Consumer Reports Survey Finds Consumers Are More Satisfied Doing Business With Credit Unions, Primarily Online Banks & Smaller Banks

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Ratings of more than 100 banks and credit unions across the country reveal alternatives to big banks; Plus, how to maximize savings when banking

The good news in banking is that no one has to settle for merely acceptable service and that there are more options for the previously underserved,” said Jeff Blyskal, senior editor at Consumer Reports.

When it comes to banking, bigger isn’t always better. A recent subscriber survey conducted by Consumer Reports found that customers of credit unions, primarily online, and smaller traditional banks were more satisfied with their overall banking experience than those who do business with one of the nation’s four dominant mega banks: Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo.

The full report, “Choose the Best Bank for You,” is in the January 2016 issue of Consumer Reports and at In addition to Ratings of more than 100 institutions, the article outlines the pros and cons of credit unions, big banks, mostly online banks, and smaller regional banks and features a step-by-step guide for switching financial institutions, advice for keeping bank accounts secure, and more.

Consumer Reports surveyed more than 49,000 subscribers about their overall banking experiences including customer service, bank communication, consumer complaints, and fees. Credit unions and primarily online banks emerged among the highest-rated services Consumer Reports has ever evaluated, with respectively 93 percent of their customers highly satisfied on average. The Navy Federal Credit Union, available worldwide, and USAA Bank, Schwab Bank, and EverBank, which operate online, were among the highest-scoring in the Ratings.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents to Consumer Reports’ survey said they were highly satisfied with the service provided by smaller traditional banks that are more community based and tend to focus more on customer relationships. Frost Bank, based in Texas, was top-rated among smaller banks, and Umpqua, which operates mainly on the West Coast, was noted for its practices that connect its customers in ways beyond banking.

While the experience that credit unions, online, and smaller banks provide may be more satisfying overall, choosing one of the big four banks – Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, or Wells Fargo – may be the best option for those who appreciate their nationwide reach and convenience of many branches. Doing business with them can be pricey, but overall, Consumer Reports readers were satisfied with them in general.

“The good news in banking is that no one has to settle for merely acceptable service and that there are more options for the previously underserved,” said Jeff Blyskal, senior editor at Consumer Reports. “Consumers who were unwilling or unable to open bank accounts because of high fees and minimum balance requirements now have more options than they may realize.”

How to Maximize Savings
Having a “product bundle” such as a checking and savings account, along with other financial products like loans, at the same bank may provide benefits such as preferred interest and fee discounts, but shopping around for the various parts from different financial institutions may result in a better deal overall. Consumer Reports has designed a mix-and-match plan that can help customers get the lowest fees on services and the highest interest rates possible. Here are some examples:

  •     Open basic checking and savings accounts at a credit union that is a member of a network giving its customer access to fee-free ATMs and online and mobile account access. Check to check membership eligibility.
  •     Shop online for credit cards and mortgages because the market for them is national, with lots of competitors. Customers who confine their search to the bank where they have their checking account are limiting their options.
  •     Compare Internet rates for certificates of deposit at virtual banks rated by Consumer Reports and at credit unions. Both types of institutions tend to pay the highest rates.

About Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports is the world’s largest and most trusted nonprofit, consumer organization working to improve the lives of consumers by driving marketplace change. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has achieved substantial gains for consumers on health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other issues. The organization has advanced important policies to cut hospital-acquired infections, prohibit predatory lending practices and combat dangerous toxins in food. Consumer Reports tests and rates thousands of products and services in its 50-plus labs, state-of-the-art auto test center and consumer research center. Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, works for pro-consumer laws and regulations in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. With more than eight million subscribers to its flagship magazine, website and other publications, Consumer Reports accepts no advertising, payment or other support from the companies whose products it evaluates.

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© 2015 Consumer Reports. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for advertising or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. We accept no advertising and pay for all the products we test. We are not beholden to any commercial interest. Our income is derived from the sale of Consumer Reports®,® and our other publications and information products, services, fees, and noncommercial contributions and grants. Our Ratings and reports are intended solely for the use of our readers. Neither the Ratings nor the reports may be used in advertising or for any other commercial purpose without our permission. Consumer Reports will take all steps open to it to prevent commercial use of its materials, its name, or the name of Consumer Reports®.

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Melissa Valentino
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