Dear Cashing In,
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I've always avoided reward cards with annual fees in excess of $100, but I run a small home-based business on the side and as I prepare my 2012 tax returns, I'm noticing how much more I'm spending on the business lately. I wonder if the perks and bonus points on a dedicated business card would pay for themselves now. I'm not willing to jump to the $400+ annual fee cards, but I'm curious about the business rewards on the $100+ cards. How much more rewards would I get for business spending if I up the fee slightly?
As someone who runs a home-based business myself, I recommend having a dedicated card -- and if you're going to do that, why not reap the rewards? Tax time is when small-business owners like us become hyper-aware of the benefits in keeping business expenses separate from personal. Not only does it make tax prep easier, it allows us to easily track business spending year-round. Dedicated rewards cards target the kind of spending you're likely to be making on your business and are often quite generous with the rewards.
If you're looking to maximize the sign-up bonus on a new business rewards card, I recommend taking a look at the American Express Business Gold Rewards card now. American Express is offering up to 75,000 points for signing up, but this deal ends Thursday, March 14. The annual fee is within your range at $175 and they waive it the first year. So you have an extra year to experiment, fee-free.
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The caveat: You have to spend $10,000 on eligible purchases in the first four months. If you're spending $2,500 monthly on your business or have some big expenses you've been putting off, this could be the ticket to some valuable rewards.
AmEx Business Gold is similar to the AmEx Premier Rewards Gold card (currently offering 50,000 sign-up bonus points if you qualify for the deal through CreditCards.com's Card Match tool). But the business gold card is connected to American Express OPEN, the company's small-business services department. Both cards offer 3 points per dollar spent on airfare and 1 point on other purchases. The business version also awards 2 points in the U.S. on advertising (in select media), gas and shipping. The regular Gold also has a lower annual fee, at $125.
AmEx points are especially handy to have if you to travel for business or pleasure, because the company's Membership Rewards program includes so many airlines and hotel chains. You can transfer points for flights on 16 airlines, including Delta, Air Canada, Frontier, JetBlue, British Airways, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic. Hotel-wise, you can use points to buy domestic or international stays; or transfer points into five frequent guest programs, including Hilton HHonors and Best Western.
However, you don't necessarily have to commit to a $175 annual feel -- or a $10,000 initial spend -- in order to maximize rewards on a business credit card. Another popular option is Chase Ink Bold, which carries an annual fee of $95, waived the first year. This one earns 50,000 points if you spend $5,000 in three months and 5 points per dollar for the first $50,000 spent annually at office supply stores and on phone, Internet and cable TV services. You also get 2 points per dollar on the first $50,000 spent annually at gas stations and for hotel accommodations. These are Chase Ultimate Reward points, another program that offers a lot of value at redemption.
Here's hoping when next year's tax season rolls around, you not only have a more organized spending system in place for your business, but lots of free travel and reward points to help it grow.