Make Your List and Check It Twice: Building Business Credit Step by Step

Building business credit, step by step, is not as hard as it may seem at first glance.  It is, however, a process. There are specific steps that must be taken. These steps must be taken in order.  You can’t wrap a gift before you buy it, or even buy it before you know who you are buying for. During holiday seasons, you have to make a gift list.  Then you work from that list marking items or people off as you go. The same is true for business credit. You must take specific credit building steps, in order.  What are the steps? 

10 Steps for Building Business Credit Step by Step

When making your holiday gift list, you not only need to know who to put on the list, but a little something about each one.  You have to know something about what they like, dislike, what size they wear, and more to have any inkling of what might make a nice gift for them. 

Similarly, before you start working through building business credit step by step, you need to understand what business credit is and why you need it. For example, small business credit is credit in a company’s name. It doesn’t link to an entrepreneur’s personal credit.  This means, a business owner’s business and consumer credit scores can be very different.

Why do you need it?  Why is personal credit not enough? There are a few reasons.  First, because company credit is distinct from personal, it helps to protect a small business owner’s personal assets in the event of legal action or business bankruptcy.

In addition, consumer credit scores depend on payments, but also various other elements like credit utilization percentages. That means if your balances hover close to your limits on a regular basis, your score will suffer regardless of whether you make the payments you are supposed to.  Business expenses are higher by nature, meaning if you use personal credit for them your balances are naturally going to be higher. The result will likely be a higher credit utilization ratio and lower personal credit score.

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Now that you know what business credit is and why you need it, it’s time to start making your list so you know what steps to take, and in what order. 

Step 1 in Building Business Credit Step by Step: Separate Contact Information

It is tempting for new business owners to simply use their own contact information.  It’s easy and its free. However, this will not work for business credit building purposes.  If you get credit accounts in your business name, but they have your personal contact information, those accounts are going to report information to your personal credit report. Your business needs its own phone number and business address.

Don’t worry, even if you run your business from your home or your home computer, you do not have to buy another building or even a separate phone.  There are a ton of online options for VoIP phone numbers that will forward to an existing number. There are even virtual offices that offer a physical mailing address along with other, optional features.  These may include messaging services, live receptionist services, meeting facilities, and more.

Be sure to list business information in the 411-business directory.  Do that here

Step 2 in Building Business Credit Step by Step: Get an EIN

If you apply for credit using your SSN, those accounts will report to your personal credit regardless of what name, address, or telephone number you use.  You can get an EIN from the IRS that works the same way an SSN does, but for your business.  Use your EIN to apply for credit in your business name instead of your SSN. 

Step 3 In Building Business Credit Step by Step: Formally Incorporate

You have to incorporate.  There are many reasons to do this.  However, the main purpose when building business credit is to create a definitive separation between yourself and your business.  There are a few options.

  • C Corp

This is the most complicated and expensive option.  Before choosing it, be certain there are reasons other than establishing business credit that it needs to be done.  If it isn’t necessary for some other reason, there are other less complicated and less costly options. 

  • S Corp

This option basically offers the same separation as the C Corp, but taxes are paid at the personal level, rather than requiring the business to be taxed as well.  That avoids the double taxation that corporations have. It is also cheaper than incorporating as a C Corp. If you aren’t required to file as a C corp, this is a good alternative. 

  • LLC

Forming a Limited Liability Corporation results in less liability, but still offers enough separation to serve the purpose of establishing business credit.  If you are not required to be a C Corp or S Corp, this is the easiest and most cost-effective way to create the separation of business and personal credit needed. 

Step 4 in Building Business Credit Step by Step: Get a D-U-N-S Number

Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) is the largest and most widely used business credit reporting agency.  You have to have the number to have a file with D&B. To have business credit, you definitely need a file with them.  The number is free on the Dun & Bradstreet website, but they will try to upsell you.  Stay strong and just get the number.

Step 5 in Building Business Credit Step by Step: Open a Separate Business Bank Account

Open up a separate, dedicated business bank account and use it exclusively for business transaction.  Intermingling business and personal finances can cause a host of problems. Having a separate business bank account will help you keep things separate for tax purposes.  It will also help creditors recognize your business as a separate entity from you as the owner.

Step 6 in Building Business Credit Step by Step: Professional Website and Email Address

You might think there is no way this should matter when it comes to the steps to building business credit.  However, if you do not have a website in today’s business world, you might as well not exist. Just having a website isn’t enough though.  It has to be professionally designed and put together. Don’t use free hosting either. Pay for hosting with a company like GoDaddy. Free hosting is not professional. 

The email address goes along with the other contact information.  Don’t share your personal address with your business, but don’t use a free email service either.  Your business email address needs to have the same URL as your website. 

Step 7 in Building Business Credit Step by Step: Establish Tradelines in the Vendor Credit Tier

Also known as starter vendors, these are the businesses from which you purchase the things you use day to day in your business. It may be inventory, raw materials, office supplies, or any number of things. They offer net 30 terms on invoices.  After you pay, they report those payments to the business credit reporting agencies. This is how you get accounts initially reporting to your business credit report and start building your score. 


Step 8 in Building Business Credit Step by Step: Apply for Cards in the Retail Credit Tier

Once there are 5 to 8 or more vendor trade accounts reporting to at least one of the CRAs, you can start to apply for cards in the retail credit tier. These are cards from stores like Office Depot and Staples.  In this tier, you can only use the cards in the stores that issue them.

There are several options that report to various credit reporting agencies.  For example, Lowe’s reports to D&B, Equifax and Business Experian. They want to see a D-U-N-S and a PAYDEX score of 78 or more.  If you have handled your vendor credit properly, this will be no problem.

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Step 9 in Building Business Credit Step by Step: Move on to The Fleet Credit Tier

After there are 10 or so of these accounts reporting you can apply for cards in the fleet credit tier. These come from companies like BP and Conoco. They are limited to use for fuel and vehicle maintenance expenses.

Shell is another example of a company in this tier.  They report to D&B and Business Experian. You need a PAYDEX Score of 78 or more and a 411-business phone listing. They sometimes want a certain amount of time in business or minimum revenue. However, if you already have enough credit, that won’t be necessary.  If you follow these steps in order and handle your credit responsibly, you will have the credit you need to get approval.

Step 10 in Building Business Credit Step by Step: The Bow on Top is The Cash Credit Tier

At this point, if you have used your credit wisely, you can apply for cards in the cash credit tier.  They include cards from Visa, Discover, MasterCard and others that are not limited by location or type of expense.  Typically, they have higher limits and lower interest rates. 

The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Monitor Your Business Credit

Your business credit can continue to help you run and grow your business indefinitely.  However, you are going to want to keep an eye on it. Make sure it is being reported and fix any mistakes as soon as possible. Not only that, but monitoring your credit reports is the only way to know when you have enough accounts reporting to move on to the next credit tier.

We can help you monitor business credit at Experian and D&B for 90% less than it would cost you at the CRAs. See:

You can also monitor through the CRAs, but it will cost significantly more.  For example, at D&B you can monitor at: At Experian, go

Monitor your account with Equifax here: Experian and Equifax cost about $19.99; D&B ranges from $49.99 to $99.99.

Update Your Records

If you see something missing or out of date, be sure to update the information.  At D&B, you can do this at: With Experian, go here:  For Equifax, go here:

Correct Mistakes

You didn’t go through the trouble of building business credit step by step for nothing.  Don’t let simple mistakes ruin all your hard work. Errors in your credit report(s) can be taken care of. There is a particular way each reporting agency wants it done however.

Disputing credit report mistakes usually means you mail a paper letter with copies of any proof of payment with it. These are documents like receipts and cancelled checks. Never mail the original copies. Always mail copies and retain the originals.

Fixing credit report mistakes requires that you precisely detail any charges you challenge. Make your dispute letter as clear as possible. Be specific about the problems with your report. Use certified mail to have proof that you sent in your dispute.

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Dispute an Equifax report by following the directions here:

You can dispute inaccuracies on your or your business’s Experian report by following the directions here:

And D&B’s PAYDEX Customer Service phone number is here:

You Made Your List, Now Check it Twice

Now that you have a list of the steps you need to take to build business credit, you can start checking items off.  A lot of this you may have already taken care of. Some of it you may have thought it was too late to accomplish. For example, maybe you thought it was too late to worry about an address or phone number if you are already in operation using your own.  


While many of these steps are easier to take while you are initially setting up your business, it is never too late to start building business credit step by step.  Start making that list and checking things off today. The sooner you start, the sooner you will have access to the business funding you need. 


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