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5 reasons you need a small business credit card if you're self-employed

By , CardRatings contributor
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    6 best credit cards for your small businessAbout 53 million Americans, or 34 percent of the workforce, are freelancers. For those of us who've abandoned the 9-to-5 grind in favor of the freedom and flexibility that comes with self-employment, managing the small business banking part of freelancing can be the trickiest part of the journey.

    Between the endless cycle of invoicing and waiting with bated breath for the check to come in the mail, self-employed people who want to ease the financial ups and downs that come with freelancing should consider one particular option: a small business credit card. If used responsibly, a small business credit card allows you to invest in resources that will help your business grow when you may not have cash on hand. There are other benefits, too. Here are five reasons freelancers and other self-employed individuals should consider getting a small business credit card.

    Reason #1: To separate your business and personal expenses

    One of the most important reasons to get a small business credit card is that it keeps your business and personal expenses separate and allows you to track your business spending.

    This makes record-keeping a lot easier come tax time. For freelancers, 15.3 percent of our income goes to self-employment taxes, but with a business credit card we can easily see our overhead and itemize as many deductions as possible. Every swipe is an opportunity to lower your taxable income, and most credit card companies and banks that offer these cards allow you to export your monthly or year-end statements, which you can send to your tax preparer when it's time to do your annual return.

    Some cards even offer special functionality and tools to assist with expense tracking. The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN and The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN (American Express is a cardratings.com advertiser), for instance, both provide cardholders with access to a mobile app called ReceiptMatch. That app, in turn, syncs with Intuit Quickbooks, which could help tremendously with tracking your business expenses.

    In the unfortunate event that you're subject to an IRS audit, having your credit card statements as a backup can be beneficial. It definitely beats keeping receipts in a shoebox (though, still, any good accountant will tell you it's best to hang onto them for at least three years).

    Reason #2: Financial flexibility

    Cash flow is always an issue for freelancers, but business credit cards offer a revolving line of credit that we can use when we need to make an expensive business purchase, when work is slow or when we're waiting for incoming client checks to pay our bills. Just be aware that like personal credit cards, business credit cards also carry interest charges, and in some cases, an annual fee. Shop around for a no annual fee card or one with a 0-percent introductory APR to cover some of your business expenses when cash is tight.

    Another option to consider might be the SimplyCash® Plus Business Credit Card from American Express, which allows cardholders to spend over their credit limit without incurring a fee. You do have to pay off the overage at the end of the billing cycle, but you’ll earn rewards even on the amount you went over. There's also an opportunity to earn $400 in bonus statement credits. Spending $5,000 within the first six months of card membership, will get you a $200 statement credit. You can receive another $200 statement credit if you spend an additional $10,000 or more within your first year as a cardholder.

    Reason #3: They offer advantages over personal credit cards

    Business credit cards often have better terms than personal credit cards, including higher credit limits and the ability to extend your billing cycle. The The Plum Card® from American Express OPEN, for example, allows cardholders to carry a balance for up to 60 days with no interest. It also offers a 1.5 percent discount if you pay early.

    Getting a business credit card also lets you access more sign-up bonuses. The Ink Plus® Business Credit Card offers 60,000 bonus points – the equivalent of $750 in travel rewards when redeemed through Chase's rewards center – after you spend $5,000 in the first three months (this offer is no longer available). Chase also allows customers to combine Chase Ultimate Rewards® points across multiple cards, so you can accumulate rewards even more quickly if you combine a Chase rewards business card with a personal one.

    Another advantage of business cards: many credit card companies, including American Express® and Capital One® among others, offer benefits like free employee cards to help you better control business spending (and rack up rewards), access to private airport lounges, free Wi-Fi, airline fee credits, and detailed reporting to help you better keep track of those business expenses.

    Reason #4: Earn rewards

    Whether you sell handmade soaps on Etsy or design ads for a living, every freelancer has ongoing expenses. So why not get rewarded for money you would have spent anyway?

    Business credit cards come in all varieties, including cash back cards that reward you for everyday spending or travel rewards cards with a tiered points system for different categories. Before you sign up for a card, it's important to determine which rewards structure is right for you. I spend most of my day writing and editing from home, so a card that awards more points for gas – like Bank of America® Cash Rewards for Business Mastercard® credit card, which offers 3 percent back in this category – probably isn't right for me. However, if you travel a lot on business, a card like Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business, which lets cardholders earn unlimited two times the miles on every purchase and offers a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus, might be a better fit.

    For someone who works from home, a card like the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card would probably provide the most rewards since you can earn 5 percent cash back in select business categories. I happen to have a travel rewards card through my bank. Since all my accounts are held there, my bank rewards me for my loyalty with 50 percent additional bonus points for every purchase, no matter the category. This works out well because we take a big vacation once a year and I can amass rewards for that annual expense, which I can then redeem to pay for hotels, a rental car or flights. For freelancers who bank at one institution, ask about loyalty programs for which you may be eligible – if you don't, you could be leaving rewards on the table.

    Reason #5: It helps you build credit

    If you get a business credit card, you'll likely have a business credit score if your card issuer reports to the major credit bureaus. The upside is that if you use your card responsibly, you could improve your score and get lower interest rates in the event you need to take out a business loan. If your card issuer reports your business card activity on your personal report, this could improve your credit score, too – but, as with any credit card, it could hurt it if you don't pay your bills on time or use too much of your available credit. Before signing up for a card, find out how your card issuer handles credit reporting.

    In today's gig economy, more people will take the leap and work for themselves. There's plenty of rewards and risks in freelancing, but you can prepare for the latter with a business credit card. Whether you have temporary cash flow issues, want to earn rewards to offset some of your business spending or need to make a necessary business purchase, a business credit card can be a godsend – if you use it wisely.

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