Worth their weight in gold?

IN THE mid 1960s, American Express and Diners Club imported their charge cards from the US, writes Tony Lyons. What makes them different to a credit card is that you have to pay off the charge card in full every month.

Credit cards were introduced by Barclaycard in 1966. There were 37 million Visa and Mastercards issued in the UK at the end of last year, and about 1 million other credit cards (American Express runs a separate network).

With so many cards in issue, some companies also issue gold cards or platinum cards as a status symbol for wealthier customers. The situation is confusing because you can get gold charge cards (such as American Express, pounds 85 a year) as well as gold credit cards.

Your bank, or a US card issuer, may well offer you a gold or platinum credit card if you earn pounds 20,000 or more a year and already have a credit card. Capital One and RBS Advanta make the same offer (6.9 per cent and 7.9 per cent APR respectively) to standard credit-card holders as they do to those offered a "prestige" card. All you get is the kudos of carrying gold or platinum.

Some high-street issuers charge for their gold cards and offer extra benefits, such as generous purchase protection. The real perks are for gold charge-card holders. Customers pay more (Bank of Scotland charges pounds 70 a year) but get cheap automatic overdrafts, often at 2.5 per cent over base rate.

prestige cards

Free credit cards

Capital One Gold MC/Visa: 6.9% APR (until July 1999). 0800 952 5252.

RBS Advanta Gold/Platinum MC/Visa: 7.9% APR (to July 1999). 0800 077770.

Gold credit cards with a fee

Halifax Gold Mastercard: 17.9%. pounds 20 a year. Free appliance insurance; savings on hotels and travel; free card protection. 0345 283848.

Royal Bank of Scotland Gold Visa: 14.20% for 12 months from issue. pounds 35 a year. Savings on hotels and travel; free appliance insurance. 0800 161616.

Charge cards

American Express Green Amex: pounds 37.50 a year. Cash withdrawals charged at pounds 3/3% minimum and no automatic overdraft. Luggage and delayed travel insurance; personal liability insurance; savings on hotels and travel. 01273 620555.

Diners Club: pounds 38 a year. Cash withdrawals charged at pounds 4/4% minimum and no automatic overdraft. Luggage and delayed travel insurance; savings on hotels and travel. 0800 460800.

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