After building good consumer credit for yourself, if you own a company, the next step is building good credit for your business. Find out how consumer credit plays a role in that, what business credit reports and scores look like, how to check them, and good credit-building practices.
What is the difference between business credit and consumer credit?
Consumer credit represents your creditworthiness as an individual. Business credit – also known as commercial credit – represents the creditworthiness of your company.
Will your business credit affect your consumer credit, and vice versa?
Impact of business credit on consumer credit
If you apply for a business credit card or small business loan, you will likely be required to provide a personal guarantee. (The same may be true of commercial leases, car CPN loans or leases, equipment leases, etc.) This means that, in the event that your business does not meet its financial obligations, you will be held personally responsible for it.
As explained on the U.S. Small Business Administration website:
“If you give a guarantee for company debt, such as a business credit card, your failure to pay if the company can’t will adversely impact your consumer credit rating. In most cases, small business owners are required to provide personal information when their companies apply for a credit card. And, in some cases, if the company fails to make required payments, this action can show up on the owner’s consumer credit report.
“Check whether providing your personal information on a company’s credit card application makes you jointly and severally liable for the debt. This means you are just as liable for the balance as the company; the credit card issuer can come after you without exhausting collection activities against the company.”
Impact of consumer credit on business credit
If you fall behind on a consumer credit account, your business will not be held liable for the debt and it will not show up on your business credit reports or be used in business credit scores. However, your consumer credit is often used by lenders when deciding whether to grant you credit for your business. So, in this way, bad consumer credit will make it harder for you to build good business credit.
Which credit bureaus keep track of business credit?
Of the big three credit bureaus that monitor consumer credit, two of them also monitor business credit – Experian and Equifax (TransUnion being the exception). Dun & Bradstreet rounds out the big three for business credit monitoring. Though not a credt bureau, it’s worth noting that FICO also has its own Small Business Scoring Service (SBSS).
Where do credit bureaus get the information included in business credit reports?
To compile business credit reports, credit bureaus gather information from:
- Business credit card issuers
- Data gathering trade associations
- Public records
What is included in business credit reports?
All three credit bureaus organize their credit reports a little differently, but they call include the same basic information:
- General company info
- Business name, address, phone number
- Parent company, subsidiaries, branches
- Key personnel
- Business type
- Date credit file established
- Years in business
- Total employees
- Date of incorporation
- Financial overview
- Credit scores
- Risk factors
- Vendor tradelines
- Credit cards
- Payment history
- Accounts in collections
- Public records (judgments, tax liens, bankruptcies)
- Credit inquiries
How are business credit scores calculated?
The three big bureaus that calculate business scores use algorithms that draw from various information in your credit reports. This is similar to what the credit bureaus do to calculate consumer credit scores. One big difference, though, is FICO – an algorithm used by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The bureaus that monitor business credit do not use the FICO model; to figure your credit score, Experian, Equifax, and Dun & Bradstreet each use their own unique algorithm.
What are business credit score ranges?
Unlike FICO and VantageScores used for consumer credit – which both use the 300-850 credit score range – the bureaus’ business credit score ranges are more varied.
Credit Score: 0-100
Payment Index: 0-100
Credit Risk Score: 101-992*
Business Failure Score: 1000-1610*
Dun & Bradstreet
Paydex Score: 0-100
- 80-100 – Low risk
- 50-79 – Medium risk
- 0-49 – High risk
Commercial Credit Score: 1-5
Financial Stress Score: 1-5
How do you check your business credit?
Unlike consumer credit reports – which you are legally entitled to see for free once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com – there is no such requirement for business credit reports. To see them, and your credit scores, you are going to have to pay for them.
You can order business credit reports and scores directly through the big three credit bureaus that monitor business credit. Each bureau comes with multiple choices:
Dun & Bradstreet
To check your own credit, D&B recommends:
- CreditSignal – Free
- CreditBuilder Plus — $159/month
- CreditBuilder Premium — $199/month
- Credibility Concierge – N/A (call for details)
To check the credit other businesses, D&B recommends:
- Credit Evaluator Plus — $61
- Business Information Report — $121
- CreditAdvisor — $188
- Credit Reporter Plus – $799 (for five reports)
- Single credit report — $99.95
- 5 credit reports — $399.95 (yours and four other businesses whose credit you’d like to check)
- CreditScore Report — $39.95
- ProfilePlus Report — $49.95
- Business CreditAdvantage — $149/year
- Business CreditScore Pro — $199/month
Do you need to check your business credit with all three bureaus?
Yes. You never know which credit bureau a creditor is going to report to. Similarly, you never know which bureau a potential vendor, business partner, or customer is going to check when deciding whether to work with you. For this reason, you need to be sure your business credit is being reported accurately and, when it’s not, that you dispute it accordingly.
Can you dispute errors on your business credit reports?
Yes. If you discover a mistake on a business credit report, you can dispute it with the appropriate credit bureau. (Note, do not dispute general company information that simply needs to be updated, like a change in key personnel, the number of employees, or address; scroll down for updating instructions.)
Circle the mistake on your credit report and mail all of the following to Experian:
- The credit report (with the error circled)
- Cover page that includes your full business name, current and previous addresses, email, a request that they investigate the circled item, and an explanation of why you believe this information is inaccurate
- Copies of any supporting documentation you can provide that proves the error is incorrect
Experian Commercial Relations
P.O. Box 5001
Costa Mesa, CA 92628
Upon receipt, Experian will work with the data furnisher to investigate the accuracy of the information. They say it usually takes about 30 days to complete the investigation, but could take longer. If a change is made, you will be notified in writing.
To dispute an error on your Equifax business credit report:
- Login to your Member Center account
- Choose an option for contacting them about your dispute
- Fill out the Research Request Form provided to you
- Send the form to Equifax as directed
Equifax will request verification of the disputed item from the data furnisher. Once the investigation is complete – usually between 45 and 60 days – you will be notified, in writing, of the results.
Dun & Bradstreet Disputes
To dispute an error on your Dun & Bradstreet business credit report:
- Call customer service: 800-234-3867
- Tell them you found an error on your credit report
- Follow their instructions
How do you update general company information with the credit bureaus?
Do you have a new CEO? Have you hired more employees? Have you moved to a new location? Changes like these need only be updated, not disputed. For instructions specific to each bureau, see links below:
Who can check your business credit?
Anyone. While access to your consumer credit reports and scores is limited, that is not the case with business credit. Provided they pay the fee, anyone can see your credit reports and scores. This includes creditors, of course, but also potential vendors, customers, and business partners who want to check your creditworthiness before working with you.
How do you build good business credit?
1) Clean up your consumer credit
When you apply for a business credit card or loan, expect credit card issuers and lenders to look at your consumer credit. If it’s good, great. If it’s bad, you need to take steps to repair it. Fortunately, it’s something you can do on your own, for free. Learn everything you need to know about DIY credit repair.
2) Get a D&B D-U-N-S Number
You’ll need this for Dun & Bradstreet to be able to set up your business credit file. Learn more about the D-U-N-S number (and how to get one).
3) Set up tradelines with vendors that report to the credit bureaus
Of course, if you don’t already have business credit, then it could be a tough sell getting a vendor to extend credit to you. Your best bet is to bring it up with vendors that you already do business with (and who report to the bureaus, or are willing to). The longer your history with them, and the more you order from them, the better your chances for being approved.
4) Apply for a business credit card
Shop around the same way you would for a consumer credit card. Look at fees. Look at interest rates. Look at rewards. Look at the kind of credit you need to qualify for the card. Make sure the credit card issuer reports to credit bureaus. And, by all means, look at the fine print. Use credit card comparison sites like Nerdwallet, WalletHub, and Bankrate.
5) Apply for a small business loan
Check with your bank, research online lenders, and look into the CPN loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). And, again, make sure the lender reports to the credit bureaus (SBA lenders are required to do so).
6) Pay your bills on time (or early)
Having your credit lines reported to the bureaus is only a good thing if your creditors have good things to report. That means paying your bills on time, every time. In fact, it’s a good idea to pay early. Case in point, you have to pay early to get a perfect score from Dun & Bradstreet.
7) Be mindful of negative public records
Judgments, tax liens, and bankruptcies will devastate your business credit.
8) Monitor your business credit reports
Mistakes happen. It could be an error, or simply an omission. Either way, inaccuracies on your credit reports can do unnecessary damage. So make sure you check your credit reports regularly:
- Are all of your vendor tradelines, credit cards, and CPN loans being reported to the bureaus as agreed? If not, contact the vendor or creditor and find out why they are not being reported.
- Are all of your timely payments being reported accurately? If something is showing paid late for a vendor you know you paid on time, that’s something to dispute.
- Are other details about your vendor tradelines, credit cards, and CPN loans being reported accurately? Like the original balance, the remaining balance, or the scheduled amount due? If not, again, that’s something to dispute.
- Is there general information about your company that need to be updated? Check your address, key personnel, number of employees, etc.
Note, refer to previous sections for details on how to monitor your business credit reports, how to dispute inaccuracies, and how to update general company information.
If you’re overwhelmed by all this, keep something in mind: The same way that managing consumer credit becomes second nature, the same will be true of your business credit. Just take it step-by-step and, in time, you will see your company’s creditworthy reputation grow.