Understanding Your Business Credit Report
If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, car loan or mortgage, you’re likely familiar with personal credit scores. But many people — even small business owners — aren’t aware that businesses have credit reports and credit scores, too.
Business credit reports aren’t just for big companies. Companies of any size may have a business credit report, so business owners need to be aware of business credit scores and how they can affect your ability to borrow money or even do business with a larger company or governmental entity.
What is a business credit report?
A business credit report allows creditors, like banks or other kinds of lenders, to assess a company’s creditworthiness. It includes background information and payment history about the company, as well as information pulled from public records, such as liens and judgments filed against the company. It may be used to screen potential partners and vendors and may be a factor when applying for a business loan or line of credit.
Information contained in the business credit report is used to create a business credit score. Personal credit scores have a fairly standardized rating system, with a range from 300 to 850, and business owners may be asked to supply personal credit information as well when seeking financing. Business credit scores, however, aren’t as consistent; they can vary depending on the company calculating the score.
There are three primary agencies that supply business credit scores:
- Experian — Experian’s Intelliscore Plus ranks business credit scores from 0 to 100.
- Dun & Bradstreet — The D&B PAYDEX Score also ranks business credit scores from 0 to 100.
- Equifax — Provides three scores:
- A “Business Credit Risk Score” ranging from 101 to 992. This looks at credit utilization, past delinquencies, length of credit history.
- A “Business Failure Score” ranging from 1,000 to 1,880. This assesses the risk of your company going under and dissolving.
- A “Payment Payment Index” ranging from 0 to 100 that measures your payment history to creditors.
FICO Small Business Scoring Service (SBSS): If you’ve ever applied for a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan, you might have heard of the SBSS, a credit score ranging from 0 to 300. While the SBA does not have a minimum required credit score to apply for an SBA loan, it does use the SBSS to pre-screen applicants for its popular 7(a) loan program. After the agency began using the score, some lenders followed suit.
Whichever scoring system you use, the higher your score, the better your credit.
Business credit vs. personal credit
Another way that business credit reports and scores differ from personal credit is their availability. While consumers are entitled to receive a free personal credit report annually, it’s not quite as easy to access a free business credit report, as you’ll generally need to pay for the information.
How to check your business credit report
To avoid surprises, here are the steps for checking your business credit report.
Step 1: Find your Federal Tax ID number or EIN
An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a nine-digit number assigned by the IRS. It’s used as a federal tax ID number for businesses, much like a Social Security number is used to identify individuals. Some business credit reporting agencies will use your EIN to track your business, so have it available before you begin your search. If you don’t have an EIN, you can apply for one online.
If you already have an EIN but can’t easily access it, you can find your federal tax ID by calling the IRS at 1-800-829-4933 between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time, Monday through Friday.
Step 2: Visit one of the big three credit reporting bureaus
It’s a good idea to check your business credit report with each of the three major business credit reporting agencies. While personal credit reports tend to be similar across agencies, the same can’t be said for business credit reports.
To get a business credit report from Equifax, you’ll have to provide some basic information about your business to access the score.
To order a business credit report from Experian, start by entering your business’s name, city, state and country in the box on the right-hand side of the screen. You’ll also need to indicate whether the information entered is for your own company or another company. This search will tell you whether Experian has a credit report on file for your company.
Dun & Bradstreet
To order your D&B credit report, search for your company by entering your business name and state at the top of the page, then indicate whether you’re searching for your company or another company.
You can get four business credit scores, including the PAYDEX score, for free for 14 days if you sign up for D&B’s CreditSignal credit monitoring service. This service is free, but it only alerts you when your D&B score has changed or if someone purchases your business credit score. To have unlimited access to your business credit scores, you would have to upgrade to a paid plan.
Step 3: Review your business credit report
Once you have your business credit report in hand, review it to see what it includes and check for errors. The makeup of the report will depend on which report you ordered, but Experian has a sample report that should give you a good idea of what you’ll find.
If you find any errors on your report, let the credit rating agency that issued the report know. The procedures for disputing information on your credit report vary by agency, so check its website for instructions.
For example, Experian recommends:
- Circling the incorrect information on the report
- Adding a brief explanation of why the information is incorrect
- Supplying correct information or supporting documentation
- Attach the report to a cover page with your full business name, current and previous addresses, email and a short note asking them to investigate the error
- Email it to [email protected]
The company completes most investigations within 30 days, although complicated issues might take longer to resolve.
Factors that impact a business credit report
The factors that go into calculating a consumer score are consistent no matter which credit rating agency you look at. However, a business credit check can return some widely ranging results, depending on which rating agency issued the report and the type of report you purchase.
The main factors that go into calculating your credit score include:
- Credit: The number of trade accounts you’ve used, the total balances outstanding, your payment habits, credit utilization and trends over time.
- Public records: Whether your business has a history of liens, judgments or bankruptcies and the recency and frequency of these types of negative items.
- Demographic information: How long you’ve had a business credit file, your industry and company size.
Steps to building your business credit
If your business doesn’t have a credit score, or you want to improve the score you have, here are some steps to take:
Step 1: Form an LLC
If you’ve been operating as a sole proprietorship, forming an LLC can help separate your business finances from your personal finances. The process for forming an LLC varies from state to state, so check with your state’s Secretary of State to learn about the requirements.
Step 2: Get an EIN and a DUNS number
If you don’t yet have an EIN, apply for one online at IRS.gov.
It’s also a good idea to get a DUNS Number from Dun & Bradstreet. DUNS stands for Data Universal Numbering System, and it’s a system developed by D&B to give a unique, nine-digit identifier to businesses.
You might already have a DUNS number if you filed as a legal entity with your state and obtained a business license. If not, you can request a DUNS number online, for free, by providing some basic information, including your business name, address and phone number.
Step 3: Apply for a business credit card
Most business credit card issuers report to at least one of the three major business credit rating agencies, but not all of them do. If building business credit is your primary motivation for applying for the card, you might want to check with the issuer before applying.
Once you get the card, use it responsibly by paying your bills on time. This is one area where business credit is similar to personal credit: a history of on-time payments is essential.
Step 4: Open a vendor account
Some companies that sell things like office and shipping supplies and even coffee and snacks grant their customers a small line of credit with net 30 terms, meaning payment is due 30 days after the invoice date. Then you simply buy your supplies on credit and pay invoices by the due date. Within a few months, these accounts should show up on your business credit report.