Affinity card programs aimed at African-Americans-like the ones offered by Liberty Bank and Trust Co.-have been around for a while but are growing more common, credit card experts said.

People's Bank of Bridgeport, Conn., markets a card for the Black United Fund, which supports economic development in black communities.

And Key Federal Savings Bank teamed with the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ two years ago to offer an affinity card. That program was discontinued last month, but the Havre de Grace, Md.-based institution still issues affinity cards for Black Expo U.S.A. and American Black Colleges.

Frances M. Dale, president of Entandem, a consulting firm in Sterling, Va., says these affinity cards are a logical extension of the church bake sale or bingo fund-raiser. "What is new is tying a financial instrument to that," she said.

But she cautioned that issuers of such cards must not appear to be encouraging people to incur debt. "You have to be very careful when you decide to do something with a church group," Ms. Dale said. "There is a fine line that you have to walk."

Anat Bird, senior vice president, strategic initiatives, Norwest Corp., said affinity cards are a low-cost way for community banks to increase their portfolios. "The affinity group does a lot of marketing and usually creates a lot of good will and community orientation," Ms. Bird said. "That may be absent from larger issuers."

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