Sears, Roebuck and Co. is advancing its secured credit card pilot into a second phase.

The retailing giant, which began a trial of the secured version of the SearsCharge proprietary card last fall, will spend three months testing mail solicitations.

"The nature of the secured card is for people who don't qualify for the [Sears] card under normal conditions," said Sears spokeswoman Jan Drummond, who declined to give more than basic details about the project. "We're continuing to review the performance of accounts and refine our process."

Sears, which has 27 million active accounts and perhaps twice that number of cards issued, rejects more than seven million applicants per year. Michael Auriemma, managing director of Auriemma Consulting Group Inc., Westbury, N.Y., said the secured card gives Chicago-based Sears an opportunity to expand its customer base and sell more merchandise.

The consultant also said that consumers seemed willing to apply for the card, which requires a security deposit for the credit line. This lets them establish credit while making purchases.

Corey Stone, vice president and managing director of Easton Consultants Inc., Stamford, Conn., said he suspects that Sears is trying to tap into younger families buying big-ticket products like washing machines.

"They're going after people who may not have grown up shopping at Sears," he said.

Meanwhile, Sears' purchase last November of American National Bank of Arizona still has industry people wondering whether the retailer has plans for a cobranded bank credit card.

Ms. Drummond said, "I think it's one of the options we've been looking at, but there are no firm plans at this juncture."

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