Maximize Points and Miles When Starting a Business
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Every startup has expenses, whether you're opening a home business or a brick-and-mortar shop full of employees. For points and miles enthusiasts, the good news is there are ways to put many of these costs on a credit card, and that means you can earn valuable credit card rewards on everything from equipment purchases to tax payments.
When you concentrate on putting as many of your business expenses on credit cards as you can, you'll quickly meet spending requirements on welcome bonuses and annual spending threshold bonuses, especially on startup costs that are also recurring costs. Hitting these marks can really boost your reward-earning potential.
Unfortunately, some of the most common startup payments, from legal costs to rent, either don't fall under business credit card bonus categories or can't be paid directly with a credit card. You can solve the latter problem by using an online bill payment service like Plastiq. Just know you'll likely pay a fee for the service. (For a limited time, Plastiq is offering free transactions up to $250 when you pay with Masterpass.)
For those non-bonus category payments, you'll need to look toward business credit cards that offer the most valuable rewards for general spending. There are a number of options that fit the bill. Here's a list of tips for maximizing your rewards and choosing the right credit cards for your small business.
You don't need to form a limited liability company in order to meet business card eligibility requirements, but if yours is the type of company that needs to file articles of incorporation, you'll have to pay fees associated with that action. You also may need to seek out legal advice and pay licensing or permit fees.
None of these expenses are covered by any business card bonus categories, so if credit card payments are accepted for these transactions, you'll need to find a card that offers top non-category rewards. Look for something that returns 2 cents or more in value per $1 spent. Here are two suggestions:
- The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express pays 2x Membership Rewards points on your first $50,000 in annual charges (then 1x thereafter), no matter the spending category. According to TPG's valuations, these points are worth 1.9 cents each, giving you a total value of 3.8 cents per dollar spent. Then you can transfer your points to Amex's roster of transfer partners and potentially get even more value. This card carries no annual fee (See Rates & Fees).
- Another annual fee-free option is the new Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card from Chase. It pays 1.5% cash back on all spending, but because you can convert the cash back into points by transferring it to a Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards such as the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, the value is potentially greater. TPG currently values UR points at 2.1 cents each, meaning you could see a return of 3.15% for every dollar spent. Chase also has generous partner transfer options.
You also might consider putting other routine expenses, like business, property or rental insurance, on a card that offers top-dollar rewards for everyday spending.
If you need office space, rent will be a big portion of your startup costs, not to mention your monthly expenses going forward. You normally can't pay rent with a credit card, but there are a number of payment services that will cut a check or send an ACH payment to your landlord — for a fee. If you can use a card that offers excellent returns on non-bonus spending, going this route can be an option. Just make sure that what you're getting back in travel rewards is more than what you're paying in fees. Also, justifying paying your rent in this manner is easier when you need to meet a minimum spending requirement.
You'll have to be careful about the card you want to use to pay rent, however. Payment services like Plastiq cannot process payments from all issuers for all purposes. Mastercard, Visa and Discover credit cards may be used to pay commercial rent, but American Express cards are prohibited from this type of spending.
A payment service may also be a good way to use cards to pay for equipment you rent, like a copy machine.
If you're opening a business that uses computers, printers or paper, you'll become friendly with your nearby office supply store. There are several good credit cards of both the cash back and points variety that offer handsome rewards on this kind of spending. Two options that will earn top rewards that you can use for travel later:
- The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express offers 3x Membership Rewards points on up to $100,000 of spending in your choice of select categories (then 1x thereafter), one of which is US computer hardware, software and cloud computing purchases made from select providers.
- While technically a cash back card, the Ink Business Cash Credit Card can return a whopping 10.5% when its 5% cash back at office supply stores is converted to Ultimate Rewards points after being paired with a UR card in Chase's lineup. That bonus percentage is good on up to $25,000 in combined spending each card membership year.
Here's another instance where you can turn an ongoing business expense into a steady stream of points. While for print advertising you'll need to look toward the everyday cards that pay well, there are several cards you can use for Facebook and Google ad spending that will earn you bonus rewards. Here are several choices you can use for digital ad buys:
- The Ink Business Preferred offers 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year spent on advertising on search engines and social media sites, travel, shipping and internet, cable and phone. Since this card earns Ultimate Rewards points, you can transfer your earned points directly to Chase's travel partners, unless you want to grab the higher redemption rate on travel booked through Chase that the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers.
- If you don't use the Business Gold Rewards card to purchase computer hardware, you can choose one of four other categories — including US purchases for advertising in select media — to earn 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar. The other categories include airfare purchased directly from the airline, US purchases at gas stations and US purchases for shipping.
As you can see, these two cards are ideal for your shipping needs as well.
You can generally pay for your business' utilities using a credit card, although some utility companies will charge a transaction fee. For gas and electric service, you'll need to stick to that everyday card to earn the most rewards. But for phone, internet and cable, you could choose the Ink Business Preferred or Ink Business Cash, which in addition to its top office supply store rewards, also pays 5% cash back on internet, cable and phone services (both cellular and landline). Just remember that 5% is only good on up to $25,000 in combined annual spending on the categories it covers.
Even though you own a startup, you still may need to travel in these early days for work. There's no shortage of business credit cards that offer great travel rewards, though keep in mind that the cards that come with big perks also tend to come with big annual fees. Here's TPG's favorite for airfare:
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express offers 5 points per dollar on airfare and on prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel, 1.5 points per dollar on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to 1 million extra points per year) and 1 point per dollar on everything else. The current welcome offer will get you up to 75,000 bonus points: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 bonus points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. The bonus is worth $1,500 in travel, according to TPG's valuations, and the annual fee is $595(See Rates & Fees).
Inventory and Payroll
These big expenses generally can't be covered directly by credit cards, but if you're intent on putting all your business spending through your business card, you can use Plastiq to make these payments to supplies and payroll firms. Just be mindful of the 2.5% transaction fee and don't utilize this method unless you're earning more than that in travel rewards.
Starting a business requires a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and sometimes it takes a while before you begin to see the fruits of your labor. But if you use business credit cards to maximize the points and miles from your business spend, you'll see the rewards from your spending add up quickly. Then at least you won't have to wait long to use those points and miles for the occasional well-earned vacation from the hard work of getting your business off the ground.
For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum Card, please click here.