I detailed in the last section, the cards earn 5X points at office supply stores too. Even if you’re not buying reams and reams of paper to fill your copy machine, you can still benefit. Office supply stores carry all the standard items like pens, paper, office furniture, small electronics, and ink. They also carry many non-traditional items. Staples, for instance, carries water, snacks, coffee, and K-cups! Stock up the next time you’re in.
For larger businesses, it is important to note that points are limited to the first $50,000 spent in each category. Any spending above the $50,000 mark in any one category will earn 1 point per dollar.
2X point categories
The Chase Ink Plus® card also earn 2X points per $1 on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and for hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel. If you go over $50,000 spent on gas or hotels, each additional dollar will earn one point. These categories are great for the road warriors and salespeople among us. I spend a decent amount on gas and a bit less on hotels, but my upcoming travel schedule will be picking up so I got the Chase Ink Bold® card just in time.
1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs
As stated earlier, when you redeem your Ultimate Rewards points for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site, your points are worth 25% more. For example, you can redeem 30,000 points for a $375 airline ticket. In those special circumstances where you might get a better deal by using airline miles, the Ink Plus® card lets you transfer Ultimate Rewards points to any of their partners on a 1:1 basis with no transfer fees. This is a great option on the occasions where airlines or hotels run last-minute points deals.
Here is a list of Chase transfer partners:
- British Airways Executive Club
- Korean Air SKYPASS
- United MileagePlus®
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Amtrak Guest Rewards®
- Hyatt Gold Passport®
- Priority Club® Rewards
- Marriott Rewards®
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards®
No foreign transaction fee
Another uncommon perk that comes with the Chase Ink Plus® is no foreign transaction fee. If your business takes you international frequently, this will save you 2.5% to 3% or more on every trip.
Chase Ink Cash®: Best Small Business Credit Card (No Annual Fee)
If you like what you are reading about the Chase Ink Plus®, but don’t like the idea of paying an annual fee, then check out the Chase Ink Cash®.
This card has the same bonus rewards categories but caps rewards at $25,000 spent in each bonus category annually instead of $50,000. Earn $200 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Chase Ink Cash® Highlights
Here’s what you’re missing out on if you select Chase Ink Cash® over the Chase Ink Plus® business cards:
- No 25% bonus for redeeming points for travel through Ultimate Rewards
- Can’t transfer points to partners on a 1:1 basis
- Has a foreign transaction fee
SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express OPEN
SimplyCash® Business Card from American Express OPEN is another option for a no annual fee business credit card. Like Chase Ink Cash®, this card has 5% cash back at U.S. office supply stores and on wireless phone services purchased directly from US service providers. The interesting twist to SimplyCash® is that AMEX lets you pick one additional category to earn 3% back in. This adds some flexibility for you because you can analyze your spending and select the best category to max out.
Here are your choices to earn 3%:
- Airfare purchased directly from airlines
- Hotel rooms purchased directly from hotels
- Car rentals purchased from select car rental companies
- U.S gas stations
- U.S. restaurants
- U.S. purchases for advertising in select media
- U.S. purchases for shipping
Capital One®: Flat Rate Rewards Business Credit Cards
Sometimes, it’s just easier to know that you get a flat reward on every dollar you spend. In this case, Capital One® Spark cards are for you. Capital One® Spark Miles for Business is a mileage program, and Capital One® Spark Cash for Business is a cash back program. Each one returns two points for every dollar spent on anything, anywhere — with no limits.
The nice thing about Capital One® is that miles and cash rewards never expire. You can fly any airline with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. In the signup bonus department, both cards offer $250 (25,000 miles) bonus when you meet preliminary spending requirements.
Capital One® Spark Miles for Business Highlights
Capital One® Spark Cash for Business Highlights
If your business has made it to the top, you may be searching for ways to make your business travel more comfortable instead of pinching pennies on day-to-day expenses. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN and Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN can serve you well because they are loaded with premium travel benefits that help you relax and travel in style.
The trade-off is cost: the Platinum Card® carries a $450 annual fee, while the Gold Rewards Card will set you back a mere $175 annually.
The king of business travel cards has traditionally been the Platinum Card® from American express due to its previously unmatched benefits for travel. However, recently it has been losing a bit of its luster. First, there is a $450 annual fee — almost five times what Chase Ink Plus® charges. Then, US Airways/American Airlines severed ties with AMEX for their airport lounge access. The Platinum Card® has scrambled to try and replace that value.
The Business Platinum Card® still excels with airport lounge access with over 600 participating lounges through Priority PassTM Select and Airport Club Access programs worldwide. You also get a $200 airline credit for incidental air travel fees on a qualifying airline selected by the card member, Global Entry fee credit if the membership is charged to the card, and complimentary Gold status in the Starwood Preferred Guest Program. However, if you don’t travel much, none of this means anything to you.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN Highlights
Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN Highlights
Frequent travelers will like the 3X points on travel booked and 2X points on purchases at U.S. gas stations through American Express. The 2X points also extend to select advertising expenditures and shipping. But, with a $175 annual fee, make sure to check your spending levels to make sure you will get enough value for this card.
Research The 25 Best Business Credit Cards
Below is a directory with the most popular business credit cards today. The directory is updated on a weekly basis to reflect any new changes, to add new cards, and to remove expired cards. The business credit cards directory is a highlights the most important features for each card. The directory is maintained and updated consistently to make sure it’s always current.
Business Credit Cards Directory
We analyzed many features of each business credit card to develop an overall rating for each card. The most heavily weighted features of a business credit card are Rewards, Sign Up Bonus, and Perks. I also considered the annual fees and foreign transaction fees associated with the cards.
Based on these features and other data, I came up with an Business Credit Card Rating for each card. This rating provides an objective basis to compare cards based on the features we decided are most valuable to the majority of businesses. Noting that what’s best for the majority isn’t necessarily best for each individual, we also included all of the information for every card so you can decide which card is best for you based on what you value most.
Sort, filter, or search for what matters most to find the best business credit card for you.
We used the features and data from the directory above to develop a rating for each of the best business credit cards available today. To help explain what we looked at, a more detailed outline is included below.
Sign Up Bonus
Sign Up Bonus is the amount of extra points the business card offers to a new cardholder. Business card Signup Bonuses are often high but only last for a certain period, as cards compete for new members. Sign up bonuses usually range between 25,000 and 40,000 points, but the best go to 50,000 and beyond (with special offers).
Sign Up Bonus carries a high importance rating because the bonus can tip the scales when comparing two similar cards. The hefty bonus can easily save you a bundle on an upcoming flight.
Don’t wait until the last minute to act on a sign up bonus, however. There are usually certain spending requirements you need to fulfill before you actually earn the points and can use them. It is common for credit card issuers to require you to spend $3,000 in the first three months you have the card before the sign up bonus kicks in. This means that you’re out of luck if you want to apply the bonus to your New York to LA flight next week.
There are a few components within rewards that I looked at to select the top cards. I go into each of these in detail to explain how I graded each card on its rewards level.
Redemption Options refers to all the ways you can use your accumulated points. Business credit cards usually have the best Redemption Options because they are tied to large travel rewards platforms like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Points. These programs give you flexibility for how you use points when compared to specific airline credit cards and frequent flyer programs. These portals let you book travel on their sites with most carriers and hotels. They also facilitate points redemption for merchandise, gift cards, and services.
Your points are always redeemable for travel through the portals, but these programs also give you the option to transfer your points to specific airline frequent flyer programs for another option.
Once transferred to a partner airline, you can move points to other airlines by taking advantage of airline alliance networks. The largest airline networks are oneworld and Star Alliance. Other airlines create their own partner networks and join forces with hotels and rental car companies to give the customer more options for redeeming points.
We also looked at rewards rate, which is the rate at which your purchases on the card earn you points. This is either expressed as “points per dollar spent” or, for cash back cards, it is expressed as a percentage. It is common to see an business cards earn up to five points per dollar in certain categories, and one point per dollar on all other purchases.
There are also flat rate rewards cards that reward you two points per dollar on all purchases instead of higher points on only limited categories.
Rewards Categories are the spending categories in which your credit card earns greater than 1% or one point per dollar. Rewards Categories play a factor because they can significantly boost your points, they also usually contain limitations. Spending in each category is often capped and any spending above that cap in the category will only earn one point per dollar.
Popular rewards categories are Internet/phone services, gas, hotels, and dining. Depending on how your specific spending breaks down, Rewards Categories can sway your decision between two comparable cards.
Again, some flat rate cards simply offer two points per dollar on all expenditures instead of using Rewards Categories.
Perks refers to other benefits or programs that make a business card valuable. Most perks are geared toward travel. Many of the best business cards offer airline credits, lounge access, or hotel upgrades. The very best business cards for Perks kick in free preferred status with hotel rewards programs, free Wi-Fi services, and premium roadside assistance packages.
Mixing Business and Personal Credit Cards
We usually talk about which business credit cards are right for which traditional business types as opposed to individuals. However, these days, the line between business and personal is somewhat blurry.
More people are freelance workers, or self employed in some way than at any other time in history. If you are in this category, many of your expenses are deductible against your business income. Keeping track of those expenses, and maximizing your rewards on those expenses can be a snap with the right financial tools.
Business credit cards are a great way to boost your overall credit card rewards strategy. Remember, you can sign up for a business credit card as long as you operate as a business entity, so any individual can apply if they qualify. If you are in a line of work where you have many reimbursable or non reimbursable business expenses, it can pay to add a business credit card.
Who Are Business Credit Cards Good For?
While technically anyone can apply for a business credit card, these cards are best for individuals who tend to fall into the following categories:
- Self employed sole proprietors.
- Doctors, Dentists who are part of their own practice
- Financial advisors
People who fall in these categories all have certain expenses that can be separated and classified as “business” expenses like advertising, business development entertainment and office space, vs. “personal” expenses like groceries or family vacations.
Sometimes financial advisors or other salespeople are employed by a company. In this case, the salesperson may front expenses like gas, meals and parking which the company reimburses them for. This type of person can still benefit from a business credit card to keep those expenses separate from their other personal expenses and earn top rewards before being reimbursed.
2 Views: Separating Business and Personal Expenses
View #1: Using a Business Credit Card
Any accountant will tell a self-employed person to maintain two credit cards – one for business and one for personal. Accountants advise this because they claim it is easier to make the case that business and personal expenses are separate if you get audited by the IRS. While this is generally a good idea, it is insufficient without keeping accurate records for each expense.
Real Life Example
For my consulting business, I do a lot of networking and business development with people via lunches, breakfasts or coffee meetings. I use a business credit card exclusively for these types of expenses, and use a personal card every other time I go out to lunch, breakfast or coffee by myself or with family. Even though I’ve kept these expenses on separate cards, my spending will still raise red flags with the IRS if I do not have receipts and documentation of who I was with and the business purpose of my meeting thereby nullifying the effect of separate accounts.
View #2: Using a Personal Credit Card for Business Expenses
Whether you use a personal or business credit card doesn’t technically matter as long as you maintain detailed and accurate records of your spending. While in my opinion, this view is the more accurate one, it is important to note that View #1 is simpler and an easier way for many people to keep track of expenses. If you choose to adopt View #2, you will most likely need to use really good expense tracking and accounting software.
Real Life Example
For my consulting business, I use a business credit card to cover all of my business expenses plus those personal expenses, like gas, where I earn better rewards from my business card. I must clearly separate, track, describe and account for my business expenses aside from my personal expenses.
Strategies for Maximizing Total Rewards
Since I have been a freelance consultant for a while, and I am interested in maximizing my credit card rewards, I have adopted View #2 above. This choice is designed to max out my credit card points by combining business and personal expense, but I must constantly keep clear and accurate records for my business expenses.
Here’s what I do.
As we have seen most rewards credit cards offer bonus rewards in certain categories of spending. I sought out a business credit card that earns more points in categories that my personal rewards credit card does not.
For me, Chase has the best combination of personal and business cards on the market right now. For business, I use my Chase Ink Bold®, which earns 5x points on cell phone service, internet service, landline service and office supply stores plush 2x points on gas and hotels. I pair that card with my personal Chase Sapphire Preferred®, which earns 2x points on travel and dining.
I put all of my gas and hotel stays on my business card even if it is for a family trip. This way I earn 2 points per dollar which is better than if I used my personal card. I also put my internet service on my business card so I earn 5 points per dollar even though most of that service is personal, and only a portion gets deducted based on my home office square footage.
If I am out to eat with a client, a business expense, I use my personal Chase Sapphire Preferred® instead of my Chase Ink Bold® because I earn double points with the Sapphire Preferred®.
If I spend on an item outside of any of these bonus categories, I still earn 1 point per dollar, so I’m always earning.
Using the Same Rewards Platform
What I like about these two cards is that they are both on the same rewards platform so I am able to combine the points where I wouldn’t if I paired a Chase Ink Plus® with the personal rewards card from American Express.
Two added advantages of the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform are transferring points and redeeming points for travel. Both the Chase Ink Plus® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® transfer points to frequent flier partners on a 1:1 basis AND both cards’ points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through the UR platform.
The result is that when you have the same rewards platform, you have added flexibility to combine and redeem points. If you have business and personal cards on different networks, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
What to Watch Out For
Because I combine my expenses, I have developed a great system of tracking, keeping notes and accounting for which expenses are business vs. personal. This approach is not for the faint of heart. You need to keep up on tracking these expenses at all times. If you fall behind it can be a nightmare to sift back through your calendar, credit card statements and memory to put the right pieces of the puzzle together.
How to Avoid These Problems
First, Jot from Chase Business is great. I can tag expenses and take pictures of receipts. The only tag I really use is “Business” to denote a business expense I want to transfer to my accounting software.
For my personal card I use Expensify. This is essentially the same thing as Jot, but you can use it for any expense whereas Jot only works with your Chase business credit card.
With Expensify, I take a picture of my receipt only for purchases I want to use as business expenses. Expensify saves each receipt and any information I manually input. I then transfer these expenses to my accounting software at the end of each week.
I use Quickbooks for all of my accounting, which lets me keep detailed notes on all my expenses. Once I transfer my expenses, I make sure to add each receipt picture to my digital tax files, so I can back up any expense easily if I ever face an audit.
If you’re self employed or your profession has certain characteristics of self employment, you can use one of the best business credit cards to earn more rewards on your business purchases and keep your personal and business expenses separate.
If you are like me and want to max out your rewards bottom line, you can employ some of my strategies above to get the most out of your cards, but beware of the added importance of diligent record keeping.