Everything you need to know about your business credit score (and how to improve it)
Many people understand how their personal credit score can impact purchases and investments in their life. However, not all business owners are as aware of how their business credit score can impact their access to business loans, contracts, and other financial needs.
Statistics from the UK government show that 89% of startups survive their first year, but only 42.4% of new businesses make it beyond five years. This is often because their finance options are limited. Establishing a strong credit history takes some time, but the payoffs are worth the effort.
In this guide, we’ll explain why your business credit score is so important, how your score is determined and how to decipher your business credit report. We’ll then offer thirteen quick tips for how to improve your business credit score over time.
Table of Contents
- Why your business credit score is important
- How your business credit score is determined
- How to check your credit score
- What’s inside a business credit report?
- Four reasons to check and monitor your business credit report
- Three key differences between your personal credit score and business credit score
- How your personal credit score can impact your business credit score
- 13 ways to improve your business credit score
- Wrapping Up
Why your business credit score is important
A good credit score shows lenders that you’re more likely to repay and be on-time with your payments. Keeping a good business credit score will make it easier to get credit and give you access to competitive interest rates.
A poor business credit score may be caused by missed loan repayments in the past, or if you’ve failed several credit applications. A poor score means you may struggle to finance your business with lines of credit and you’ll likely only be offered high interest rates if you are in fact granted credit.
Over the lifetime of your business, keeping a good business credit score is key to ensuring you can continue to access the best credit, insurance options, low-interest loans and other valuable financial resources.
Top Tip: A line of credit, while a good option, isn’t the only way to fund your small business. Knowing what options are available to you will help you make the right decision for your business needs as you grow. To learn more about securing both debt finance and equity finance, read our guide to 10 ways to fund your small business 🌱.
How your business credit score is determined
A business credit score is on a range from 0 to 100. The higher the credit score is, the better a company’s strength, performance and creditworthiness. However, the closer a business’ credit score is to zero, the higher the risk and less likely they are to be offered credit.
Your business credit score is calculated based on certain criteria defined by a Credit Reference Agency (CRA). The CRA will look at your financial history and track your record of paying back previous business loans and borrowings, as well as how timely you were with the payments.
Here is a list of aspects of your financial history that may be evaluated:
- Size and age of your business
- Your industry
- Business location
- Past repayment history if your business has borrowed before
- Amount of existing credit available to your company
- Number of past applications for finance (and whether you were successful or denied)
- Trade credits you may have secured
- Existing company accounts
- Details of ownership
- Outstanding County Court Judgements, if any
How to check your credit score
To learn your business credit score, you will need to contact a business credit reporting company such as Experian or Creditsafe for a credit report. Depending on the company, they may send your credit report in the post or by email, or they may give you access to your score through an online account.
The information held in your business credit file comes from several sources including the Registry Trust, which holds details of County Court Judgements, and Companies House.
It’s important to note that your business does not have a single definitive business credit score because there is no standardised method for calculating it. Based on the credit bureau, you’ll find varying results because they rely on their own distinct methods and scoring systems. Lenders will use different credit reporting companies when they check your credit score.
Each agency provides options for how to review your business credit report and how much it will cost. Some agencies charge a monthly fee, while others will provide a one-time report. In most cases, it’s possible to pay once to gain access to your credit report for six months or a year.
What’s inside a business credit report?
A business credit report offers important information about your business and those you do business with. A typical business credit report includes these items:
- Business background information
- Company financial information
- Business credit score and potential risk factors
- Summary of banking, trade, and collection history
- Summary of liens, judgements, and bankruptcies
- Uniform commercial code filings
The exact information included in your business credit report will depend on which credit reporting agency you use.
Four reasons to check and monitor your business credit report
Once you run a credit check, it’s recommended that you consistently monitor your score so that you can make informed financial decisions—especially if you are trying to improve your score.
On the flip side, if you have a near-perfect score, keeping a close eye on your report will help you avoid a performance dip.
Let’s explore some of these reasons in more depth.
Assess partnership risk
Another way to actively avoid bad credit decisions is by assessing the financial risk of extending credit to a particular company.
As part of this effort, you can obtain financial background information on a business, including judgements, liens, and bankruptcies. If you find that the company in question is a financial risk, you’ll be able to make a smarter decision about the pros and cons of moving forward with a potential partnership.
Credit scores change
By monitoring your report, you can stay current on changes in your credit file and keep track of your score. As mentioned above, this will help you keep a pulse on your credit wellbeing so that you can make smarter cash flow decisions, keep your interest low and credit score high.
Keeping track of your score also alerts you if someone decides to request and view your credit information before working with you. If a potential partner does do this, it’s often a good sign because it shows they care about their potential business partners’ financial health, too.
Watch for errors and fraud
Keeping an account can also help you monitor your report for potential errors or inaccuracies. In addition, by monitoring your credit file you can stay on top of and report any fraud as soon as it occurs.
Make changes for the better
Some credit reports make recommendations on what might be bringing your credit score down. By analysing their suggestions, you can review the report and learn what to prioritise and address to improve your score.
In the long run, keeping an account will help you manage and improve your business credit so you can obtain the funding you need to expand your business.
Top Tip: As a small business owner, it can be hard to stay on top of your finances. An accountant can help you manage and monitor your accounts and financial needs as you grow. If you’re unsure if you’re ready to bring on help, read our guide to help understand when it’s time to get an online accountant for your small business 💡.
Three key differences between your personal credit score and your business credit score
Here are some important things to know about how your personal credit rating and business credit scores are different, and how in some ways they’re connected.
Ease of access
You’re guaranteed free access to your personal credit score. However, to access your business credit score, you’ll have to pay a reporting or processing fee through a credit reference agency.
Level of privacy
Your personal credit score is private, but your business credit score isn’t. Business partners, vendors, or stakeholders may choose to review and evaluate your credit score before deciding to work with you.
Your personal credit score is calculated using standardised algorithms, which means it’ll be roughly the same no matter which credit bureau you use. However, your business credit score will fluctuate between different reporting agencies because there’s no standardised system in place for calculating business credit scores.
How your personal credit score can impact your business credit score
Your personal and business credit scores are typically considered separate and do not negatively or positively influence each other. For instance, a high personal credit won’t improve your business credit, and a low business credit won’t bring down your personal credit.
However, because new businesses often don’t have a meaningful record of loans and repayments, lenders will likely use your personal credit score to make an informed decision. In this case, the weight of how much your personal credit influences your business credit is directly connected to the type of business you own.
Sole Traders will find that your personal credit history will matter equally as much as your business’s credit history (i.e.they are going to be considered one and the same). It is important to ensure that your personal credit score is both protected and improved where possible.
Partnerships are treated similarly to sole traders. The key difference is that both you and your partners’ personal credit records are checked and examined prior to earning lending for your business. Even if your business credit score is excellent, you may not qualify for a business loan due to the poor credit of your partner.
A Limited Company will have a business credit score of its own. However, that doesn’t guarantee lenders won’t check on the personal credit records of the business’s partners and directors. That score represents the risk that you pose to either non-payment or financial security. It also impacts on the size of the credit account that you might qualify for.
In summary, your personal credit score can influence your business credit score, but exactly how will depend on the situation and the type of business you manage.
Top Tip: Are you still in the early stages of growing your business? Choosing between being a limited company or sole trader can have big implications later on as you grow. If you’re not sure which direction to take, read our guide on what to consider before you choose between limited company or sole trader 💡.
13 ways to improve your business credit score
There isn’t a simple or singular way to quickly improve your credit score. It’s better to make a plan for long-term diligence around your finances. By collecting robust information, following financial management best practices, and regular monitoring, you can begin to build your credit score.
Although these things take time, it’s not difficult to do. It’s important to build these habits into your normal finance routines and systems so that they become a regular part of how you operate. Over time, you’ll see your credit score begin to rise.
Here are our top tips to help you start building a favourable business credit rating:
- If possible, sign up for alerts that notify you when your company’s credit record changes or is searched. When a problem arises, get the support you need to address the issue(s) right away.
- Your business credit score can be impacted by customers, suppliers, and vendors. Be sure to monitor their scores as well to ensure your credit record will not be impacted by their actions.
- Plan to check your credit rating score at regular intervals (such as each month or quarter) to be aware of any changes that could affect your status.
- Take care of your cash flow. If you run out of money and miss payment deadlines, your credit score may decrease. Consider how you can change your invoice payment terms and look at how online accounting tools can help you stay on top of your accounts receivable. In addition, consider setting restrictions around when to spend money and how low you’ll allow your accounts to get. Work with your accountant or financial advisor to determine what would work best for your business.
Top Tip: A great place to start managing cash flow is within your employee expenses. By creating clear rules and guidelines, you can lower your cash burn, avoid tax season surprises and effectively monitor your cash flow. To learn more, read our in-depth guide on how to manage employee expenses 🌟.
- Ask your business partners and suppliers to share data on your payment records with CRAs to help improve your score. The more on-time payments you can show, the better.
- Pay on time or early when possible. Your agreed payment terms are a form of credit, so failure to pay on time can damage your credit rating. Consistently paying bills on time will help improve your credit score and will indicate to creditors that your business has a healthy cash flow.
- If you don’t need accounts anymore, close them. If it appears like you have lots of credit available, this could weaken your business credit score.
- Carefully manage your personal finances. When you are just starting out or have a small enterprise, your personal financial data may be used in place of your company financial data.
- Avoid County Court Judgements wherever possible and pay them on time should they occur.
- File your company accounts before the deadline. Late filing can accidentally indicate financial problems.
- Start small with short-term low-level borrowing you know you can pay right away. For example, you can pay for office furniture in instalments, or organise to pay the monthly office supply order on credit. By consistently repaying debt in full and on time, you can begin to build a pattern of behaviour that credit agencies will see as an indication of likely future borrowing behaviour.
- Keep your business information updated. Inform your customers, suppliers, and CRAs of any changes to your business location or status.
- Restrict the number of credit applications you make at a time. Too many applications in a short period may lead to credit searches being conducted on your business, which are then recorded on your credit record. This can make it appear like you are struggling to secure funding.
Based on your business, you can pick and choose a few of these tips to prioritise in the short-term, and in the long-term make progress on each of these points. Over time, you’ll begin to see your business credit score shift for the better.
Your business credit score is an important temperature-check of how much financial risk your business carries. Although building a favourable business credit score takes time, it will ensure you’re able to secure important resources such as lines of credits, insurance, and business loans.
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