Financial Planning

Getting Good Service

We rated the customer service of large financial service firms for accessibility, reliability, responsiveness and knowledgeable answers.

While we were in Michigan over the summer, our Washington, D.C., house was undergoing a serious makeover. When we embarked on this project, friends and family warned us about the delays and disappointments we were likely to face with the contractor. It wouldn’t matter who, they said. It’s just the nature of the business. After we negotiated and signed the contract, I steeled myself for uncomfortable interactions and veiled threats to keep the work flowing and the quality high—from 800 miles away.

But our contractor turned out to be a different, perhaps old-fashioned, breed. We chose Randy because unlike the other contractors we interviewed, he runs a family operation, with two sons working alongside him, and his wife in charge of the bookkeeping and billing. He would be there every day to supervise the work, instead of delegating the task to an employee who would have less of a stake in doing a first-rate job. He took ownership of the project and made repairs on our 80-year-old house that other contractors probably would have let slide. Another winning attribute: He returned our texts and e-mails promptly.

Best customer service for you. While Randy was belying the rap on contractors, the staff at Kiplinger and I began to brainstorm how we could translate the universal desire for good service into rankings that served our readers. The result was Financial Service Firms That Treat You Like a Star.

Most of us have trusted financial professionals in our corner. But the pandemic has accelerated a shift in customer service from the up-close-and-personal to the distant-and-digital. (Even bank lobbies were shuttered for a while.) So we decided to focus on four categories of personal finance services that operate mostly from a distance: credit card issuers, mortgage lenders, auto and home insurers, and banks.

We whittled the firms to 10 or so in each category, then we conducted a national survey to see how customers rated them on customer service attributes: accessibility, reliability, responsiveness and knowledgeable answers to typical questions. We also checked complaints, evaluated the websites, called the customer service phone numbers and put the apps through their paces. Contributing editor Lisa Gerstner, who has earned her stripes rating rewards credit cards and banks, did the heavy lifting, with a bit of help from summer intern Spencer Philps.

As we were putting the finishing touches on this months-long project, Lisa had her own struggle with a customer service issue. She and her husband, Tom, bought a house in early August, and they chose a large, D.C.-based credit union as their mortgage lender because it offered a lower interest rate than the other lenders they checked with.

Their purchase contract stated that by about two weeks before the closing date, they had to deliver to the seller a letter from the lender stating conditional or outright approval of the loan. The letter finally came, but it was nearly 48 hours late and it pushed them out of contract on the house. The sellers could have backed out, Lisa says, but she and Tom decided to switch to a local bank that their real estate agent referred them to, and the mortgage team wrapped up the loan in two weeks.

Our survey is not about prices—just service. If you are in the market for a mortgage or a credit card from a company that respects its customers, or a bank or insurance company that will respond quickly and efficiently if you have a problem, check out our winners.

“We’re paying a slightly higher interest rate, but the peace of mind has been 100% worth it,” says Lisa. “Sometimes you really do get what you pay for.”

Most Popular

Education is Key: 3 Financial Lessons for Retirees Nearing Retirement
retirement planning

Education is Key: 3 Financial Lessons for Retirees Nearing Retirement

When it comes to retirement planning, educating yourself can keep you from making big mistakes. Here are three key lessons that everyone preparing for…
May 24, 2022
Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
Why Are Gas Prices Still Going Up?
spending

Why Are Gas Prices Still Going Up?

The cost of a gallon of gas is heading back toward its March highs. What’s driving the resurgence, and will gas prices go down anytime soon?
May 23, 2022

Recommended

HSAs Make Health Care More Affordable
health savings accounts

HSAs Make Health Care More Affordable

Tax-advantaged health savings accounts allow you to save for a broad range of short-term and long-term medical expenses.
May 26, 2022
This Couple Tackles Love and Money as a Team
Getting Married

This Couple Tackles Love and Money as a Team

Fyooz Financial, the husband and wife team of Dan and Natalie Slagle, have carved out a niche advising other couples with the money questions that com…
May 24, 2022
Buying Annuities in Your 401(k)
Financial Planning

Buying Annuities in Your 401(k)

More plans are offering annuities that could provide income in retirement. Here’s what you need to know.
May 24, 2022
COVID’s Financial Toll Isn’t What You Think
Coronavirus and Your Money

COVID’s Financial Toll Isn’t What You Think

From a grandma’s retirement in ruins to a troubled teen inheriting too soon, COVID’s effects will last for generations. While nothing can prepare you …
May 21, 2022