A strong business credit report can help build your business more than you might think. Having a good credit score can boost your borrowing power, and keeping track of what’s on your business credit reports can help you avoid fraud and fix errors.
But reading one of these isn’t easy if you’re not familiar with the lingo. Here’s an in-depth, step-by-step guide to how to understand what’s in your business credit report.
What is a business credit report?
A business credit report is a document packed with information about your company’s structure, industry, owner(s), and financial performance. A business credit score is a numerical assessment of your business’ creditworthiness and how your company has handled money in the past.
Lenders, suppliers, customers, and other businesses can check your business credit report and use the information on it to make decisions about whether to do business with or lend to your company. There are many business credit bureaus, but the main ones are Experian Business, Equifax Business, and Dun & Bradstreet. These bureaus gather information, create business credit reports, and use proprietary scores to assess a company’s risk profile.
Depending on the bureau, you can either self-report the information or they’ll get the information from data-gathering trade associations, banks, vendors, and business credit card issuers. Regardless, unlike with personal credit, anyone can pay to access your business credit report — including you.
What’s in a business credit report?
Although the information in your reports should be the same, every bureau organizes it differently. (If you find mistakes or you’d like to dispute information in your business credit reports, check out the section “How to analyze your business credit report.”) Here’s a general breakdown of the information you’ll find, along with images from Experian, Equifax, and Dun & Bradstreet sample business credit reports:
Company profile: Business credit reports start out with a snapshot of your company along with a unique bureau-assigned number that ties the correct business to the information on the report. In the image here, that’s the D-U-N-S number. Experian calls its number the Business Identification Number (BIN), while Equifax has the Equifax ID. You’ll also find a North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code and a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) number, which tell people about your company’s industry and generally what it does.
The image here is from a Dun & Bradstreet sample credit report.
Risk assessment: Each bureau has its own way of measuring your company’s risk, which is explored in the section “How to analyze your business credit report.”
Business information: Depending on the bureau, the report may include information about your business’ facilities and branches, financial information (including financial statements, if available), and owner(s).
The image here is from an Equifax sample business credit report. The fictional company has been delinquent on one financial account (for example, a loan from a bank) and one nonfinancial account (such as an invoice from an office supply company). Its worst payment status is 90 days late, its highest credit line is $12,500, and the most debt the company could incur, based on its overall credit limit, is $16,400.
Payment history: Suppliers and lenders report the number of days, on average, it takes a business to pay them. This is an important piece of information because people checking it need to predict whether you’ll be late on payments and invoices. The credit report may also list “days beyond terms,” which indicates how long past the due date a business usually takes to pay the bill.
The image here is from an Experian sample business credit report, which blends tradeline information and payment history in the same section. The fictional company has 44 current tradelines open with a total balance of $365,700. It’s currently three days late on a payment, and its worst payment status in the last five quarters is 17 days past due.
Public records: Credit reports may include publicly available information on both the company and its owner(s). Typically, this includes bankruptcies, judgments, liens, and Uniform Commercial Code filings. Depending on the credit bureau, this section may also include the status and dollar amounts for each.
The image here, from the sample Equifax report, displays a quick snapshot of the company’s public records. The report also has a detailed record of each entry further down.
Inquiries: Equifax Business and Experian Business list inquiries on their credit reports, but Dun & Bradstreet doesn’t. Inquiries occur when other businesses check your credit report, either as a lending decision or while they regularly monitor your business.
How to analyze your business credit report
When you check your business credit report, don’t miss these steps.
1. Verify your company information. Your basic company profile and NAICS and SIC numbers should be correct and up-to-date. If the report lists the wrong business, the information is wrong or outdated, or the NAICS and SIC numbers misclassify your business, your credit report could be based on wrong information. That can impact your score and any lending decisions.
2. Check your score—we’ll go into this below.
3. Check your account information, payment history, and public records. Lenders, suppliers, and other entities who are checking your business credit report will pay close attention to the information here and base financial decisions on it. Double-check the account information (also called “tradelines”), UCC filings, and any negative information listed, such as delinquent payments, tax liens, and bankruptcy filings. Compare the information against your records to make sure it’s correct.
4. Focus on problem areas. Credit reports typically spell out the rationale behind your score, which can help you understand which problems to focus on. For negative information that’s accurate, you’ll have to wait out the clock until it falls off your report — which is different for each bureau. Until then, work on building strong business credit by making payments on time (or early), borrowing from lenders that report payments, and keeping your personal and business credit separate where possible.
5. Dispute errors or report fraud. Business credit reports aren’t perfect. In fact, 25 percent of small-business owners who checked their business credit reports said they found errors that made them look riskier, according to a Wall Street Journal survey. Business identity fraud is another problem, as small businesses alone lose $8 billion a year due to this type of crime. You can dispute errors and report fraud with Experian, Equifax, and Dun & Bradstreet. And you can monitor your reports for fraud using a free account with Nav.com.
Here’s a look at the scoring section of your business credit reports:
Dun & Bradstreet
Dun & Bradstreet offers several types of business credit scores. The commercial credit score predicts whether a company will make a delinquent payment or cease operations and leave creditors on the hook within the next year. Scores range from 101–670, with a lower score representing a higher risk. The financial stress score predicts whether the business will fail over the next 12 months. Scores range from 1,001–1,610, with a lower score indicating a higher probability of financial stress.
The D&B PAYDEX measures a business’ payment performance based on information creditors supply. Scores range from 1–100, with a higher score indicating lower risk. A score of 80 means you typically pay on time, while a 100 means you typically pay 30 days early. The company in the image here scored a 64 based on information from the past 24 months. But in the last three months, the company has been slower to pay—about 36 days beyond terms—earning it a score of 48.
The D&B Viability Rating predicts whether a company will go out of business in the next 12 months based on four variables. The company here scored a Viability Rating of “27AA.” Here’s what that means:
- The Viability Score compares the firm to all others across the U.S. and predicts, on a scale of 1–9, whether it might fold in the next year. The Viability Score here is 2, which indicates a low risk.
- The Portfolio Comparison refines the score by comparing the firm only to other similar businesses. Here, D&B assigned the company a score of 7, which indicates a medium to high risk the company will go out of business.
- The Data Depth Indicator tells us how much predictive data is available for the company. It’s based on a scale from A–G, and the company here scored an A, meaning it has the greatest level of predictive data.
- The Company Profile describes the business based on a combination of four types of data: financial data, payment history, company size, and years in business. On a scale of A–Z, the company here scored an A, meaning it’s considered large (sales of $500,000 or more) and established (has been in business five years or more), has at least three tradelines, and has financial data available.
Experian’s Intelliscore Plus V2 blends both the owner’s and business’ payment history and other financial details, then predicts the likelihood of a serious delinquency in the next 12 months. The Intelliscore is measured on a scale of 1–100, with a higher score indicating a lower risk. Experian also classifies companies according to a risk class on a scale of 1–5.
This fictional company’s Intelliscore is 54 and its risk class is 2, meaning it has a low to medium risk of defaulting on payments. More than half of all businesses are more likely to be severely delinquent on a payment than this company, according to the info Experian provides here.
The image here shows the Equifax Business Credit Risk Score, which predicts whether a company will declare bankruptcy, incur a charge-off, or become severely delinquent on a payment within the next year. The score range is from 101–816, with a higher score indicating lower risk.
The fictional company in the image here scored a 410, and Equifax provides the logic behind the score. In this case, the company has made late payments or incurred charge-offs in the past, and it has a negative public record on file. However, the company’s long credit history boosts its credibility.
Your business credit reports and scores are incredibly important if you plan on working with other businesses or borrowing money in the future.
However, it’s worth noting here that your credit’s importance is evolving. While many lenders still mainly rely on your business credit to determine whether you’re a responsible borrower, there are other lenders and fintech firms (particularly those in the alternative lending space, like Fundbox) also look at other metrics beyond your credit, such as your length of time in business, revenue, and industry. So while your credit is important, it’s just one of many factors to keep in mind when planning your financial future.
That said, it’s still important to regularly review your reports and scores. Getting into this habit can help you catch fraud, and understanding your credit can take your business further. Good luck!
This article was prepared by guest contributor Kim Porter from Funding Circle.