American Telephone and Telegraph Co. was deluged with calls Monday as consumers clamored for information about a one-point drop in interest charged on the company's Universal credit card.

AT&T had touted the plan that morning in full-page ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. A spokesman for AT&T Universal Card Services Corp. said the Florida-based card company had handled 30% more calls than on an average Monday.

AT&T announced last Wednesday acceleration of the interest-rate cut from Jan. 1, 1992, to this Nov. 18. A day earlier, President Bush had called on card issuers to help "the American public" by reducing rates. AT&T, which had been considering an earlier cut to encourage Christmas-season charges, quickly jumped into action.

In Sync with Congress

It also appears to have stumbled into a serendipitous encounter with Congress. The same day AT&T said it would cut its card rate a month and a half ahead of schedule, the Senate passed a bill that would cap rates at four points above what the Internal Revenue Service charges on unpaid taxes.

Currently, that would cap card rates at 14%, almost five percentage points under the industry average.

Differential Rates

Universal Card rates are revised quarterly and priced at a premium over the prime rate. Under the new schedule, "charter cardholders" who took Universal when it was first offered will see rates on outstanding unpaid balances drop to 16.4% from 17.4%. Others will be charged 17.4%, down from 18.4%.

The AT&T spokesman denied that AT&T is front-running the banks. "We're not trying to be the low-price leader by any means," he said. "The solution is to tie your rates to prime."

The costs of administering the changes are expected to be huge. About seven million households have Universal cards, and each is being mailed information on the new pricing.

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