Lines of Credit vs. Credit Cards: Two Types of Revolving Credit For Your Business

Best for big expenses
Business people discussing a line of credit
Lines of Credit
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Lower APR
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Higher credit limit
Best for everyday costs
Cash is tight for your business right now. You don’t have the time or the credit score to get a loan, but you have to make ends meet. Then you hear about a merchant cash advance and how it can give you money up front in exchange for a percentage of your credit card sales. Sounds perfect, right? Maybe—until you hear the details. Merchant cash advances, also called business cash advances, work like payday loans for businesses—with everything that implies. They provide a quick way to get cash without great credit, but the not-so-obvious costs can turn them into debt traps.
Credit Cards
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Rewards programs
  • Icon Pros  Dark
    Lower borrower requirements

At first glance, business lines of credit (LOCs) and credit cards look pretty similar. They both offer revolving credit, meaning you can borrow money, repay the funds you borrowed, and then borrow more money―over and over and over.

And sure, that’s a pretty big similarity, but LOCs and credit cards have some big differences too. If you want to save your business money and save yourself frustration, you need to understand those differences and choose the right product.

In this guide, we’ll show you how a business line of credit and a business credit card compare and explain why you’d prefer one over the other. By the end, you'll have the info you need to decide if you want a line of credit or credit card―or both.

How lines of credit and credit cards compare

As we’ve already pointed out, both a business line of credit and a business credit card are types of revolving credit.

That means that both products give you a credit limit (usually based on your creditworthiness). You can go ahead and borrow as much money as you want (or as little), up to that credit limit. Then, as you repay the money you borrow, those funds become available to borrow again. (You’ve probably seen this in action with your credit card.

Line of credit vs. credit card

Feature
Line of Credit
Credit card
Revolving credit
Icon Check  Dark
Icon Check  Dark
Max. credit limit
Higher
Lower
APR
Lower
Higher
Rewards available
Icon No  Dark
Icon Check  Dark
Cash
Icon Check  Dark
Icon No  Dark
Repayment schedule
Variable
Monthly
Build credit
In some cases
Icon Check  Dark
Borrower qualifications
Stricter
Looser

But as we said, business lines of credit and credit cards have some differences―quite a few, in fact. So let’s talk through those.

Getting credit

The first differences between a line of credit and a credit card start when you apply.

Borrower qualifications

Generally speaking, it's easier to qualify for a business credit card than a line of credit.

In both cases, lenders will look at factors like your personal credit score, credit history, time in business, and business revenue to decide whether or not to approve you. But credit card companies will usually accept lower numbers than LOC lenders will. Plus, credit card companies will sometimes consider your personal income and not just your business revenue, which can be helpful for startups.

Of course, the specific qualifications will vary from product to product. You can absolutely find super fancy business credit cards that have stricter borrower requirements than some lines of credit. But as a general rule, credit cards are easier to get.

Why is that? It mostly comes down to size.

Credit limit

Business lines of credit usually have higher credit limits than credit cards do, giving you more money to borrow.

Again, this is a general rule―you might get approved for a very small line of credit or a big limit on a credit card. That said, you can easily find lines of credit with maximum credit limits in the millions of dollars, while most business credit cards top out at less than $100,000.

In either case, your specific credit limit will depend on your lender and your borrower qualifications. But in most cases, lines of credit give you more money to work with than credit cards do.

Using credit

After you get approved, you can start using your business credit card or revolving line of credit. At this point, some other differences will crop up.

APR

Business lines of credit usually have lower APR (annual percentage rate) than business credit cards.

As you may know, APR describes the cost of financing over one year―including both interest and fees. So when we say that LOCs have a lower APR, we mean that they cost you less to borrow money.

As with your credit limit, your specific APR will depend on your qualifications and your lender. In most cases, though, business lines of credit make borrowing cheaper.

Bullhorn
Fees
Both lines of credit and credit cards often come with an annual fee (though you can find many that don’t). Some LOCs also charge an origination fee.

Depending on how quickly you repay the funds you borrow, though, your APR may not matter much at all. If, for example, you pay off your credit card in full each month (good job!), then you’ll never end up paying interest on your credit card.

In other words, you shouldn’t get a line of credit just because it has a lower interest rate―especially since credit cards have some nice perks.

Rewards

Many business credit cards, like personal credit cards, come with rewards and bonuses. Lines of credit don’t.

These credit card rewards usually take the form of points on your purchases. Earn enough of these points, and you can exchange them for things like cash, airline tickets, gift cards, and more.

Some credit cards also offer cash bonuses when you spend a certain amount in a specific time frame―like $10,000 in the first six months after opening your card.

Depending on how you spend, these credit card rewards programs can really add up. In fact, these rewards programs are one of the biggest advantages credit cards have over lines of credit.

Cash availability

But lines of credit have their own advantages. Aside from lower APR, business lines of credit also make it easier and cheaper to get cash.

Credit cards usually charge big cash advance fees, while lines of credit don’t. 

That means that credit cards work just fine when you purchase office supplies from a store―but if you need to make payroll, lines of credit offer a more affordable way to get the cash you need.

Best Business Lines of Credit
Lendio
Best overall
BlueVine
Easiest application
Fundbox
Best if established
Streetshares
Best for longer terms
Kabbage
Most convenient
Learn more about our top brands.

Repaying credit

Once you’ve borrowed money, you’ll have to start paying it back. At this point, you’ll notice a few final differences.

Repayment schedule

Pretty much all credit cards have a monthly repayment schedule (including both personal credit cards and business credit cards).

Credit lines, on the other hand, can have really different payment schedules. Some lenders will accept monthly payments, sure, but others will require weekly or even daily payments.

Typically, traditional financial institutions (banks and credit unions) will stick to monthly payments, while online lenders (a.k.a. alternative lenders) will ask for more frequency payments.

Building credit

One other nice feature of credit cards? Just about every credit company will report your activity to credit bureaus, meaning you can improve your credit score by using and repaying your credit card.

(Of course, if you make late payments or miss payments, this could end up hurting your credit score.)

Some line-of-credit lenders report to credit bureaus, but not all. You can expect most traditional banks to report. But lots of online lenders (like Kabbage, for example) don’t report to credit bureaus at all―meaning you won’t get to build your credit.

So with all that said, should you get a line of credit or a credit card?

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Line of credit: Best for larger expenses

Pros
Pro Bullet Lower APR
Pro Bullet Higher credit limit
Pro Bullet Ease of getting cash
Cons
Con Bullet Inconsistent reporting to credit bureaus
Con Bullet Higher borrower qualifications

For big business expenses, lines of credit work better.

These large expenses might include the following:

  • Payroll/hiring new employees
  • Equipment purchases
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Remodeling and office improvements

The reason we prefer business lines of credit for these expenses largely comes down to the lower APR and higher credit limit you get from an LOC. Without a high credit limit, you may not be able to cover big expenses in the first place. And if you pay a high interest rate and, in turn, a high APR on your funds, the cost of those big expenses can easily spiral out of control.

Fortunately, business lines of credit make it possible to pay for and afford all kinds of bigger expenses.

That said, we don’t recommend drawing on your revolving line of credit for most smaller expenses. You’ll miss out on the rewards (and potentially the credit-building power) that a credit card would give you. And if you make small enough purchases that you can pay them off easily, you won’t really benefit from the low APR on an LOC.

Put simply, business lines of credit work best for larger expenses that you won’t pay off immediately.

Credit card: Best for everyday costs

Pros
Pro Bullet Rewards programs for purchases
Pro Bullet Lower borrower qualifications
Pro Bullet Reporting to credit bureaus
Cons
Con Bullet Higher interest rate
Con Bullet Costly cash advance fees

To handle smaller, everyday costs, you should probably get a business credit card.

For example, a credit card can work well for these types of expenses:

  • Staff lunches
  • Office supplies
  • Utilities bills
  • Software subscriptions

These kinds of expenses are small enough that you can pay them off quickly, so you won’t have to worry about the high APR that credit cards often have. Instead, you’ll just get all the credit-building benefits of regular credit use. And depending on your credit card, you may earn extra cash or other rewards while doing so.

As an added bonus, credit cards offer convenience that makes them perfect for day-to-day purchases. Just swipe or insert your card and you’re good to go―no need to mess around with a draw from your credit line.

Just make sure you pay off your business credit card regularly―in full each month, if possible. Otherwise, you might end up shocked by how quickly those little expenses add up, thanks to the high APR. And if you’ll regularly need cash, you might find that an LOC will be more affordable than paying the cash advance fees on your credit card.

But as long as you responsibly use and pay off your credit card, you can get great perks on your small, everyday expenses.

Line of credit and credit card FAQ

Will getting a line of credit or credit card hurt my credit score?

When you first apply for and get a line of credit or credit card, your credit score might drop a bit.

That’s because most lenders do a hard credit check, which can ding your credit. Plus, the age of your credit affects your credit score too, and a new credit source can temporarily lower it.

That said, don’t worry too much. As you regularly use and make payments (preferably more than the minimum payment), your credit score should bounce back, since you'll now have more available credit (another factor in your credit score).

And with any luck, your credit score may end up higher than it was before you got an LOC or credit card.

What personal credit score do I need to get a line of credit?

The credit score required to qualify for a line of credit varies from lender to lender, but it might be lower than you think. On our rankings of the best bad-credit business loans, we found LOC lenders willing to accept a credit score as low as 500.

Of course, to get the best business lines of credit, you’ll need a better credit score. Banks, for example, usually look for a credit score in the high 600s.

And remember, your personal credit score is just one part of your application. If you have high business revenue and an older business, you’ll have an easier time getting a line of credit with a poor credit score than if you have low revenue and a young business.

Is it worth getting a line of credit?

For many businesses, getting a business line of credit is absolutely worth it. After all, LOCs offer a convenient way to borrow money over and over, and they have lower interest rates than most credit cards.

Still, not every business will benefit from a line of credit. If you don’t have enough cash flow to repay your credit line, for example, an LOC will be more trouble than it’s worth. So think carefully about your business’s needs and budget before you apply.

Want more options? Fund your business with a personal loan.

The takeaway

Both business lines of credit and business credit cards offer revolving credit, but they have quite a few differences. Lines of credit commonly have higher credit limits and lower interest rates, but they’re harder to get. Credit cards offer nice rewards and can be easier to qualify for, but they often end up being more expensive.

So which should your business get? Well, maybe both. We recommend lines of credit for larger expenses and credit cards for smaller expenses, which means that LOCs and credit cards can complement each other nicely.

Of course, you know your business best, so we’re sure you’ll make the right credit choice for your company. Either way, we hope you get the credit you need.

Think you want a line of credit? Find our favorite options on our list of the best business lines of credit.

Disclaimer

At Business.org, our research is meant to offer general product and service recommendations. We don't guarantee that our suggestions will work best for each individual or business, so consider your unique needs when choosing products and services.

Chloe Goodshore
Written by
Chloe Goodshore
Chloe covers business financing and loans for Business.org. She has worked with many small businesses over the past 10 years, from video game stores to law firms. Those years watching frustrated business owners try to sift through their many options gave her a passion for breaking down complex business topics. She wants to help business owners spend less time agonizing over their businesses so they can spend more time running them.
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