It's a vicious cycle. The Federal Reserve Board tries to watch consumers' backs, but the banks it regulates watch their own backs, doing everything possible to keep from losing money.

It's a vicious cycle. The Federal Reserve Board tries to watch consumers' backs, but the banks it regulates watch their own backs, doing everything possible to keep from losing money.

In July, the board passed a series of regulations that will protect consumers from unscrupulous credit card issuers. As a result, a lot of things on your monthly credit card bill could soon change, said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for CreditCards.com.

The changes are taking effect in two waves: a few began last week and the majority start Feb. 22.

"The intention is to lessen the incidence of late fees, penalty rates, sudden rate increases and other issuer practices that were deemed unfair or predatory," Woolsey explained.

Curtailing some of credit card companies' excesses, though, could cause them to recoil.

"Issuers have been raising interest rates and decreasing credit lines ahead of the recent rule enactments and continue to do so while they can before next February - after which they won't be able to increase rates on existing balances, only new purchases," Woolsey said.

One of the February provisions requires companies to put payments toward the customer's balance with the highest interest rate - which could mean fewer promotional teaser rates, Woolsey said.

Creditcards.com also suggests that annual fees could become more common while reward cards may start disappearing.

For this reason, Woolsey suggests trying to pay off debt as quickly as possible.

Happening now

You'll find out about rate increases earlier. By increasing notice from 15 to 45 days, cardholders get an extra month to consider a balance transfer or pay off their cards before higher rates take effect.

Statements are arriving earlier.Monthly bills must now be mailed at least 21 days before payment is due, up from 14 days, if the issuer plans to penalize the customer for late payment.

Everyone can opt out.Cardholders who get notification of a rate change can decline it, then must stop making purchases with the card and pay off the balance under the existing rates within five years.

Beginning in February

End of "universal default." Credit card issuers will no longer be allowed to raise interest rates when borrowers incur payment problems with other creditors.

Less frequent rate increases.Rate hikes will be allowed in a more limited number of situations, such as the expiration of a promotional offer or when a customer makes a late payment.

Payment allocation altered. If your account has multiple interest rates, payments will apply to the highest-cost balances first. Previously, payments went toward the balance with the lowest rate.

Over-limit fees established.Borrowers must agree in advance to fees for exceeding a borrowing limit, and if they don't, purchases that push them over the limit will be declined.

Those under 21 need not apply.People under age 21 will only be issued a card if a parent co-signs or if they demonstrate an ability to pay.