Business credit and charge cards that have rewards programs typically award reward points as a percentage of the cash value of purchases made using the card. So the higher the purchase value, the greater the number of points awarded. Some business credit cards offer the same points on all spending, while others give bonus points on certain items such as telecommunications, office supplies, and air fares.
Other business credit cards offer “cash back”—i.e., they return a small percentage of the purchase value to the SME, in effect giving a discount on purchases made with the card. As with rewards cards, some cards give a general cash-back percentage on all purchases, while others give larger percentages on certain types of purchase.
Whether the card gives cash back or points, it can be in an SME’s interest to use business credit and charge cards for purchases in preference to debit cards, wire transfers, cash, or checks. However, cards may have annual fees, and each purchase may incur a transaction fee of a small percentage of the value. SME owners and managers may want to ensure that the rewards available to the business will justify the fees.
A cash-back card that offers, say, 2 percent cash back on all purchases can be a good basic card for a small business. However, if this is the business’ only card, it can miss out on generous rewards provided by other cards. Also, many cards limit the value of purchases qualifying for cash back: SME advice website FitSmallBusiness.com points out that if the business has high costs in certain categories, such as travel, it might need a second card to avoid hitting the cash back limit.1
One way of maximizing cash back and reward points can be to opt for multiple business credit cards that give bonus points on different types of spending. For example, an SME might have a credit card that gives bonus points on office supplies, and another that gives bonus points on air fares and hotel bills. The company would use the first for purchasing office equipment and stationery, and the second for business trips, thus maximizing the reward points on both types of expenditure. The company could use a general cash-back card for spending that doesn’t qualify for bonus points.2
Running multiple business credit cards can be complex, especially if the card providers are different companies. However, some companies offer multiple cards with different reward programs. Rewards from these cards can often be pooled into a single rewards account, enabling the business to build large aggregate points totals that can be used for major purchases.3
Sometimes, cash-back cards can be included in a rewards account, enabling cash-back amounts to be converted to reward points. This can be a boon if general cash-back percentages are lower than the equivalent rewards points on other cards.4
Typically, businesses use rewards for the following purposes:
The value of a business credit card rewards program depends on the use an SME can make of it. Thus, business managers may wish to take into account the cash flow management needs of the business when looking for the best credit card for rewards. For example, if the business has high cash flow related to travel costs, a rewards program that can be used to buy flights or hire cars can be more useful than one which gives discounts on telecommunications equipment. Alternatively, if the SME wishes to give company rewards to employees, a card that offers personal treats such as theater tickets or mini vacation deals may be attractive.
It can also be worth considering whether a rewards program or cash back is more valuable to the business. Cash back can appear less attractive, because the percentage return can seem lower than bonus reward points, and there may be cash back limits. However, if the nature of the business makes it unlikely to use many of the rewards offered in rewards programs, cash back can be a better option.5
Calculating the value of rewards and cash back can be complex; FitSmallBusiness.com has some useful tips on how to go about it.
Business credit and charge cards offer a range of rewards programs and cash-back schemes that, with careful evaluation, businesses can tailor to meet their needs. Businesses can deploy multiple cards to minimize costs and maximize rewards within a considered cash flow management strategy, or to offer company rewards to employees.
With 17 years’ experience in the financial industry, Frances is a highly regarded writer and speaker on banking, finance and economics. She writes regularly for the Financial Times, Forbes and a range of financial industry publications. Her writing has featured in The Economist, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She is a frequent commentator on TV, radio and online news media including the BBC and RT TV.
1. “How to Maximize Business Credit Card Rewards: Points vs Cash Back,” FitSmallBusiness.com; https://fitsmallbusiness.com/small-business-credit-card-rewards-points-vs-cash-back/
2. “These Business Cards Earn You The Most Rewards On Non-Bonus Spending,” The Points Guy; https://thepointsguy.com/guide/business-cards-non-bonus-spending/
5. “How to Maximize Business Credit Card Rewards: Points vs Cash Back,” FitSmallBusiness.com; https://fitsmallbusiness.com/small-business-credit-card-rewards-points-vs-cash-back/