U.S. Bank rolls out small biz credit card, minus the personal guarantee

  • Article by: JENNIFER BJORHUS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2013 - 12:15 PM

Garage entrepreneurs need not apply : This credit card targets companies with annual sales of $1 million to $10 million.

 

U.S. Bank has introduced a rarity: a small-business credit card that doesn’t require the personal guarantee of an authorized officer. The small business is solely liable for all purchases.

It’s an unusual move that comes as the bank ramps up services to small businesses and casts for new sources of revenue. “Surprising,” said Anisha Sekar, vice president of credit and debit products at NerdWallet.

Sekar said she knows of only one or two other corporate credit cards that don’t require a personal guarantor, and one is only for major companies.

The new U.S. Bank card targets the larger end of the small-business segment: companies with annual sales of $1 million to $10 million that have shown profit of at least $350,000 for two straight years. The card will be underwritten and marketed through the bank’s branches.

The new U.S. Bank Visa Signature Company Credit Card has no annual fee, an 8.99 annual percentage rate, 1 percent cash rewards and a credit line ranging from $25,000 to $250,000.

It addresses a long-running concern for small business — finding funding that won’t put the family home at risk. Lack of access to capital has been particularly acute since the financial crisis and recession.

“It’s always been a concern that you kind of have to mortgage your future to actually build your company,” said Andrew Wittenborg, director of outreach for the Minnesota High Tech Association.

Sekar questioned how accessible U.S. Bank’s new small-biz card will be.

“Given the low approval rate for small-business loans, it’s hard to imagine the approval rates would be very high,” Sekar said. “It’s the equivalent of the American Express Platinum. It’s a great card, but you have to have peerless credit to qualify.”

The approval rate for small-business loans at big banks is less than 20 percent, according to Sekar, although it’s higher at credit unions and alternative lenders such as accounts-receivable financiers.

Sekar said small-business credit card originations started dropping before the Great Recession and remain below prerecession levels.

Cathi Stanton, senior vice president for U.S. Bank Retail Payment Solutions, said the bank began pilot tests of its card a year ago.

“We’ve had really strong growth,” Stanton said. “We’ll see how the holiday season shakes out.

Stanton said the bank will primarily market the card to companies it already does business with. “It’s more of a higher-touch application process,” she said.

The Minneapolis-based lender has been ramping up its services to small businesses in recent years. Last year it introduced the Business Visa Charge Card for small-business owners, which requires balances to be paid off every month.

It’s also rolling out the Community Card, a credit card for nonprofits such as small municipalities, schools and religious organizations. Like the new small-business credit card, the underwriting will focus on the credit history of the business, not a personal credit history.

CardHub.com CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou called the new small-biz card “great news.” But he said he suspects it will face competition from Capital One business cards, which offer higher 2 percent cash rewards, even though they require personal guarantees.

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