The Ultimate Guide to the Best Startup Credit Cards

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Startup Credit Cards
Contents

Managing a startup’s finances is a demanding task. Among others, you’re responsible for:

  • Limiting over budget and out of policy spend
  • Keeping track of spending with detailed reporting
  • Issuing employees with the tools they need to make expenses, and
  • Making sure the figures check out

One huge factor that influences how well you can manage your startup’s finances are the credit cards you deploy across your team. Business credit cards help you settle payment obligations and offer a credit line you can leverage to stretch your cash flow each month.

In this article, we’ll be analyzing five of the best startup credit cards out there, zooming in on:

  • The features they offer
  • The downsides of opting for each one, and
  • Alternatives to consider instead

Brex card

Best business credit card with no personal guarantee

Brex offers software-enabled business credit cards for venture-backed startups.

No personal guarantees mean you can acquire the capital you need to run your business and settle monthly expenses without worrying about your personal credit score being on the line.

You sign up, connect your startup’s bank account and Brex does its magic and offers you a line of credit you have to pay off every 30 days.

Brex uses dynamic rating criteria that factor in spending patterns and your bank account balance to offer higher credit limits to your startup. But don’t be mistaken, since Brex’s credit limits tend to fluctuate based on your monthly sales—one month, it could be $10,000 and $3,500 the next.

Annual fee

Brex doesn’t charge any annual fees.

Rewards & perks

Given it’s targeted at the startup niche, Brex offers a huge bundle of perks, such as:

  • $5,000 in AWS credits, and up to $100,000 in AWS Activate
  • 25% off 12 months of eligible Slack plans, and
  • up to 40% off select SaaS subscriptions such as Dropbox, Carta, Zoom, and Intercom.

Pros

Brex offers a revolving credit for startups, minus the personal guarantee. Everything’s packaged into a simple, easy-to-use interface where you can create and assign credit cards to individual team members with just a few clicks.

Cons

Behind all the hype, Brex hides some unsavory caveats in their offer.

First, Brex requires that you maintain a minimum cash balance of $50,000 - $100,000 to qualify and charges an outrageous 12-19% APR if you don’t settle your balance in 30 days.

Tying down a $50,000 - $100,000 minimum balance for just 30 days of float plus 12 – 19% APR doesn’t make any sense. And Brex offers poor spend management on the cards you issue to employees, with no option for individual card limits, budgeting, or overall budget to actual reporting,

Chase Ink Business Unlimited credit card

Best business credit card for cashback rewards 

The Chase Ink Business Unlimited card offers unlimited 1.5% cashback on every purchase you make. Since it’s powered by Chase bank, it’s a physical card for making traditional expenses.

Annual fee

No annual fees.

Rewards & perks

1.5% unlimited cash back on every transaction.

Pros

Although the cash back adds up, it can be a bit underwhelming if you opt for Chase Ink Unlimited as your main credit card. Say, you spend $100,000 monthly, 1.5% of that would equal just $1,500. Hardly exciting.

Cons

Essentially a dinosaur, Chase Ink credit cards are targeted primarily at small business owners, and as a startup, it may not meet your needs. 

There are no spend management features nor any option to issue virtual cards to employees. And you need excellent credit, plus an existing relationship with Chase to even apply. The Chase Ink Unlimited card is good for cashback but not suited to any startup looking for an agile business credit card to run operations faster.

Capital One Spark Classic for Business

Best credit card for startups with an average credit score

It’s possible you’re just kicking off the business and have an average personal credit score to boot. Or perhaps, you defaulted on a loan within the past 5 years but you’re now seriously rebuilding your business credit. Capital One Spark Classic might just be the business credit card for you.

The Capital One Spark Classic card bundles a decent credit limit, 1% cashback, and free expense cards for your employees into an offer you might want to hear more about.

Annual fee

None.

Rewards & perks

1% unlimited cash back on all expenses.

Pros

The biggest upside to the Capital One Spark Classic card is the opportunity to draw credit with a less than ideal credit score (around 630 to 689). Although you’ll have a lower limit, you get to build up your credit score while earning a 1% cashback.

Employee expense cards help you manage spending from across your team instead of having to manually share cards every single time.

Cons

With a credit limit of just $500 per month, underwhelming would be the best word to describe the Spark Classic credit card. Granted, your startup’s cash position might be factored in, but that still leaves you in a tight corner, especially if you’re an early-stage startup with zero credit history.

The Spark Classic card offers expense cards for employees but without any spend management features, you won’t be able to take a holistic look at expenses and track your financial position in real-time.

Amex Business Platinum Card

Best credit card for travel rewards

If your startup has a significant travel footprint, the American Express Business Platinum card offers generous rewards on travel-related spending. The Amex Business Platinum card offers a full suite of perks and services designed to offer a delightful travel experience for your entire team.

Annual fee

A hefty $595. This may be hard to justify if your startup doesn’t have an intensive travel routine.

Rewards & perks

5x points on shipping, wireless phone service, ads, office supplies, and gas capped at 80,000 points for your first 3 months.

5x points on flights and prepaid hotels booked via Amex Travel. 35% airline bonus, capped at 500,000 points annually.

Baggage insurance, up to $2,000 for single travelers and up to $10,000 for group business travel.

Pros

Amex’s Platinum card offers a full-stack travel support kit that helps you delight your team while earning competitive rewards on every expense you charge on it.

The Amex Business Platinum card doesn’t have a preset credit limit and it simply adjusts to your spending patterns, credit history, and payment history.

Cons

Even with the hefty price tag, Amex hides a lot of caveats you may only realize late if you don’t read between the lines. Case in point, the 80,000 reward points promised only apply after you spend $15,000 on your Platinum Business Card.

And don’t think you can circumvent that bar set by Amex since those rewards only apply to travel-specific expenses like gas and flight tickets. The Amex Business Platinum Card takes such an intensive focus on travel that it loses its appeal as a general business credit card.

American Express Blue Business Plus Card

Best card with no annual fees

The American Express Blue Business card combines a fee-free card, rewards, and expense reporting into a credit card for small business owners. It offers 1x rewards plus 13-19% APR after your first year’s introductory promotions end.

Annual fee

No annual fees, a huge plus if you’re specifically shopping for a fee-free startup credit card.

Rewards & perks

For your first year, Amex offers 2x rewards on your purchases, up to $50,000, and a 0% introductory APR. Likewise, you can set up your Blue Business card with Bill.com Vendor Pay to streamline invoice spending.

Pros

With no annual fees to worry about, you can focus on managing your credit and business expenses better.

Cons

Overall, the Blue Business card does one thing well, that is offer you a fee-free credit. Beyond that, you’ll have to make do with just two cards for your entire team, and a lack of integrations with the rest of your accounting stack.

But does your startup actually need a credit card?

Circling back for a moment, it’s wise to ask whether you need a credit card in the first place. It’s standard to start shopping for a startup credit card once you’re in business.

But looking deeper, you might realize you don’t actually need one.

To be clear, virtually all credit cards fall short in several of the key areas your startup needs to double down on, with outdated offerings that are hard to defend.

Some of the factors to consider include:

Float

30 days of float sounds like a great offer, but if you’ve raised funding, or have enough cash each month to cover expenses, it makes no difference. Float only adds value if you’re a bootstrapped business that needs to stretch cash flow each month.

Interest

Credit cards are great for startups...until they’re not. Ranging from 13 – 19%, APR on most business credit cards can easily get out of hand, racking up huge debt if you don’t keep watch closely.

Spend management

As a startup, you’re looking to optimize spending so your cash can give you the most runway.

How can that happen if you don’t have spend visibility and control over expenses as they occur?

Most of the options we listed here—the very best of the best—offer little or nothing in the way of spend management for startups, without which your cash burn will spin out of control and possibly cause your startup’s downfall.

Put together, the “best” business credit cards for startups charge up to 20% APR for just 30 days of float, offering no spend management to help you optimize spending as a startup?

Not a great deal, and that’s putting it nicely.

Alternatives to Startup Credit Cards

You might be starting to realize that your startup might not even need a business credit card after all. Instead, the ideal card should help you:

  • Issue cards to individual employees
  • Keep control over your total cash burn
  • Track expenses as they happen, and
  • Avoid fees here and there that quickly add up

Lola offers an all-in-one spend management suite with zero interest, no credit checks, and absolutely no annual fees. Lola is designed to simplify spending and expense management for startups so you can:

  • Visualize and control employee spending in real-time
  • Issue unlimited employee expense cards with detailed permissions and limits, and
  • Eliminate APRs, annual fees, and credit checks by spending from your cash balance

Using Lola, you can avoid unnecessary debt and optimize your cash burn by tracking employee expenses as they happen.

Take Lola for a spin here.

Lola.com is the spend management solution that keeps you on budget.


About the Author: Churchill Leonard
Churchill creates long-form content for dynamic SaaS businesses looking to drive growth via organic search. Content hacker @PubLoft, a content agency for the top 1% of SaaS startups. Loves research-heavy YT videos, and eats an unfair share of the world’s supply of yoghurt.