Travel and entertainment cards are distributed to employees for business travel and related expenses. T&E cards, with balances typically payable when billed, were the first designed exclusively for businesses. The pioneer, American Express Co., began issuing them in 1970. American Express remains the largest issuer, with U.S. Bancorp of Minneapolis second.

Purchasing cards are issued to corporate employees for buying supplies and business services. The cards can streamline paper-based purchasing systems, cutting costs through automation and economies of scale. The cards quantify purchases made from individual vendors, thus helping with budgeting and obtaining volume discounts. Visa leads the purchasing card market, with U.S. Bancorp, First Chicago NBD Corp., and NationsBank Corp. the top issuers.

Fleet cards help companies pay for and keep track of vehicle-fleet expenses. Drivers can use them to buy gas or pay for repairs and servicing. Some fleet cards are assigned to specific vehicles, whose mileage and repair history they record. Fleet capabilities can also be included in purchasing cards. Fleet cards were developed outside the banking industry, and MasterCard was the first of the major brands to introduce this product.

Small-business cards typically offer 30-day or revolving credit for owner-operated firms with fewer than 100 employees. This relatively new segment is growing quickly; bank issuers view it as a straightforward way to enter the commercial card market and tie it in to existing cash- management services.

Relocation cards are a new specialty. Companies give them to employees who have been asked to move to a different city. The cards carry a charge limit representing the maximum a worker can spend on the move.

Other categories include event cards for event and conference management, temporary staffing cards, reward and recognition cards for employees who excel, cobranded airline cards, hotel cards, and auto rental cards.

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