Editor's Note: Learn from a panel of experts and entrepreneurs who have successfully financed their own ventures and are helping others do it at the Thought Leaders Live 2013 event May 29, in Long Beach, Calif. Event and ticket information can be found here.
It's true that careless use of credit cards can put you out of business faster than you can swipe your card through the reader.
When used effectively, however, a business credit card can simplify your financial record keeping--and maybe even earn you a little something "extra" for your diligence, too.
Here are five ways a business credit card can help:
1. Separation of personal and business finances
All business owners know how important it is to keep personal finances separate from business finances. A simple way to do this is to obtain a business credit card that's used only for business-related expenses and purchases. When the statement comes, you'll know without a doubt that every transaction listed is associated with your business and can avoid having to review the statement carefully to highlight or circle any expenses that don't belong with your business records.
2. Track employee spending
Most businesses have an employee who's responsible for paying small bills or making purchases on behalf of the business. It can be time-consuming to require that every transaction get your approval before making the payment, especially if vendors come looking for payments when you're in meetings or out of the office. An easier way to keep track of employee spending is to issue designated employees credit cards in their names, linked to your business account.
Most credit cards let you set monthly spending limits per card, so you'll have some peace of mind knowing your employees aren't charging excessively.
When your billing statement arrives, the transactions will be itemized and divided based on which employee made the purchase. If an employee abuses his or her credit card, you'll know before it gets out of hand.
3. Reduce time balancing your checkbook
When you get into the habit of using a business credit card to pay for all of your monthly expenses and purchases, you'll benefit from the reduced time required to balance your checkbook. Instead of having numerous transactions in your checkbook register each month, you'll be able to write a single check to the credit card company. This makes it faster to balance your checkbook and reduces the margin of error since there will be minimal transactions to keep track of.
If you get into the habit of paying the credit card in full each time the statement arrives, you can eliminate the need to pay interest on your purchases by using the grace period. Check with your particular credit card, but most offer at least 20 days' grace, meaning payments made in full within this time period are made without interest accruing.
4. Useful financial statements
In an effort to serve their business customers better, many credit card companies offer a range of reports. In addition to monthly statements, you can also receive quarterly and annual reports to categorize your spending. These additional financial reports can make tax time a breeze. Instead of searching through boxes and files for statements and records, you'll have just about everything you need on a single printout from your credit card company, categorized by the type of expense (gasoline, office supplies, travel, food and hotel, miscellaneous, etc.).
Some credit card companies also allow you to generate custom reports as needed. If you need a list of all payments made to a specific vendor over a certain time period--enter in the details and print out your report!
5. Extra benefits of business credit cards
In addition to making your financial record keeping easier, using a business credit card to handle the majority of your business expenses and purchases allows you to accumulate rewards faster.
Choose a card with rewards you will actually use--if you travel frequently, go with a card that offers airline miles, hotel stays, car rental discounts or free trips. If you don't travel much, choose from one of the many other types of rewards cards, and save on office supplies or gasoline, or get cash back.
Using a business credit card allows you to increase your productivity because it helps you save on time spent managing your financial record-keeping. For small businesses, switching to an all-credit-card system may even eliminate the need for a bookkeeper.
Debbie Dragon is a freelance writer for Creditorweb.com, where she writes frequently on credit cards, rewards programs and finance for individuals as well as business owners. She welcomes feedback at email@example.com.