By all accounts, 2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for small business. According to the latest Small Business Optimism Index report, the overall index rose to 105.9—its highest level since December, 2004. As part of this optimism, small business owners increasingly have plans to expand, hire, and make capital investments. To help fund this growth, many also have plans to borrow. And, fair or not, the ability to successfully borrow is directly tied to a small business owner’s personal and business credit scores.

These credit scores can also influence far more than simply business loans; they directly affect a small business’s ability to obtain, or to obtain optimal rates on, credit cards, bank lines of credit, payment processing merchant accounts, insurance, or even a lease on office space.

While it may seem that there isn’t much you can do about your small business credit score—after all, business credit scores are not regulated as personal scores are, and there is no rule or regulation requiring that you even be notified if you are denied business credit as a result of a business credit score, report, or other information provided by a business credit bureau—that is not necessarily the case.

As with most things, knowledge is power. And, the more you know about what’s in your report and how that information gets reported, the more influence you have over both ensuring that it is correct and ensuring that your business (and your personal creditworthiness too) is presented in the best possible light.

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Here’s what you need to know to take control of your small business credit scores:

Personal Credit Scores

As you probably already know, there are three main credit bureaus that collect and provide reports on your personal credit: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. In addition, your FICO score is a major factor in granting personal credit requests, as well as a major factor in the rates you are offered for everything from credit cards to auto loans to insurance.

Today, a large number of credit card companies, and even some banks, display your current FICO score for free as part of your online account, and Discover will do it for free for anyone.

To get your free report from each of the three main credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, go to You get one free report from each bureau per year, so it is a good idea to stagger your requests so that you can review your credit throughout the year. If you do find errors, follow the instructions provided to correct them.

Business Credit Scores

There are four main issuers of small business credit reports and scores, two of which base reporting on a blend of a small business owner’s personal and business credit activity.

Dun & Bradstreet PAYDEX Score

The PAYDEX score is strictly a business credit score that is determined by collecting and analyzing a business’ history of consistently making on-time (or delinquent) payments. The scores range from 0 to 100, with 80-100 being the lowest risk category, 50-70 being medium risk, and under 50 being high risk.

While you might expect that you’ll get the highest possible score if you pay all your bills on time; that is not the case with the PAYDEX score. If you paid every bill on the day it was due, you’d have a score of 80—the lowest point in the low risk bucket. To score a perfect 100, you’d need to regularly pay all your bills at least 30 days in advance.

The PAYDEX score is largely used to determine the terms, if any, that you will be offered when applying for credit. It can be used for credit cards and bank loans, but it is more commonly used when applying for terms with a supplier or service provider. And as we all know, better terms equal improved cash flow– which is critical to the success of your small business.

This post provides detailed information about the PAYDEX score. It suggests that to ensure you are offered the best possible trade terms, you aim for a score of at least 75.

One more note: In order to have a PAYDEX score, your small business must have a D-U-N-S #, which you can get for free, and you must have at least four suppliers or service providers offering you terms (i.e., invoices due some time period after goods/services are rendered) where payment history is reported to D&B. This is important, as many companies will assume that if you have no PAYDEX score your business is too new and untested to be considered anything but a high risk customer.

Experian Intelliscore Plus

Experian is a major player in the personal credit reporting space, thus it is no surprise that it also offers a small business scoring product that blends business credit rating with the personal credit rating of the business owner. Experian claims that, “when it comes to assessing credit risk, bending both business and owner credit performance is more predictive than either a commercial or consumer credit model alone.”

The robust, multi-variable, statistical modeling that goes into Intelliscore Plus is based on Experian’s BizSource database. The goal is to quickly deliver a predictive risk score for any credit applicant that utilizes the best possible data available for the individual applicant’s circumstances. Scores range from 1 to 100, with over 76 being the lowest risk category. The score also includes a risk classification from 1-5, with 1 being the least risky, 3 being a “medium” or average risk, and 5 signaling a high risk for payment delinquency. Get the Intelliscore Plus data sheet here.

FICO LiquidCredit Small Business Scoring Service (FICO SBSS)

Unlike the other two business credit scores, the FICO SBSS is specifically designed to measure small business credit risk. Like Intelliscore Plus, FICO SBSS combines factors from your business credit history (utilizing other business credit sources such as D&B and Equifax) along with your personal credit history (for which it has considerable data, as the Fair Isaac Corporation provides the personal FICO score as well as the SBSS score).

A FICO SBSS score ranges from 0 to 300, with a higher score indicating a lower risk. When utilizing the system, lenders can change data modeling parameters to help them come up with more accurate scores. This data sheet from FICO includes an infographic that gives you a high-level view of the data modeling process. This post provides a great overview of the SBSS process and provides some insight into how exactly the score is calculated, based on the information supplied by the credit applicant and the modeling methods used by the algorithm. Interestingly, it notes that a new small business with no history at all can score a maximum of 140, and then only if the small business owner has impeccable personal credit.

While the FICO SBSS dates back to 1993, it became a critical factor for small business lending in 2014 when the Small Business Administration (SBA) mandated its use as part of the 7(a) loan application process for loans over $350k. That’s the most popular type of SBA loan, so this decision made optimizing FICO SBSS score immediately critical for many small business owners. The SBA Rules automatically disqualify any small business applicant with a score below 140, and most banks administering SBA loan programs set disqualification at under 160.

Equifax Business Risk Indicator Reports

Not as widely utilized as the previous three, Equifax also issues business credit reports and risk scores. The scores include delinquency scores designed to predict the likelihood that a business will incur severe delinquency (91 days or greater), charge-off or bankruptcy within the next 12 months, and failure scores designed to predict the likelihood that a business will fail due to formal or informal bankruptcy within the next 12 months. To help assess small businesses, Equifax includes financial payment data from the Small Business Financial Exchange (SBFE), which provides information on small business payments for credit cards, bank loans, leases and lines of credit. Learn more here.

Business Credit Score Monitoring

So, now that you know how much is riding on your small business credit score, and the number of organizations collecting and disseminating information about you and your small business, you’re probably wondering what exactly your scores are, as well as wondering about the exact information business credit bureaus have about your small business.

If you are denied business credit, and the lender informs you of the source of the information utilized (which a lender is not required by law to do for a business loan) you can request a copy of that credit report from the provider, for free within 90 days of notification.

Here’s how to find out about your credit reports and scores BEFORE you apply for credit:

Dun & Bradstreet PAYDEX Score

Once you have a DUNS number you can use the free Company Update service to review your D&B business credit report and to correct any errors you find. You can also sign up for the free CreditSignal service which will alert you to changes in your D&B scores and ratings and will tell you when another business has purchased your credit file.

Experian Intelliscore Plus

You can get a basic copy of your Experian credit report and score for $39.95. For $10 more you can get an expanded report that includes Experian’s predictions for your future payment behavior as well as the full credit-history it has for your business. $149/year provides you with ongoing access to your updated report, along with tips for improving your score. Learn more and purchase here.

Equifax Business Risk Indicator Reports

Equifax does not make it easy to get and monitor your own credit report. You can call them at 1-800-685-5000 and request a copy, which they will provide for a fee. You can also simply purchase the credit report and risk report for your own company, just as you would for another company with which you are considering doing business. Begin here and enter the information for your business. You can then create an account and order a full report ($99.95 ), a high-level risk report ($7.49) and/or a risk monitoring package ($5.99/month).

FICO LiquidCredit Small Business Scoring Service (FICO SBSS)

FICO does not make its SBSS score available directly to small business owners—not even for a fee. However, all is not lost (see below).

Consolidated Small Business Credit Monitoring

Understanding how closely personal and business credit ratings are linked for small business owners, nav offers a service that combines credit monitoring for them both. The free service includes a personal credit score from 1 bureau, high-level summaries of both Experian and Dun & Bradstreet business credit reports, and your Vantage 3.0 credit score. (NOTE, this is not the same as your FICO score.)

The Premium Plus nav service includes full Experian and D&B business reports and scores, D&B credit alerting, your FICO SBSS score, Experian and TransUnion (but not Equifax) credit reports, scores, and monitoring, along with $1M of identity theft protection and recovery services, for $49.99/month.

Improving Your Small Business Credit Score

Improving your small business credit score can significantly improve your bottom line– as it will help you get better terms on just about everything you purchase for your small business, whether those terms come from banks, landlords, insurance companies, suppliers, or service providers.

The basics of improving business credit ratings are similar to the basics of improving personal credit ratings—pay bills on time, don’t carry revolving credit balances (such as credit card balances), utilize a small percentage of your available credit, and build up a long history of not just on time (but early!) payments.

One other thing to keep in mind is that for small business owners, your personal credit and your business credit are often very closely linked when credit scores are generated. That not only means that good personal credit can help you when starting a new business with little to no credit track record, it also means that problems with your business credit can adversely affect your personal credit—an unwelcome double-whammy at the worst possible time. Thus, small business owners in particular need to take special care to strategically separate (or link) personal and business credit and loans in order to effect the best possible credit score. This post from nav provides helpful tips on how to make and implement those decisions, including a list of business credit cards that do and do not report business activity to personal credit reporting bureaus. For example, CitiBusiness and Bank of America do not report business card activity at all, while American Express and Chase report only negative activity, and Capital One reports all activity.

Finally, you should closely monitor your business and personal credit reports, and promptly correct any errors you see. If you have no major credit needs in the near future, the free solutions will likely serve you well. If you are about to apply for an SBA loan, or any other type of bank loan, line of credit, or alternative funding, it will likely be worth your while to sign up for a comprehensive business credit monitoring service for at least a few months, even if you don’t want to invest in monthly credit monitoring forever. After all, you don’t want an unwelcome surprise when you apply for credit; and you also want to make sure that there are no mistakes in your reports—or worse, fraudulent activity.

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