Life with a credit card is about to change. Here's what you need to know.

By Dave Baldwin
Updated January 19, 2010
A pile of ATM receipts
Credit: Lucas Allen

Taking effect in February 2010, the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act gives you more protection when using plastic.

More Time to Make Your Payment

You now have at least 21 days from when your bill is posted online (or mailed) to pay before you are charged a late fee.

More Notice for Rate Increases

In most cases, card companies must give you 45 days’ notice when raising interest rates (previously, it was 15 days). Consumers can cancel the card and have five years to pay off the balance at the original interest rate. (Before, the new interest rate would be applied to unpaid balances.)

No Retroactive Rate Hikes

Interest rates on existing balances cannot be raised unless you are more than 60 days late with a payment. And rate increases are prohibited for the first year a card is open (unless a promotional rate expires).

Fewer Fees

Say good-bye to over-the-limit fees unless you give preapproval for purchases that exceed your limit. However, banks and card companies may bring back annual fees (which average about $50).

Pay Less Interest

If your card carries multiple balances with different interest rates, card companies must apply any payment (above the minimum) to the balance with the highest rate first. But the law doesn’t cap interest rates, so some creditors are raising them, even on cards in good standing.