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Q&A: Can I Get a Business Credit Card Even if I Don’t Have a Business?

July 26, 2013
Business Credit Cards, Credit Cards
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I found an offer for a business credit card that I want to get, but I don’t know if I can apply. NerdWallet, any thoughts?

Business credit cards can offer amazing perks – killer signup bonuses, high rewards rates, access to airport lounges, you name it. They’re meant for “business expenses” and are useful for keeping your personal and corporate 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. For example, sole proprietorships and LLC’s – even sellers on eBay or Etsy – can qualify for a business credit card. You don’t always have to provide proof of a revenue stream; instead, you can use your own established credit history. Obviously, your credit line might not be as high as if you could prove that your business had a steady income, but you can still qualify for the card – and take advantage of the signup bonuses that come with it.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always need an EIN (also known as a federal tax ID) to apply for a small business card. If you’re a sole proprietorship, you can put down your Social Security number as verification. Here are a few ways you might be in business already:

  • Buying and selling Etsy jewelry
  • Offloading your used junk on Amazon
  • Writing an e-book you plan to sell
  • Freelancing and taking odd jobs that you need business cards for

If you don’t fit any of these criteria right now, well, you might be planning to start one soon. Congratulations, you’re about to start your own business!

Words of caution

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

  • Your credit history can be impacted. Since your name and SSN are on the card application, the credit pull and new account might show up on your credit history. However, different card issuers report business cards differently – we break down the details here.
  • You are liable for the debt. Again, if your name is on the application, you’re on the hook for paying the bills. When you personally guarantee the debt, you agree that you – not your business – will ensure your bills are paid.
  • Don’t lie. If you make inaccurate statements about your business’ income or otherwise put forth false information, it’s bad news bears. American Express in particular is known for auditing businesses.

Ready to get a good business credit card? You can find our breakdown of the top small business cards here.