Can I get a business credit card without a personal guarantee?

Posted by CreditCardGuru

It’s risky for banks to loan to new businesses. So if you’re in the market for a business credit card, the issuer will probably require a personal guarantee — in fact, it almost certainly will.

So what are the chances that you can get a business card without a personal guarantee?

a generic credit card with no business name specified
“It’s very, very rare,” says Levi King, founder and CEO of Creditera, a company that helps small business establish, understand and leverage their credit.

Read on for why business card issuers want that personal guarantee, some (very, very rare) circumstances in which you might get a card without one and, more importantly, how your business can leverage credit without a business credit card.

What is a personal guarantee?

A personal guarantee means you’re responsible for the balance on your business credit card if your business is unable to pay.

“If you shut down your business, or the business just doesn’t have enough money, or whatever the case is, if the business can’t make the payments, you have to make them,” King says.

When applying for a business card that requires a personal guarantee (ie, most of them), expect wording similar to this (from the application for the Chase Ink business cards):

Personal liability business card

Why do issuers want personal guarantees?

Although you might not want to think about your business failing, many do fail. The bank can’t afford to be on the hook for every failed venture. Plus, as King points out, many “failed” business owners do have the means to pay.

“There are so many people who start businesses and the business fails, but they’re entirely employable,” he says. “Their business fails and they go back to a corporate job. So a lot of people have resources personally [to pay off a business's debts].”

Plus, banks know that businesses often go through rough patches – and they don’t want any late payments as your business experiences those growing pains.

“The person who started the business may have substantial retirement funds or equity in their home or friends and family to borrow from,” King says. “The issuer wants to tap those additional resources if the business can’t pay its bills.”

What personal guarantees mean for your credit

In addition to putting your personal finances on the line for your business, you’re putting your personal credit on the line, too. As long as things are going smoothly, many business cards don’t report to the consumer credit bureaus and won’t show up on your personal credit reports, King says. But if your business becomes severely delinquent, expect that business card to show up and weigh down your credit scores.

Also, because you’re personally guaranteeing the card, your personal credit will get pulled when you apply. In fact, if your business is new, it might be the only thing the bank has to go on, because startups generally haven’t had time to establish business credit yet (which is commonly done by establishing a record with Dun & Bradstreet).

Without a business-credit track record, the bank isn’t going to spend time and resources delving into your business plan – it’s going to go for your personal credit score.

“The challenge is that underwriting is expensive,” King says. “So it’s tough for them to dive deep into anything related to the business other than business credit. That requires human capital. So they have to use something that’s already reliable.”

The bright side is that excellent personal credit can help you get a business card with favorable rewards and terms. For brand-new startups, personal credit is probably 90 percent of what banks look at, King says. As your business becomes more established and your business credit rating climbs, personal credit will start to weigh less heavily, but an excellent personal credit score can still give you an edge.

Is it possible to get a business credit card without a personal guarantee?

It’s possible. But only in very special circumstances, King says, including:

  • Your startup has a lot of venture capitalist funding (we’re talking millions of dollars) – and that funding is stored in the bank you want the credit card from. The bank has your money and may be less worried about personally guaranteeing a card with, say, a $50,000 credit line.
  • You have a long, close relationship with a bank, a long-established business and heavy profits. If you’ve already gotten large loans from that bank, “they’ve probably drilled deep enough into your financials to know you’re solid as a rock,” King says. You’ll still have to negotiate to be released from the personal guarantee, though, and the bank still might refuse, King says.

    When it comes to negotiating out of a personal guarantee, you’ll probably have more luck with a small regional bank than a large one, King says. With a large bank, the person (or committee) that makes decisions regarding your account probably doesn’t even know you.

    “A small bank actually knows you,” King says. “You may have a business loan officer who submits a package directly to the committee that makes the approvals.”

Another way – business lines of credit

A lot of the confusion surrounding personal guarantees on business cards stems from the fact that you can get other forms of business credit without personal guarantees – assuming you have good business credit. Companies that sell goods and services to businesses (Home Depot, Staples, Pitney Bowes, for example) extend lines of credit to businesses. And those can sometimes take the form of a credit card that can be used only with that company. The credit card is different from one you’d get at your bank, since it can’t be used everywhere. Therefore, a personal guarantee is often not necessary, if your business credit rating is good enough.

Company-specific lines of credit are more lenient about personal guarantees because you’ll be limited to buying things specifically for the business.

“But if you’re a bank and you’re giving someone a business credit card, that person could use it for anything,” King says. “They could go gambling in Vegas with that money.”

A savvy small business might leverage these types of credit lines to minimize the amount of credit they have to personally guarantee, King says. For example, say you’re a contractor with excellent business credit in need of credit for building supplies. You might consider getting a larger line of credit at Home Depot (where you’ll be buying the majority of your supplies) and the remaining smaller amount via a business credit card from a bank. You’re still getting the credit you need, but you’re personally guaranteeing only a small part of it

In conclusion

Technically, it’s possible to get a business credit card from a bank with no personal guarantee.

“But if you understand how difficult it is, you’re way better off focusing on running a good, profitable business,” King says. “Rather than trying to get a card with a $10,000 limit [and no personal guarantee], focus on driving $1 million in revenues to your business.”

Updated September 2014


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Editorial Disclosure: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

16 comments... read them below or add your own

  1. ssgh January 15, 2014 at 12:35PM

    I have been in business since 2009, gross annual revenue over $200,000 but I have a personal credit rating. How can I get a small business loan and/or credit card?

  2. MicM December 16, 2013 at 10:06AM

    My question, is my personal credit score is low. I just opened a business account and must use my personal credit and my EIN number to get credit, I am being denied due Any idea how to build my business credit?

    • Daryl Conner January 17, 2014 at 11:03PM

      Try Hawkeye management. Really great at what they do.

    • EpsilonBusinessCredit February 23, 2014 at 7:17PM

      I’m sorry, but this is quite a long process from scratch. It goes something like:
      - Obtain DUNS (ie D&B) number
      - Apply for DUNS reporting vendor credit (eg for Staples) and pay early every month
      - Obtain a secured business credit card. Use and pay off early every month
      - In time you should be able to apply for an unsecured credit business card from the same company (sometimes they just add a credit limit to your secured card)

      But think months, if not years, for all this to get traction.
      Of course in the meantime you can try to repair you personal credit too.

      Hope this helps (and isn’t too disappointing).

      Chris
      Epsilon Business Credit

      • Justin April 19, 2014 at 11:50PM

        Chris,

        Well put!

        Justin

  3. Frank Chris June 27, 2012 at 8:04AM

    There is a business credit card with my personal guarantee. I am not sure that the credit card debt is fully mine, but I can not get the credit card company to respond to this question. Now they have an agency working with them trying to get me to pay a discount price. I have considered it to get them off my back. They asked what I wanted, and I told them how much i would pay if they would provide a letter that this would not be used against my personal credit. What was said I believe is a lie: They said that it was a business charge with a personal guarantee and if I paid off the reduced amount it would not go against my credit. I don’t believe it but would like suggestions.

    • Sam C December 9, 2013 at 5:16PM

      I was told the EXACT same thing when dealing with a business bank account that had ended up being overdrawn due to repetitive attempts when my card was stolen causing it to be negative $516! But they told me that as long as I payed $350 that it would show up on my credit report as fully satisfied even after I said to them the same things you just mentioned.

    • mike March 23, 2014 at 3:33PM

      Sir
      What you can do is dipute the validityof the debt…do not let it go past due if debt reported in error dispute it and have it removed. I do not advise settlement for less than balance as this will incur tax liability and also be listed on tradelines…hope this helps

  4. David May 6, 2012 at 3:52PM

    Do you know if Citibank reports business credit cards with personal guarantees on personal credit reports. I have had a business credit card from Citi for years and it has never showed up on my personal credit report. Is there a way to find out if a personal guarantee is on my card without raising suspicion? I would hate to not have one and call to ask about it and they say no you dont but we now need one or we will close your account.

  5. cj4388 February 24, 2012 at 11:14AM

    I have had an LLC for 5 years and recently got a DB number. No credit history. How can I get a corp card or funding ?

    • CreditCardGuru February 24, 2012 at 10:29PM

      Sorry not possible. Please read above re: requirements.

  6. Chase Boa January 25, 2012 at 9:26PM

    Point of clarification: “A credit card doesn’t report to my personal credit” there are three types of Liability on a credit card: Personal, Joint and Several, and Corporate. Almost every card a business uses is personal or joint and several. J&S cards WILL NOT show up on a credit report if there is no negative information. THAT DOES NOT MEAN IT IS NOT AFFECTING YOUR PERSONAL CREDIT. It is still counted in your “debt to income ratio” as well as other aspects.

    Call the toll free number on the card and ask this question, “Is there a personal guarantor on this account” 99% of the people who think their credit isn’t affected will find out the answer is YES!!!!!!!!!!!! That means you are personally guaranteeing the debt with your personal credit. IT DOES AFFECT YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please, every business owner who thinks they have a “corporate card” try this trick. Unless you have an American Express that says CORPORATE on the front, you are liable. IF YOUR AMEX SAYS BUSINESS CARD, YOU ARE LIABLE!!! Each card holder may be personally liable!!!!!

    Please, call the number and post your results. Please – let us know what card you have, i.e. Chase Ink, Capitol One Venture, or so on.

    • CreditCardGuru January 26, 2012 at 5:28PM

      Thanks for your comment, but it sounds like you didn’t read my post because that was my point :)

      In order to get a business card without a personal guarantee it’s next to impossible (because of the requirements I outline above). For this reason, business cards will affect your personal credit if you default.

      However you are incorrect about them affecting your debt to credit ratio on your personal credit file. AmEx and Chase do not report to your personal report unless you default/pay months late. So as long as your account is within good standing, it won’t show up on your personal credit report, and hence, FICO will not use it in your score calculation. This is why I’m such a big fan of their cards and use them myself.

      • Tony September 24, 2012 at 3:40PM

        I think that you are wrong about the debt to credit ratio. I have had a Chase Ink card for seven years with a personal guarantee. I have never used the line of credit very much in the past and have always paid it off in full each month. It does NOT show up on my personal credit report and never has, however, recently and for the first time ever, I cashed a credit card check for $5K on the Chase Ink account(because interest rate was zero for 12 months), all of a sudden my FICO score dropped five points the month following this transaction. There is absolutely no other reason for a five point FICO score drop other than the fact that I used up five thousand of my nine thousand dollar credit line in one month. My point is – Chase Ink business line of credit/credit card debt did affect my personal debt to income ratio and personal credit score….even though the actual credit card, payment history…and line of credit does not show up on my personal credit report. They will get you no matter what you do! This is 100 percent true and accurate.

  7. dwayne October 9, 2011 at 1:43PM

    Our problem is that we have been in business for 5years and have a D&B street number from the begining and they do not report correct information so what do you do in a case such as this?

    • MikeM December 29, 2011 at 9:29PM

      You can pay D&B and add trade references to your report as well as monitor yoru D&B score/report.

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