The new credit card law, enacted in the depths of a recession, cracks down on issuers' longstanding practices, but could also indirectly benefit the companies in an economic recovery.

Ever since momentum for sweeping restrictions on price increases began to build late last year, issuers have been increasing cardholders' rates and shifting accounts from fixed to floating rates on a massive scale. They took these actions as a preemptive strike — come February, many of their old strategies, like raising rates on existing accounts in all but the narrowest circumstances, will be restricted.

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