Editorial Policy

Most Rewarding Business Credit Cards 2013

Eva Norlyk Smith Ph.D.

February 28, 2013

Editor's note: Offer details from card issuers periodically change. Please see the issuers' card literature for up-to-date information.

In the hunt for the very best customers, card issuers are forever one-upping each other. This is particularly apparent in the business rewards cards market, where sign-up bonus offers valued at $500 or cash-back rewards earnings of up to 5 percent on business-related purchases aren't uncommon.

“If you're able to catch them, some business cards offer limited-time sign-up bonuses as high as 75,000 points, but even standard offers can be at 50,000 points,” says Daraius Dubash, founder of the rewards cards blog Million Mile Secrets. “And many business rewards cards offer higher rewards for spending categories like office supply stores or telecom — cable, phone, Internet, etc. — which you won't get with any other cards.”

Here are some of the best business rewards cards on offer, for everything from sign-up bonuses to travel perks. If any look good to you, be sure to read on for what you need to know before you apply.

The winners

Best sign-up bonus: The Chase Ink Plus Business Card

The prize for the card with the most generous sign-up bonus goes to the Chase Ink Plus Business Card. New cardholders earn 50,000 bonus points (a $500 value) after spending $5,000 on the card within three months of opening.

Other perks for opening the card include accelerated rewards earnings. You'll earn up to 5 points per dollar, the equivalent of a 5 percent rebate, on the first $50,000 in eligible business purchases, including office supplies and telephone expenses. You'll also earn up to 2 points per dollar on the first $50,000 in eligible hotel and fuel expenses. After that, rewards earnings go down to 1 point per dollar without spending caps.

The card comes with a $95 annual fee, waived the first year.

Best business card for cash-back deals: Simply Cash from American Express

If the idea of saving 5 percent on office supplies and wireless telephone expenditures, plus 3 percent on gas appeals to you, check out the Simply Cash Business Card from American Express. The cash-back awards are available on purchases up to $25,000 each rebate year. After that, rewards drop to 1 percent cash back on purchases. The card has no annual fee.

A close runner-up is the Ink Cash Business card from Chase, which also offers 5 percent cash back on office supply purchases and phone and Internet services, and 2 percent on gas and restaurant purchases, up to a full $25,000 dollars in yearly expenditures. The Ink Cash card also has no annual fee.

Best business card for travel perks: American Express Gold Delta SkyMiles, Citi AAdvantage Business, Chase United MileagePlus Explorer

All three major airlines (Delta, American and United) offer nearly identical perks on their business rewards cards, so this category is a tie. For all of the above cards, you get the first checked bag free and Group 1 priority boarding. New cardholders also get 30,000 bonus miles after spending $500 (American Express) to $1,000 (Chase and Citi) within the first 3 months. All three cards come with a $95 annual fee, waived the first year.

If you like to travel in style and don't mind the $450 annual fee on the American Express Business Platinum card, the travel perks on this card are hard to beat. Cardholders get complimentary access to 600-plus participating airport lounges, plus up to $200 in annual statement credits for incidental fees charged by the airlines, such as in-flight refreshments. AmEx also offers cardholders their own concierge assistance to help with personal or professional travel needs.

What to know before signing up
All those rewards may look tempting, but slow down — business credit cards aren't exactly like personal cards. To make sure the card (and not just the rewards) is right for you, study up on the following:

The benefits of business credit cards: Business credit cards can help you track business expenses and avoid mixing your personal funds with those of your business. If you have employees who need to make purchases on behalf of the business, making them an authorized user on the credit card account can give them access to funds without you having to approve every single purchase or expense. To minimize risk, simply set monthly spending limits on the card.

Having a business credit card also offers easy access to credit. Most business cards come with lower interest rates and a higher credit limit than personal cards. It's not uncommon for a business credit card to start you out with a $10,000 to $20,000 credit limit, and limits can reach $50,000 to $100,000 over time.

Taking out a business card in the name of your business can also help build a credit history for your business, which will make it easier to get good terms from other lenders, should the need arise.

The drawbacks of business credit cards: The main downside of business credit cards is that they are not covered by the consumer protections of the Credit CARD Act of 2009. This means that late fees and over-limit fees may be higher than they are for personal credit cards.

Worse, you won't enjoy protection against retroactive interest rate hikes. If you fail to pay on time or otherwise violate your card's terms, the issuer can apply a high penalty APR to your entire balance, instead of just future charges.

You can avoid rate hikes on old balances by simply never carrying a balance forward from month to month on your business credit card, says Bruce McClary, director of media relations at Clearpoint Credit Solutions.

“Business rewards cards can be very useful, as long as you pay off the balance before the end of the grace period,” notes McClary. “Otherwise, rewards earnings are going to be offset by interest charges. Worse, you leave yourself vulnerable to interest hikes.”

Who can qualify for a business credit card: Even if you're not a small-business owner in the traditional sense, you may still qualify for a business credit card. The word “business” is used somewhat loosely by card issuers, and having a small side business like an eBay store may be enough to qualify you.

“One of the common misconceptions around business credit cards is that you need to be incorporated to get approved,” notes Dubash.  “But sole proprietors or folks who run their own businesses can get approved for business cards as well by entering their Social Security number as the Tax ID on the application.”