American Express Co. has begun test-marketing a card called Personal Choice that allows the customer to choose the size of the credit line.
The card is being offered to younger people who generally have not established credit histories and therefore would not qualify for the company's flagship green charge card.
Personal Choice is one of series of new credit cards the company has been issuing. American Express started offering the card in May to a target group of undisclosed size.
The product puts the traditionally upscale company into lower-end markets on which MasterCard and Visa banks are increasingly keen - first- time cardholders and those qualifying for secured cards, which require deposits as collateral for credit lines.
At an investors meeting earlier this month, chief executive Harvey Golub said American Express wants to have a card "for every consumer - so we never have to turn away a prospect who would like to have our product."
Personal Choice reflects the company's desire to modify its elitist image and appeal to a more diverse consumer population.
In its first new-product step last year, American Express enhanced its Optima revolving credit program with True Grace, which preserves a free period on all purchases before interest accrues. The company also has launched a credit card in Britain, the Rewards Plus Gold Card for affluent business travelers, and a small-business product.
In the planning stages and due this quarter, Mr. Golub said, are student and cobranded cards and a gold Optima card with no annual fee.
American Express also recently announced a cobranding partnership with Delta Airlines - a first for both companies - but the cards will not be available until early next year.
The Personal Choice card "does a lot of things a secured card would do," said Frank Suozzo, an analyst with S.G. Warburg & Co., "like protecting American Express on a credit-risk level and opening a window to a new customer."
A spokeswoman for American Express, who would not disclose details about the current test, said the card "is good for young people who want the discipline of a charge card."
In the pilot, each cardholder selects a credit limit between $500 and $1,500. The annual fee is $35. Unlike traditional secured cards, Personal Choice does not require a backup deposit.
Personal Choice cardholders cannot participate in American Express' frequent flier program Membership Miles, which costs $25 a year, and they do not receive the car rental, loss, and damage insurance that is standard with the charge card.
Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Moshe Orenbuch said he expects American Express to "do a lot to differentiate this (less exclusive) product from the green card."
Indeed, American Express distinguishes Personal Choice in part through its maroon color.
Mr. Suozzo said American Express has not necessarily closed itself off from introducing a more traditional, deposit-secured card. But he noted Personal Choice fills the bill of being "a tightly controlled card that gets the customer early on and eventually moves them up to the flagship card."
American Express' recently introduced card for small businesses, the Pre-Set Line Card, operates on the same entry-level theory. The card is designed to extend credit to business people who wouldn't normally qualify for a standard American Express charge card.