A good business credit score is important for a multitude of reasons. For one, it’ll help you get a business loan if you need one – and you never know when you might need some help. Additionally, a higher business credit score will result in lower rates on loan interest and insurance, meaning you’ll be paying less money every month. It will also allow you to separate your business and personal credit scores, since many new businesses that don’t have business credit rely on their personal credit to get loans and such. Finally, raising your business credit score will improve your business’s reputation and potentially win you more business; after all, your business credit score is public information that anyone can look up.
Okay, now that you know why you should improve your business credit score, let’s get on with the how. It’s actually easier than you might think!
Table of Contents
Establish Your Business Credit
The first step to improving your business credit score is to simply establish all of your business credit scores – that’s right, you will have multiple business credit scores, and you have to take certain actions in order to establish them. Personal credit scores are calculated by the same criteria and scoring system set forth by FICO, but the three business credit scoring agencies are more disparate in their calculations, and their scores all signify different things. Only once you establish credit with each agency can you work on improving these scores.
The Three Big Credit Agencies
The three major business credit scoring agencies are Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax, and Experian. As you may know, Equifax and Experian also perform personal credit scoring, but your personal credit score with these agencies is different than your business credit score.
Dun & Bradstreet
Dun & Bradstreet assigns something called a PAYDEX score. This score, which ranges from 1 – 100 (100 being perfect), primarily has to do with repayment of creditors and is of particular importance to lenders looking to make decisions about whether to grant your business a loan. To qualify for a D&B credit score, you need to register for a D-U-N-S number and have active trade lines with at least three vendors or suppliers (more on those topics in a bit).
While it’s free to register for a D-U-N-S number, you will have to pay between $61 and $188 to purchase a Dun & Bradstreet business credit report to see your score.
Equifax has two different business credit scores: one that predicts how likely you are to skip payments to creditors, and another that predicts how likely your business is to fail. From Equifax’s website:
- Business Credit Risk Score predicts the likelihood of a business incurring a 90 days severe delinquency or charge-off over the next 12 months. The score ranges from 101 – 992 with a lower score indicating higher risk.
order an Equifax business credit report for your company (or another company) for $99.99 per report. You can also order multiple reports at a discount, or pay a monthly fee to monitor your business credit report on an ongoing basis.
Experian assigns just one credit score, ranging from 1 – 100, that designates your risk to both vendors and lenders. You want your score to be as close to 100 as possible.
To establish an Experian business credit score, Experian requires at least one trade line and/or one demographic element, such as years on file, business size, and/or Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code.
You can order a business credit report from Experian’s website for $39.95 or $49.95; Experian also has monthly and yearly subscription packages.
Unlike with Dun & Bradstreet, you don’t need to register for a proprietary number to get an Equifax or Experian credit score. However, in order for them to have enough information to go on, you will need to differentiate your business (as its own entity) from your personal identity with an LLC designation, employer ID number, and accounts in your business’s name. Which brings us to …
Register For Numbers & Titles
So let’s say the credit agencies don’t have enough information on your business to provide an accurate score or complete credit report. No worries. By registering your business for a few important designations, you’ll put your business on the map as far as credit agencies are concerned.
On the Dun & Bradstreet website, you can set up your D-U-N-S number for free. This is a nine-digit number that identifies your business’s physical location. You’ll need to have one of these in order to obtain a PAYDEX business credit score through D&B.
Many business organizations use D-U-N-S as a form of business identification and to check your business’s credit report.
Employer Identification Number
If you don’t have one already, registering for a federal employer identification number (EIN) through the IRS can help establish your business credit. In addition to identifying your business to creditors, having an EIN also allows you to stop using your personal social security number for official documents, thus separating your personal credit from your business credit.
Use the IRS’s online EIN Assistant Tool to get started with your EIN registration.
Limited Liability Company
Forming your business as a Limited Liability Company instead of a Sole Proprietorship has some important benefits, including establishing your business credit. As with registering for an EIN, restructuring your business as an LLC will help separate your personal and business credit because it differentiates your business as its own separate entity.
Rules on how to start an LLC vary somewhat from state to state, but here’s a useful resource with a few general steps for how to form an LLC.
Incorporating your business is another option.
Open Accounts In Your Business’s Name
Opening accounts in your business’s name will also put your business on credit agencies’ radars. All of these accounts need to be dedicated specifically to business purposes, meaning you can’t use the same account for personal business. Some important accounts to open include:
- Business bank account
- Business phone line (listed)
- Business credit card
Besides helping separate your personal and business finances and establish your business credit, a business credit card will also help build your business’s credit score. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to practice good credit habits — such as keeping your debt-to-credit ratio low and making all payments on time.
Vendors & Your Credit Score
Setting up business trade lines with vendors — i.e., “accounts payable” relationships — helps demonstrate your business’s ability to make payments on time. Even if you don’t strictly need this sort of arrangement for your business, you can still set one up to help boost your credit score – you could, for example, set up a trade line with your office supplies or drinking water distributor. Note that D&B requires businesses to have at least three trade lines with vendors and four payments on file before they will even assign a PAYDEX score.
It’s also important to note that that you need to work with vendors that report your payments to the major credit bureaus for your trade lines to positively impact your credit score.
Repay Your Debts
To get a perfect business credit score, you don’t just need to repay your debts on time; you need to repay them early. This includes payments to suppliers, service providers, and any other entity to which you owe money. If you pay all your vendors on time, you will likely get a PAYDEX score of about 80, but if you pay them early you could get a perfect 100 score.
Remove Negative Marks
I’ve dedicated most of this article to the topic of building business credit by establishing it in the first place, as many small business owners rely on their personal credit for their business. However, it may be the case that you do already have a business credit history, and it’s not a good one. Depending on the nature and severity of the credit infraction, you might be able to remove that blemish from your record.
Check out this resource on how to remove negative marks from your credit report.
Business Loans & Credit Score
Having a small business loan in good standing will help build or improve your business credit. However, if you have no business credit or you have bad credit, it will be difficult to obtain a business loan. In such cases, you may have to take out a loan in your personal name and/or find a lender that does not check your credit in order to get that capital you need.
Business Line Of Credit
While any business loan is good for building up your credit, a business line of credit is an especially easy way to help bolster your business’s credit score. If you have a line of credit, you have access to a sum of money, but you only have to pay interest on the amount you borrow. Lines of credit may also be easier to qualify for than actual term loans, especially if you choose an online line of credit such as Bluevine, Kabbage, and others.
Business Loans For Bad Credit
If you’re reading this post because you need to get a loan for your business ASAP but have poor business and personal credit, you might consider getting a loan with no or low credit score requirements. Just make sure you read the fine print, because you may have to sign a personal guarantee and a UCC blanket lien on your business assets. Here are a few good lenders to consider for businesses with poor credit:
However, be aware that lenders might not report to the credit agencies. If you’re taking out a loan to improve your credit score, ask potential lenders if they report to credit agencies before accepting a loan.
Looking for a lender that doesn’t check your credit at all? Head over to our article on 5 Business Loans With No Credit Check.
Managing Your Credit Profiles
Once you know what your business credit scores are, you can start to work on improving them. But that’s not the only thing you need to do; it is also advisable to monitor your scores on at least a semi-regular basis by checking your reports from time to time – at least once a year. Additionally, you will want to correct any mistakes on your business credit profile that could be negatively affecting your score. All of the credit bureaus provide a process to correct inaccuracies on your report, like an inaccurate SIC code or wrongfully filed UCC lien.
Finally, here are a few more things you can do that might boost your business credit score.
- Fix your personal credit (some lenders check personal as well as business credit)
- Deal with any judgments, liens, or other black marks on your report
- Avoid behaviors that hint at risk, such as closing any business-related accounts
- Keep revolving debt low
- Stay on the right side of the law in terms of business taxes, business licenses, insurance policies, etc.
Building up a strong credit history for your business can help your business in a lot of ways. You’ll be able to increase your borrowing limits, qualify for lower interest rates, limit your personal liability in business dealings, keep your personal credit lapses from hurting your business’s reputation, and more. While most startups rely on personal credit to get things off the ground, once your business is up and running you can establish business credit in just a few easy steps. After your business credit profiles are firmly established, you can build up your scores by simply paying your bills on time (or, ideally, early) and exercising other good credit practices.