Getting “ghosted” is never a good thing, especially when it comes to your credit scores. They can determine whether you can borrow money for your business, and how much borrowing will cost you. When you have little or no credit history, you’re essentially a “ghost” to the credit bureaus. Being a ghost can mean paying hundreds of thousands more in borrowing costs. It can also put you out of business.
Many business owners fall into the “ghost” category because they either never established a credit history, or because they immigrated to the U.S. There are more of these credit ghosts than you may think.
According to Nav’s data on 189,466 of its small business customers, 39% qualify as credit ghosts. These business owners had a personal credit score of 620 or lower, and had no or very limited credit history. In addition to personal credit, having little or no business credit history can lead to even more problems, like low business credit scores.
Nav’s own co-founder and CEO, Levi King, was once a credit ghost himself. He grew up on a farm in Idaho and was taught to pay cash for everything. It wasn’t until he started his first business, a sign manufacturing company that he realized the importance of building a positive credit history.
“One of my suppliers asked why I didn’t set up credit accounts with them. I had been paying cash on delivery for everything,” says King. “When they pulled my credit report, they said there wasn’t even a record for my company. It was as though I didn’t exist. If they didn’t know me personally, they would have thought my business was a scam.”
How Credit Ghosts Lose Out
For some entrepreneurs, you may have felt the bite of being a ghost when launching your business idea. You may have looked for financing, but got continually denied because of your low credit scores. It’s no wonder that 62% of business owners rely on personal savings to fund their business.
Even if you’ve launched your business, you’ll likely need money to grow or cover cash flow bumps. Traditional lenders will almost always check your personal and business credit reports. A bad credit score will usually lead to a denial for bank loans or credit lines.
This forces many to seek out alternative forms of business lending that have exploded over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, some of these lenders charge extremely high rates and have terms that are tough to understand. Do you know how to calculate a factor rate, for example?
“There are plenty of ways to get money for your business these days, but as a credit ghost you usually only qualify for high-cost financing, which can ruin your business because it’s too expensive, or put you in cycle of reborrowing,” King says. “Most of these lenders don’t report your repayment information to the credit bureaus, so your situation never improves.”
Who’s Most Likely to Be a Ghost
When someone immigrates to the U.S., their credit history doesn’t follow them. They may have run a successful restaurant in Japan for 10 years and had pristine credit, but when they arrive in the U.S., they are essentially invisible to lenders and other creditors. That’s a problem.
Immigrants are crucial to the health of the U.S. economy. They launch more than a quarter of all U.S. businesses and an estimated $126 billion in annual wages are paid to Americans who work at immigrant-run businesses.
Some companies are trying to help solve the problem. Nova Credit has built technology that allow immigrants to transport their credit history around the world. And Nav educates business owners on how to build their credit profiles and provide tools to make it simple to do.
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In addition to immigrants, studies have shown that minority entrepreneurs can have a harder time accessing the credit they need to grow their business dream. The Federal Reserve Banks of Cleveland and Atlanta recently released findings from the Small Business Credit Survey that looked at access to capital issues for minority-owned businesses.
That survey found that 58% of black-owned firms reported credit availability challenges, versus 32% of white-owned firms. The same survey also revealed that 40% of black-owned firms reported not applying for financing because they were discouraged (in essence, they felt they’d get denied), compared with 14% of white-owned companies.
How to Un-Ghost Your Credit
If you feel like a credit ghost, there are some simple ways to build your profile. As a business owner, you should be building both your personal and business credit profiles — they are separate.
For your personal credit, get a couple credit cards, even if it needs to be a secured credit card, to start establishing credit history. Always pay on time and keep your credit utilization low, below 30%. (Don’t understand what credit utilization is? Read this.)
For your business credit, ask your suppliers about setting net repayment terms and whether or not they report to the business credit bureaus. You should be able to get net 15-day terms or more if you have a solid history and relationship with the supplier.
You should also apply for a business credit line from stores like Lowes or Staples. Almost any business can get approved for a small amount at these places. Finally, you can also open business credit cards in your business name. Like personal credit cards, always pay them on time and keep your balances low.
The good news for credit ghosts is that establishing a positive credit history should help you improve your scores relatively fast. In a matter of months, you may be able to un-ghost your credit, and put your business in a position to access affordable cash whenever you need it. You can track your business and personal credit score progress for free on Nav.