Goodbye, Freebies--Hello, Fees

For consumers, the world of plastic is not looking so fantastic anymore. AT&T Corp.'s departure from the business--its Universal Card portfolio is being sold to Citibank for $3.5 million--is the latest buyout, as the industry consolidates in an attempt to get back on the gravy train it once rode. With fewer big competitors, the remaining card issuers are getting less generous. AT&T's initial no-fee offer inspired a wink of inducements from other issuers, each upping the ante with low initial rates and rebates. And consumers snapped them up, stuffing an average of seven cards in their wallets.

But for many in...

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