It was a question I had answered a hundred times before, but somehow, it still left me shaking my head. "Can you help me get trade lines added to my D&B report?" And it had come from Larry, a Business Credit Basics subscriber who called in for a free consultation. His voice sounded tired and frustrated.
I think my response surprised him. Perhaps because he expected me to move immediately into a hard-sell strategy, or perhaps because just having asked the question had somehow made him feel uneasy, maybe even vulnerable.
"Yes," I said. "But you do realize that's something that you can do yourself, right?"
Over the next 30 minutes, I realized there was a lot that Larry didn't understand about "trade lines". He had been fed misinformation on the web and when talking to other people in the past... People who had been more interested in making a sale than doing what was best for him and his business. Those companies had been trying to "sell" him some "established trade lines" rather than teaching him how to build legitimate and long lasting business credit using simple, affordable, reliable, and legitimate techniques.
Trade lines are vendors or suppliers who extend your business general retail credit accounts based solely off the fact that they can verify your business is active and functioning. Most, but not all, do this by verifying your business information against D&B's database. By simply having a D&B file, your business qualifies for a basic line of credit. How you use that line of credit will determine how much it will impact future credit approvals. Use the credit line wisely and you'll be rewarded with additional opportunities. Be irresponsible and you could find yourself facing challenges in the future.
The term "trade lines" comes from the premise that a specific supplier would be generally associated with your specific industry, or "trade". There are some things that are a given... but, for now, let's just focus on these four business types...
A plumber will likely use trade lines from a plumbing supply warehouse, a local home improvement store, or even an online HVAC supplier.
A local family restaurant will have multiple food purveyors as their trade lines, but also restaurant furniture retailers, kitchen equipment companies, a linen supplier, and maybe a dishware manufacturer.
Trade lines for a computer tech will likely include large-scale computer manufacturers, but also part wholesalers, software companies, and even a company that provides peripherals.
A small home-based house flipper will have a vast assortment of trade lines, such as building materials, discount appliances, an A/C guy, a landscaper, and a vendor for the tools he needs to get the job done.
At the same time, though, all four of these diverse businesses are also going to have certain suppliers in common. For instance, they may all buy their office supplies from Office Depot®, or business cards from Vistaprint®, or tires from Firestone®. Without knowing it, they may all use the same local bookkeeping service, pest control provider, or marketing service. On any given day, you might find a UPS® truck parked in front of all four businesses.
What many small business owners don't understand is that trade lines don't have to be directly related to your specific trade. Any business that sells or services another business can be considered as a trade line even though their customers aren't delegated to any specific trade or line of business. And each of those suppliers might be able to report your payment history to your corporate credit report even if they aren't a part of D&B's automated reporting process.
Using your existing trade lines...
Any one of your suppliers has the potential to boost your scores and ratings up to 90% simply because you have two required elements in place: an account with them and a D&B business credit report. Your payment history can get added in one of two ways: either A) your supplier auto-reports payment history to D&B, or B) you manually submit your trade references to D&B and have them manually contacted.
Since you have already spent money with these suppliers, this is usually the fastest way to get the payment history into your D&B file, however, it comes with a cost. D&B charges $159 per month for a Creditbuilder® service, so you will want to have your list of suppliers ready before you contract the service. You'll need their business name, address, phone, and your account number ready when you submit the list to D&B.
There are hundreds (if not thousands) of businesses that report all of their business-to-business transactions to Dun & Bradstreet® automatically. Chances are good that you are already doing business with a few of these companies, which is why it is so important that your business name, address, and phone number on your account matches exactly with what is showing in your D&B file.
If you have accounts with auto-reporting suppliers but haven't used them in a while, it's time to re-order. Payment history only stays in the file for 24-28 months, so keeping your payment history fresh can boost your scores significantly because it shows multiple transactions and a dedication to prompt payment habits. Even previous poor payment history can benefit from a new, promptly paid reorder.
Creating new trade lines...
If your business doesn't have any credit history, create new trade lines with companies when making purchases for your business. Even online accounts that allow your business to make purchases on a prepaid or net terms basis can be very beneficial because they provide proof of activity to the corporate credit bureaus with every business-to-business transaction.
In general, most of these purchases in the business name will not require a personal guaranty or a hard inquiry on the personal credit file. And because many of these companies report automatically, the payment history flows directly into the credit report without requiring the trade line be added manually through an expensive Creditbuilder service.
Contractual agreements between D&B and their trade suppliers prohibit either company from admitting they are a part of the auto-reporting process, so it will do no good to ask. Our extensive list of confirmed auto-reporting vendors comes from years of experience of watching known interactions flow automatically through the systems in place. Even so, new suppliers get added to our list on an ongoing basis.
If you have been struggling to build strong scores and ratings, try using (and re-using) the suppliers you have come to trust, but also take the necessary steps to build new and expanding relationships outside the local comfort zone.
You should be very wary of any company that is offering to "sell" you trade lines to get payment history into your file. Purchased trade lines go against every acceptable practice with the corporate credit bureaus, including D&B. The techniques these companies use will cost you plenty, will raise eyebrows at the bureaus, and will usually cause your company to face an in-depth investigation. In most cases, the payment history will be discarded and your credit scores, and future potential credit, will be permanently downgraded.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me directly. I can usually provide simple, free ways to boost your scores and ratings and get you to your goals.