New credit cards target smallest firms

With growth slowing in the consumer credit card market, credit card companies are offering new small business cards designed for the smallest businesses, from two or three-person operations up to firms with a few million dollars in annual revenue, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Only one in four of businesses this size uses a business card, according to Advanta, a Spring House, PA company, that specializes in small business plastic, The Journal says. Most use personal credit cards for business expenses.

Discover and American Express recently launched cards designed for this market that have rewards programs similar to consumer cards. The American Express Small Business Gold Card has no spending limit, and shows the name of the cardholder and the business on the card. Charges must be paid in full each month to avoid finance charges. American Express also offers the SimplyCash Business card for those who will carry a balance. The Discover Business card offers checks that function as credit card purchases to pay vendors who won't accept cards.

JP Morgan's Chase Platinum Visa Business Card is aimed at small business owners, contractors, landscapers and plumbers, according to the Journal, who "regularly charge business expenses to their personal credit card," the company's Web site says.

The cards simplify bookkeeping for expenses and separate business and personal spending for tax purposes, but finance charges are high.

Many of the smallest businesses have difficulty arranging financing for capital expenses. For example, 31 percent of respondents to The National Small Business Association's 2007 Survey of Small and Mid-Sized Businesses said that lack of available capital was a challenge in 2007. Of the smallest businesses surveyed, with four or fewer employees, 39 percent said they could not get adequate financing, and 44 percent use credit cards to finance their capital needs. The study found that larger companies rely more on bank loans and earnings for capital expenses.

Seventy one percent of those who use credit cards as a source of financing said that they carry a balance.

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