Many different kinds of reward credit cards are available to small business owners. Some have simple reward systems, such as travel miles earned for every dollar you spend. Others are more nebulous, such as business credit cards with complex point systems that can be difficult to redeem. In these cases, it’s hard not to think the credit card company intentionally made the rewards process confusing so their users are less likely to maximize the value of their points.
The simplest of all credit card reward programs is cash back. When you spend money with these types of cards, you get money back as a statement credit, check, or cash deposit. There’s no convoluted exchange system to worry about—it’s simply cash for cash. This process makes cash back cards an ideal option for those who don’t have a lot of experience with credit cards or simply don’t want to mess around with less accessible rewards.
“Cash back credit cards can help you simplify your finances, earn rewards on spending, and take advantage of extra perks that debit cards don’t offer,” explains credit card expert Holly Johnson. “Since cash back rewards are typically easier to understand than travel rewards, a cash back card is also a good option for a first rewards credit card.”
In addition to convenience and clarity, cash back cards also provide other benefits. For starters, many of them don’t charge an annual fee, which means your rewards won’t be partially offset by an amount you have to pay each year. You can also find card options that offer a signup bonus, providing a nice perk right out of the gate.
Cash back cards come with 2 different reward structures. The most basic option pays you a fixed earning percentage for every purchase. It won’t matter if you’re buying new brooms for your warehouse, installing a new oven in your kitchen, or renting an event space for your holiday party, you will earn back a predetermined percentage. A 1% ratio is standard, while the best cards pay up to 3%.
The other reward structure gives you variable reward percentages based on categories. For example, some cards give you 3% cash back at gas stations and 1% cash back for all other purchases. The most versatile credit cards even allow you to select the category for your higher cash back percentage, tailoring the rewards to your spending habits.
This is where strategy comes into play. You’ll need to examine your business spending and find the best way to maximize a cash back card. If you consistently spend large amounts of money in a category where some cards will offer higher percentages, applying for those cards could yield substantial rewards for your business. If your spending is spread evenly throughout many categories, a generous fixed percentage could be the best way to go.
While the rewards structure is crucial, it’s hardly the only aspect you need to consider. Be sure to give yourself ample time to do your due diligence while choosing a card for your business.
“With dozens of choices, keep several issues in mind,” says a Wall Street Journal guide to picking a business credit card. “First, what are your spending habits? Do you plan to pay charges each month, or pay them off over time? If you are carrying a balance, pay attention to the annual percentage rate. If you carry a balance and have good credit, some card issuers may offer you a low interest rate or even a teaser rate as low as 0% for the first year. Some have fixed rates, which could be attractive when rates are rising.”
As you consider various card options, don’t get enchanted by the marketing copy. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, teaser rates can be exceptional during your first year with a new card. But what happens after that year is important. Buried in the fine print could be the fact that the interest rate will increase dramatically in the second year, making the card a poor choice if you intend to use it long term.
Here are several crucial factors you’ll want to pay attention to:
- Reward: Not all cash back cards are created equal. Analyze how the reward percentages work, as well as how you redeem the money you earn from purchases. A streamlined redemption system can be worth its weight in gold.
- Welcome bonus: In addition to the rewards you’ll earn on an ongoing basis, many cards provide extra perks when you sign up. You’ll qualify for such bonuses by successfully qualifying for the card and then spending a required amount of money within a set period.
- Annual fee: All this reward talk needs to be tempered with the fact that some cards have an annual fee. This fee isn’t always a problem, as the rewards from some cards are plentiful enough to offset the money you’d be paying each year to use it.
- International usage: For small business owners who travel abroad, foreign transaction fees can become a real thorn in the side. With fees often hovering in the 2–3% range, they can neutralize whatever cash back you might be earning from the purchase. To avoid this situation, look for cards that won’t charge you for purchases made in foreign countries.
- APR: When carrying a balance on your card, this metric shows how much you’ll pay in interest. It’s common to find lower APR for purchases and balance transfers for the first year, at which point the rate increases permanently. Make sure to do your homework so you’re not caught off-guard if the rates increase.
- Minimum payment: You’ll be required to make a payment each billing cycle that includes a balance. Knowing the minimum amount is helpful as you plan your finances. You’ll often have the option of paying a predetermined amount or a percentage of the balance.
- Employee cards: Some card issuers provide employee cards at no charge while others will tack on a fee. If you want to bolster your purchasing amounts on your card by adding employees, always check to see if it’ll cost you. Also, look at whether the card will make it easy to set spending limits and retrieve transaction histories.
Many cards shine in 1 or 2 of the areas mentioned above but also have weaknesses that make them a poor fit for small businesses. Make sure you always evaluate your card options holistically so you can get the complete picture of how it would impact your finances.
The Best of the Best
Based on interest rates, reward structures, ease of use, and other factors, here are 4 cash back business credit cards that are worth considering. They each have unique benefits that may or may not fit with your business finances. The only way to find out for sure is to do your due diligence.
- The Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard Credit Card
As mentioned earlier, an introductory bonus is an easy way to earn more money from the process of signing up for a new credit card. With the Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard, Bank of America will give you a $300 statement credit, as long as you make $3,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of opening the account. Aside from this initial perk, you’ll also earn cash back on all purchases. This card has a tiered structure ranging from 3% cash back down to 1%. The 3% cash back is awarded to all purchases within the category of your choice. Options include common expenses such as gas, travel, drug stores, online shopping, dining, and home improvement/furnishings.All purchases in restaurants are awarded 2% cash back, while every other kind of purchases nets the default of 1% cash back. It’s easy to redeem your cash rewards to your account, as the interface is designed to make it as streamlined as possible.The Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard has no annual fee, which makes it a good choice for businesses that don’t make a large number of financial transactions. With annual fee cards, you need to consistently use the card to see substantial benefits, as the fee is always chipping away at what you’re getting.As for the APR, this card offers 0% on all purchases for the first 9 billing cycles, then a variable APR of 13.74–23.74% will kick in.
- Blue Business Cash Card
This new card from American Express takes beloved elements of their other popular cards and applies them to a cash back card for businesses. Unlike the Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard, you won’t get a welcome bonus with this card. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot to offer. Like many of the best cash back cards, the Blue Business Cash Card doesn’t have an annual fee. This means that you can use it sporadically and not worry about it having any kind of negative impact on your finances.Earlier iterations of this card featured a tiered reward structure that confused some users so it now has a structure that’s among the most basic on the market. You will earn 2% cash back on any purchases until you’ve spent $50,000. After you’ve surpassed the $50,000 mark, the percentage goes down to 1%.If your business is on the smaller end of the spectrum, this $50,000 cap on the 2% cash back probably won’t be an issue. For example, if your business were to spend $50,000 a year, you’d receive the full cash back percentage and earn $1,000 in rewards for these purchases. On the other hand, larger businesses that consistently exceed the cap might find the card is too limiting.This updated rewards model is also good for businesses that make purchases from diverse categories. But it’s definitely not as lucrative for businesses that regularly spend large amounts of money in the categories that yielded a higher return with the previous versions.One nice benefit of the Blue Business Cash Card is that all the cash back you earn automatically appears on your statement as a credit. This feature is an underrated benefit, as you won’t need to visit your portal and manually transfer the money, as many cards require you to do.
This card comes with an APR of 0% for the first year. After that, your creditworthiness will translate into a variable APR of 14.24–20.24%.
- Amazon Business American Express Card
This card from American Express shares many elements with other cash back cards but separates itself with the Amazon connection. If your business uses Amazon and Amazon Business consistently, this card could be an excellent fit. For businesses that seldom use Amazon, it’s an unnecessary limitation on the rewards.The Amazon Business American Express Card comes with the potential for 2 rewards bonuses. As soon as you’re approved for the card, the first bonus comes in the form of a $100 Amazon gift card. Spend at least $3,000 in the first month, and you’ll receive an additional $100 as a statement credit.When it comes to your cash back rewards, there are 3 categories. You’ll receive 3% back (or 60-day terms) on all purchases from Amazon.com, Amazon Business, AWS, and Whole Foods Market. You’ll get 2% back at all US restaurants, US gas stations, and for wireless telephone services purchased from US providers. Finally, you’ll get 1% back for any other purchases you make on the card.Adding to the value of the card is the fact that there’s no annual fee. So you can look at your cash back rewards as unmitigated boosts to your finances. Your rewards can be easily applied to checkout at Amazon.com or Amazon Business, or you can apply them toward a purchase on your statement.The APR with the Amazon Business American Express Card varies from 15.24–23.24%, based on your credit.
- Credit One Bank NASCAR Visa Credit Card
Here’s a niche card that’s ideal for hardcore NASCAR fans but not so much for everyone else. You’ll get 2% cash back for all purchases from the official NASCAR Shop, but only 1% back on all other purchases. Key benefits of the Credit One Bank NASCAR Visa Credit Card include pre-qualification with no credit harm, zero fraud liability, free access to your Experian credit score, and no annual fee.The APR for this card varies from 19.49–25.49%. These percentages are the highest of the 4 cards on this list, so you should avoid this card if you plan on carrying over a balance each month. For those who consistently pay their card in full, this metric is less of an issue.
Improve Your Credit Score to Increase Your Options
Your financial history does more than determine whether or not you’ll be approved for a cash back business credit card. It also will factor into the APR you receive on your cards. A strong credit score can save you substantial amounts of money in the long run, while lower scores (and a correspondingly higher APR) can impact you negatively if you carry a balance through most billing cycles.
To improve your chances for future approvals and to also improve your odds of qualifying for the most favorable rates, pay close attention to how you’re handling your finances today.
“To demonstrate that you are financially responsible, you need to develop a financial track record in good standing,” says Forbes. “Your payment history is 1 of the largest components of your credit score. To ensure on-time payments, set up autopay for all your accounts so the funds are directly debited each month. FICO scores are weighted more heavily by recent payments so you can ‘override’ a missed payment by developing a pattern of more recent on-time payments. Therefore, if you have a delinquent payment, pay off the balance.”
These day-to-day actions play a key role in your credit score, but they’re not the only things that matter. One of the easiest ways to improve your score is to look for errors on your reports TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. This proactive approach is crucial because about 1 in 5 Americans have mistakes on their credit reports with the major bureaus. Nobody else is going to check your report for you, so be an advocate for yourself and regularly check in to make sure everything is accurate.
If you encounter incorrect information, be sure to take corrective action. The longer you let mistakes linger, the more they can serve as potential roadblocks as you seek financing options for your small business.
Even when you’re well prepared and have a solid credit score, you’ll probably encounter some rejection as you seek financing such as cash back credit cards. Don’t take it personally. The important thing is that you learn from these experiences and come back stronger the next time. With this constructive approach, you’ll put yourself in the best position to succeed with your applications. And when you succeed with your applications, your business often follows suit.