Three major nonbank credit card programs are expected to join forces with mortgage companies shortly to market home loans to cardholders.

The arrangements involve the Discover card, the General Motors MasterCard, and American Express, which together have more than 77 million cards outstanding.

While such cross-selling ideas are not new, these efforts are likely to be on an unprecedented scale. They bring nonbanks more aggressively onto traditional banking turf. combining two product lines that historically were viewed as having little in common.

The first deal to emerge from the planning or negotiating stages is likely to be General Motors Corp.'s plan to offer home loans from its GMAC Mortgage Co. unit to holders of the GM credit card. Testing is slated to start next month.

Dean Witter, Discover & Co., is said to be negotiating with at least as a half dozen leaders in the area of affinity lending.

American Express is said to be considering an arrangement with a mortgage company, and other deals may well be in the works.

Porges/Hudson Marketing Inc. a San Francisco consulting firm that specializes in credit card marketing, said it has received half a dozen calls from mortgage companies inquiring about potential relationships with credit card companies.

A source familiar with Discover said it has held meettings with several contenders in recent weeks.

A Discover spokesman, however, said he was not aware of any negotiations.

Mortgage lenders have long viewed credit card holders as ideal cross-selling candidates. They are, in essence, prequalified for a-home loan by credit card companies that have checked their financial and credit status before issuing plastic. Card companies also have a wealth of information regarding cardholders' spending habits.

"That would be a natural," said one lender about marketing loans to credit card holders.

But mortgage lenders have been searching for a viable way to market to credit card customers.

Now that Discover and GM appear to be moving into mortgage-cobranding, industry insiders say there is not a credit card in the nation that will not be ignored by lenders.

It is unclear exactly what kind of co-marketing relationship Discover is seeking. In most affinity relationships, a lender sets up a telemarketing operation for the partner-client, often a trade or professional group. The lender originates the mortgages in the client's name.

Typically, a closed loan is sold to the secondary market. The lender buys the servicing rights from the client for about (1.25% of the total loan amount, or $250 on a $100,000 loan.

Sourzes indicate that a lending deal with Discover may include other Dean Witter units, including its brokerage operation.

Barring any glitches, GM will test a promotional mailing next month, designed to market mortgage loans to cardholders, said a spokesman.

The new program is "well under way, well under development" said the GlXl card spokesman. He declined to give further details.

A source familiar with GMAC, based Elkins Park, Pa., said it would test the marketing plan on selected GM card holders before targeting more of its 11 million cardholders nationwide.

The GM MasterCard issued by the banking subsidiary of Household International, Prospect Heights, Ill., had a credit card loan portfolio of $9.2 billion at the end of the first quarter -- seveuth-largest in the nation.

The approach adopted by GM and Discover "doesn't surprise me totally," said. K. Shelly Porges, chief executive officer of Porges/Hudson Marketing Inc. "I am sure they are trying to broaden their base of revenues. It makes a lot of sense."

She said the exploration of lending is an example of the more freewheeling culture that has set in at Dean Whitter Discover n the wake of its spinoff from Sears, Roebuck and Co:. in 1993.

"I would fully expect that we would see a whole array of products oul of Discover." Ms Porges added.

The Discover card program may need a shot in the arm According to results of a telephone survey by Brittain Associates Inc.. an Atlanta research firm. Discover revenues this-year could shrink as much as 30%. It also added only 100.000 cardholders since 1993 -- a very small jump, experts say.

But Ms. Porges said Discover's gambit may not work. She said a mortgage is a very large purchase to most people, who mad. prefer face-to-face dealings over telemarketing.

There have been other hints of a trend toward mortgage/credit card tie-ins.

Wells Fargo & Co.. San Francisco, offers holders of its California Advantage Card mortgage rebates of ffp to 5% of card purchases.

Wells Fargo has been mum about results of the program, which was launched last year, but analysts doubl it has been wildly successful.

Earlier this year U.S. Bancorp Mortgage Co. began selling home loans through some of the affinity groups that maintained relationships with the banking company's credit card division.

But the program never got beyond the testing stage. said a company executive.

And the affinity lending program at U.S. Bancorp was, to a large degree, disbanded after Mellon Mortgage bought its mortgage unit this summer.

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