The Credit Card Companies With the Most Consumer Complaints

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Consumer advocates cheered and the banking industry fumed when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau made its credit card complaint database public last week. Banking analyst Ken Thomas got to work. Thomas sifted through this mountain of data and crunched numbers to figure out which credit card companies are the best — and the worst — when it comes to satisfying their customers.

The gold star goes to USAA, followed by HSBC. USAA has only 90 complaints and HSBC 171 — the fewest complaints in proportion to the size of their customer bases, respectively. Discover, American Express and JPMorgan Chase, in that order, round out the top five.

Who’s at the bottom of the list? That dubious distinction goes to SunTrust. The large regional bank has the highest rate of complaints against it, according to Thomas’s research. It’s surprising, he notes, given that SunTrust is a relatively small player among the titans of the credit card industry. Still, it managed to rack up 45 complaints — half as many as USAA, an issuer with a footprint many times SunTrust’s size.

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In the worst-to-first list, TD Bank is number two behind SunTrust, followed by GE, Capital One and Barclays, in that order.

“This is the first comprehensive analysis of 13,502 credit card complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for the second half of 2011 and most of first half of 2012,” Thomas says. (Right now, the CFPB’s public database contains only the complaints that have been filed since June 1. Thomas got the whole batch of complaints by filing a Freedom of Information Act request, and calculated banks’ market share by looking at data they provide to regulators.)

The 18 banks with more than 45 complaints each in his analysis make up 98% of the total number of complaints in the CFPB’s database. Capital One and Citigroup, the two banks with the highest number of complaints, together comprise 38% of all complaints.

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But looking at this number alone doesn’t give a clear picture of how good a bank is at responding to customer complaints because it doesn’t take into account how big the companies are, Thomas says. For instance, although Citigroup accrued 2,378 complaints — a bit less than 18% of the total — it’s also the biggest issuer, with roughly 20% of the credit card market, according to Thomas’s research.

“It only makes sense that the biggest credit card issuers will have the most complaints by the law of averages,” he points out. Capital One, which racked up the highest number of complaints with 2,713, has about 8% market share — a little less than half of what Citigroup has. This is why Capital One comes in third on Thomas’s worst-to-first list, while Citigroup is down in 12th place.

These are the nuances American consumers should understand and keep in mind when evaluating their credit card choices, Thomas says. “This is just another reason why we need the new bureau. Not just for consumer protection, but also education.”

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