Best business credit cards for startups in 2023

Startups are a little different from traditional small businesses. In general, the intention of these young companies is to make waves with a groundbreaking product or service. If you are one such entrepreneur, a credit card that can fulfill your company’s unique needs will be essential.

With the right credit card, you’ll have access to necessary capital, flexible financing terms and perks that will help you start your business and connect with clients around the globe. You’ll also be able to build your business’s credit separately from your personal credit, which can help if you ever apply for a business loan.

Startup business credit cards are most appropriate for the requirements of a company that’s preparing to disrupt the marketplace. The best credit card for small-business startups depends on what you most want from the account.

Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best for its sign-up bonus

  • Rewards rate: 3X points on the first $150,000 you spend on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year, then 1X points; 1X points on all other purchases
  • Welcome bonus: 100,000 bonus points after spending $15,000 on purchases in your first three months
  • Annual fee: $95

If you’re running a startup, you’re probably no stranger to budget constraints. If you can use every dollar you can get, a credit card that gives you a big welcome bonus will be helpful. With the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, you can earn a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points (after spending $15,000 on qualifying purchases within three months from account opening), which is worth $1,000 in cash. If you use the points for travel expenses by redeeming them through Chase Ultimate Rewards, they’ll be worth 25 percent more — up to $1,250. Given this card’s modest annual fee, that’s extremely generous.

To get the bonus, you’ll need to meet the spending requirement, so consider what you’ll charge and how you’ll manage the bill. You’ll want to pay the debt off by the due date to reap the full benefit of the sign-up bonus, so plan ahead.

Pros

  • Comparatively low annual fee
  • Employee cards come at no additional cost
  • Various travel and purchase protection benefits, including coveted cellphone protection

Cons

  • Welcome bonus’s spending requirement and timeframe may be too much for some small businesses

American Express Business Gold Card: Best for flexible payment arrangements

  • Rewards rate: 4X points on up to $150,000 per year in two select categories your business spends the most in each billing cycle; 2X points on rental cars booked through American Express Travel
  • Welcome bonus: 70,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $10,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months
  • Annual fee: $295

Need to pay for a big marketing campaign or extra research and development but don’t have the money for it at this moment? The American Express® Business Gold Card is a charge card, so there is no preset credit limit, and you can pay for exceptionally large purchases.

At the end of your billing cycle, you can pay the entire balance in full with no interest added or use the Amex Pay Over Time plan. If you choose Pay Over Time, you can split up the cost of a large purchase into monthly installments with interest. This card combines the advantage of a high-limit charge card with a credit card that allows for revolving balances, making it great for startups with potentially large purchases on the horizon.

Pros

  • No preset credit limit
  • Despite being a charge card, ability to carry a balance with Amex’s Pay Over Time
  • Travel insurance benefits, like trip delay and baggage delay insurance

Cons

  • $295 annual fee
  • Lacks more premium travel perks, like lounge access or travel statement credits, despite its high fee

The Business Platinum Card from American Express: Best for frequent travelers

  • Rewards rate: 5X points on flights and prepaid hotels booked on AmexTravel.com; 2X points on prepaid rental cars booked via AmexTravel.com; 1.5X points on eligible purchases in key business categories (on up to $2 million per calendar year); 1.5X points on eligible purchases of $5,000 or more (on up to $2 million per calendar year); 1X points on all other purchases
  • Welcome bonus: 120,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months
  • Annual fee: $695

If you travel a lot for your startup business, you’ll want a credit card that can help you travel economically while remaining comfortable. The Business Platinum Card® from American Express includes valuable benefits that can help you do both, such as up to $200 in statement credits per year toward qualifying airline fees at one qualifying airline. Cardholders also get up to $189 in statement credits for Clear membership, up to $100 in statement credits toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and complimentary access to 1,400+ of the finest airport lounges in the world (including access to Amex Centurion lounges).

These benefits extend to accommodations, too. Cardholders automatically get Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors elite status, which grants you access to free room upgrades, breakfast and late checkout. And if you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership, the 120,000 Membership Rewards points welcome bonus will be yours, which can pay for several business flights. Note, of course, all of these great perks come with a hefty $695 annual fee.

Pros

  • Fantastic first-year welcome bonus (with a value that can be boosted using Amex Travel’s Airline Bonus feature)
  • More than $2,500 in annual statement credits related to travel, business needs and more
  • High spending limit on key business purchases

Cons

  • Exceptionally high annual fee

Ink Business Cash Credit Card: Best for cash back with no annual fee

  • Rewards rate: 5 percent cash back at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services (on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases each account anniversary year); 2 percent cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year; 1 percent cash back on all other purchases
  • Welcome bonus: $900 cash back bonus when you spend $6,000 on purchases in your first three months
  • Annual fee: $0

Most startups require a physical workspace. So, if you’re creating such a space, a business credit card that earns major cash rewards on office supplies and telecommunications bills is key. The Ink Business Cash® Credit Card offers 5 percent cash back on up to $25,000 in combined purchases made at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services every year. If you max that rewards category out, you’ll earn $1,250 in cash back. You’ll also earn 2 percent back at gas stations and restaurants on the first $25,000 in combined spending each account anniversary year — and if you max that out, you’ll earn $500 in rewards. Anything else will score you 1 percent cash back.

Additionally, you’ll get access to a 0 percent intro APR on purchases for 12 months (followed by a 16.99 percent to 22.99 percent variable APR), should you have a large purchase on the horizon.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Zero-interest offer on new purchases
  • Solid cash back rewards and welcome offer for a no-annual-fee business card

Cons

  • Spending caps might be too low for businesses with higher spending
  • Unlike most other cards on this list, this card has a 3 percent foreign transaction fee

Capital One Spark Cash Select – 0% Intro APR for 12 Months: Best for financing new purchases

  • Rewards rate: 5 percent cash back on hotel stays and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel; 1.5 percent back on all other purchases
  • Welcome bonus: None
  • Annual fee: $0

A startup’s first year can be expensive, which is especially challenging because it can take a while to become profitable and secure funding. For that reason, many startup founders take on debt in the first year. With the Capital One Spark Cash Select – 0% Intro APR for 12 Months credit card, you’ll have a 0 percent intro APR on new purchases for 12 months (then a variable APR of 18.99 percent to 26.99 percent). All you need to do is make your minimum payments each month and pay off the whole balance before the introductory period ends.

You’ll also earn an unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on everything you spend (plus 5 percent back on hotel stays and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel). This card also has less challenging qualification requirements compared to many other business cards. According to Capital One, its credit requirement is at least “good,” while many other business cards require excellent credit.

Pros

  • You may qualify with a good credit score (670 and up)
  • Zero-interest offer on new purchases
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • No first-year welcome bonus

U.S. Bank Business Platinum Card*: Best for a balance transfer

  • Rewards rate: None
  • Welcome bonus: None
  • Annual fee: $0

If you’ve already acquired a sizable amount of debt for your startup and don’t have the cash to quickly pay it off, a balance transfer credit card could be instrumental in keeping costs to a minimum. The U.S. Bank Business Platinum Card offers a 0 percent intro APR for 18 billing cycles on both balance transfers and purchases made within the first 30 days of opening the card (followed by a 16.24 percent to 25.24 percent variable APR), making it one of the best business balance transfer credit cards on the market.

Outside of the balance transfer fee of 3 percent ($5 minimum), no financing costs will be added to the balance, so every month your debt will decrease by the same amount as your payment. Just be careful to adhere to its terms, since the deal will end prematurely and the regular rate (or higher) will begin if you pay late, you make a payment that is returned or your account exceeds its credit limit.

Pros

  • One of the longest zero-interest offers on the market for business cards
  • Free employee cards
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • No ongoing rewards or first-year welcome bonus
  • 3 percent foreign transaction fee

FAQs

    • Can I apply for a business credit card when my startup hasn’t made any money yet?

      Yes. However, while your startup doesn’t need to be generating revenue, you will have to prove that you have an income source that is sufficient to satisfy the monthly payments on the credit line.

    • What business credit card is easiest to get?

      Business credit cards for people with bad credit, such as the Wells Fargo Business Secured Credit Card*, are the easiest to obtain due to lower credit score requirements.

    • Does my startup need to be incorporated to get a business credit card?

      No. As a sole proprietor, you can apply for a small-business credit card. You would use your Social Security number rather than an employer identification number (EIN).

    • What happens if my startup dissolves and I can’t pay my small business credit card bill?

      You will almost certainly be liable for the debt since most business cards require a personal guarantee. If you don’t make your payments on time, your credit reports will show delinquencies, which will lower your credit score. If the accounts go into default, you can be sued for the amount outstanding, or the credit issuer will send the account to collections.

The bottom line

Business credit cards are worthwhile tools for startups. The key is to choose the right one for you and your company — and then to manage it responsibly. After all, while your business may be disruptive, your credit card should be constructive.

As always, before you apply, consider our picks for the best small-business credit cards, as there might be additional options that suit your business’s needs (and wants).

*The information about the U.S. Bank Business Platinum Card and Wells Fargo Business Secured Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.

Artur Starke
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