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Best small business credit cards of December 2019

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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:

Best for cash back: Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

  • Rewards

    2% cash back on every purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn up to $2,000 in cash bonuses: Earn a $500 cash bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months and earn $1,500 when you spend $50,000 in the first 6 months of your account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95, waived the first year

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    18.74% (variable)

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Annual fee waived the first year
  • Free employee cards
  • 2% cash back on every purchase
  • Redeem cash back for any amount at any time
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee after year one
  • No intro 0% APR offers for purchases or balance transfers

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 up to $2,000 in cash bonuses: You can get a $500 cash bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first three months and an additional$1,500 when you spend $50,000 in the first six months of your account opening.

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.

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 up to $2,000 in cash bonuses: You can get a $500 cash bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first three months and an additional$1,500 when you spend $50,000 in the first six months of your account opening.

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.

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Information about the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

Best for travel: Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

  • Rewards

    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

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    17.49% to 22.49% (variable)

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Free employee cards
  • Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading frequent travel programs
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • Generous welcome bonus worth up to $1,000

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • No introductory 0% financing offers for purchases or balance transfers

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 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 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 80,000 point bonus is worth $1,000 towards travel.

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 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 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 80,000 point bonus is worth $1,000 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.

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Best for luxury perks: The Business Platinum® Card from American Express

  • Rewards

    Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn up to 75,000 points — earn 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of card membership

  • Annual fee

    $595

  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    Not applicable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Not applicable

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

Pros

  • Get 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more
  • Get 35% points back when you use points for flights
  • $200 airline fee credit for incidentals on one qualifying airline each year
  • American Express Global Lounge Collection
  • Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status and Hilton Honors Gold status
  • Up to $200 annual statement credit for Dell purchases
  • Get one year of Platinum Global Access from WeWork

Cons

  • $595 annual fee
  • $300 annual fee for each additional Platinum card
  • No introductory 0% financing offers for purchases or balance transfers

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.

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 and one year of complimentary Platinum Global Access from WeWork, which provides access to 300+ workspaces in 75+ cities and 20+ countries (enroll before 12/31/2019).

While this card has a suite of benefits, it comes with a hefty $595 annual fee. And each employee card costs $300 annually. If you take advantage of all the card benefits, you can offset the high annual fee. 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.

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Best for financing new purchases: Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

  • Rewards

    Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases up to $50,000 with no category restrictions, then 1X points

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases within your first 3 months of card membership

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers requested within 60 days of account opening

  • Regular APR

    14.74% to 20.74% (variable)

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Free employee cards
  • 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers requested within 60 days of account opening
  • Straightforward rewards program

Cons

  • 3% ($5 minimum) balance transfer fee
  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee

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 14.74% to 20.74% variable APR).

If you plan to purchase office furniture, electronics, appliances and other business items, this special financing period can provide you with the longest interest-free period, compared to other business cards that typically only offer up to one year.

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 14.74% to 20.74% variable APR).

If you plan to purchase office furniture, electronics, appliances and other business items, this special financing period can provide you with the longest interest-free period, compared to other business cards that typically only offer up to one year.

Cardholders can also benefit from no interest on balance transfers for the first 12 months (after 14.74% to 20.74% variable APR). Balance transfers must be requested within 60 days of account opening and incur a 3% ($5 minimum) fee.

Business owners earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases up to $50,000 with no category restrictions, then 1X points. Plus, with the welcome bonus, new cardholders can earn 10,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases within your first three months of card membership.

This card has no annual fee and employee cards are also free.

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On American Express's Secure Site

Best for average credit: Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business

  • Rewards

    1% cash back on every purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    24.74% (variable)

  • Balance transfer fee

    None

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Free employee cards
  • Average credit may qualify
  • Redeem cash back for any amount at any time
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • HIgh 24.74% variable APR
  • Low 1% cash back on all purchases
  • No welcome bonus
  • No introductory 0% financing offers for purchases or balance transfers

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.

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.

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Information about the Capital One® Spark® Classic for Business has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

Our methodology

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.

Best small business credit cards

Best for... Credit Card
Cash backCapital One® Spark® Cash for Business
TravelInk Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Luxury perksThe Business Platinum® Card from American Express
Financing new purchasesBlue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
Average creditCapital One® Spark® Classic for Business

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.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.