Anyone who gets an AT&T Universal Card will now have to pay a $20 annual membership fee as the company stops offering the card for free to people who use it once a year.

But charter members will never be charged an annual membership fee as long as they use the combination credit card and long-distance calling card at least once a year, AT&T said.The AT&T Universal Card is currently the fifth most popular bank credit card in the United States, the company said. More than 5.2 million accounts were opened and more than 8.5 million cards issued in the AT&T Universal Card yearlong charter membership offer, AT&T said.

AT&T announced the card's variable annual percentage rate would drop, effective April 1, by one percentage point, to 17.9 percent.

The number of accounts opened and cards issued were industry growth records, the release said.

"Clearly, customers have focused on a combination of customer convenience, AT&T service and value," said Paul Kahn, president of AT&T Universal Card Services Corp. "Customers feel they are getting a great value from AT&T, including service they hadn't found before our entry into the market."

Some of the features of the Universal Card include collision damage coverage on rental cars, extension of a manufacturer's warranty on products purchased with the card and purchase protection from loss, theft or breakage, at no additional charge.