As expected, the governors of the U.S. Postal Service this week approved a variety of rate increases for stamps. In the process, they not only raised the price but have introduced a new level of complexity as well. Buying a stamp may become an exercise in confusion.

The new rate for first-class mail is 29 cents for the first ounce, up from the present 25 cents. The previous hike, from 20 to 25 cents, took place in 1988. The Postal Service said it needed the increase to cope with $20 million a day in lost revenue.Postcards are up from 15 to 19 cents; minimum rate for express mail is up from $7.75 to $8.35. Postage for magazines and newspapers was increased, but less than an independent rate commission had suggested. Prices for third-class mail, often the so-called "junk mail," vary widely depending on the type, the number of pieces and total weight. But Postal Service governors hiked the price for such mail by an overall 25 percent, higher than the 17 percent recommended by the commission. As a result, direct mail advertisers will have less of an advantage over those who advertise in publications.

All price increases will take effect Feb. 3.

The plan also calls for the closing of some rural post offices. That means rural residents will be paying more for less service.

Some of the confusion about stamps surely will arise from the fact that new stamps have already been printed, but without any number. The 29-cent stamps carry the letter F and feature a red tulip on a yellow background. It will be known simply as the "F stamp."

Those trying to use up old 25-cent stamps will get a peculiar choice - a make-up rate stamp that has no colored picture. Instead, it just contains the words, "This U.S. stamp, along with 25 cents of additional U.S. postage, is equivalent to the `F' stamp rate." Got that?

And just for an added distraction, the Postal Service approved a 27-cent rate for bill-paying consumers who use return envelopes provided by businesses -if such envelopes have a ZIP-plus-4 bar code. It will be interesting trying to figure that out and whether to use a 27-cent stamp or a 29-cent one. However, implementing that special rate has been delayed until the future.

All of these rate hikes only mean that the Postal Service will now merely break even. That means it will be back quite soon asking for more.