The third-quarter earnings reported by the credit card units of Dean Witter, Discover & Co. and American Express Co. show that Dean Witter is still absorbing the marketing costs of launching new card products this year, while American Express is reaping the benefits of a similar investment.

American Express Travel Related Services Co. reported record third- quarter net income of $297 million, a 13% increase over the year-earlier period.

Dean Witter's Credit Services division reported a 2% increase in net income to $112 million.

A Dean Witter spokesman attributed the small increase to product- development costs. In the second quarter, Dean Witter launched Private Issue, a credit card offering several different interest rates and reward features, and in the third quarter the company introduced another card called Bravo.

Because of the product launches, Bear, Stearns & Co. analyst Susan Roth said, "I am not surprised to see the higher level of marketing and business spending continue."

American Express appears to have weathered the costs of its product launches this year, including the Sky Miles cobranded card with Delta Air Lines and the Rewards Plus gold card for business travelers as well as various enhancement programs.

The Dean Witter division's income for the first nine months of the year reached a record $678.3 million, up 13% from the corresponding period of 1994.

In credit card balances, Dean Witter reported another record increase - 24% over the year-earlier period, to $28.2 billion.

American Express, which does not emphasize revolving credit because it is a much smaller part of its business, reported a 18% increase in its managed loans, to $9 billion.

The company, which focuses on the spending volume of its customers, reported worldwide card spending of $40.8 million - a 15% increase over the year-earlier period.

American Express said that card-member spending rose because of rewards programs and an increase in the number of merchants that accept the card. There are 37 million American Express cards in circulation worldwide, a 4% increase over last year.

American Express' chargeoff rate rose 10 basis points over the last quarter, but Dean Witter's rose 30 basis points, a development Ms. Roth termed disturbing.

"We are seeing erosion in credit quality across the board," she said, "but this was more than I had expected for Dean Witter."

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