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Learn the Difference Between a Charge Card and a Credit Card in Just a Minute

Sarita Harbour

Sarita Harbour

Sarita Harbour is a Small Business & Entrepreneurship Columnist at Fundera and a freelance writer and entrepreneur specializing in business and personal finance. A former financial advisor, Sarita has over a decade of experience in banking. Her work appears online at sites such as Forbes, Investopedia, Yahoo!, Capital One Spark Business IQ, and Business News Daily. Connect with Sarita on Twitter @saritawrites.
Sarita Harbour
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Though these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, charge cards and credit cards are not the same. While a charge card could be considered a type of credit card, it comes with some distinct features that borrowers should understand. Here’s a quick overview of the difference between a charge card and a credit card.

TL;DR: Spotting the Difference Between a Charge Card and a Credit Card

If you don’t have time to comb through all of the details on the difference between a charge card and a credit card, here’s a quick rundown on the general idea. Though credit cards and charge cards are often referred to synonymously, they have a few key differences that make them very different products:

  1. Charge cards operate on the assumption that you will pay your balance in full every month.
  2. Charge cards carry heavy late payment fees.
  3. Charge cards don’t carry interest rates.
  4. Charge cards don’t have preset spending limits.
  5. Charge cards are meant for the most creditworthy applicants.

If these features sound like something you want to get your hands on, then look into the top 3 business charge cards on the market—the Amex Plum Card, the Amex Business Gold Rewards Card, and the Amex Business Platinum Card.

And that’s the general overview on knowing the difference between a charge card and a credit card. Read on if you want to learn about charge cards in more detail.

The Difference Between a Charge Card and a Credit Card

1. Charge Cards Require Paying Balance in Full

Credit card users who don’t pay their balance off in full at the end of the month know they’ll get hit with paying interest on the balance… but making a minimum monthly payment on time is all that’s required to keep a typical credit card account in good standing. A major difference between a charge card and a credit card is that, with a charge card, you’re required to pay the balance off in full each month.

This is an important distinction for small business owners considering a charge card instead of a credit card. With a credit card, if cash flow is tight one month, you do have the option to make just the minimum payment. There’s no option like that with a charge card, though—if you don’t pay off your balance in full, you’ll risk damaging your credit score and face heavy late payment fees.

2. Charge Cards Carry Heavy Late Payment Fees

Late fees on charge card balances can feel pretty painful. But don’t forget that, unlike with a credit card, you’re not supposed to carry a balance at all on a charge card. Instead, you’re meant to pay it off in full at the end of each billing cycle.

American Express, which has the lion’s share of charge cards in the United States, charges $25 the first time you’ve got a late payment on your charge card. This rises to $35 for the next late payment within the following 6 billing cycles, and then to $35 or 2.99% of the outstanding amount if you’re late with two or more payments in a row.

Compared to American Express’s regular credit cards that come with a late payment fee of the lesser of $25 or your minimum payment amount, charge card late fees are significantly more expensive. 

These first two differences highlight just how far apart charge cards and credit cards can be, especially when it comes to when and how you pay off your balances.

3. No Interest Rate?!

Another difference between a charge card and a credit card that small business owners should be aware of is that charge cards don’t charge interest.

Yup, you heard that right. Charge card borrowers have to borrow money interest-free—as long as you pay off the noted balance before your next statement date. This goes hand-in-hand with the charge card rule of not carrying a balance: after all, why set an interest rate for balances you’re not supposed to carry?

4. No Preset Spending Limit on Charge Cards

Maybe the most appealing difference between a charge card and a credit card is that a charge card doesn’t have a spending limit—while a credit card does.

This doesn’t mean you can—or should—swipe that charge card in a spending frenzy… Your lender could always impose some boundaries on your spending. But not having a pre-set spending limit does let small business owners seize time-limited opportunities that require immediate access to cash.

Instead of waiting for a loan approval, business owners with charge cards can immediately purchase the inventory or supplies they need to complete a large rush job. They then pay off the balance in full at the end of their billing cycle.

With a credit card, you can only borrow up to your pre-set credit card limit, usually determined by your income and credit score. To increase your credit card limit, you’ll need to contact your lender for a limit increase. This could mean re-qualifying by providing up-to-date income verification, plus authorizing a new credit check.

5. Charge Cards Work Best for Creditworthy Applicants

Another difference between a charge card and a credit card: qualifying for a charge card requires a stronger credit score than you’ll usually need for a credit card, so it might work best for creditworthy borrowers. With no preset limit, the lender wants to minimize their risk of borrowers defaulting—so they’re going to pay particular attention to your credit score.  

Once you have a charge card, make sure to stay on top of payments, or else you might find your credit score taking a beating.

The Best Charge Cards Out There

Now that you’ve got a grasp on what makes a charge card different from a credit card, let’s dive into the details on some of the very best charge cards available to business owners.

If the general features that charge cards offer seem like a great option for you, consider applying to these top 3 business charge cards:

The American Express Plum Charge Card

The first on our list of the best charge cards out there is the Amex Plum card.

This charge card comes with the best of both worlds—it offers all the perks of a charge card accompanied by the ultimate payment flexibility of the longest payment grace period on the market. That’s right—even though the Plum is a charge card, you’ll still be able to take some time on your payments—exactly 60 days from your statement closing, to be exact.

Even better, if you decide to pay your statement balance early—or within 10 days of your statement closing date—you’ll get a flat-rate 1.5% discount on every dollar of the amount you pay off early. Not to mention, unlike many business credit cards, the Plum won’t limit the returns you can get when you pay your bill early.

With the Plum charge card, you’ll be able to choose from month-to-month which perk you’ll choose to take advantage of—the ultimate flexibility of the 60-day grace period, or the unlimited 1.5% rewards that come with an early payment.

With all that said, the Plum charge card does come with one notable downside—you’ll have to pay an annual fee of $250 to be a Plum cardholder. However, American Express will waive the annual fee for your first year with the card, so that will be the perfect trial run to see if the advantages of spending with the Plum card outweigh its hefty annual fee.

The American Express Business Gold Rewards Card

Next up on our list of the top 3 charge cards out there is the Amex Gold Rewards card.

This business charge card offers stellar rewards rates for every dollar you spend on your business. If you choose to do your business spending on the Amex Gold charge card, then you’ll gain access to the following flexible yet high-earning rewards rates:

  • 3 points for every $1 spent in your choice of one of the following categories:
    • Airfare purchased directly from airlines
    • Purchases at gas stations in the U.S.
    • Purchases for print advertising in select media in the U.S.
    • Purchases for shipping in the U.S.
    • Purchases for computer hardware and software in the U.S.
  • 2 points for every $1 spent in the 4 remaining categories you didn’t choose for up to $100,000 annually
  • 1 point for every $1 spent on everything else for up to $100,000 annually

Plus, when you spend $5,000 during your first 3 months with the Amex Gold card, you’ll access a welcome bonus of 50,000 Membership Rewards, which can be redeemed as purchases at eligible retailers like airlines, restaurants, and pretty much anywhere you’d want to make a purchase.

However, again, be sure to note that this charge card’s perks will come at a price—$175 a year, to be precise. That said, Amex will waive the annual fee for your first year as an Amex Gold cardholder, so you’ll also have a chance to test run this charge card option before having to pay to access its perks.

The American Express Business Platinum Charge Card

Last but certainly not least, the final charge card for you to consider is the Amex Platinum card.

This business charge card is a top-of-the-line luxury travel rewards card for the business owner who’s always up in the air. When you become an Amex Platinum cardholder, you’ll be able to access luxury travel perks to the tune of universal airport lounge access, a TSA PreCheck credit, and an incidentals credit to your airline of choice, among many others. Not to mention, you’ll be able to access rewards returns from the business spending that you put on your Amex Platinum. Here are the rates that the Platinum comes with:

  • 5 points for every dollar you spend on flights and hotels booked through amextravel.com
  • 1.5 points for every dollar you spend on purchases of over $5,000, for up to 1 million extra points annually
  • 1 point for every dollar you spend elsewhere

However, these sustained rewards and perks aren’t all that the Platinum has to offer—it will also welcome you warmly with a generous signing bonus. Once you spend $10,000 on your Platinum, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus rewards points. Plus, if you spend an additional $15,000 on your card quickly—within the first 3 months, to be exact—you’ll earn 50,000 more bonus rewards points. That’s a potential to earn a total of 100,000 rewards points, just for investing in your business.

All the Platinum’s perks aside, you do need to take into account that its annual fee, at $450, is one of the highest out there. Plus, Amex won’t waive your first annual fee with the Platinum, so you’ll have to pay to access this card’s perks from the get-go. That said, if you’re already planning on investing in the perks that the Platinum offers, regardless of whether you decide to get the card or not, then these perks that come with the card will more than pay for its $450 annual fee.

***

Understanding the difference between a charge card and a credit card could help you make better financing choices when it comes to borrowing those short-term funds you need for growth. Let’s summarize:

A credit card is a more flexible option if you want the option to make just a minimum monthly payment and carry a balance without late payment fees. A charge card can be a good tool for a small business owner who can pay off their card balances within a short time frame.

If you decide to spend with one of the 3 best charge cards on the market, remember to plan your charge card spending and carefully monitor your cash flow so you can pay off the balance in full—every time.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
Sarita Harbour

Sarita Harbour

Sarita Harbour is a Small Business & Entrepreneurship Columnist at Fundera and a freelance writer and entrepreneur specializing in business and personal finance. A former financial advisor, Sarita has over a decade of experience in banking. Her work appears online at sites such as Forbes, Investopedia, Yahoo!, Capital One Spark Business IQ, and Business News Daily. Connect with Sarita on Twitter @saritawrites.
Sarita Harbour

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