Millions of Americans breathed a sigh of relief last May, as President Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009. Even though the law will not go into effect until February 2010, it promises a turning point for American consumers and an end to the days of unfair rate hikes and hidden fees.

The problem is the ten-month heads-up period that the law granted to banks and credit card companies. A rational person might assume that issuing banks would begin immediately to comply with the law, but it appears that just the opposite is happening.

Readers are reporting in droves that their interest rates are being increased without limitations. Credit limits on credit card accounts and home equity lines of credit are being slashed, accounts with little or no activity are being closed and minimum monthly payments are being increased, all without rhyme or reason.

There is no doubt in my mind that credit card issuers are frantic about the provisions of the CARD Act and how it will limit their ability to do business. They're getting their licks in now, while they can.

What can you do to protect yourself right now, while the law can't help you out? Let me count the ways:

1. Get mad. If you are carrying a credit card balance, now's the time to become personally outraged by its existence and the ease by which you were able to get yourself into such a terrible situation. The interest rate you are paying is so outrageous, it's tantamount to highway robbery.

2. It's not your money. Stop seeing your available credit as "my money." It's not your money! Do not add another single purchase to that account. Confirm your pledge by cutting that card into a dozen pieces. Do not, however, close the account.

3. Pay it off. You have to see this as a matter so serious, your very life is in peril. Sell assets to raise the cash. Do whatever you must to earn the money you need to pay off your debts, even if that means menial labor at night and on weekends.

4. Scale back your expectations. You may believe that this new law is going to make your life grand and your credit card issuer miserable. Don't believe it. Already, the credit card companies are showing us their true colors. They do not care about us. It's only their bottom line that matters and they will care for it at the expense of customers. They'll find a way.

The only good credit card account is one that remains active and returns to $0 every single month. Gone are the days when you could afford to have a revolving balance. Gone are the days when you could expect a card issuer to act reasonably. The sooner you learn that truth, the sooner you'll find yourself on a level playing field with a reasonable chance to win at the credit card game!

If you need help dealing with your credit card company after changes to your terms, refer to my column "Get What You Want From Your Credit Card Company."

Copyright © 2009 Mary Hunt. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint required.

Check out Mary's recently released revised and expanded edition of The Financially Confident Woman (DPL Press, 2008).

Debt-Proof Living was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "Debt-Proof Living" is read by close to 100,000 cheapskates.  Click here to subscribe. Also, you can receive Mary's free daily e-mail "Everyday Cheapskate" by signing up at EverydayCheapskate.com