American Express Co. is preparing to sell prequalified lines of credit to small-business customers across the country, according to an observer close to the situation.

American Express, which provides 1.5 million small businesses with corporate charge cards, already has said it intends to diversify the products it offers. The New York giant is busy organizing and hiring personnel with the necessary expertise. It could enter the fray as early as the first quarter of 1997.

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