A new study indicates that a about a third of AT&T Universal Card Services accounts now carry balances, up from 14% three years ago.

An independent study of AT&T Universal, conducted by Brittain Associates, an Atlanta-based research firm, suggests that about 3.5 million AT&T Universal accounts now revolve balances.

On average, the AT&T accounts that revolve carry balances of about $820, the Brittain study estimated, which is lower than the industry average of $1,000 to $1,200.

The Jacksonville-based company would not give out information on the number of its accounts that revolve. AT&T also disputed Brittain's estimates of the average balance its cardholders carry.

In January, AT&T reported that the average amount owed per revolver rose from $680 in May 1993 to $720.

And last month, AT&T introduced Something Extra, a program designed to boost revolvers with rewards for carrying balances.

"Clearly, Universal wants more revolvers and bigger balances," said Bruce Brittain, president.

When Brittain Associates first studied AT&T Universal's portfolio in 1991, it estimated that 14% of accounts revolved. That number has more than doubled to 34%, Brittain estimates.

Company's Figures

Brittain interviewed more than 4,000 U.S. households in April as part of its annual survey of AT&T Universal.

AT&T Universal has $9.5 billion outstandings from 12.7 million accounts and 18 million cards. Outstandings grew 32% in 1993, the company says. "We think we've done well," a spokeswoman said.

And AT&T added 400,000 accounts in May, she said, perhaps a sign that Something Extra appeals to cardholders who revolve.

But Brittain says AT&T has far to go before it matches the 60% of Visa and MasterCard owners nationally who revolve. In fact, AT&T would have to double its revolver incidence to do so.

"That will be difficult to do," Mr. Brittain said. "The current trend among credit card owners is to pay off balances."

AT&T denies it is "swimming upstream," as Brittain suggests, saying that the majority of cardholders do carry balances.

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