NationsBank Corp. was forced to pull the plug on a unique credit card program called Start, which allowed cardholders to save money as they spent it.

Stephen C. Webber, assistant vice president of NationsBank card services, said the bank was told by Start Inc., a Washington, D.C. area firm with which NationsBank launched the program, that the program was no longer financially feasible. Representatives from Start Inc. could not be reached for comment.

In May, Start Inc. informed NationsBank it was terminating the program. No new applications have been accepted since, and relationships with remaining retail partners have been dissolved.

"We are obviously disappointed," Mr. Webber said.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based issuer launched the Start program in January 1993 with Start Inc., which signed up about 20 retail partners to offer cardholders rebates ranging from 1% to 7% of purchases.

The rebates went into an insured escrow account and could be withdrawn quarterly or swept into an annuity with Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. of New York. NationsBank kicked in an extra 1% rebate on the first $5,000 in net retail purchases made with the Visa and MasterCard. The program was even patented by Start Inc.

Mr. Webber described the program, which was still being tested in several markets including South Carolina and Texas, as small. Nevertheless, NationsBank said it would uphold its part of the deal. Start cardholders were switched over to a NationsBank card, and they still receive the 1% rebate, credited to the account annually instead of going into an escrow account or an annuity.

It appears Start Inc., may have had trouble attracting more retail partners. Some of the original partners included Eddie Bauer, Exxon, Hertz, Spiegel, and Teleflora. Spiegel subsequently dropped out of the program, as did others.

Mr. Webber said NationsBank is not considering duplicating the Start program. "We are concerned with meeting the needs and expectations of Start Visa and MasterCard cardholders," he said.

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