Small-business owners are in a quandary these days. They want access to credit and liquidity, but they're not really using business credit cards to get the job done.
About half of U.S. small-business owners say access to capital is a barrier to growth right now, according to the New York Federal Reserve's Small Business Credit Survey. So why did only 33 percent of those owners apply for credit in 2012?
Part of the problem is that small-business owners are facing a significantly tougher credit-approval environment. The New York Fed report says that 36 percent of small-business leaders at profitable companies say they had difficulty getting the credit they need to help their business grow.
The good news is that many U.S. credit card providers offer small business credit cards, and if you know a few insider secrets, those pieces of liquidity-generating plastic aren't all that difficult to get -- especially if you're looking for your first-ever business credit card.
With that as a backdrop, let's look at five often-overlooked steps that greatly increase your chance of landing the best business credit card out there.
Don't fall for a higher interest rate
Too often, new business owners are so relieved about getting a card that they accept any rate they're offered. Big mistake, says Rohit Arora, chief executive officer at Biz2Credit.com, a small-business funding firm.
"New owners should look for cards that offer a zero-percent APR for a short time period," says Arora. "Many credit card companies offer this as an enticement to get new businesses. It can be helpful for a first-time business credit card recipient to take advantage of this deal."
Tailor a business card to your specific needs
Arora says that too many business owners fail to target a business credit card that works best for their individual needs. That means less benefits that matter to them.
"A small-biz owner should look for credit cards that offer added benefits, such as accumulated points," he says. "For instance, if you travel a lot for business, you might want to apply for a card that offers frequent-flier miles."
Seek to leverage good credit
Terry Robinson, CEO for Sunovis Financial, a small-business lender based in San Francisco, says that if the credit card leads to a good payment history, it will help the small-business owner to build a strong business credit score. That's vital to any small business owner.
"Good credit enables entrepreneurs to qualify for additional and better credit cards without a personal guarantee," he says.
Also, a great benefit to business credit is that it is normally tied only to your business and not to the business owner personally, Robinson notes.
"One of the key considerations, next to the credit terms, is that the business owner should determine which ones, out of the 300,000 or more vendors that extend business credit, are reporting to the national business credit bureaus," he explains. "A small-business owner will always want to select credit card companies that report to the bureaus and report on a regular basis."
Aim for a business card offering high ceilings
Some of the best credit cards are ones with a credit line of $25,000 or greater, says Robinson.
"Those cards are issued typically by larger, more respected institutions such as regional and national banks," he says. "They have superior interest rates that should be no more that 12.99 percent and have limited fees and no 'hidden surprises' that are common in the credit card industry."
Vladimir Gendelman, founder of CompanyFolders.com, used credit cards to self-finance his business until it was cash-flow positive.
"I had to -- I couldn't get a bank loan," he says.
Gendelman advises other business owners to apply early for their first business credit card.
"The best time to request a new credit card is before you've launched your business," he says. "That way, you're still employed and have income. In fact, while you still have a job, it might be a good idea to request several cards to give you flexibility."
He also says to use credit card cards with zero-percent introductory interest rates on balance transfers, which provide flexibility and lower interest rates during the term of the promotional period.
"With several cards at once, I would transfer the balance into my business bank account -- and now had the money to use to invest in the business. I was able to cobble together about $40,000 at one point," he says.
New businesses would do well to follow the tips above when reviewing their first small business credit card offers. It's one of the most important moves you'll make with your fledgling business, and one that can set the financial tone for your firm for years to come.