Eighty-three years ago, Sears, Roebuck and Co. began extending credit to its customers with the equivalent of a revolving credit plan. The goal was straightforward -- to build sales and customer loyalty.

Today, there are hundreds of private-label credit card programs in existence, accounting for more than 160 million active accounts. These programs range in size from a few thousand accounts for small local retailers to 29 million Sears active accounts nationwide.

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