If you operate a small business, whether it's part-time or full-time, you may benefit from opening a business credit card. Most issuers have pretty lenient qualification requirements for what's considered a "business owner" and will likely accept your application whether you freelance, sell items online or run a growing company with employees.
The most basic perk of a business credit card is the ability to keep personal and professional expenses separate, which makes things much easier come tax time. Plus, many business cards allow you to open free employee cards, which is a great way to streamline spending and eliminate the hassle of reimbursing employees for business charges made on personal cards.
Business credit cards come in all shapes and sizes, with cards offering rewards, interest-free financing on new purchases, luxurious travel perks, extended warranties, insurance and more. In order to qualify for a business card, you typically need excellent credit (670+ according to Experian), but there are options for business owners with less than stellar credit.
To determine which cards offer the best value overall, CNBC Select reviewed 21 popular options and chose cards that fit into five main categories: cash back, travel, luxury, special financing and fair credit.
Here are CNBC Select's picks for the top business credit cards:
2% cash back on every purchase
Earn a $500 cash bonus when you spend $4,500 in the first 3 months of your account opening
$95, waived the first year
Who's this for? If you're looking to earn a competitive cash-back rate on all spending, you should consider the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business, which offers 2% cash back on every purchase. Plus, earn a one-time $500 cash bonus when you spend $4,500 in the first three months.
The cash-back program is straightforward, without the bonus categories or spending limits many other business cards impose. Business owners can easily redeem cash back at any time and for any amount as statement credit or check. There's also the option to set up automatic redemption at a set time each calendar year or when a specific cash-back balance is reached.
The Spark® Cash for Business also comes with Capital One business benefits, which include account management tools (choose your bill due date, view recurring transactions, download purchase records to Quicken®, QuickBooks® and Excel®), extended warranty and price protection, auto rental damage waiver and more.
This card does have a $95 annual fee, but it's waived the first year and if you optimize the welcome bonus, it's enough to offset the fee for five years. Plus, employee cards are free.
Earn 3X points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases in select categories each account anniversary year (travel; shipping purchases; internet, cable and phone services; and advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines), 1X point per $1 on all other purchases
New Offer! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
15.99% to 20.99% variable
5%, $5 minimum
Who's this for? The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card is a great option for business owners who want to earn rewards on common business expenses. Earn 3X points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases in the following categories each account anniversary year: travel; shipping purchases; internet, cable and phone services; and advertising purchases with social media sites and search engines. Earn 1x point per $1 on all other purchases.
This card comes with a generous welcome bonus of 100,000 points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Plus, points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, the 100,000 point bonus is worth $1,250 towards travel.
Cardholders can redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards, experiences and more — though you'll receive the most value when redeeming points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
The Ink Business Preferred Credit Card provides helpful travel perks, such as no foreign transaction fees, auto rental collision damage waiver and trip cancellation/trip interruption insurance.
This card also comes with cell phone protection, which covers damage or theft for you and your employees listed on your monthly cell phone bill paid with your card, up to $600 per claim and a maximum of three claims in a 12 month period with a $100 deductible per claim.
There is a $95 annual fee, but it's similar to other business cards on this list and can easily be offset by taking full advantage of the rewards and welcome bonus. Employee cards come at no additional cost.
Read CNBC Select's Ink Business Preferred Credit Card review.
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com; 35% Airline Bonus: Use Membership Rewards® Pay with Points for all or part of a flight with your selected qualifying airline, and you can get 35% of the points back, up to 500,000 bonus points per calendar year when you book on amextravel.com
Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership
Who's this for? The Business Platinum Card® from American Express is a top-notch card offering over a dozen premium perks for business owners. Whether it's travel, purchase protection, rewards or expense management, there's a benefit for every type of business owner.
Cardholders earn a competitive 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com and 1X points on all other purchases. Plus, you earn 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more. Points redeemed for flights through Amex Travel get 35% points back.
Luxury travel benefits include a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, access to over 1,200 airport lounges through the American Express Global Lounge Collection and an annual $200 airline fee credit for incidentals, like baggage and seat upgrades. This card also comes with up to a $200 annual statement credit for Dell purchases.
While this card has a suite of benefits, it comes with a hefty $595 annual fee. And each employee card costs $300 annually. You do have the option to open alternative employee cards for a lower fee: $200 for each additional Executive Business Card and $45 for each additional Business Gold Rewards Card. If you take advantage of all the card benefits, you can offset the high annual fee.
Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases up to $50,000 per year, then 1X point per dollar
Earn up to $100 in the form of statement credits at each of the following merchants: Dell Technologies, DocuSign or FedEx after you make an eligible purchase on your new card within the first 3 months (up to $300)
0% for the first 12 months on purchases
13.24% to 19.24% variable
3%, $5 minimum; N/A for new applicants
Who's this for? Business owners who are looking to finance new purchases without incurring interest should consider the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. You can benefit from a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months on purchases (after 13.24% to 19.24% variable APR).
As a welcome bonus, new cardholders can also earn up to $100 in the form of statement credits at each of the following merchants: Dell Technologies, DocuSign or FedEx after making an eligible purchase on their card within the first three months of account opening (up to $300).
If you plan to purchase office furniture, electronics, appliances and other business items, this special financing period can provide you with an interest-free period of up to a year.
Business owners earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases up to $50,000 per year, then 1X point per dollar. This card has no annual fee and employee cards are also free.
1% cash back on every purchase
Who's this for? Business owners who have less than stellar credit may run into difficulty qualifying for a business card, since many cards require excellent credit. However, the Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business sets lower "average credit" requirements, has no annual fee and no fee for employee cards.
Capital One defines average credit as someone who's defaulted on a loan in the past five years or who has limited credit history (owning a credit card or other type of credit for less than three years). If you fit into one of these definitions, you may have a good chance at qualifying.
This card also comes with a cash-back program: Earn 1% cash back on every purchase. You can redeem cash back at any time and for any amount as statement credit or check. There's also the option to set up automatic redemption at a set time each calendar year or when a specific cash-back balance is reached.
The Spark® Classic for Business also comes with Capital One business benefits, which include account management tools (choose your due date, view recurring transactions, download purchase records to Quicken®, QuickBooks® and Excel®), extended warranty and price protection, auto rental damage waiver and more.
Get more rewards with 4X Membership Rewards® points on two select categories where you spend the most each month; Get 25% points back, after you book a flight using Pay with Points
Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first three months of Card Membership
14.24% to 22.24%
Who's this for? If your business requires you to ship products to consumers across the country, the costs can add up. But there are cards, such as The American Express® Business Gold Card, that provide competitive rewards to help offset the cost of shipping your products.
The Amex Business Gold Card offers a flexible rewards program that assigns the highest rewards rate (4X points) to the two categories that you spend the most money in each month, up to $150,000 in combined spending (then 1X).
Here are the bonus categories you can choose from:
Qualifying U.S. shipping purchases include transactions made in the U.S. for courier, postal and freight shipping services. This includes eligible shipping costs from FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service (USPS).
Beyond rewards, this card provides expense management tools and helpful features if your business requires travel with no foreign transaction fees and car rental loss and damage insurance.
Keep in mind there's a $295 annual fee, but it can be outweighed by the card's benefits. If you plan on adding employee cards, Amex charges a $50 annual fee for the first card and then no annual fee for additional cards (up to 99).
To determine which business cards offer the best value, CNBC Select analyzed 21 of the most popular credit cards available to U.S. business owners. We compared each card on a range of features, including annual fee, employee card fee, rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is to redeem points.
The main criteria in our ranking were the rewards rates and added benefits, such as redemption bonuses, insurance coverage and expense management features. The more perks a card had, the higher it ranked on our list.
Co-branded business cards, such as airline or hotel-specific cards, did not make our final list due to their often complex reward systems and potential to limit your travel options to a specific brand.
For rates and fees of the Business Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Business Gold Card, click here.