Business Coach | Grow Your Business

The Ultimate Guide to Building Business Credit From Scratch

Tayde Aburto

March 22, 2024

13 MIN READ

In the world of commerce, your business’s credit score is your golden ticket to better terms and lower interest rates. Without a solid business credit, securing the necessary funds for growth can be as elusive as a mirage in the desert. Many entrepreneurs start their journey unaware of the critical role of business credit, and consequently, they may find themselves hitting a financial wall.

But hope is not lost; building business credit from scratch is a path paved with practical steps and strategic decisions. It begins with selecting a legal structure for your business and stretches to making on-time payments and managing credit relationships smartly. With the right foundation, even startups can carve out a robust financial reputation.

This ultimate guide aims to illuminate the pathway for business owners navigating the complexities of building a credible financial identity for their enterprise. From choosing the right business entity to maintaining good relationships with lenders and suppliers, systematic strategies unfold to help entrepreneurs establish and enhance their business credit. Let’s embark on this journey to ensure your business’s financial future stands on solid ground.

Understanding the Importance of Business Credit

Understanding the importance of business credit is foundational when launching and nurturing a startup. The strength of your business credit score directly influences your venture’s financial flexibility, affecting loan terms, supplier relations, and even customer engagement. Lenders assess this score to determine creditworthiness; hence, a robust business credit profile can open the door to substantial credit lines and favorable interest rates.

Furthermore, business credit is a catalyst for cost-effective growth, granting access to less expensive capital than other financing alternatives. This underscores the need to regularly monitor and update your company’s credit information with the top business credit reporting agencies.

Keeping your business credit in top shape is not just about securing funds—it’s about building a foundation of trust with financial institutions and trade partners. As you continue to demonstrate reliability through your payment history and credit management, your business will enjoy the financial credibility necessary to thrive in today’s competitive market.

Getting Started

Building business credit from scratch is a critical step that can set your venture apart, providing it with its own financial identity and unlocking opportunities to fuel growth. Unlike personal credit, business credit requires deliberate steps to separate your company’s financial activities from your own. Establishing a registered business entity is paramount to achieving this separation, as it delineates your company’s transactions and legal responsibilities from your personal ones. Unincorporated entities such as general partnerships or sole proprietorships are closely tied to their owner’s personal credit, which may hinder the establishment of a standalone business credit profile.

One practical and impactful step is to set up vendor accounts that specifically report to business credit bureaus. This can be done without relying on your personal credit history as an endorsement, thereby laying the groundwork for a business credit file. Remember, business credit scores are evaluated independently of personal credit scores, the latter of which are assessed by consumer credit reporting agencies.

Setting this foundation with the strategic separation of your personal and business finances is crucial. With this structure in place, your company not only becomes eligible for more diverse and dynamic financial options but also safeguards your personal credit from potential business liabilities.

Choosing the Right Business Entity

When building your business credit, the choice of business entity is a turning point. Opting for a corporate structure such as a C corporation, S corporation, LLC, or LLP can define your business’s financial path. These entities exist as separate legal personalities with clear distinctions between the finances of the company and its owners. This facilitates building a business credit profile unmarred by personal financial activities.

Conversely, choosing an unincorporated business form like a sole proprietorship or general partnership will not afford you the same financial separation, and thus, the ability to establish business credit may be compromised. A legal and financial divide, as seen in a C-corporation, is advantageous for protecting personal assets and supports independent creditworthiness for your business. This is fundamental when engaging with lenders, negotiating with vendors, or effectively managing cash flow.

Obtaining a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Acquiring a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS is a significant milestone in formalizing your business identity. This number serves a similar purpose as a Social Security number but for your business, enabling it to file taxes, open business banking accounts, and, importantly, apply for business credit. The EIN is critical in fortifying the delineation between you as an individual and your business operations.

The process of obtaining an EIN is straightforward and free through the IRS website. Once designated, it becomes the identifier for your business’s legal and financial dealings, enhancing protections against personal liability and intertwining with your efforts to build a distinct business credit profile.

Setting Up a Separate Business Bank Account

A separate business bank account isn’t only a sign of professionalism; it’s instrumental in segregating your transactions and creating clarity in your company’s finances. Business bank accounts are not directly reported to credit bureaus, but they indirectly paint a picture of fiscal responsibility and stability. Such accounts document your company’s financial activities and maintain a payment history visible to creditors and business credit reporting agencies.

Moreover, this financial separation simplifies tracking company finances, assists during tax season, and is frequently a requirement for obtaining business loans. Establishing a business checking account is an inevitable step for any company embarking on the journey to build and sustain a robust business credit profile that will stand the test of time and scrutiny.

By faithfully adhering to these foundational actions, you ensure that your venture is not only poised for financial opportunities but also shielded against potential fiscal challenges, making the pursuit of business credit an invaluable investment into the future of your venture.

Establishing Credit Accounts

The first port of call for new businesses aiming to build credit is to legally establish the business. This creates a solid foundation upon which you can begin to demonstrate your business’s financial reliability. Once your business is solidly in place, the next vital step is to open credit accounts with banks and vendors that report to credit agencies. This involves understanding which vendors are willing to work with new companies and can set up accounts without requiring a personal guarantee.

Vendor accounts are pivotal when starting to build a business’s credit, as many offer automatic approval, which circumvents the need for an established credit history or a personal credit check. By consistently meeting your payment obligations on time or even early, you positively impact your business credit scores. Payment platforms such as the Dun & Bradstreet PAYDEX® score are particularly influenced by timeliness, so a track record of punctual payments can be invaluable. One of the first steps you’ll want to take is to register for a Dun & Bradstreet number or DUNS number. A DUNS number is a unique nine-digit identification number for each physical location of your business. Dun & Bradstreet also offers guidance on how to build business credit.

Remember, the separation of personal and business finances is crucial. With a registered business entity, you gain the ability to build a clear credit history that is distinct from your personal one. This separation not only streamlines your financial operations but also sets a clear barometer for the creditworthiness of your business.

Opening a Business Credit Card

In the realm of business credit, a business credit card is an indispensable tool. These cards are designed to cater to the needs of businesses and typically involve a straightforward application process where you provide documentation like tax returns, bank statements, and financial statements. This documentation validates your business’s income and establishes its creditworthiness.

A major advantage of business credit cards is that issuers frequently report to business credit bureaus, directly influencing your company’s credit scores. By making consistent, timely payments and keeping credit utilization low, you significantly enhance your business credit profile. What’s more, paying off the entire balance each month can result in even quicker improvements to your business credit score.

The convenience of a business credit card extends beyond building credit. It assists in the separation of business expenses from personal ones, simplifying accounting and tax preparation and injecting additional transparency into the financial state of your enterprise.

Setting Up Trade Credit Accounts with Suppliers

Trade credit is another important and strategic form of financing that businesses can harness. It’s based on a mutual agreement with suppliers wherein they provide goods or services upfront with the understanding that your business will pay the full amount by a mutually agreed-upon future date.

Trade credit accounts contribute significantly to managing your business’s cash flow and provide a platform to demonstrate your company’s commitment to financial responsibility. When payments are made punctually, this solid payment history is then reflected in your business credit reports, provided that the suppliers report to business credit bureaus.

To maximize the impact of trade credit on your credit profile, it’s essential to work with suppliers who extend credit and are affiliated with major business credit reporting agencies. This way, each on-time payment contributes to an ever-stronger business credit rating.

The three main business credit reporting agencies are Dun & Bradstreet, Experian, and Equifax. Each company collects information from the vendors and creditors you do business with, as well as from legal filings and public records. Then, using a credit reporting algorithm, they establish your business credit in the form of a numerical value: your business credit score. Unlike a personal credit score, however, which is determined based on a standard evaluation method, your business credit score will vary based on the credit bureau, as each agency has its own method for calculating your score.

Building Relationships with Vendors for Trade References

Nurturing strong relationships with suppliers and vendors is vital to establishing robust business credit. These entities can serve as trade references, thereby bolstering the perception of your business’s financial responsibility when reported to credit bureaus.

To establish trade references, it’s important to maintain a wide network of suppliers and vendors, ensuring that you have a diversified set of credit accounts. Consistent, timely, and, if possible, early payments make your business a preferred customer and help in securing positive references.

These trade references reveal a comprehensive picture of your company’s financial behavior and can significantly influence your business credit scores and ratings. They play a pivotal role in enhancing your company’s reputation as a reliable partner, paving the way for better credit terms in future transactions.

Making Timely Payments

In the sphere of business credit, a meticulous payment discipline cannot be overstressed. Indeed, the punctuality of payment history stands as the cornerstone for determining business credit scores, with even marginal tardiness, such as delays of a single day beyond the agreed terms, capable of tainting the credit landscape. Business credit reports meticulously track and reflect Days Beyond Terms (DBT), which provides a measure of how many days late a payment has been fulfilled—this, in turn, has a direct and often adverse impact on a business’s credit score.

Prompt payments, or, better yet, payments made before their due date, are instrumental in crafting a robust and appealing business credit score with remarkable efficiency. Concrete commitments to pay vendors and suppliers in a timely fashion lay down the tracks for a positive payment history, which is an indispensable facet of business credit building. From the popular net 30 accounts to other payment agreements, consistently honoring financial obligations on time serves to bolster the credit profile of any burgeoning business entity.

Importance of Making Payments on Time

The significance of timely payment behaviors cannot be overstated when endeavoring to elevate a business’s credit stature. A stringent payment history is the primary architect of a business credit foundation. Business credit reports delegate substantial weight to the Days Beyond Terms (DBT) metric, which meticulously logs late payments and their degree of tardiness, presenting a quantifiable impact on the business credit score.

By amplifying the practice of on-time or even proactive early payments, a business swiftly escalates its potential to build a commendable business credit score. Furthermore, the insightful act of close monitoring of one’s business credit history ensures the tracking of progress and the prompt addressing of any reportorial errors—both of which play a critical role in the long-term financial ascent of the business.

Tracking Payment History and Reports

It’s paramount for businesses to keep a hawkish eye on their payment history since this is the nucleus around which business credit revolves. Specific scales, such as Dun & Bradstreet’s PAYDEX Score, which oscillates between 0 and 100, hinges on the timeliness of bill settlements, offering a transparent glimpse into a business’s financial pillar of stability.

Engagement in the regular surveillance of business credit history is essential to gauge trajectory and growth while simultaneously representing a mechanism to identify, dispute, and rectify any discrepancies in business credit reports. Firms are encouraged to keep their company’s details up to date with each of the leading business credit bureaus—namely, Dun & Bradstreet, Experian, and Equifax—to sustain reportorial rectitude and clear the path of any inaccuracies that could wear down the business’s perceived creditworthiness.

Strategies for Ensuring Prompt Payments

Aiming for an optimal PAYDEX score necessitates an environment where vendors are remunerated punctually or even ahead of schedule. A consistent record of timely payments can result in a score of up to 80, indicative of a reliable borrower. The initiation of trade credit with frequent suppliers or services, such as phone companies, can lay the initial stones for a business credit history, as these financial exchanges are routinely reported to credit agencies.

Securing a Business DUNS Number through Dun & Bradstreet unlocks a reputable door toward credit building, given its extensive use by suppliers and creditors alike. Similarly, strategically opening accounts with vendor partners who diligently report payment histories to business credit bureaus can markedly enhance your business credit profile.

Additionally, an immaculate credit profile, devoid of reporting errors, is indispensable for cultivating good business credit. Regular verification of reports ensures that inaccuracies do not tarnish the authenticity and reliability of a business’s credit standing. When implemented with consideration and consistency, each of these strategies can set a precedent for stringent payment practices that underpin the essence of sound business credit.

Monitoring and Managing Business Credit

Keeping a vigilant eye on your company’s business credit is indispensable to managing your financial health. It’s important to regularly monitor your business credit history as it allows you to spot mistakes and track your progress, allowing you to file disputes promptly if errors are detected. Diligent checks on your business credit reports with major agencies—Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax, and Experian—give you a clear picture of your credit standing and point out the areas where improvement is needed.

To enhance the accuracy of your business credit reports, it is crucial to keep your business information updated with the credit reporting bureaus and ensure that your profile is thorough and complete. A best practice to adopt is to review your business credit reports at least every six months. This allows for detecting and correcting any errors or discrepancies that could negatively impact your credit score.

In addition to monitoring, managing your borrowing habits responsibly is the key to improving your business credit scores. Timely repayments and well-managed credit accounts are the foundation of a solid credit reputation, which stands you in good stead when you need to access loans and other forms of credit in the future.

Reviewing Business Credit Reports Regularly

It is advisable to regularly review your business credit reports from all three major credit reporting bureaus—Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax, and Experian. This isn’t a mere formality; it’s a strategic step to guarantee credit approval for higher amounts, secure lower interest rates, and negotiate better terms on loans and lines of credit. An impressive business credit report can unlock significant benefits, so consistent monitoring is essential.

Even minor errors on your business credit report can greatly impact your business credit score; thus, frequent checks on your credit reports are essential. By updating basic information about your business with credit reporting agencies and ensuring accuracy in your credit reports, you can help maintain or even improve your credit score. Should inaccuracies crop up, it is vital to promptly contact the appropriate credit bureau to file a dispute, thereby rectifying any errors.

Monitoring Credit Utilization Ratio

Your credit utilization ratio, a critical factor influencing your business credit score, is calculated by comparing the amount of credit you have available to the amount you are currently using. A high credit utilization ratio may suggest to lenders that you’re a greater risk, which can affect your chances of obtaining additional credit or favorable terms.

Aim for a credit utilization ratio of 30% or below to maintain an image of financial prudence. One tactic to improve this ratio is to request higher credit limits but resist the urge to utilize the extra available credit, thereby lowering your utilization percentage. Regularly monitoring your credit utilization ratio can guide you in making informed financial decisions that contribute to a healthier credit profile.

Taking Steps to Improve Business Credit Score

One of the most straightforward steps to improving your business credit score is to make bill payments on time. In fact, some business credit scores are based entirely on the timeliness of your credit obligations. Demonstrating consistent and early bill payments can further enhance your business credit score, reflecting a responsible management of finances.

Beyond paying bills and monitoring credit reports, both personal and business is necessary to ensure the information is accurate and detect any potential errors or signs of fraud that can adversely affect your credit scores. Establishing trade references from suppliers and customers can also contribute positively to your business credit report and score, serving as a testament to your reliability and creditworthiness.

Finally, it is imperative to borrow responsibly, avoiding the pitfalls of maxing out credit cards or accumulating excessive debt. Strategically managing your credit lines and being thoughtful about the debt you take on are prudent behaviors that can significantly improve your business credit scores over time.

Final Tips and Best Practices

Building solid business credit doesn’t happen overnight; it requires strategy and commitment. As a small business owner, you must consider building business credit a fundamental part of your financial future. This means registering your business properly, obtaining a federal employer identification number (EIN), and consistently maintaining good financial habits.

Good business credit can be the key to securing better terms on loans, lower rates on business insurance policies, and more favorable credit options from suppliers. A strong business credit profile can save you money and provide more leverage in negotiations, setting your business up for enduring financial success and stability.

The strategic investment in your business credit involves more than tracking numbers on reports. It’s about understanding how each financial decision affects those numbers and your business’s ability to grow and thrive. Major business credit bureaus, like Dun & Bradstreet, Experian, and Equifax, act as the custodians of your business credit reputation. It’s imperative to stay in their good graces, and that starts with sustainable credit practices.

Remember, the journey to excellent business credit is a marathon, not a sprint—perseverance and judicious financial planning are your reliable pacemakers.

Maintaining Good Relationships with Lenders and Suppliers

Professional rapport with your vendors and suppliers can significantly influence your business credit rating. Establishing trade lines with these entities by securing terms such as NET 30 can contribute actively to your credit history. These relationships function similarly to traditional loans and are critical in demonstrating your business’s creditworthiness.

By ensuring timely or early payments, you indicate to suppliers as well as potential lenders that you are a trustworthy borrower. Partnering with suppliers that report transactions to business credit bureaus is advantageous. This builds your credit profile and reinforces the positive behavior associated with your business dealings.

Remember, diversity matters. Cultivate relationships with a range of suppliers and lenders. This mitigates risk and can strengthen your business credit by showing you can manage multiple accounts well.

Avoiding Common Mistakes that Can Hurt Business Credit

In the world of business credit, certain pitfalls can undermine your efforts. For instance, operating as a sole proprietorship can mix personal liabilities with your business, which can be detrimental if legal issues arise. Utilize business checks and credit cards for expenses so that your company’s financial actions stand on their own, building your credit file.

Personal credit cards and checks shouldn’t cross paths with your business expenditures. Such commingling can lead to inaccurately tracked finances and potentially harm your personal credit scores should business ventures go south. A clear separation of personal and business finances can’t be overemphasized—it’s a bulwark against unnecessary financial strain in both realms.

Credit overextension is another mistake to avoid. Excessive use of business credit cards could signal lenders that you’re a riskier bet, which can result in harm to your business credit scores. Be cautious and calculated when leveraging credit for business growth.

Seeking Professional Assistance for Building and Managing Business Credit

The road to sound business credit is sometimes best navigated with expert guidance. Employing the expertise of professionals can be beneficial for more complex credit situations or when assistance in resolving credit reporting discrepancies is necessary.

If you encounter issues or need help with routine credit check-ups, reaching out to Nav’s customer support team at [email protected] can offer an initial point of contact. For specific updates, such as obtaining a new Dun & Bradstreet DUNS number, utilize the contact tools provided on their official website.

Expert advice is invaluable for those unfamiliar with the nuances of business credit. Gerri Detweiler and others alike provide insights and advice for establishing and managing credit accounts and effectively handling concerns related to business credit.

Should you discover inconsistencies in your business credit reports, professional aid can streamline the process of correcting these errors with credit bureaus, ensuring that your business credit file reflects an accurate picture of your financial credibility. Investing in professional support can thus be a strategic move in the gradual yet significant process of enhancing your business credit stature.

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My business partner doesn't help. So, what now?  

First, it's time to re-evaluate.  

What are they not doing? 
What are their strengths? 
What are their weaknesses?  

Based on the answers, decide to:  

A. Get them on board 
→ Discuss how their strengths can help 
→…

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