* Files $100 million placeholder with the U.S. SEC
* To apply to list stock on NYSE under symbol "SYF"
* Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley are lead underwriters
* Bankers have estimated business's worth at $16-$18 bln
* GE's shares rise nearly 1 pct before the bell
March 13 (Reuters) - General Electric Co's credit card unit filed for an initial public offering, the first step in the conglomerate's planned exit from the retail finance business.
GE announced plans in November to spin off the business that makes credit card loans to consumers into a publicly traded company, which bankers estimated could be worth roughly $16 billion to $18 billion.
Through the spinoff, GE hopes to focus on its industrial divisions and better compete with rivals such as Honeywell International Inc and United Technologies Corp, which have smaller financing arms.
GE shares rose about 1 percent in trading before the bell on Thursday.
The company said in November that it would float up to 20 percent of the credit card business through the IPO, with a target to complete the exit in 2015.
The business, which will operate under the name Synchrony Financial, is the largest provider of private label credit cards in the United States based on purchase volume and receivables, according to an IPO filing with U.S. regulators.
The cards are usually offered through major retailers and brands including Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Lowe's Cos Inc and Ethan Allen Interiors Inc.
Synchrony had 62 million active accounts, financed about $94 billion of sales and reported net earnings of $2 billion for 2013, according to the filing. ()
LAST MAJOR ACTION
GE Capital, which houses GE's financial operations, used to contribute nearly half of the company's total profit. But the unit's rising funding costs during the 2008 financial crisis nearly sank the entire company.
GE Capital posted revenue of $46 billion last year. The company was named a systemically risky financial institution last July by the U.S. Financial Stability Oversight Council.
The designation, commonly known as "Too Big To Fail", in effect guaranteed more regulatory oversight of GE Capital.
GE has said the spinoff would be the "last major action" in its efforts to reduce GE Capital's share to 30 percent of the company's total profit.
Synchrony Financial filed a $100 million placeholder with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday and GE said it expects to complete the IPO later this year.
Goldman Sachs & Co, JP Morgan, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are lead underwriters for the IPO, according to the filing.
Synchrony Financial said it expects to list its stock under the symbol "SYF" on the New York Stock Exchange. The filing did not reveal how many shares its parent would sell and the price.
The amount of money a company says it plans to raise in its first IPO filings is used to calculate registration fees. The final size of the IPO could be different.
GE's shares were at $26 in premarket trading. They closed at $25.76 on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.