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AMERICAN EXPRESS LAUNCHES NEW CARD

American Express said Tuesday it is launching a new credit card, called Optima True Grace, for people who don't want to pay off their credit balance each month.

A spokeswoman for the New York-based company said the move will create 150 new jobs at the company's Traveler's Cheque Operations Center, 4315 South 2700 West.The spokeswoman said it is not well known that the Salt Lake facility, in addition to processing all American Express Traveler's Cheques, also does the processing for all new accounts for the company's Personal Card (green card), Gold Card and Optima Card.

The new card is an effort to attract customers who don't want its flagship card. Amex claims it is a better deal for users who don't pay off balances right away.

Optima True Grace, allows customers to pay off just a portion of their balance each month and doesn't accrue interest charges on what they owe on new purchases until 25 days after the end of each month's billing cycle.

The card is the first in a new family of products American Express plans to roll out to attract new customers to its brand.

The company's green flagship card is not a "revolving" card, meaning balances must be paid off in full each month. Without a card that lets people carry a balance, New York-based American Express is missing out on a huge market, say experts.

More than 26 million people carry the American Express card or an older version of the Optima card.

The new Optima card works like a Visa or Mastercard. But customers who carry balances on these cards generally are charged interest on new purchases right away. The Optima card gives customers a 25-day "grace period" before interest charges kick in.

American Express officials said the company chose to offer a longer grace period because consumers interviewed about their credit card preferences said the grace period is a critical factor in how much they use a card.

"More than 80 percent of the consumers interviewed for one study said that if their grace period was eliminated they would either use that card less, use it only for certain purchases or cancel the card," Phillip Riese, president of the cardmember financial services group at American Express Travel Related Services Co. Inc., said in a statement.

The card will have a 7.9 percent interest rate for the first six months, after which the rate will convert to a rate based on the prime bank rate plus 8.75 percent. If prime rates remain at current levels, the card will have a 16 percent rate.

The card is free for the first year as long as cardholders use it at least three times.