Barnett Banks Inc.'s recently unveiled secured card does not stand out in terms of pricing or special incentives.
But unlike many of its competitors, Barnett said it is reporting its accounts to credit bureaus as secured cards.
Only a handful of other issuers, including Peoples Bank, Marine Midland Bank, Banc One Corp., and Wells Fargo & Co., are differentiating between secured and unsecured cards.
Bankers are divided on this issue, as are consumer activists.
Janet Anderson, vice president and product development manager of Barnett Card Services Corp., said: "The ability to differentiate between secured and unsecured credit is available. I think that any issuer would want to have more information rather than less."
Other bankers say that it is too complicated to report secured cards separately, since the accounts are secured only temporarily. Secured cardholders typically graduate to unsecured cards within 18 months or so.
Moreover, bankers fear that if consumers know their secured card will be identified as such in a credit report, the card will lose its appeal as a vehicle to build a good credit record.
Consumer activists argue that flagging a secured card is a signal to credit grantors that a consumer is a bad credit risk, and therefore stigmatizes secured cardholders.
There might be some truth in that argument. Bankers who advocate separate reporting say that they would want to know in advance of offering credit whether a person has a secured card.
Barnett is marketing the new secured card through its branches in Florida and Georgia. The minimum deposit required to qualify for the card is $300, which is deposited in a savings account. The card's interest rate is set at 19.8%, and there is a $35 annual fee.
Like many of its larger peers, Barnett also established a separate automated customer service telephone line to field the numerous questions secured cardholders typically ask.
According to Brian J. Schwartz, MasterCard's director of new market development, holders of secured cards frequently want to know the status of their credit line. "These customers want to make sure they have available credit," he said "or they want to know whether the bank received their check."
Mr. Schwartz said that increasingly issuers of secured cards are establishing separate menu-driven lines, because the volume of calls from such customers is greater.