As a small business owner, keeping an eye on the health of your business credit is a task which deserves a place on your to-do list. Strong business credit can make it easier to get supplier credit and certain small business loans, save you money on insurance and even help your business secure lucrative contracts.
But if you’re like many business owners, you don’t know who these business credit bureaus are or how they work. Here we’ll demystify business credit and explain how to check and monitor your business credit reports.
Who Are the Business Credit Bureaus?
Just as you have personal credit reports, your business can have its own credit reports. There are a number of companies that compile business credit reports, but the three major business credit bureaus (also known as business credit reporting agencies) are:
- Dun & Bradstreet
- Experian Business
- Equifax Small Business
If you recognize the names Experian and Equifax, that’s because they also operate well-known consumer credit reporting agencies as well. However, your business and consumer credit files are completely separate.
Where Does Business Credit Information Come From?
Business credit bureaus collect information about companies from many sources and use it to create business credit files. These include:
- Data furnishers: lenders, suppliers, creditors and other companies that report;
- Public records: Information from courthouses about liens, judgments, bankruptcies, incorporations, UCC Filings as well as state, city, and county business registrations;
- Corporate financial reports;
- Federal government contracts, grants, loans, and debarments;
- Internet sources;
- Press releases and news/media Stories;
- Print business directories; and/or
- Self-reported data: Not all credit bureaus accept self-reported information but if they do, this can include information supplied by company principals.
Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax, and Experian are also Certified Vendors with the Small Business Financial Exchange (SBFE), a data warehouse that collects various points of data on businesses from lenders and other companies that report. Purchasers of business credit reports from these agencies (and a few others) have the option of also purchasing reports that contain SBFE data.
Dun & Bradstreet Credit Scores and Reports
Dun & Bradstreet (often referred to as “D&B”) is one of the oldest credit bureaus in the US — in fact, D&B is over 200 years old. Dun & Bradstreet credit reports may contain the following information:
- Company profile: Business information about the company, addresses, owners, key employees, industry codes (SIC and/or NAICS) etc.
- Financial information: If available, the report may contain information about sales, net worth, working capital etc.
- Payment information: This section is the heart of the credit report that contains information about accounts, payment history, balances etc.
- Business registration: If available, will Include information about the business incorporation records.
- Government activity: The report may include information about government loans, contracting information and grants, for example.
- Financial statements: If the business has supplied financial statements, that information will be available here.
- Public filings and UCC filings: Information about tax liens, judgments and UCC filings may be included in the report.
- Credit scores
Dun & Bradstreet sells different types of credit reports and not all of these types of information will appear on all reports.
With Dun & Bradstreet, you need to complete two steps to register for a DUNS number for your company (the gateway to a D&B credit report and score).
- Check with Dun & Bradstreet to see if your business is already registered for a DUNS number. If you find your business, you’re all set.
- Apply for a free DUNS number if you don’t find your business on the Dun & Bradstreet website. It may take up to 30 days to receive your DUNS number.
Dun & Bradstreet Credit Scores
D&B’s best-known credit score is probably the D&B PAYDEX Score. This score runs on a scale of 0-100, with higher numbers indicating lower risk. It sells other several other credit scores, including:
- D&B Score
- Delinquency Predictor Score
- Financial Stress Score
- Supplier Evaluation Risk Rating
- Viability Rating
- Maximum Credit Rating
- Overall Business Risk
No single score is better than another; companies that purchase these credit scores can choose the ones that they believe will help them make better decisions.
Equifax Business Credit Scores and Reports
Equifax has also been around for a long time; the company dates back to 1899. Equifax Small Business offers credit reports on small businesses throughout the US and those reports may contain the following information:
- Company information: Business name, address, and phone numbers. It will also include the Equifax ID – the identification number assigned by Equifax to the business.
- Credit summary: This section will contain a synopsis of the business’ credit accounts with banks, suppliers, and service providers that report to Equifax.
- Credit utilization: The report may include an analysis of credit limits available on financial accounts, as well as how much is being used.
- Public records: This section refers to information available through courthouses or other public record sources and may include business registration information, judgments, liens, or bankruptcies reported in the business name. Notably, Equifax does not report business collection accounts, though a company may report that a debt is in collections.
- Payment Trend and Payment Index: A 12-month payment trend and comparison to the industry norm.
- Credit scores
Equifax Business Credit Scores
Over the years, Equifax has sold a variety of business credit scores with different score ranges. These include the Business Failure Score, Payment Index, Payment Trend, Equifax Delinquency Score for Other, Small Business Financial Risk Score for Financial Services (and a similar one for Suppliers) .
According to Equifax, though, the two main business credit scores are:
Equifax Business Credit Risk Score™
This score ranges from 101 – 992. A higher score means higher risk, so ideally you’ll want your business to have as low a score as possible. This score predicts how likely the business is to incur a 90-day delinquency or charge off over the next twelve months.
Equifax Business Failure Score™
This score ranges from 1000 – 1610. Again, a higher score indicates higher risk so you want your business to have as low a score as possible. This score predicts the likelihood of a business failing through bankruptcy within the next twelve months.
As you can see, the ranges for these scores are quite different. That means it’s important, when checking your Equifax Business credit scores, to make sure you understand where your business falls within the given score range, and when possible, how that compares to other businesses in your industry.
Experian Business Credit Scores and Reports
Experian’s business credit reports may contain information similar to the others, however no information can be self-reported by the business. Credit reports may include:
- Company profile: Information about the company, addresses, owners, key employees, industry codes, years in business, etc. (Note that Experian will assign a Business Identification Number (BIN) to identify the business within its industry.)
- Credit summary: The report will include a payment summary section summarizing the overall payment history of the business.
- Payment trend summary: This section will provide more detailed recent payment information.
- Trade payment information: Information about supplier or vendor accounts and how the business has managed those accounts will be listed here.
- Commercial, banking and leasing: Another section details these kinds of accounts, including type of credit, amount borrowed, balances, and payment history.
- Inquiries: This section typically won’t list the names of specific companies that have viewed the report, but will summarize the types of inquiries.
- Collection accounts: If the business has accounts in collections that have been reported to Experian, they will be listed here.
- Public filings and UCC filings: There are sections in the report for information about tax liens, judgments, bankruptcies and UCC filings.
Experian Business Credit Scores
Experian’s main business credit score is called Experian Intelliscore PlusSM This score has traditionally had a score range of 0-100, with 100 indicating lower risk. However, the newest version, Experian Intelliscore Plus V3, has a score range of 300-850 which is similar to the score ranges for personal credit.
Experian also sells other scores, including the Financial Stability Risk Score V2 and Experian Business Credit Score.
How to Get Business Credit Reports
These three business credit bureaus create and sell your business credit reports to companies like vendors, lenders, or insurance providers who purchase business credit reports to help assess the risk of doing business with your company. In fact, anyone can purchase a business credit report, including your competitors or prospective clients.
The bureaus will also sell copies of business credit reports to small business owners directly.
A big difference between consumer credit reports and business credit reports is the fact that you can easily access your three consumer credit reports for free. Check out this list of more than 138+ places you can get your personal credit scores for free.
Thanks to a federal law, Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you (as a consumer) have a right to free copies of your consumer credit reports once a year, from all national consumer credit reporting agencies. You can get your free consumer reports from the major bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion)at AnnualCreditReport.com.
The FCRA, however, doesn’t apply to business credit reports. There’s no legal right to free copies of your commercial credit reports from the business credit bureaus.
Who Can Check Business Credit?
Unlike consumer credit reports, business credit reports are not private. On the consumer side, a business must have “permissible purpose” under the Fair Credit Reporting Act before the credit bureaus can grant access to your credit file.
Your business has no such right. The business credit bureaus can legally sell your information to anyone willing to pay for it. This lack of privacy is one more reason it’s important to monitor the health of those business reports yourself.
FICO Scores for Small Business
In some ways, business credit scores are a lot like personal credit scores. For example, you don’t have just one credit score. You have many. We’ve already mentioned scores from the major commercial credit bureaus. In addition, FICO produces a credit score specifically for small businesses called the FICO SBSS Score. This score can analyze data from the business credit report, the owner’s personal credit reports (including data from multiple owners) as well as financial and application data to produce the FICO SBSS Score.
How to Build Business Credit
Have you ever wondered, “how do I build credit for my small business?” As a business owner, it’s a question you should be able to answer.
Building a solid business credit profile can be broken down into two major phases. First, you need to establish business credit accounts. Second, you need to manage those accounts the right way.
Phase One: Establish Business Credit
When you’re building business credit— whether you have a new business or a well-established one— it’s tough to know which lenders may potentially help build business credit. These tips may help:
- Consider starting with a business credit card account. Most small business credit cards report to at least one of the major business credit reporting agencies.
- Vendor accounts that report to the business credit bureaus can be a good option for business credit newcomers. Often called “tradelines” these typically offer net- 30, net-60, and/or net-90 vendors. Most don’t check personal credit.
- Nav’s Business Boost account helps build business credit with tradeline reporting.
Phase Two: Manage Your Account
Once you’ve opened your accounts, you’ll need to manage them well. To benefit from your new accounts, you’ll need to:
- Pay your bills on time – never late. Some business credit scores are based 100% on payment history. A few even give “bonus points” for making payments early.
- Monitor your business credit reports and make sure your new accounts are added. If they don’t show up within a few months, you may need to open additional accounts because the ones you have aren’t helping you build business credit.
- Keep debt in check. Debt can impact your credit scores, and some (though not all) business scores take credit utilization into account. If that’s the case and your credit reports show you’re using a high percentage of your available credit, your business credit scores might suffer.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get my business credit report for free?
While there is no requirement for free credit reports under federal law, there are a couple of places where you can get business credit information truly for free, without a credit card requirement or a trial offer you’ll have to cancel later. You can access free business credit reports from:
- Nav: With a free account from Nav, you can access a credit summary of your business credit reports from major credit bureaus, along with personal credit from Experian. You’ll also see a letter grade indicating your credit score range. Nav Prime members get Detailed Credit Reports and scores. Your free Nav account includes business credit monitoring tools as well.
- CreditSignal. Once you have received your DUNS number, you can monitor your D&B rating and PAYDEX score via D&B’s CreditSignal. (This isn’t a full monthly report, but it does help you discover if your credit information has changed.)
What is a commercial credit bureau?
A commercial credit bureau is another name for a business credit bureau. The word “commercial” refers to business activities.
What are the three business credit bureaus?
The three main business credit bureaus in the U.S. are Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax and Experian. But there are other credit bureaus that collect and sell information about businesses, including Creditsafe, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, and specialty credit agencies.
How long does information stay on your business credit report?
Unlike consumer credit, there’s no limit to how long information may be reported on commercial credit reports. Each bureau can decide when to stop reporting information.
Is your business credit report accurate?
Ultimately, only you — the business owner — can review your credit reports to determine whether they’re correct. That’s just one reason why it’s good to review your business credit reports to make sure they don’t contain mistakes. If you find inaccurate information, you’ll need to dispute it with the business credit reporting company that’s reporting the mistake.
How does a small business report to credit bureaus?
Reporting your customer’s payment history to commercial credit bureaus can give extra value to your customers. After all, positive payment history gives your customers the opportunity to build good credit. Each bureau has its own unique requirements for reporting. Learn how to report to business credit bureaus here.
How do I register my business with the credit bureaus?
Generally you don’t need to register your business with business credit agencies. However, if you don’t have a D-U-N-S number with Dun & Bradstreet, you’ll need to request one.
With Equifax and Experian, you don’t need to proactively register your business. Instead, your credit reports will be established when you secure business credit with a lender that reports information to the credit bureau.
This article was originally written on May 23, 2019 and updated on November 15, 2023.