American Express Co. is replacing its student Optima card with one that comes with a hearty dose of credit education.
The change is aimed at blunting criticism that the company is encouraging debt among people who lack full-time jobs.
Advertisements showcase a new toll-free telephone number from which students can get explanations of credit terms and credit reports and learn more about financial management.
Similar information is available on the American Express Web site, which now includes an interactive debt reduction calculator that figures out how long it will take to pay off an account and how much interest will be accrued. Cardholders may also pay bills on-line.
Students who enroll also receive a brochure, "How to Lay the Groundwork for a Strong Financial Future."
American Express decided to abandon the Optima brand for its student card because research showed that college students saw more value in the American Express brand.
"The 'Optima' term didn't have as much power behind it with this audience," a spokeswoman said. "It was just an extra name."
The company is retaining the Optima brand and accounts in other markets.
The American Express Credit Card for College Students picks up some of the travel and telephone benefits offered by the student Optima. Cardholders receive vouchers for $159 round-trip tickets on Continental Airlines and two free hours of long-distance calls with a Connections calling card.
"We want to help students by offering benefits relevant to their lifestyle needs, such as savings on travel and long-distance phone calls, and an extremely low interest rate on high-priced purchases," said Marla Isackson, vice president of customer and product marketing at American Express.
The card is being promoted on campuses under the slogan: "Take risks in life, not in credit cards."
American Express said the new product is the result of research it conducted on college campuses, where about 200 students were informally interviewed about credit cards.
"We used a lot of the interview information to help us design the product," Ms. Isackson said. "The students also told us what they wanted to see on the Web site."
The card's main attraction-highlighted on the application-is an interest rate equal to the prime rate, or 8.25%, on single purchases over $200 for 90 days. The interest rate then jumps to the card's regular rate of prime plus 7.9%, or 16.15%. The card has no annual fee.
Typical student credit limits are $2,000 to $3,500, the company said.
Though the annual percentage rate is lower than the student Optima card, which the company said was prime plus 9.9%, or 18.15%, the payment terms on the new card-advertised as "prime plus 0%"-are seen as too confusing for college students by some industry experts.
"Most kids don't even know what prime is," said Howard S. Dvorkin, president of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "This will bury a lot of kids" in debt.
American Express said the terms of the agreement mention the current prime rate.
Mr. Dvorkin and other critics of credit card companies' growing presence on campuses said American Express is targeting students only to help its bottom line.
"American Express knows that people who get the card in school keep the card into their adulthood," he said.
Amid rising bankruptcies among college students, American Express, MasterCard International, and Visa U.S.A. have all stepped up educational programs for students.
MasterCard recently teamed up with College Parents of America to teach parents how to dispense financial wisdom. Visa has been touring college campuses with what it calls a "Hollywood-style" game show designed to teach students how to manage their money.
American Express said it wants to help student customers understand how to use credit wisely.
"We're using this as an opportunity to train them," Ms. Isackson said. "College is a time when students learn skills that extend beyond the classroom."