Signet Banking Corp. has added the latest wrinkle in the secured credit card business.

The Richmond, Va.-based bank is offering consumers with little or no credit history a secured credit card that can be converted to an unsecured card if someone with a strong payment record co-signs the application, said Robert Skolnick, executive vice president of BAI, a Tarrytown, N.Y., firm that monitors mailed solicitations.

Signet Bank, which is spinning off its credit card operation and proceeding with an initial public offering, is restricted from talking about its business and, therefore, could not comment on the offer.

Most secured card products can be convened to unsecured cards after 18 or so months when the customer has proven his or her creditworthiness.

Signet's offer appears to be targeting people who do not want, or are unable, to pay the traditional deposit that secures the line of credit.

Robert B. McKinley, president of RAM Research Corp., a credit card tracking firm in Frederick, Md., speculated that Signet is probably soliciting high school or college students.

Security deposits typically range from $250 to $500, and annual fees associated with secured cards average about $35.

Mr. McKinley said that Signet's secured card offer is unusual, though the bank has marketed other co-signed products.

"Signet Bank caused the controversy over 'kiddie cards' when it sent out offers to the pre-college market," said Mr. McKinley. He referred to the attention recently given card marketing by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy. 2d, D-Mass., chairman of the House Banking subcommittee on consumer credit and insurance.

Signet Bank. which is known in the industry as a very aggressive competitor, "is probably the biggest direct-mail marketer of secured cards," said Irving Levin. chief executive of Renaissance Bankcard Services, a marketer and servicer of secured card programs.

Mr. McKinley said he believes that, "if the CRA [Community Reinvestment Act] issue spills over into credit cards, most new card products are going to come out with a secured card option."

Most big credit card players are offering secured cards to consumers denied unsecured cards.

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