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Clark & Brody, a two-person firm based in Washington, D.C., routinely uses its Capitol One Visa card to pay U.S. Patent and Trademark Office fees for clients. Says Chris Brody: “This is especially advantageous if we have to advance funds for clients, as it gives us another 30 days to collect before paying it out to the credit card company.” Corporate credit cards have become so numerous and laden with perks that selecting the right card can be labor intensive. Here’s some help: 1. Charge v. Credit.Do you want the flexibility of carrying a balance, or a charge card where the full balance is due each month and there’s usually no pre-set spending limit? For the latter, American Express’ Business Gold Card is a popular option. First year, no annual fee, thereafter $75. No charge for additional cards. The Diners Club Company Card program may fit the bill if you have 10 travelers or less. All charges are posted to one monthly statement, which is due in full each month. The annual fee is $65 for each card. 2. Teaser Rates.Be careful about introductory rates that quickly spike to double digits. 3. Spending Limit.Expect most corporate credit cards to offer a credit line of up to $50,000. 4. Discounts.Cooperative arrangements with various merchants, such as airlines and car rental agencies, can be an incentive to sign up. Visa’s Business Partner Advantage Program offers discounts for purchases at Pitney Bowes Inc. and Thrifty Car Rental charges. Similarly, American Express’ Open: The Small Business Network has alliances with Staples Inc., and FedEx Corp. 5. Cash Back.Several cards offer cash rebates. Advanta Corp., based in House, Penn., offers plans with an unlimited amount of cash rebates, based on a graduated percentage of total purchases. As soon as you’ve earned $50, they send you a check. American Express also offers a cash back card, the Blue Cash for Business credit card. The no-annual-fee card (three cards are free, $10 for every card thereafter) provides an unlimited cash rebate, but the rebate comes only once a year in the form of a credit, which appears on the February statement. 6. Online Resources.Most companies offer online account information, and allow users to conduct basic maneuvers such as transferring funds. For example, on Advanta’s Web site, firm administrators can add new cardholders. Many cards permit secure download of account data. Visa cardholders can use Visa Information Source software to download account data directly to Intuit’s QuickBooks or Quicken software, or Microsoft Money. Most Web sites also offer a wealth of resources for running a small business. Though not tailored specifically to the legal community, they offer guidance on topics that cross all industry boundaries, such as health insurance options for small businesses. 7. Miles.Frequent flier miles can be earned in various rewards programs or you can opt for a branded card that’s tied directly to an airline. Robert Spears, a commercial litigator in Decatur, Ga., opted for the American Express Delta SkyMiles Business Card. “Of course, I can never get free tickets to anywhere I want to go,” he jokes, “but that’s why they’re free.” Caveat:Watch out for expiration periods on airline miles. Diners Club points have no expiration date, and can be transferred to many major airline programs. So if you don’t fly a lot, it may be smarter to pull out the DC grey card. 8. Reward Program.It’s not only about the miles. Like many reward programs, AmEx’s Membership Rewards program allows cardholders to earn points that can be used for airline tickets, hotel stays, or purchases at participating merchants — such as Saks Fifth Avenue and The Sharper Image. Be aware: Not all AmEx small business cards are eligible for the program, and some may require a $40 annual fee to participate. The program also is a major feature of the American Express Green Rewards card, but note that the annual fee is $95 — you can ask to have the fee waived for the first year. The Club Rewards program, from Diners Club, awards two points for every dollar charged versus a 1:1 ratio for the AmEx program, and participation is included with the $65 annual fee. So, if points are an important factor for you, be sure to do some research and verify that you can use your accumulated earnings with companies that you like. Also, read the terms and disclosure form for any rules that might not be self-evident. For instance, if you don’t pay your AmEx bill on time, your points for that month are forfeited. 9. Customer Service.Before you sign up for a card, be sure you like the company’s method of customer service. Check to see that it’s available 24/7 by phone or online. Also look at those ancillary services that might come in handy. For example, American Express offers travel assistance, which may be a benefit you ought to consider — especially if lawyers will be traveling overseas. American Express also offers the Gold Card Events program, which could help you improve your firm’s customer service. The program allows card members to purchase tickets to select events (such as Broadway shows and major concerts) prior to their sale to the general public. Something to consider the next time you want to impress a client. 10. Other Fees.Hopefully you won’t encounter these often, but you should be aware of various fees that in and of themselves may not be large, but spread across multiple cardholders could add up for the firm. Among those to consider: fees for additional cards, late payment fees, overlimit fees, replacement card fees, fees to restore forefeited rewards points, and cash advance fees. 11. Restricted Purchases.Some corporate cards allow firms to restrict usage of the card, and prohibit certain types of purchases. For instance, some programs will only permit charges at pre-approved hotels. This can be an excellent way to control costs. 12. Billing Cycles.If your firm does not want a centrally administered program, consider the Diners Club Personal card. Unlike other cards, it offers 62 days to pay without interest or late fees. This allows plenty of time for an expense report to be processed before the individual is on the hook for the payment. Ultimately, your choice comes down to what payment terms, discounts or reward programs best suit your needs. To take your decision making process one step further, you’ll need to look at the terms offered by specific banks. To drill down to this level of detail, the Web is an essential resource. Credit card information sites, like www.cardweb.com , www.bankrate.com or www.consumer-credit-cards-guide.com , can help you sort through the fine print on both corporate and personal credit card offerings. And once you’ve chosen a card, you can apply online. Odette Galli is a freelance writer based in New York and is a frequent contributor to RealMoney.com. E-mail: [email protected] .

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