Ameritech Corp., which has marketed a credit card to its residential telephone customers for six years, is offering some the option of receiving higher rebates in exchange for giving up their grace period.
The Chicago-based Baby Bell unveiled this new twist in the ongoing game of credit card roulette when it sent out letters to a portion of its one million cardholders Jan. 10.
In the past year, issuers such as GE Capital Services Corp. have turned the roulette wheel on consumers who pay their bills in full each month. GE, for example, penalized its "convenience" users by charging a $25 annual fee. European American Bank in Uniondale, N.Y., meanwhile, introduced a card with no grace period, appealing to people who revolve.
But Ameritech said its pricing change, which takes effect Feb. 17, "was not a reaction to the industry." Said Richard Maganini a spokesperson, "we just wanted to offer our customers more options."
Mr. Maganini said that 72% of the cardholders who received the mailing were revolvers. The option was also offered to consumers with low levels of activity or inactive accounts.
Consumers who received letters must opt out of the program. Those who agree to the change will earn rebates on a sliding scale, from 0.5% up to 5%.
The original program grants a rebate of 0.5% on the first $2,000 spent during the year, and 1% on subsequent purchases. Both deals offer a 10% rebate on calling card transactions.
The no-fee cobranded card is issued by Household Bank International in Prospect Heights, Ill., the fifth largest issuer of MasterCard and Visa cards with $18.1 billion in outstandings.
"This appears to be the carrot and stick approach," said Ruth Susswein, executive director of Bankcard Holders of America in Salem, Va. "Giving someone the potential of earning a higher rebate does not make up for the loss incurred when they have no grace period."
Ms. Susswein said that someone spending $3,000 a year on the credit card would earn $35 under this new rebate structure.
She added, however, that if the card carries one of Ameritech's higher interest rates, "That same person spending $3,000 a year . . . will pay $48 in interest," ending up $13 behind. Ameritech's interest rates range from 6.9% plus prime to 10.9% plus prime.
"It is somewhat of a paradox, getting people to spend more by charging them," said Jerry Hergenroeder, senior consultant with Speer & Associates in Atlanta.
However, Ms. Susswein said, the only consumer who will take up this offer, "is the person who does not read the letter sent to them and doesn't realize that they are now being forced to pay interest."