NEW YORK (AP) _ Chase Manhattan Bank on Tuesday became one of the last major credit card issuers to lower rates with a promotion designed to lure business away from rivals.

The Chase pricing plan comes after several major card issuers, including Citibank and American Express, offered lower rates structures following an attempt by Congress last fall to limit credit card rates.

Card issuers also are cutting rates due to aggressive competition within the industry and a steady fall in short-term interest rates, following the big cuts in interest rates by the Federal Reserve to stimulate the economy.

The Chase plan offers holders of its Chase classic Visa or Mastercard a variable rate as low as 14.4 percent if their balances exceed $2,500. Cardholders also could choose a 16.4 percent variable rate with no minimum balance requirements. That's down from a fixed rate of 19.8 percent.

Customers with the Chase gold credit cards, an upscale credit card for borrowers with higher incomes and stronger credit histories, can opt for a 13.4 percent variable rate when their total balances exceed $3,500.

Regardless of the minimum balance, a gold card holder could select a 15.4 percent variable rate. Currently, the Chase gold card has a 17.5 percent fixed rate.

Chase said its ''most loyal customers,'' including those with large balances on their cards, can ask Chase to waive the card's annual fee in lieu of the lower interest rate.

The average credit card interest rate nationwide is 18.22 percent, according to Ram Research, of Frederick, Md., a company that tracks credit card interest rates.

Chase was in great danger of losing cardholders to other lower rate cards if it kept a 19.8 percent rate, said James Daly, associate editor of Credit Card News in Chicago.

Besides retaining existing customers, another key element of Chase's strategy is to encourage them to switch the balances from their other credit cards onto their Chase card, Thomas C. Lynch, chief of Chase's credit card business, said in an interview.

Encouraging customers to switch their balances from competing cards is a relatively inexpensive way for banks and other credit card issuers to grow in an intensely competitive environment.

''Once you transfer a balance you immediately have interest-producing assets on your books,'' said Daly.

Chase says more than half of its card members can qualify for the new lower rates, which will be available beginning September. Chase says its lower rate offer differs from its competitors because it applies immediately to all outstanding balances.

By contrast, Citibank in April said it will to cut rates from 19 percent to 15.9 percent for its Citibank classic credit card customers who have held the card for a year. But the deal only applies to charges after June 1, not balances up to that point.

Citibank is the nation's largest issuer of Visa and Mastercards, with about 30 million in circulation, while Chase is second largest, with about 13 million in people's wallets, according to the banks.