AT&T Universal Card Services Corp. said it has committed another $1 million toward educating consumers on credit issues.
The announcement came on the heels of a recent report that American Express is closing its Office of Public Responsibility, which focused on broad consumer education initiatives and was central to the company's public image for nearly 20 years.
New York-based American Express maintains that it will still be involved in consumer programs, but consumer advocates are worried that the company's involvement will diminish.
AT&T is in the lonely position of being the single largest corporate sponsor of consumer credit education programs, pointed out Ruth Susswein, executive director of Bankcard Holders of America, McLean, Va.
"The only issuer that ever came close (to AT&T) is American Express," said Ms. Susswein. The two bank card associations, Visa and MasterCard, "are not in the same league" as AT&T in terms of consumer education, she added.
The sixth-largest credit card issuer, with about $11 billion of receivables outstanding, AT&T Universal Card Services has been committed to consumer credit education since it began issuing credit cards in 1990.
In April 1990, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based issuer allotted $1 million to consumer education. The company enlisted the National Coalition for Consumer Education, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., to help identify which organizations should get grants.
In total, 63 grants have been made over four years to support education for Hispanic high school students, money and credit management education for refugees and migrant workers, peer credit counseling for low-income adults, and credit videos for consumers who do not have a good command of English.
The second $1 million fund, called Partners in Credit Education, is aimed at developing innovative high school and college credit education, preventing fraud, and promoting literacy.
The most significant difference between the previous four-year program and the most recently established fund is that AT&T expects to be more involved in offering its expertise to the consumer groups that get money.
"We'll do more than sign a check," said Janet Koehler, executive director of consumer affairs, AT&T Universal Card Services.
The National Fraud Information Center got the first grant, for $50,000, from the new fund.