Business: The Shaky House of Cards

America's $55 billion love affair with plastic money was on the ropes last week. Big retailers and banks began sharply reducing the borrowing clout of credit-card holders. J.C. Penney stiffened credit requirements, curtailed card promotions and hiked the minimum purchase eligible for time payments from $19 to $200. Banks, which had been deluging customers with Visa and MasterCard (formerly Master Charge) applications, suddenly throttled back the flow of easy credit. New York's Bankers Trust Co. slapped a $500 credit limit on new accounts and froze ceilings on existing credit lines. Chase Manhattan Bank said no to more Visa applications. This week...

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