In an unusually aggressive bid for secured-card customers, First Consumers National Bank of Beaverton, Ore., has lowered the minimum deposit necessary to obtain a line of credit to $100 from $400.
"We wanted to serve a broader section of the market," said David A. Alexander, marketing manager of First Consumers, a private-label card issuer owned by the mail-order firm Spiegel, Inc.
Trouble Raising Funds
According to Mr. Alexander, there was often a long delay between application requests and the receipt of deposits at the bank, indicating that some applicants were having trouble raising the $400.
"We simply lowered the hurdle," for people who would otherwise find it difficult to qualify for a credit card, he said.
Robert B. McKinley, president of RAM Research Corp., of Frederick, Md., warned that the policy could subject the bank to too much risk. "That is serious bottom fishing," he said.
First Consumers began advertising its attractive terms at the end of September in major newspapers across the country.
The other features of the product include a credit limit equal to 150% of the security deposit, no application or processing fees, and an interest rate equal to prime plus 10.9% or 18.9%, whichever is greater.
First Consumers began to revamp its secured cards in August when it reduced the interest rate to 18.9% from 20.5% and the annual fee to $39 from $48.
The bank also introduced a Hispanic secured and unsecured product in March called Adelante. All correspondence is in Spanish.
Approval rates are high.
"If a check comes in with an application that does not list a current bankruptcy, the applicant will probably get the card," said Mr. Alexander.
Although the bank, which began issuing collateralized cards in 1989, will not reveal what percentage of its 200,000 accounts are secured, analysts say First Consumers is a major player in the secured card business.
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