In a society where credit cards are as essential as folding money, H. David Meyers has become a savior for thousands of students, divorced people, artists, musicians -- anyone, in short, whom the banks consider a bad credit risk. Meyers is the founder of Timesaver Inc., which approves about 90% of its Visa and MasterCard applications, compared with the average approval rate at most banks of less than 50%.

Timesaver's trick for protecting itself against deadbeats is simple: It gets collateral up front. Applicants must first deposit between $300 and $2,000 in a passbook savings account at Key Federal Savings & Loan in Baltimore, a bank with $150 million in assets, for which Timesaver markets credit cards. Each card's credit limit is the same as the savings account deposit for at least a year. After that, the credit limit may exceed the size of the savings account.

"The number one factor banks look at when you apply for a credit card is stability," Meyers says. "We welcome any application as long as it's filled out honestly. We're dealing with brand new customers to the credit market, the type of people bankers won't touch, because they don't understand them." Timesaver runs a credit check on every applicant, he says, and only turns down those who make false claims or have a history of credit fraud. Last year, it had sales of more than $20 million and 120,000 cardholders, with a delinquency rate of about 3%, which is slightly higher than the average delinquency rate nationwide.

Meyers founded Timesaver in 1974 as a clearinghouse for credit cards from major banks and department stores. But during the Carter Administration, when interest rates soared and access to credit tightened, Meyers saw a market opportunity in the millions of people who were locked out by the credit community. There are an estimated 40 million Americans who have problems getting credit. "Without a card, you feel like a second-class citizen," says Meyers, "and I should know, because I used to have credit problems myself."

In 1981, Meyers signed a deal with Key Federal to become the thrift's exclusive marketer of Visa and MasterCard services. Cardholders pay a $25 application fee which is refundable once the minimal savings account is opened; a $25 annual fee on the credit card; and 21% interest on credit card balances.

This year, the company is planning an ambitious direct-mail campaign, backed up by a $10-million national television advertising campaign featuring former New York Yankee great Mickey Mantle as spokesman. "Our goal is to have at least a million clients in the next three or four years," says Meyers.