NEW YORK -- MasterCard International said it is making arrangements with all long-distance carriers to accept its credit cards for making calls.

The card association trumpeted the planned agreements - which are expected to be effective for the group's 93 million cardholders by the end of next year - as a way for issuers to gain "at least $1 billion" of sales annually in the United States. Currently, no single credit card brand can double as a calling card with all phone companies.

In a news release, the company said the program will open to issuers "a new $30 billion merchant category - telephone companies."

Most MasterCards today can double as calling cards with MCI Communications Corp. or with American Telephone and Telegraph Co. if AT&T's Universal MasterCard is used.

The card group said phone companies will benefit because credit cards facilitate long-distance calling. By punching in a card account number and a four-digit personal identification number, callers eliminate 11 digits from the dialing format required by existing bank/calling card programs, MasterCard said.

The program initially will be available for use with any phone in the United States and Canada.

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