Five Reasons Businesses Need Separate Checking

From self-employed workers to the founders of startup companies, independent entrepreneurs find themselves wearing many hats. In addition to manager, salesperson and production worker, a small-business owner is also a bookkeeper, managing his or her finances without an accounting staff.

If you are looking for a way to find order in your business revenue and expenses, the answer may be at your neighborhood bank or credit union. Here are five reasons to open a business checking account.

Lessen Tax Headaches and Liabilities

A business checking account can be your best friend during tax season.

"Keeping business revenue and expenses separate from personal items can help a small-business owner track income and expenses at tax time and throughout the year," says Jennifer Rempe, lead tax research analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block in Kansas City, Mo.

Some business owners believe maintaining separate personal and business expenses is enough, but even the most organized entrepreneur can face troubles when dealing with the government.

"If a business owner uses his personal account for business expenses, it's harder to distinguish business and personal purchases and substantiate them in the event of an audit," Rempe says.

For small-business owners who are considering incorporation, a business checking account is an absolute must.

"Once a business is incorporated, it should never use the personal accounts of the owner when conducting business," Rempe says.

If a personal account is used, Rempe says the corporation's liability is no longer limited to the business itself. Creditors, including the Internal Revenue Service, can pursue the owner's personal assets to collect outstanding debts.

Empower Your Employees

If the weight of making deposits, signing debit card receipts and mailing checks is becoming too heavy, a business checking account gives you the option to delegate some daily tasks to your trusted employees.

A business checking account can have multiple signers, helping to ensure payments are made on time, says Raj Tumber, Las Vegas-based business mentor and counselor at Score, a nonprofit partner of the Small Business Administration.

In addition, Camille Ussery, president of the Richardson, Texas, branch of ViewPoint Bank, says outside of giving office staff the authority to make transactions, business checking account holders also can hand over access to outside help. Ussery says many of the bank's business customers authorize outside accounting services to review their account statements and reconcile their books.

However, beware the drawbacks to handing the business baton to other people. Tumber says if a sole proprietorship business checking account is under the owner's Social Security number, personal financial liability increases if employees are involved in embezzlement or make accounting errors while handling the account.

"It's always best to restrict the account to authorized personnel to minimize the risk of financial liability," Tumber says.

Swiping Means More Sales

If you can only accept cash and check payments, your customers may be frustrated by the inability to use the plastic in their wallets. Fortunately, opening a business checking account may give you the power to process debit and credit card sales.

From credit unions to big banks, institutions of all sizes offer business checking account holders the ability to approve or decline credit card and debit card payments. These services do come with additional costs such as maintenance fees or transaction fees, Tumber says.

Some banks offer discounts on processing services to certain types of business checking account holders. Regardless, those additional fees can be well worth it.

"Accepting credit and debit cards is the best and most convenient way to transact money for any small business that generates monthly revenue with profits," Tumber says.

As you compare business checking accounts, ask whether the account includes the ability to process card payments. Also ask what types of fees are associated with each transaction.

Beating Fees Can be Easy

As bank fees rise, the thought of opening another checking account to manage your business finances may sound like another burden. However, opening an additional account for your business services does not necessarily carry additional costs.

"Compared to personal accounts, some small-business checking accounts have a more lenient fee structure," Tumber says.

Rather than maintain a monthly minimum balance, Tumber says some banks simply require owners to enroll in online bank statements or use a business credit card for a minimum number of purchases each month.

Just like personal checking accounts, business checking accounts and their accompanying fees and capabilities are always changing.

Tumber recommends that a small-business owner should review his or her bank's business checking account options and features each year to upgrade or downgrade and to meet current needs. As bank fees continue to evolve, that annual review also can include comparing accounts at other banks and credit unions as well.

Business Growth Begins at the Bank

While your business may be small, chances are one of your objectives is expansion.

"It's a good idea for a business owner to establish a relationship early on with trusted advisers who can help them achieve their goals," ViewPoint's Ussery says.

One of those trusted advisers should be a business banker, she says. Whether you are looking to promote your business or make valuable connections with an attorney or a CPA, Ussery says that a business banking representative can be a strong networking resource. Opening a business checking account in the early stages of your business can help you capitalize on that relationship, Ussery says.

Outside of finding ways to introduce your business to new customers and colleagues, growth typically requires financing. When a business needs additional credit, that business banking relationship can pay off for small-business owners.

"During those ongoing conversations with their business banker, they can identify best practices that will make them more attractive when it comes time to borrow money," Ussery says.