Recently I published a first year credit card plan for a single person with no ability or willingness to sign up for business cards: Beginner credit card plan — 325,000 points in 12 months. In this post, I’ve done the same thing, but with one huge difference: this plan assumes the ability to sign up for small-business cards.
|Applying for Business Credit Cards
Yes, you have a business: In order to sign up for a business credit card, you must have a business. That said, it's common for people to have businesses without realizing it. If you sell items at a yard sale, or on eBay, for example, then you have a business. Similar examples include: consulting, writing (e.g. blog authorship, planning your first novel, etc.), handyman services, owning rental property, renting on airbnb, driving for Uber or Lyft, etc. In any of these cases, your business is considered a Sole Proprietorship unless you form a corporation of some sort.
When you apply for a business credit card as a sole proprietor, you can use your own name as your business name, use your own address and phone as the business' address and phone, and your social security number as the business' Tax ID / EIN. Alternatively, you can get a proper Tax ID / EIN from the IRS for free, in about a minute, through this website.
Is it OK to use business cards for personal expenses? Anecdotally, almost everyone I know uses business cards for personal expenses. That said, the terms in most business card applications state that you should use the card only for business use. Also, some consumer credit card protections do not apply to business cards. My advice: don't use the card for personal expenses if you're not comfortable doing so.
For this post I’ve made the following assumptions about the reader:
- Good credit score
- Hasn’t applied for any new credit cards in the past few years.
- Typically spends about $1,500 per month via credit cards
- Additionally spends $1500 per month in rent
- Has a business
- Relationship status: single
- Travels mostly domestically, but would like to do more. Would also like to travel internationally a couple of times per year.
- Not interested in learning rewards programs in-depth. Prefers a simple approach to earning and spending rewards.
Given the above, I looked at current credit card signup offers to suggest a plan…
The easiest and quickest way to amass points and miles is through credit card signup bonuses. Contrary to conventional wisdom, this won’t hurt your credit score long term as long as you pay your credit card bills in full each month and avoid charging near your limit (e.g. it’s better to keep your credit utilization low relative to the amount of credit you have available). In fact, many people see their credit score increase a few months after starting to sign up for multiple cards. The general process for earning points this way is described in our Start Here page.
When you get started, if all goes well you’ll earn lots of rewards and your credit score will go up a bit (or remain relatively stable). On the other hand, once you’ve signed up for a bunch of cards, it will be harder to get approved for new cards from certain banks. Chase, in particular, has the dreaded 5/24 Rule. If you have opened 5 or more cards in the past 24 months, from any bank, Chase won’t approve you for any more cards. For that reason, anyone considering signing up for a bunch of credit cards should think seriously about starting with Chase. Chase has quite a few outstanding cards and it would be a shame to lose your ability to get those cards due to signing up for cards first from other banks. See: “Must have” Chase cards for more details.
Capital One is also extremely hard on approvals for those who have opened many new accounts. I’m not aware of any hard and fast 5/24 rule, but anecdotally they seem to weigh recent card openings very heavily against the applicant. Personally, I haven’t been approved for any Capital One cards despite having an excellent credit score.
In my opinion, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (or its small-business twin: Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business) is particularly good for those starting out with credit card rewards. This card earns 2X everywhere, and points (Capital One insists on calling them “miles”) are very easy to redeem. Simply charge travel to your card and then you can use
points “miles” to “erase” those statement charges at a value of 1 cent each. As you get more advanced, you can alternatively transfer points to airline partners. If you know what you’re doing, this can lead to far more value from your points.
For the above reasons, the plan I’ve put together focuses first on obtaining the Capital One Venture Rewards card and a number of “must-have” Chase cards:
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Great card overall for solid rewards for all spend, plus the ability to transfer rewards to airline miles. The Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business is virtually identical and so would be a good alternative. Unfortunately, Capital One business cards do not have the same advantages of other banks’ business cards. Specifically, Capital One does report the new accounts and spend activity to the personal credit bureaus and so the Capital One business cards act just like personal cards and do count towards 5/24.
- Sapphire Reserve: Earn 3X Ultimate Rewards points for travel & dining. Points worth 1.5 cents each towards travel. Points are transferable to a number of airline and hotel programs. It may make sense to start with the Sapphire Preferred card (since it has a higher signup bonus) and then upgrade to the Sapphire Reserve later.
- Ink Business Cash: Earn 5X Ultimate Rewards points at office supplies and 5X cellular/landline/cable (on up to $25,000 in total purchases in 5x categories annually); and 2X gas and restaurants.
- Ink Business Unlimited: Earn 1.5X Ultimate Rewards points for all other spend.
- United Explorer: I consider this a “must have” Chase card because it can be downgraded after a year to a no-fee United card which preserves this card’s best features: Improved economy saver award availability, and last seat standard economy award availability. The former feature, especially, makes it much easier to book international awards with United miles since it opens up space between airports domestically. The latter feature is great for those ocassions when you are stuck with no good way to get from one place to the other. Read about how I put this feature to great use here.
- World of Hyatt: Keep for the annual free night certificate. Consider spending $15K per year for a second certificate, especially if you pursue Hyatt status since you’ll earn 2 elite qualifying nights with each $5K spend.
Note that Chase offers cards from three hotel chains: Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott. This plan makes it possible to get two of the three. In general I’d favor the IHG card instead of the Marriott card as the 2nd hotel card since you can still get Marriott cards from Amex.
In addition to the above “must have” cards, the following cards are recommended for their signup bonuses before you reach the 5/24 threshold:
- Ink Business Preferred: Earn 3X Ultimate Rewards points for travel, shipping, internet, cable, phone, and advertising with social media sites (up to $150K spend per year). In general I don’t see this as a “must have” card for the long term unless you highly value this card’s cell phone protection benefit or 3X on advertising. However, it has a great signup bonus that you won’t be able to get once you’re over 5/24 so it’s definitely worth getting before it’s too late.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card and Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card: Both tend to have excellent signup bonuses. Even better, Chase doesn’t prohibit applicants from getting both business cards the way they do with Southwest personal cards. As a result, it can be easy to earn the Southwest Companion Pass so that you can add a companion to all of your Southwest flights for free while the pass is active. To get the pass, you must earn 110,000 points in a calendar year. Once you do, the pass will be active for the rest of that calendar year and all of the next! Best bet is to sign up for these cards in December so that points post to your account as early in the next year as possible.
How much spend?
Most credit card offers require meeting spend requirements in order to earn a signup bonus. And, in most cases, 3 months is the magical amount of time you have to meet those requirements. So, let’s look at how much spend our fictional person can achieve in three months:
Since our fictional person spends $1500 per month on credit cards, he/she already spends $4500 every 3 months. Additionally, he/she could spend another $1500 per month via credit card by using a bill payment service like Plastiq to pay rent (please see this post for details). Plastiq would charge $37.50 in fees (2.5%) for each $1500 bill payment. That fee can be well worth it in order to qualify for signup bonuses. Altogether, it’s possible for our fictional newbie to spend $9000 every 3 months.
Before signing up for any new cards, I recommend signing up for Travel Freely. This is a free web-based tool that walks you through the process of signing up for cards to earn big bonuses. The tool keeps track of your cards including your 5/24 status, alerts you when time is running out to complete minimum spend, alerts you when annual fees are nearly due, and much more. I consider it essential for anyone starting out.
Here’s the link to sign up (for free) with Travel Freely. Full disclosure: Frequent Miler and Travel Freely have a business relationship, but only because I believe that this tool is truly useful for anyone into signing up for cards for their bonuses. I use it to manage my signups and those of several family members as well. You can read more of my thoughts about Travel Freely here: Take the stress out of credit card bonus hunting: Travel Freely.
First set of cards
The plan is to sign up for both of the cards below on the same day.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
Let’s start with the card that may be best overall for those new to miles & points: the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. At the time of this writing, the signup bonus is 50K “miles” after $3,000 spend in 3 months. This card offers Global Entry / TSA Pre Check credit. That means that you can use it to pay the signup fee for Global Entry ($100) or TSA Pre Check ($85) and you’ll get fully reimbursed. Note that Global Entry includes TSA Pre Check, so you might as well get Global Entry if you have access to an interview center.
Since signup bonuses change over time, the following display shows the current offer at the time you read this on the web:
Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card
The Hyatt card has a different signup bonus structure than the others in this roundup (at least at the time of this writing): Earn 25K after $3K spend in 3 months and then earn another 25K after a total of $6K spend in 6 months. To make things logistically simpler, let’s assume that you complete all $6K spend within the first 3 months.
The following display shows the current Hyatt offer at the time you read this on the web:
Second set of cards
91 days after your first set of applications, the small hit to your credit report caused by those inquiries should have largely dissipated. In fact, it is common to find that your credit score is higher by this point than it was when you began. Apply for both of the following on the same day.
I’ve listed here the Southwest business cards as a great pick for your second set of cards, but really the timing should be determined by the date when you’re ready to apply. The ideal time to apply for both of these cards is early December or January so that you’ll earn all of the bonus points as early in the calendar year as possible. The reason for doing this is so that you’ll have the Southwest Companion Pass for as long as possible. Once you earn 110,000 points within a calendar year, you’ll keep the pass for the rest of that calendar year and all of the next year.
If the timing isn’t right for these cards, move on to the third set and return to these later.
Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Business Cards
Third set of cards
Apply for these 91 days after the last set of cards. If you’re using Travel Freely, you’ll get an email reminder that you’re ready to apply for new cards.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Eagle eyed readers may have noticed that I’m suggesting the Sapphire Preferred card rather than the Sapphire Reserve card which I listed as a “must have” Chase card. The reason for this is that at the time of this writing, the Sapphire Preferred has a better signup bonus (60K points vs 50K points). I also believe that it is easier to get approved for the Sapphire Preferred card than the Sapphire Reserve. After a year, it should be possible to upgrade to the Reserve card with no new credit inquiry. Note too that you can’t get the bonus on both the Preferred and the Reserve so you wouldn’t be giving up anything to get the Preferred.
The following display shows the current Sapphire Preferred offer at the time you read this on the web:
Chase Ink Business Preferred
In general I don’t see this as a “must have” card for the long term unless you highly value this card’s cell phone protection benefit or 3X on advertising. However, it has a great signup bonus that you won’t be able to get once you’re over 5/24 so it’s definitely worth getting before it’s too late. For most people I’d recommend downgrading this card after a year to the no-fee Ink Business Unlimited (1.5X everywhere) or to a second Ink Cash card (in case the $25K cap on 5X spend is too limiting).
Fourth set of cards
Apply for these 91 days after the last set of cards. If you’re using Travel Freely, you’ll get an email reminder that you’re ready to apply for new cards.
Chase United Explorer Card
At the time of this writing, this card has a lower than usual signup bonus: only 40K miles. Hopefully, a better offer will be in place by the time you are ready to apply for this card. I consider this a “must have” Chase card because it can be downgraded after a year to a no-fee United card which preserves this card’s best features: Improved economy saver award availability, and last seat standard economy award availability. The former feature, especially, makes it much easier to book international awards with United miles since it opens up space between airports domestically. The latter feature is great for those ocassions when you are stuck with no good way to get from one place to the other. Read about how I put this feature to great use here.
Before you apply for the United card, I highly recommend logging into your United account and going through the steps of buying airfare (you can stop before actually filling out your credit card info if you don’t really have a purchase you want to make). Somewhere in that process, you may get an offer for this card that is better than the public offer.
The following display shows the current public United Explorer card offer at the time you read this on the web (again, hopefully the offer will be better by the time you get to it!):
Chase Ink Business Cash
I’m a huge fan of this card for its ability to earn 5X valuable Ultimate Rewards points in several categories of spend. Plus, it has no annual fee. Read our in-depth coverage of this card by clicking through below.
Add it all up
Assuming success at getting approved for all of the above cards and in meeting the spend requirements, you should have earned the following numbers of signup bonus points (not counting points additionally earned from spend):
- Capital One Venture Rewards (or Spark Miles): 50,000
- Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card: 50,000
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card: 80,000
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card: 60,000
- Chase Sapphire Reserve Card: 50,000
- Chase Ink Business Preferred Card: 80,000
- Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card: 50,000
- Chase United Explorer Card: 40,000
In total, we’re looking at 460,000 points & miles in 15 months based on the bonuses available at the time of this writing. It’s actually possible to do far better than this, but this plan offers a solid start and ensures that you have some of the key cards in your portfolio for ongoing success in earning points and traveling for free.
With the plan described above you would be at 4/24 by the end. That is, you could get approved for one more personal Chase card afterwards. Or, you could first apply for more business Chase cards without increasing your 5/24 count. You could consider, for example, signing up for two Chase business cards next:
You could even apply for Amex, Citi and other business cards (but not Capital One business cards) during this time without hurting your chance of picking up another Chase card. You can find a sorted list of the best business card offers here.
Once you have all of the Chase business cards you can possibly want, you can apply for one more personal card, such as the IHG card. This would put you at 5/24 and would make you ineligible for any more Chase cards until your credit report no longer shows 5 or more new cards in the past 24 months.