With all that national attention on card rates and fees, New Jersey’s largest credit union, the $1.9 billion Affinity, is finding a variable low rate, 8.6%, and a stepped up promotion the right elixir toward building card volume in the New Year.

The Basking Ridge CU said its marketing focus on consumer “alternatives” to banking’s high rates and fees has produced a near doubling of Visa accounts during the second half of 2009.

“We launched a credit card awareness campaign in December 2009 and as a result we saw a 162% increase in credit card applications in December 2009 vs. November 2009,” said Kevin McCloskey, vice president-lending.

But the increase, he pointed out, was not from the promotion alone considering the number of new card accounts from June-December increased by 91% from the same period in 2008.

“We want our members to know that the Affinity Visa credit cards are a smart alternative with low rates, no gimmicks and no annual fees,” said McCloskey. “We pride ourselves on building long-term relationships with members-in the good times and bad.”

In its card promotion, Affinity notes that many consumers “have seen their bank credit card rates increase to as high as 29.9% in the past few months” as banks use every means at their disposal to seek loopholes by adding new fees, hiking interest rates “and altering account terms. Because of this, consumers need an alternative and credit unions fit the bill.”