Discover Financial Services is ready to take a few steps — measured, tentative, exhaustively analyzed steps — down the credit spectrum, its chief executive said.

Improvement in asset quality across the credit card industry has made lending to people with lower credit scores less risky, CEO David Nelms said. Nowadays, he said, card issuers can get prime-quality returns from not-quite-prime borrowers, and he expressed a willingness — though with plenty of caveats and cautions — to try it.

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