Arlington taxpayers will soon be able to use their bank credit cards to pay personal property and real estate taxes under a plan devised by Treasurer Frank O'Leary to cut down on delinquencies.

Under the plan, approved recently by the County Board, county residents may use their Visa or MasterCard charge cards beginning in August when personal property tax bills, due Sept. 15, are mailed. Interest and penalties for late payments may also be charged to the cardholder's account.

Eventually, O'Leary said, the Choice credit card is expected to be added to the approved list of credit cards, which also can be used next spring to pay real estate taxes. The county is considering expanding the service to other programs for which it charges fees, such as those run by the adult education and recreation departments.

"Most importantly," O'Leary said of the benefits of the new system, "I expect a reduction in both the number of delinquent accounts and the number of installment agreements entered into with this office by persons who cannot meet their taxes when they fall due."

Taxpayers may come either directly to the courthouse to charge their bills, or may fill out a form on the back of the tax bill, giving their credit card number, the expiration date, and their signature. American Express cards will not be accepted in the program because they are not bank cards, O'Leary said.

The program, being coordinated by the Sovran Bank, provides for a service charge in the amount banks charge for using the cards. Currently, that is 1.49 percent.

Therefore, O'Leary said, the costs associated with the new service will be borne by the card user. The only cost to the county is expected to be about $1,000 annually to purchase imprinting machines and to lease authorization terminals, he said. That cost, O'Leary added, should be offset by the increased income the county can expect from the interest on the deposit of tax payments that might otherwise have not been paid on time.

Should his office find that the credit card company will not honor the charge, O'Leary said, the bill will be considered unpaid, and all normal penalties and interest will be added to the bill. O'Leary said his office will try to notify taxpayers in such predicaments early enough so they can pay their bills before late charges are added.

Arlington is the fourth locality in Virginia to adopt the system, just behind Virginia Beach, Suffolk and Culpeper, he said.