Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.
For many business owners, checking their business credit reports isn’t routine.
In fact, nearly half of small business owners are unaware they even have a business credit score, and 72 percent don’t know where to find information on it, according to a survey last year by Nav, a provider of business credit information.
Understanding your business credit report and making sure it doesn’t contain errors or out-of-date data can avoid potential problems later on.
“Most small business owners don’t even realize their business has a separate credit report,” says Leslie H. Tayne, principal of Tayne Law Group, P.C., a Melville-based debt solutions law firm that works with consumers and businesses.
Additionally, they may not realize there can be errors, just as in a personal credit report, says Tayne, who recently found errors in one of her business credit reports. The report had her firm name incorrect, and listed an employee under “key personnel” who had never worked for the firm.
“We’re going to fix it,” says Tayne, noting the report was also missing some key business credit accounts including an American Express card. “We want all our credit to be on there.”
Building a solid business credit history helps with both securing loans and getting good terms from vendors and suppliers.
“A lot of decisions are made based on business credit report information,” explains Gerri Detweiler, head of market education for San Mateo, California-based Nav, a website that gives business owners access to their personal and business credit scores.
In fact, trade credit — credit extended by a supplier allowing you to pay at a later date — represents the biggest type of credit among businesses, she notes.
Suppliers will review your reports occasionally, and if you look like a credit risk they may revoke agreed-upon terms and request cash on delivery, says Jared Proctor, Nav’s head of content.
Your business credit report includes basic company information, a list of vendors that report payment history, and any loans or lines of credit, says Detweiler.
The biggest error she sees are credit reports with information belonging to another business. The mistake can happen for a number of reasons; sometimes information for a business with a name similar to yours ends up on your report, she notes.
So it pays to check your report periodically. There are several credit reporting agencies, with the larger ones being Dun & Bradstreet, Experian and Equifax. They gather information from various sources including public records, lenders and suppliers, explains Detweiler.
Fees to obtain a report should be listed on their websites. For example, Experian’s start at $39.95 for a basic score report, says Brian Ward, vice president for Experian’s Business Information Services.
The most common correction businesses request is on basic facts about the company, such as the address, says Ward.
“No one will buy credit reports if the information on it isn’t reliable,” notes Robin Schauseil, president of the Columbia, Maryland-based National Association of Credit Management, a trade association representing the business credit community that also produces and sells commercial credit reports. “I think in the commercial world, the part that hurts businesses is missing data, not inaccurate data.”
Specifically, businesses should encourage their suppliers and vendors to report their trade line data to the commercial credit reporting agencies, suggests Brian Shappell, NACM’s managing editor.
If you see errors, you can dispute them with the individual agency. Check their websites for dispute guidance.
Greg Demetriou, president of Lorraine Gregory Communications, a Farmingdale-based marketing communications company, says he’ll be investigating what he believes is a discrepancy regarding payment history in one of his business credit reports he recently reviewed.
It’s important to build a good credit history, says Demetriou, and “reviewing your credit report . . . gives you the opportunity to address any errors.”