Credit Cards vs. Short-term Business Loans

As most entrepreneurs and small business owners know, there are times when the cash you have on hand can’t cover the expenses essential to growth. It’s at this point that you’re confronted with the question of funding: Do you go with an SMB lender, or do you try credit cards?

The Case Against Lenders

SMB lenders know that you’re in a jam and that you want your money as fast as you can get it. This is why you’ll see many lenders emphasize the amount of money you can get from them and the supposedly lightning-fast time between filling out your application and the money showing up in your checking account.

But unless they’re acting as the middleman for government-backed SBA loans, there’s a good chance you’ll be charged incredible interest rates that will tack on big fees to your weekly or daily repayment schedule. Some companies use factoring, which is a technical way of saying you pay points every week or day on the money you lend. Others use merchant-based charges that take a cut of your daily sales to pay back your loan. In many cases, the rates you pay, when extrapolated out over one year, range from 40 to 120 percent.

The Case for Small Business Credit Cards

Now, I understand that there are situations where your business needs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy inventory for an upcoming season or to cover your day-to-day operational expenses.

However, if you don’t find yourself in that position, then business credit cards can be an excellent option for funding. The reason I like credit cards instead of small business loans is that they tend to give you something in return for your business, and their interest rates can be relatively low for customers with excellent credit scores. Most business credit cards offer two types of rewards: cash or points. Both rewards vehicles are based on per-dollar rewards rates. Here are a few of the best credit cards for small businesses right now.

  • Chase Ink Business Preferred’s Points — The Chase Ink Preferred gives you a 3:1 rate on social media/search engine advertising, phone/internet/TV services, travel and shipping. These categories are the essentials of a modern business, so there’s a tremendous opportunity here for rewards. This 3% rate is capped at $150,000 in spending across all categories, at which point the rate drops to 1%. Consider this: $150K equals 450,000 rewards points that can be transferred to Hyatt, Southwest, United, Marriott and other travel partners within the Chase rewards network. Any employee cards that you request will also earn points for you, too.
  • Spark Cash for Business’ Cash Back — Capital One’s Spark Cash for Business card gives a 2% cash-back rate on all purchases. There are no limits on the rewards here, so if you spend $150,000 in a year, you’ll get $3,000 back in cash. Capital One’s Spark Miles card works the same way, except the cash rewards you earn are only applied to travel purchases. Perhaps the only knock on Chase and Capital One cards is that they have credit limits.
  • American Express Business Gold’s Limitless Spending — The AmEx Business Gold has no credit limit, but you have to pay off your balance in full every month to avoid high-interest repayment plans. This no-limit functionality is why the AmEx is known as a “charge card” and not a traditional credit card. If you’re anticipating that you’ll spend more than $50,000 a month, you may want to consider this card as an option. The no-cap spending gives you the freedom to make big purchases on a moment’s notice. The card also gives you a 3x/2x/1x tier of rewards that can be redeemed across 17 airline partners, four hotel partners or redeemed for cash back. The AmEx Gold also has a certain swagger to it, but all this is meaningless if you don’t have the discipline (or the cash) to pay off your balance every month.
  • Wells Fargo Business Platinum — This card allows you to choose between earning 1.5% cash back on every purchase or 1:1 rewards points on every purchase. The advantage to this card is that it boasts an APR of the prime rate plus 7.99% which, at the time of publishing, equates to an 11.99% APR that’s virtually unbeatable by other business credit cards or SMB lenders. It does come with a max credit limit of $50,000, so keep that in mind if you decide to apply for the card.

Final Thoughts: Credit Cards Offer Rewards, Lower Rates

As I mentioned earlier, the fact that lenders can send you hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of hours or days may be the only suitable solution for certain companies that are in certain financial situations.

However, there are a majority of us who can benefit from the rewards programs that business credit cards offer. You’ll have the luxury of only paying once a month as opposed to the daily or weekly payments that most SMB lenders require you to pay. Whether it’s free travel or cash, credit card issuers are willing to put money in your pocket in order to get and keep your business.

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