Can I Get a Business Credit Card Even If I Don’t Have a Business?

If you're doing something on your own (not as an employee) with the intention of making money, you're a business.
Anisha Sekar
By Anisha Sekar 

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Something we hear often from readers: I found an offer for a business credit card that I want to get, but I don't know if I can apply.

Small-business credit cards have a lot going for them, such as big sign-up bonuses, high rewards in specific categories, expense-tracking tools and the ability to get additional cards for people who work with you. They're meant for "business expenses" and are useful for keeping personal and business purchases separate.

But what actually qualifies as a business? Do you need an employer identification number, a license or a revenue stream? What do the card issuers think is a business, anyway?

You might be in a business already

When it comes to credit cards, the term "business" can be used quite broadly. Any activity you're pursuing on your own — that is, not as an employee of someone else — with the intention of earning money might count as a business. If you're not doing anything like that, then no, you can't get a small-business card. But millions of people meet the definition.

A simple sole proprietorship — think Uber drivers, Etsy sellers or Postmates deliverers — is enough to qualify for a business credit card. You don't always have to provide proof of a revenue stream or profit.

Your business doesn't need an established credit history. Most small-business cards take your personal credit into account when deciding whether to approve you.

You don't need an employer identification number, or EIN, to apply for a small business card. If you're a sole proprietorship, you can put down your Social Security number as verification. In fact, even if you have an EIN, you'll still probably have to provide your Social Security number.

Here are a few ways you might be in business already:

  • Buying and selling Etsy jewelry.

  • Offloading your used junk on eBay.

  • Writing an e-book you plan to sell.

  • Freelancing and taking odd jobs that you need business cards for.

Words of caution

There are a few things you need to keep in mind when you apply for a business credit card:

  • Your credit may be affected. Since your name and taxpayer ID number are on the card application, the credit check and new account might show up on your credit history. However, different card issuers report business cards differently.

  • You're liable for the debt. Nearly all small-business cards require the applicant to personally guarantee the debt on the card. If you business fails, you're on the hook for the debt.

  • Don't lie. If you make inaccurate statements about your business' income or otherwise put forth false information, it's bad news. American Express in particular is known for auditing businesses.

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