No Job, Loads of Debt: Covid Upends Middle-Class Family Finances - The Wall Street Journal

No Job, Loads of Debt: Covid Upends Middle-Class Family Finances - The Wall Street Journal


No Job, Loads of Debt: Covid Upends Middle-Class Family Finances - The Wall Street Journal

Posted: 20 Sep 2020 11:21 AM PDT

Until mid-March, Alysse Hopkins earned a comfortable living in Rockland County, N.Y., representing clients in foreclosure cases and personal-injury lawsuits.

In a good year, the 43-year-old lawyer and her husband, Ian Boschen, 41, together brought in about $175,000, the couple said—enough to cover the mortgage, two car leases, student loans, credit cards and assorted costs of raising two daughters in the New York City suburbs.

After the coronavirus halted many foreclosures and closed courts, her work dried up. Unemployment benefits have helped, Ms. Hopkins said, but the family is running low on savings and can't keep up with $9,000 in monthly debt payments including mortgage installments. "It frustrates me to not be able to earn a living," she said. "I have a law degree, almost 20 years of practice."

Millions of Americans have lost jobs during a pandemic that kept restaurants, shops and public institutions closed for months and hit the travel industry hard. While lower-wage workers have borne much of the brunt, the crisis is wreaking a particular kind of havoc on the debt-laden middle class.

Debt didn't present a major problem before the coronavirus. The job market was booming and median household incomes were rising, allowing families to keep up with payments.

American families with nonhousing debt making over $98,018 a year in pre-tax income owed an average of nearly $92,000 of such debt in 2016. That's up 32% from 2004, adjusted for inflation, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit research group.

Average nonhousing debt owed by families making $52,655 to $98,018 rose about 33% over the 12 years to $33,378.

Before the pandemic, Americans had amassed $4.2 trillion in consumer debt, excluding mortgages, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a record even when adjusting for inflation. Housing debt added an additional $10 trillion to the tally.

The coronavirus has spared few industries and expanded unemployment benefits designed to replace the average American income didn't cover all the lost pay of higher-earning workers, especially in or near expensive cities. The extra $600 weekly payments expired in July, putting them even further behind.

"What I see happening here is a core assault on successful college-educated families, which are the new breed of middle-class American families," said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. "There's a professional workforce that's getting slammed."

Roughly six months into the pandemic, many lenders that let borrowers skip monthly payments now expect to get paid again. They have set aside billions of dollars to cover potential losses on soured consumer loans—an acknowledgment that America's decadelong debt binge has come to an end.

Credit-card debt has fallen in recent months. But with a big chunk of government assistance gone, Congress is still haggling over a second round of coronavirus relief. President Trump signed an executive order in August to provide an extra $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits. The payments haven't been distributed by every state yet, and Democrats say the president's order violated congressional-spending authority.

White-collar pain

Unemployment has fallen from its pandemic peak of near 15%, but the rate stood at 8.4% in August, up from 3.5% in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment for the arts, design, media, sports and entertainment was 12.7% in August, more than triple its year-earlier level. In education, it more than doubled to 10.2%. Sales and office unemployment was 7.8% in August, up from 3.8% in August 2019.

Architects and engineers, who earn $1,826 in average weekly pretax income, well above the $1,389 average among full-time wage and salaried workers, have seen unemployment rise to 3.7% from 0.8% a year earlier. Unemployment for computer and math occupations, which earn $1,919 a week on average, more than tripled to 4.6%.

It could get worse. "The pain so far in the economy has largely been at the lower end of the pay scale," said Discover Financial Services Chief Executive Roger Hochschild, adding that many of "the white-collar layoffs are still to come."

Lynn Scott-White, 47, was furloughed from her job as a corporate travel agent at the end of March. Before the pandemic, she and her husband together earned roughly $150,000, she said.

The Denton, Texas, couple pay $4,400 a month on their mortgage, four car loans and leases, and student debt, Ms. Scott-White said. Minimum required monthly credit-card payments total about $700. The debt was manageable pre-pandemic, she said.

She deferred lease payments on her Infiniti QX60 for three months and started paying again with unemployment benefits. Her husband traded in his Ford F-150 in August for a lower-cost car and reduced his original monthly payment of $820 by about $100, and his income covers the $2,100 mortgage.

Lynn Scott-White is preparing to switch careers. 'I didn't think I would have to do this,' she says.

Photo: Justin Clemons for the Wall Street Journal

After about 24 years in the travel industry, Ms. Scott-White is preparing to switch careers, concluding it could be a long time before corporate travel returns to previous levels. In August, her employer gave her three options: severance of a week's pay for each year employed, unpaid leave until late March or continue on furlough.

She resigned, opting to take the severance. She returned to college last month to complete a bachelor's degree in kinesiology to pursue a sports-medicine career. She borrowed $5,000 against her 401(k) to help pay for it. "I didn't think I would have to do this," she said. "I'm trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up."

By some measures, the outlook for higher-earning workers appears worse than during the 2008 financial crisis. In August, about 3.3 million people age 25 and over with bachelor's degrees or higher were unemployed, up from 1.2 million in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the last downturn, that number peaked at about 2.2 million.

Postings for jobs with salaries over $100,000 were down 19% in August from April, while postings for all other salary categories increased, according to job-search site ZipRecruiter Inc.

American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. have outlined plans to furlough or lay off thousands of employees on Oct. 1, when federal aid expires, unless they receive more government assistance. Business-software company Salesforce.com Inc. is eliminating 1,000 jobs; a spokeswoman said the company is also adding 4,000 jobs over the next six months.

MGM Resorts International and Stanley Black & Decker Inc. notified some furloughed employees they would be laid off. The companies said they have brought back, or expect to bring back, many of these employees.

America's biggest banks have indicated they are preparing for a protracted downturn to hurt businesses in industries that weren't immediately affected by shutdowns.

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JPMorgan Chase & Co. says it expects the U.S. to add roughly 5.4 million jobs in the third and fourth quarters. That would leave the U.S. economy with about 9.2 million fewer jobs since February.

"The pandemic has a grip on the economy," Citigroup Inc. CEO Michael Corbat said when the bank reported second-quarter earnings in July, "and it doesn't seem likely to loosen until vaccines are widely available." This month, the bank said many customers that previously enrolled in deferment programs are making payments.

'Very dire'

Terri Smith, 64, said her job analyzing legal expenses for her employer was eliminated in a round of cost-cutting. Even with the extra $600 a week, unemployment didn't cover her lost earnings, and she is now down to $285 after tax in weekly unemployment benefits.

The monthly mortgage payment on her Charlotte, N.C., home is $1,550, she said. Her car payment is $550. Health insurance costs $600 a month, and a recent hospital visit cost $7,500 in out-of-pocket expenses. She has dipped into savings to keep up with bills and is thinking about withdrawing from her 401(k) or signing up for loan-deferment programs until she can find a job.

"I don't have a plan. It's very dire," she said. "I'm getting very nervous."

Many people who have jobs are struggling with pay cuts. As of August, 17 million workers were getting paid less due to the pandemic, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. Some 9.5 million took pay cuts; the remaining 7.5 million are working fewer hours, he said.

Steven Sickinger's income fell sharply in the spring, he said, when customers stopped coming to the auto-repair shop he managed. Concerned that the shop was at risk of shutting down, Mr. Sickinger, 55, quit and took another job he considered more secure making $50,000—35% less than the $77,000 he made in 2019.

The pay cuts have made it difficult for the Tucson, Ariz., resident to keep up with bills. He said he owes at least $24,000 on his credit cards. His credit union let him skip his roughly $655 monthly payments on the loan for his Ford F-150 in June and July. He said he hasn't used his credit cards in months, but interest charges and late fees are pushing his balances higher. Eight of his credit cards have been reported late, he said. Pre-pandemic, his credit report showed an on-time record going back to 2014.

Before the coronavirus, his plan was to pay off the debt in about 2½ years and would then begin preparing for retirement. Now, Mr. Sickinger said, he is in the process of filing for bankruptcy: "I will never claw my way out of this situation."

The economy is reviving in parts of the country including New York, where Ms. Hopkins lives. Most courts in the state have reopened. But law firms in New York City and Long Island that used to hire her to avoid the hour-or-more drive are now handling their cases online.

Ms. Hopkins says the pandemic has drastically reduced her work.

Photo: Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

Ms. Hopkins is working again, taking virtual depositions, but the volume is nothing like it was. She had six assignments in August and a few so far this month. Pre-pandemic, she appeared in court on average for four to six cases a day. "I don't know if it's ever going to go back to that," she said.

She and Mr. Boschen paused their $750 in car payments for April and May. They got a one-month break on a $680 payment on a personal loan taken for a bathroom renovation. Mr. Boschen said his nearly $800 in monthly student-loan payments are deferred through December. That, and money set aside for their daughters' summer camp, freed up enough to help cover their $3,000 monthly mortgage payment and $1,500 monthly health-insurance premium.

Ms. Hopkins's weekly state unemployment of $441 after taxes ended last week, she said, at the same time that she received a $262 deposit, the first of her unemployment benefits tied to President Trump's August executive order.

Ms. Hopkins said she recently took out a $36,500 Small Business Administration loan, because she qualifies as a small business through her legal work, to cover the work bills. She said she has 30 years to repay it.

Write to AnnaMaria Andriotis at annamaria.andriotis@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the September 21, 2020, print edition as 'Pandemic Upends Middle-Class Family Finances.'

These business credit cards earn rewards and can get you through a cash crunch - CNN

Posted: 21 Apr 2020 12:00 AM PDT

CNN Underscored reviews financial products such as credit cards and bank accounts based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through The Points Guy affiliate network if you apply and are approved for a card, but our reporting is always independent and objective. Find all of our coronavirus-related coverage here, and let us know your thoughts here.

While you might be looking to lower your business credit card expenses right now, it's also a vital time to keep track of every dollar your business spends. Having the right credit card to separate your business expenses from personal expenses can make your life significantly easier.

Not only that, but business credit cards can also offer higher spending and credit limits, which might be a necessity to make those large business purchases. Some cards even have introductory interest rates on purchases and balance transfers, making them a helpful tool in the current economic climate.

Our comprehensive credit card methodology compares every aspect of each business credit card to our "benchmark credit card" — the Citi® Double Cash Card — to determine which cards can potentially bring you maximum value. And while the Double Cash is a personal credit card, a comparable business credit card is the American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card, as both cards earn flat-rate cash back at the same market-leading rate.

So take a few minutes to take a look at our list of the best business credit cards in 2020 and see if one might be useful to your business right now.

The best business credit cards of 2020

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express: Best for 0% interest
Costco Anywhere Visa® Business Card by Citi: Best for gas purchases
American Express® Business Gold Card: Best for flexible bonus categories
Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business: Best for everyday business expenses
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best sign-up bonus
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for travel perks
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®: Best for lifetime elite status

Why did we select these cards as our best business credit cards for 2020? Dive into the details of each card with us, and see how they stack up.

Best for 0% interest: Blue Business Plus from American Express

Why it's great in one sentence: For businesses looking to pay off large purchases with no interest for an extended time, the Blue Business Plus from American Express offers an introductory 0% APR on purchases for the first 12 months you have the card (13.24%-19.24% variable afterward).

This card is right for: Small businesses with less than $50,000 in annual expenses who want to earn travel rewards for no annual fee, but who can also utilize an introductory interest rate.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 points for every dollar you spend on all purchases up to $50,000 per year, then 1 point per dollar thereafter.
  • Points can be redeemed for travel through Amex Travel at a rate of up to 1 cent per point.
  • Points can also be transferred to any of Amex's 21 airline and hotel partners.
  • 0% interest on all purchases for the first 12 months (13.24%-19.24% variable afterward).
  • Terms apply.

Welcome bonus: None

What we like about the Blue Business Plus: If your business needs to make ends meet right now, the Blue Business Plus offers a 0% introductory interest rate on purchases for the first 12 months you have the card. Just be careful to pay off your debt in that time, because the rate jumps to a variable 13.24%-19.24% after the 12 months are up.

The Blue Business Plus also earns 2 points for every dollar your business spends on all purchases up to $50,000 each calendar year. After that, the rate drops to just 1 point per dollar, so this is a card that caters more toward small businesses who don't have extraordinary yearly expenses.

The Blue Business Plus card is best for small businesses.
The Blue Business Plus card is best for small businesses.
PHOTO: iStock

The Membership Rewards points earned with this card are both flexible and valuable, assuming you want to bank them for travel in the future. You can redeem them directly for flights or hotel stays at a rate of up to 1 cent per point via Amex Travel, or transfer them to any of American Express's 21 airline and hotel partners for potentially even more value.

One thing that could be better: Although one of the perks of the Blue Business Plus is that you can earn points toward free travel, you may not have travel on your mind right now. And while you can convert the points earned on this card to cash, it's a pretty poor value with each point worth only 0.6 cents apiece.

But if you'd prefer to earn cash back instead of travel rewards, you'll want to look at the American Express Blue Business Cash Card instead. The card's features are virtually the same as the Blue Business Plus, but you'll earn cash back instead of points, which could be a better fit if you want to use your credit card rewards now rather than save them for later.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Extensive airline and hotel transfer partners, some travel and purchase protections, introductory rate on purchases.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has an introductory interest rate on balance transfers.

Read our complete Blue Business Plus Credit Card review.
Learn more about the Blue Business Plus from American Express.

Best for gas purchases: Costco Anywhere Visa Business Credit Card

Why it's great in one sentence: For businesses with employees who will eventually be back on the road regularly, the Costco Anywhere Visa Business Card is one of the best cards to maximize your return on gas purchases.

This card is right for: Businesses who want strong rewards when buying at Costco, as well as on gas, restaurant and eligible travel purchases.

Highlights:

  • Earn 4% cash back on eligible gas purchases for the first $7,000 per year (1% thereafter).
  • Earn 3% cash back on restaurants and eligible travel purchases.
  • Earn 2% cash back on all other purchases at Costco and costco.com.
  • Earn 1% cash back on everything else.
  • Purchase protection and extended warranty coverage.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee (with paid Costco membership).

Welcome bonus: None.

What we like about the Costco Anywhere Visa Business: The best return on the Costco Anywhere Visa Business card is the 4% cash back you'll earn on eligible gas purchases worldwide, including gas at Costco (capped at the first $7,000 in purchases per year, then 1% thereafter). Compared to many other business credit cards, you'll find this to be one of the top bonuses for your company's gasoline purchases.

Aside from that, you'll also earn 3% cash back at restaurants and on eligible travel purchases, 2% cash back on all Costco and costco.com purchases other than gas and 1% cash back on everything else. Although some of these categories might not help your business with purchases today, these are solid returns on common business expenses for when life gets back to normal.

Earn 4% cash back on gasoline purchases, both at Costco and other gas stations.
Earn 4% cash back on gasoline purchases, both at Costco and other gas stations.
PHOTO: iStock

We also like that the Costco Anywhere Visa Business card offers strong protection benefits — such as purchase protection and extended warranty coverage — which makes it a desirable credit card to use on many business expenses. The card also doesn't charge any foreign transaction fees, which means it's a good card to use on international trips in the future.

One thing that could be better: Instead of getting your rewards from the Costco Anywhere Visa Business after each monthly billing statement ends, you receive them for the entire year as a single certificate each February, and you have to physically go to a Costco store to swap them for cash back. You also only have until the end of the calendar year to use your earned rewards before they expire, and must have a Costco membership to get the card.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Solid purchase protection benefits, no foreign transaction fees.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash doesn't require a Costco membership and earns easy-to-redeem cash back on each billing statement.

Read our complete Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi review (the personal version of the card offers many of the same benefits as the business card).
Learn more about the Costco Anywhere Visa Business Card by Citi.

Best for flexible bonus categories: American Express Business Gold

Why it's great in one sentence: The Amex Business Gold card gives businesses the flexibility to earn bonus points on the two categories they spend the most money on in each billing period.

This card is right for: Businesses who spend money in varying categories over the course of the year and who want to be rewarded with extra travel rewards on their largest purchases each month.

Highlights:

  • Earn 4 points for every dollar you spend on two select categories you spend the most in each billing cycle (up to $150,000 in combined purchases per year, then 1x).
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Flexibility to redeem points through American Express Travel and receive 25% of the points back.
  • Points can also be transferred to any of Amex's 21 airline and hotel partners.
  • Trip delay protection.
  • Extended warranty and purchase protection.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $295 annual fee.
  • Terms apply.

Welcome bonus: Earn 35,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership.

What we like about the Amex Business Gold: The Amex Business Gold shines when it comes to earning the maximum number of points on varying business expenses, even if they aren't in the same categories every month. With this card, you'll earn 4 points per dollar on the top two categories where your business spent the most in each billing cycle, from a list of six possible categories:

  • US purchases for advertising in select media (online, TV, radio).
  • US purchases made directly from select technology providers of computer hardware, software and cloud solutions.
  • US purchases at gas stations.
  • US purchases at restaurants.
  • US purchases for shipping.
  • Airfare purchased directly from airlines.

The best part of this system is that American Express will automatically calculate your top two categories at the end of each billing cycle — you don't have to speculatively select your categories in advance. This is great in the current economic environment, as you aren't locked into two categories for the entire year, and your bonus points can change as your purchases change.

US purchases for shipping is one of six select bonus categories on the Amex Business Gold card.
US purchases for shipping is one of six select bonus categories on the Amex Business Gold card.
PHOTO: iStock

One thing that could be better: For a card with such a high annual fee, there aren't too many travel benefits on the Amex Business Gold. You won't get any luxury travel perks or even any travel statement credits. This means there aren't many opportunities to offset the annual fee, so you'll need to make sure the earning rate is worth it for your overall spend.

Also, it's important to note that your 4x bonus point categories are capped at $150,000 in spending across the combined six categories each calendar year. Once you hit that threshold, the card only earns 1 point per dollar on everything you buy.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, transferable points, trip delay protection, purchase protection, no foreign transaction fees.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee and an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Learn more about the American Express Business Gold Card.

Best for everyday business expenses: Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Why it's great in one sentence: The Capital One Spark Miles for Business earns an unlimited 2 miles for every dollar you spend on the card, and those miles can be redeemed for any travel purchase you make — plus, for a limited time, food delivery and phone services — at 1 cent per mile, or transferred to Capital One's airline partners for potentially even more valuable redemptions.

This card is right for: Larger businesses that want easy-to-redeem credit card rewards, with the option to learn how to master transferable miles down the line for greater value.

Highlights:

  • Earn 5 miles for every dollar you spend on your card on hotels and rental cars booked via Capital One travel.
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar on all other purchases with no cap.
  • Redeem miles for any travel purchase at a rate of 1 cent per mile.
  • Now through Sept. 30, redeem miles for food delivery and phone services at 1 cent per mile.
  • Miles can also be transferred to any of 15 airline and hotel partners.
  • Up to $100 credit when applying for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee for the first year, then $95 per year.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,500 in the first three months after opening the account.

What we like about the Capital One Spark Miles: This is a business credit card that makes earning and redeeming travel points incredibly easy. For starters, you'll earn 2 miles for every dollar you spend on the Capital One Spark Miles card with no cap. On top of that, if you book any hotels or car rentals through Capital One Travel, you'll earn an extra 3 miles for a total of 5 miles per dollar.

You can redeem your miles any time for any travel related purchase at a fixed 1 cent per mile, or for a limited time from now through Sept. 30 (extended from the original June 30 expiration), you can also redeem them for purchases of food delivery or phone services at the same rate. However, the miles can also be transferred to any of Capital One's 15 travel partners for potentially even more value.

Now through Sept. 30, you can redeem Capital One miles for many food delivery purchases.
Now through Sept. 30, you can redeem Capital One miles for many food delivery purchases.
PHOTO: iStock

The Capital One Spark Miles card also comes with a decent sign-up bonus offer and a relatively low minimum spending requirement. The 50,000-mile bonus can be used to "erase" $500 of travel purchases on your monthly statement, which is better than many of the other business cards you'll see on our list, and is especially good for a card with the annual fee waived for the first year.

As an added bonus, you'll also receive a $100 credit when applying for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Although these programs aren't as valuable right now since most people can't travel, this perk will definitely be useful once we're able to fly again.

One thing that could be better: Although you can redeem your miles for any travel-related purchase, if you prefer to maximize the value of your miles by transferring them to an airline or hotel program, the partnerships Capital One currently has available aren't quite as robust as other flexible points programs. Most are international airlines and require an advanced knowledge of loyalty programs to maximize your value when utilizing them.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, purchase protections, travel protections.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee even after the first year and an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Read how to earn $500 or 50,000 bonus miles with Capital One Spark credit cards.
Learn more about the Capital One Spark Miles for Business.

Best sign-up bonus: Ink Business Preferred

Why it's great in one sentence: The incredibly high 100,000-point sign-up bonus on the Ink Business Preferred is one of the best you'll find on a business card, especially for one that offers solid bonus categories and benefits — all for a low annual fee.

This card is right for: Businesses looking to earn flexible points toward travel, while also having access to unique benefits such as cell phone protection.

Highlights:

  • Earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable, phone services and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines (up to $150,000 in combined purchases each card anniversary year, then 1x).
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Points can be redeemed with a 25% bonus when booking airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
  • Points can also be transferred to any of Chase's 13 airline and hotel partners at a 1-to-1 ratio.
  • Cell phone protection against damage or theft when you pay your cell phone bill with your card.
  • Purchase protection against damage or theft.
  • Primary car rental insurance.
  • Trip delay protection and trip interruption/cancellation insurance.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $95 annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months after you open the card.

What we like about the Ink Business Preferred: By far one of the best features of the Ink Business Preferred is its incredibly strong welcome bonus — currently at 100,000 points, although it does require a large spending commitment of $15,000 in the first three months after you open the card. However, many businesses have routine monthly expenses that can easily meet that threshold.

Chase's Ultimate Rewards is one of the best loyalty points programs in the travel world. You can redeem your points through Chase's travel portal and receive a 25% bonus, or you can transfer your points to 13 different partner airlines and hotels, such as Hyatt, United and British Airways.

The Ink Business Preferred also offers cell phone protection as a perk, covering both your own cell phone and everyone else listed on your monthly bill as long as you pay the entire bill with the card each month. This means your employees (or potentially even family members) can be covered for no extra cost. You can submit up to three claims every 12 months and be reimbursed up to $600 per incident, with a $100 deductible per claim.

Protect the cell phones of both you and your employees with the Ink Business Preferred.
Protect the cell phones of both you and your employees with the Ink Business Preferred.
PHOTO: iStock

One thing that could be better: Although the bonus categories on the Ink Business Preferred are quite generous, you won't earn any bonus points on some popular everyday business purchases, such as gas, restaurants or at office supply stores. The 3x categories are also capped at a combined $150,000 in total purchases each year -— after that, you're only earning 1 point per dollar spent.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, cell phone protection, purchase protections, travel protections, primary car rental insurance, no foreign transaction fees.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee and an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Read about the 8 main benefits of the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.
Learn more about the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.

Best for travel perks: Business Platinum Card from American Express

Why it's great in one sentence: Although it's the most expensive card on our list, the Business Platinum Card from American Express recently added several credits you can use from home, and when travel returns, you'll get luxury travel perks such as airport lounge access, elite status and much more.

This card is right for: Business travelers who want a card that provides top-notch luxury perks, transferable travel rewards and travel protections.

Highlights:

  • Earn 5 points for every dollar you spend on flights and prepaid hotels booked on Amex Travel.
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases.
  • Points can be redeemed for travel through Amex Travel at a rate of up to 1 cent per point.
  • Points can also be transferred to any of Amex's 21 airline and hotel partners.
  • Up to $400 in statement credits in 2020 on eligible US purchases at Dell.com.
  • Up to $140 in statement credits in 2020 on wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers.
  • Up to $140 in statement credits in 2020 for US shipping purchases.
  • Up to $200 in statement credits annually for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • Up to $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
  • Complimentary access to American Express Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs when flying Delta and Priority Pass airport lounges (not including Priority Pass restaurants).
  • Complimentary Gold Elite status with Hilton and Marriott hotel chains.
  • Complimentary Preferred Elite status with Hertz, Avis and National Car Rental chains.
  • Access to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts.
  • Travel cancellation and trip delay protection.
  • Extended warranty and purchase protection.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • $595 annual fee.
  • Terms apply.

Welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within the first three months of card membership.

What we like about the Amex Business Platinum: This is a card for the true road warrior who considers travel perks a necessity. Although many of the Amex Business Platinum card's benefits are sitting on the sideline right now, they'll be more valuable than ever once travel is back to normal.

And in the meantime, Amex recently added additional perks you can use while you're at home. For the rest of 2020, Amex Business Platinum card members get up to $20 each month in statement credits for wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers, and another up to $20 per month in credits for US shipping purchases.

Also, Amex has doubled the card's statement credits for eligible U.S. purchases at Dell.com. From now through June 30, card members can get up to $200 in credits for those purchases, and then between July and December, up to another $200 in credits. Normally, the card only offers half that amount each year.

Get up to $400 in annual credits in 2020 on eligible US purchases at Dell.com with the Amex Business Platinum card.
Get up to $400 in annual credits in 2020 on eligible US purchases at Dell.com with the Amex Business Platinum card.
PHOTO: Dell.com

Every year you have the Amex Business Platinum, you also get up to $200 in annual airline incidental credits, and every four years, you'll get up to $100 for reimbursement of a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. That means if you get the card right now, these credits plus the limited-time ones offered for the rest of 2020 are worth up to an incredible $980, easily offsetting the card's annual fee for the first year.

Once travel returns, the card's lounge access is by far one of its best benefits, allowing you to relax in comfort at over 1,200 airport lounges worldwide, including Amex's own Centurion Lounges. On the hotel front, you'll also receive elite Gold status in both the Marriott and Hilton programs, which can get you complimentary upgrades and breakfast at participating hotels.

You'll also earn 5 points per dollar on airfare booked via Amex Travel, which is one of the best earning rates you'll find on a business credit card. Even better, the Amex Business Platinum recently added travel protections, including trip interruption and cancellation insurance. This covers your non-refundable expenses if your flight is interrupted or canceled for a covered reason, up to $10,000 per trip. (Unfortunately, pandemics aren't a covered reason.)

The card also recently added trip delay protection, providing up to $500 in reimbursement for unexpected expenses if your flight is delayed by more than six hours due to a covered reason.

One thing that could be better: With such a high annual fee, you'd expect to earn more points on your non-airline and hotel purchases, but that's unfortunately not the case with the Amex Business Platinum. For everyday purchases, you're much better off using another card, such as the American Express Blue Business Cash or Blue Business Plus, to maximize your rewards.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Welcome bonus, luxury travel perks and travel credits, travel protections, purchase protection, extensive airline and hotel transfer partners.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee and an introductory rate on balance transfers.

Read about the American Express Business Platinum card's 75,000-point bonus.
Learn more about the Business Platinum Card from American Express.

Best for lifetime elite status: CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard

Why it's great in one sentence: Airline credit cards like the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Mastercard offer specific benefits that you don't get with flexible travel credit cards, such as free checked bags, priority boarding and points or miles toward status.

This card is right for: Businesses who expect to travel when airlines return to the skies, and who are looking to earn not only American Airlines miles, but also airline-specific benefits that will make their flying experience more enjoyable.

Highlights:

  • Earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.
  • Earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on cable and satellite providers, at gas stations, on select telecommunications merchants and on car rentals.
  • Receive your first checked bag free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four travel companions.
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights.
  • 25% savings on American Airlines inflight Wi-Fi purchases.
  • 25% savings on inflight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights.
  • Earn an American Airlines companion certificate after spending $30,000 or more in purchases each card member year and renewing the card (account must remain open at least 45 days after account anniversary).
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No annual fee for the first 12 months, then $99.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after making $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of opening the account.

What we like about the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum: Although there are many airline credit cards on the market, we specifically selected the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card for our list for two reasons.

First, American miles are worth more than either of its major "Big 3" competitors. Based on the points valuations of The Points Guy, AAdvantage miles are worth 1.4 cents each, more than both United and Delta. That makes it a strong program if you're looking for an airline-specific card, and pegs the card's 65,000-mile bonus at $910 worth of travel.

Use the sign-up bonus on the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card for flights on American and its partners.
Use the sign-up bonus on the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card for flights on American and its partners.
PHOTO: iStock

Also, earning AAdvantage miles isn't as easy as American's competitors, as you can't transfer AA miles from any of the main bank credit card programs, such as American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards. That makes the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card one of the few ways for businesses to earn American miles on their business expenses.

The second reason we chose this card for our list is that for a limited-time from May 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, American will count all miles earned with the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card toward Million Miler elite status. That's something the airline hasn't done in almost a decade, and no other US carrier does it. Your business might not spend $1 million on this card, but those extra miles could be enough to get you over the lifetime elite status hump.

Aside from the miles earned on the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card, you'll also get some airline-specific benefits, which can come in handy if you fly American often, including a first checked bag free for you and four traveling companions, preferred boarding and a 25% savings on inflight Wi-Fi, food and beverages.

One thing that could be better: Although American miles are worth more than some of its competitors, you're still pigeon-holed into using your business credit card rewards for just American Airlines or partner flights. That makes the rewards less flexible than those earned with credit cards that are part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards programs, or business credit cards that earn straight cash back.

Where it beats our benchmark card: Sign-up bonus, American Airlines travel benefits, no foreign transaction fees, miles earned with the card through Dec. 31 count toward lifetime elite status.

Where our benchmark card is better: The Citi Double Cash has no annual fee even after the first year, an introductory rate on balance transfers and earns easy-to-redeem cash back.

Learn more about the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard.

Looking for a new credit card to help finance large purchases? Check out CNN Underscored's list of the best 0% interest credit cards of 2020.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.

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