Business Tradelines: What You Need To Know
Business tradelines are the credit accounts that belong to a business and help it grow and maintain good creditworthiness as a business entity. In many cases, these are accounts between a business and its vendors, so they function a bit differently than the personal credit accounts you might have as an individual.
What Are Business Tradelines?
Business tradelines are the various credit accounts a business maintains — typically with vendors. When these vendors report a business's payments to the business credit reporting agencies, the business gets a rating much like an individual would with a personal credit score.
Unlike with personal credit, however, business tradelines generally don't take the form of credit cards or loans. Instead, these are usually vendor accounts.
For example, a business owner may open an account with an office supply store for paper, pens, post-it notes, and all the other items a business needs to function. Rather than paying up front, the business owner and the supply store agree that the business will pay in installments.
Generally, this type of installment agreement will follow one of three repayment terms: net 30, net 60, or net 90. By paying on time, the business can build good business credit, which makes other vendors more likely to work with them in the future.
Business tradelines won't show up on your personal credit report. Instead, these types of accounts usually (but not always) get reported to the business credit reporting agencies.
There are several different business credit reporting agencies, but the big three are Experian, Equifax, and Dun & Bradstreet.
Are Business Tradelines Illegal?
Business tradelines are perfectly legal and used by businesses everywhere. However, buying business tradelines to give your business's credit an artificial boost is something of a gray area and should probably be avoided.
As with personal tradelines, the best business tradelines are seasoned, which means they are well-established and have a long history of on-time payments and no delinquencies.
However, every business has to start from somewhere, and a brand new business isn't going to have any seasoned business tradelines. In these cases, the business owner might consider "piggybacking" on another business's good credit by paying to be added as an authorized user on another the other business's vendor account.
There are a couple reasons why this is generally a bad idea, particularly for businesses. While the practice might not be explicitly illegal, creditors and vendors might consider it a form of fraud for a business to try to obtain credit by artificially inflating its creditworthiness.
Worse, some of the companies that purport to sell business tradelines engage in the practice of setting up shelf companies — a company opened and then allowed to sit with no activity — and then selling access to these companies' good credit. While shelf companies are not illegal per se, creating or using one for the purpose of fraud is, so you should be extremely cautious about buying a so-called seasoned business tradeline from any tradeline supplier claiming it can sell you one.
Why Are Business Tradelines Important?
Business tradelines tell prospective vendors and creditors whether a business is trustworthy and capable of managing its finances responsibly. Without credit history or a good business credit score, it can be difficult for a business to qualify for credit.
As any business owner knows, launching a startup is hard. The majority of new business owners lack the funds to finance their new business on their own, so having access to credit is important.
4 Things You Didn't Know About Business Tradelines
If you're unfamiliar with business tradelines, here are four important and informative things to keep in mind.
1. Not All Vendors Report Payment Activity
Not all tradelines can help your business credit score because not all vendors report to the main three business credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Dun & Bradstreet. Before you open an account with a vendor, ask if they report your payment activity so you can get credit for your on-time payments.
2. Some Vendor Accounts Are Easier to Get Than Others
Some vendors are eager to work with new businesses and won't check your personal credit report before approving your business for an account. For example, Crown Office Supplies offers businesses an easy online application for a net-30 account that can help
you begin building business credit with a minimum $30 purchase.
3. You Must Create a Business Profile for Dun & Bradstreet Reporting
While you don't need a business profile for Experian and Equifax, Dun & Bradstreet won't report your business's payments unless you have a business profile with them.
You can become a member of Dun & Bradstreet by requesting a data universal numbering system (D-U-N-S) number from them. There is no cost to obtain a D-U-N-S number, so avoid any websites or organizations that claim they can sell you a number or get you a number more quickly.
4. Avoid Opening Too Many Business Tradelines at Once
Just like with personal credit, applying for too much business credit in a short period of time can hurt your business's creditworthiness. As a general rule, you should only open business credit accounts when you need them, and you should avoid closing them unless absolutely necessary, as this will deprive you of valuable business credit history.
How to Get a Business Tradeline
The process for getting business credit is similar to obtaining personal credit. If you're a business owner looking to get credit for your business, here are the steps for making it happen.
Meet with creditors - First, you need to know what various creditors require for approving you with credit. In many cases, you can get this information online, but if you need to obtain a larger line of credit you might have to schedule an in-person meeting. When you meet with creditors, they can tell you what they require for extending credit. They can also usually do an assessment of your business so they can tell you your chances of getting approved.
Gather all your important documents - Depending on what kind of credit you're applying for, you may need to show the creditor a variety of documents. This can include things like your loan application, business identification number (EIN), tax information, business balance sheets and cash flow statements, income information, and banking details.If your business is new or your lack a sufficient business credit history, creditors and lenders may also want information about your personal credit history. This is why it's important to work on improving your personal credit score as well as your business credit score.
Submit your application - When you've filled out all your paperwork, you can submit your application. In many cases, such as with a net-30 vendor account, you can do this online, although the creditor might require an in-person meeting if you're asking for a large amount of credit.
Can You Buy Business Tradelines?
As discussed above, buying business tradelines is something of a controversial subject and not generally recommended. While it's not outright illegal to piggyback on another business's good credit, creditors and vendors tend to view the pratice unfavorably.
This is different from piggybacking on credit as an individual. For your personal credit, it's perfectly legal to get added as an authorized user to someone else's account, or to purchase a legitimate tradeline as a way to temporarily boost your credit score.
Ways to Build Business Credit
The good news is there are several effective ways for a business to build business credit. If you're a business owner who needs to build credit for your business, here are some strategies to consider.
Ask creditors to report your payments - It never hurts to ask your creditors to report your payments to the business credit reporting agencies. For example, if your business pays rent, telephone, and internet service provider bills, you can request that these creditors report your payments.
Ask current vendors to extend more credit - If you already work with vendors, ask if they're willing to give you more credit. For example, if you currently have a net-30 arrangement, ask if the vendor will give you net-90 terms.
Choose the right business structure - While you can operate as a sole proprietor, doing so doesn't make your business separate from you as an individual. To start building credit as a business, you should consider choosing a business structure like a corporation, LLP, or LLC.Once you choose your business structure, you can register your business as a separate entity. Each state has its own rules for doing this, so be sure to check your state's requirements.
Open a business bank account - To start building credit for your business, you want your business to be distinguishable from you as an individual. If you're currently paying your business's bills from your personal bank account, consider opening a separate and distinct account for your business. To do this, you will need to obtain a federal tax identification number (EIN). This is called an employer identification number, which you can get for free through the IRS.
Monitor your business credit report - Just as you should regularly monitor your personal credit report, you should stay on top of your business credit report. Unfortunately, your business credit report can have mistakes and inaccuracies just like your personal report.While consumers are entitled to one free credit report from the three major credit bureaus each year, businesses must purchase reports from the business credit reporting agencies. Equifax offers a single business credit report for $99.95, Experian charges $39.95 for a one-time report, and a single report from Dun & Bradstreet costs $189.99.
Building business credit can be more challenging than building personal credit, as you're trying to manage a successful enterprise while staying on top of your business-related finances. With some work, however, you can start building good creditworthiness for your business.
About the Author
Mike is a recognized credit expert and founder of Credit Takeoff. His credit advice has been featured in CNBC, Investopedia, CreditCards.com, Bankrate, Huffpost, The Simple Dollar, Reader's Digest, LendingTree, and Quickbooks. Read more.