Credit Cards: A Study of Credit Card Complaints

ValuePenguin studied the credit card complaints database at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to provide insights into the most significant credit card issues facing today’s consumers. From the 13,000+ complaints collected by the CFPB in 2013, below are our key findings on the most satisfied customers, the most complained about issues, and the complaint types with the highest refund rates.

Study Highlights

What credit card customers had the most satisfied customers based on complaints?

  • American Express and Chase rated highest in customer satisfaction, with the least complaints relative to the volume of purchases made.
  • Of the top 6 credit card companies in the United States, Capital One and Citibank were the worst ranked in our measure of customer satisfaction.
  • While Capital One and Citi scored worst among these companies on our complaint measure, they were also the most likely to resolve complaints by issuing a refund or credit (33% of cases)
  • Bank of America was the least likely to resolve complaint cases with some sort of financial compensation.

What do consumers complain about?

  • Cardmembers' biggest issues were billing disputes, account closures, and fraud (including identity theft and embezzlement)
  • Consumers that complained to the CFPB about late fees were the most likely to receive financial compensation, with 63% of complaints addressed in this manner.

Who complains the most about credit cards?

  • Residents of Washington DC complained the most, with the highest complaints per capita (13 for every 100,000 residents), followed by Delaware (10 per 100,000) and Maryland (7 per 100,000)
  • The states with people least likely to complain where North Dakota, Mississippi and Indiana

Measuring Customer Satisfaction With Their Credit Card Company

To determine which company had the most satisfied cardholders, we looked at how many complaints the six largest credit card companies received compared to the volume of business charged on their cards. An issuer with happier customers would hypothetically generate a lower measure of complaints. We calculated this by measuring how many complaints each company's customers had per billion dollars spent with that company's credit cards, and then ranked them against each other.

Based on this, American Express and Chase ranked as the best credit card companies, while Capital One and Citibank scored the lowest out of the six issuers. Amex and Chase had the happiest credit card customers in 2013: for every billion dollars charged on their cards, customers only complained 2 to 4 times, while at the Capital One and Citibank, there were nearly 11 to 12 complaints for the same amount of spending. Capital One and Citibank received nearly 4x as many complaints as Amex and Chase, and about twice the average of the six major credit card companies.

Complaints Per Billion Dollars Charged

This graph measures how happy customers are with their credit card banks by looking at how many complaints there are as a measure of spending

Here is the data behind the metric that we used to measure customer satisfaction. We determined the complaint percentage by dividing the 2013 complaints by the 2013 US purchase volume (dollars charged on their credit cards). The lower their complaint metric, the better their customer satisfaction.

Company U.S. Purchase Volume ($B) Complaints Complaint Metric
Amex                   $637.0 1,014             1.59
Capital One                   186.9 2,221           11.88
JPMorgan Chase                   419.5 1,502             3.58
Bank of America                   205.9 1,502             7.29
Citibank                   240.0 2,532           10.55
Discover                   110.0 614             5.58
Six Bank Aggregate                1,799.3 9,385             5.22

What Are Customers' Biggest Complaints about Each Credit Card Company?

The primary grievance customers had with all the banks are around billing disputes - problems with credit card bills and payments. The second and third biggest issues differed from issuer to issuer. Here are a few highlights among the top six credit card companies:

  • The only time rewards appears in the top three issues of a bank is at American Express; it actually makes up 6.3% of their total complaints, compared to 2.2% on average at the five other issuers
  • Bank of America had the greatest percentage of customers complaining about account closure treatment compared to the other five
  • Nearly 1 in every 5 complaints at Citi and Chase was about a credit card bill - the highest two out of the pack
  • Chase cardholders had the highest percentage of complaints about APRs and fraud on their accounts, with Discover as a close second
  • Discover was the best with billing issues: it had the lowest percentage of billing issues compared to the other five
  • American Express's credit cards got the lowest percentage of complaints on identity theft / fraud / embezzlement

Top Three Complaints by Credit Card Company

Amex Capital One Chase Bank of America Citi Discover
Billing Disputes Billing Disputes Billing Disputes Billing Disputes Billing Disputes Billing Disputes
Account Closure Fraud APR or Interest Rate Account Closure APR or Interest Rate APR or Interest Rate
Rewards Account Closure Fraud Fraud Account Closure Fraud

Fraud encompasses identity theft, and embezzlement. Account closure encompasses problems with account closings and cancellations. Note that we have excluded the category "Other" where applicable to focus on identifiable issues.

How Did Credit Card Companies Address Customer Complaints?

Resolutions typically fall into three categories: explanations, monetary relief, and non-monetary relief. As nice as it is to understand the reason behind each issue, cardholders would probably prefer some monetary relief, such as a refund. So let's take a look at the breakdown of issue resolutions by issuer.

Citibank was the best credit card company for resolving complaints with cash back to their cardholders. 34% of complaints logged with the CFPB about Citibank were closed with a refund back to its cardmembers, compared to 24% among the six largest companies. Capital One was a close second, with nearly a third getting some monetary relief. As our study reported earlier, Capital One and Citibank ranked as the top two most complained about credit card companies, so it's nice to know that their customers are seeing the highest rates of recompense too.

On the other hand, Bank of America had the lowest rates of refunding cash to their cardmembers for CFPB complaints: at 8%, it was the only issuer with rates in the single digits. Its primary mode of resolution was providing cardholders with explanations, which comprised a significant majority (80%) of its cases. Chase addressed 14% of its complaints with monetary relief, which was nearly twice the rate of Bank of America's.

The CFPB reports that the median amount of monetary relief for credit cardholders was $125, while the most frequent refund was $25.

Credit Card Complaint Resolutions by Issuer

This graph shows what percentage of each bank's complaints were closed with explanations, monetary relief, and non-monetary relief

In this graph, we excluded cases where complaints were simply marked "Closed" with no further detail on the manner of resolution.

What kinds of complaints are the most likely to get consumers refunds? Late fees generally have the best chances for getting refunded or receiving some other financial relief. Great news for Capital One, Citi, and Chase cardmembers: these three companies were the most lenient when it came to reversing late fees. They had the best rates of refunds when cardmembers protested about late fees of 81%, 79%, and 57%, respectively. Good luck at Bank of America, which had the lowest cash relief rate of 21%.

As we mentioned earlier, the biggest issue consumers had with their credit card companies was billing disputes. Our six major credit card companies received almost 1,800 complaints in this category, out of which 36% of customers were able to get some money back. Discover (54%), Capital One (47%), and Citibank (47%) were the most likely to reimburse their cardmembers for this category of complaint.

Credit determination gets you nothing in terms of monetary relief. Bankruptcy and privacy are the next two most frequent. These are three issues that customers may not find worthwhile to submit to the CFPB about if they are looking for refunds or other financial consideration.

Which Complaints Are Most Likely to Get Refunds at Your Card Company?

Here are the categories by credit card company that saw the most or least monetary relief. Numbers refer to the percentage of those complaints that received monetary consideration. Note that where applicable we have excluded the "Other" category to focus on specific issues. 

  Most Likely Least Likely
Amex Late fee 45.7% Application processing delay 0.0%
  Unsolicited issuance of credit card 42.9% Bankruptcy 0.0%
  Transaction issue 36.8% Privacy 0.0%
Bank of America Balance transfer 27.8% Credit determination 0.0%
  Billing statement 22.7% Collection practices 0.0%
  Late fee 21.2% Forbearance / Workout plans 0.0%
Capital One Late fee 80.7% Bankruptcy 0.0%
  Cash advance fee 75.0% Balance transfer fee 0.0%
  Cash advance 60.0% Credit determination 1.6%
Chase Late fee 56.8% Credit determination 0.0%
  Billing statement 32.1% Bankruptcy 0.0%
  Transaction issue 29.4% Privacy 0.0%
Citi Late fee 78.8% Credit determination 5.8%
  Cash advance fee 66.7% Advertising and marketing 6.8%
  Balance transfer 52.4% Privacy 8.3%
Discover Arbitration 66.7% Credit determination 0.0%
  Late fee 55.6% Credit line increase/decrease 0.0%
  Billing disputes 54.0% Bankruptcy 0.0%

Were Customers Happy with How Their Complaints Were Resolved?

How satisfied were complainants with their credit card companies' responses? We'll look at how many consumers disputed their case resolution as a measure of satisfaction.

While all issuers addressed and closed their complaints in 2013, a subsequent 21% of the cases were disputed by their cardholders. Capital One and Citibank cardholders were the happiest. They were the least likely to dispute their closed complaints out of the major companies. On the other hand, Chase and American Express saw the most customers contesting their closed cases as a percentage of total complaints. No further detail is available about the conclusion of these cases. 

This graph measures the percentage of each company's customers that dispute how their credit card company closed their complaints

What are Cardholders Unhappy about?

The top three issues that credit cardholders complained the most about were billing disputes, identity theft / fraud / embezzlement, and account closing / cancellations. These categories made up nearly a third of all submissions to credit card issuers and affiliates. While a category of "Other" constituted 9.3% of total complaints, no further detail was available from the CFPB data. When aggregated, credit card fees made up 7.7% of all complaints. This would have ranked fees as the second most identified issue among cardholders. The biggest type of fee that most customers complained about were late fees, which made up more than half of fee-based complaints.

This graph provides the count of credit card complaints from the most frequent category to the least

*Fraud includes identity theft and embezzlement

Is It Worth It to Complain to the CFPB about Your Credit Card Issue?

Chances are consumers already contacted their credit card companies first about the issue, and received an explanation or unsatisfactory treatment. By taking the extra step of formally complaining to the CFPB, we assume that they're looking for additional action, such as a refund or some other financial consideration.

Complaints that were closed with refunds had a median dollar amount of $125, with the most frequent refund being $25. It can be worthwhile for a few minutes of time on the CFPB's website.

So which issues will get you the best chances? We'll calculate the success rate of each category in getting monetary relief to determine which issues are most worth consumers' while to complain about.

In general, the most worthwhile category to complain to the CFPB about is fees. Late fees, in particular, see a high degree of financial relief where 63% of consumers emerged with refunds or reductions. Billing disputes, the largest category of complaints, see the fifth highest financial relief rate in the industry of 37%. These rates differ by credit card company - for example, your chances with refunds at Capital One and Citibank for credit card late fees are much higher at 81% and 79%, respectively.

Here are the chances that complaining to the CFPB will get you financial relief for certain issues:

  • 50/50 and better: Late fee, Other credit card fees (fees not already identified individually)
  • 2 in 5 chance: Overlimit fee, cash advance fee
  • 1 in 3 chance: Credit card and debt protection, Balance transfer fees, Billing statement
  • 25% chance: Balance transfer, APR or interest rate

Don't bother contacting the CFPB for credit-related complaints if what you're looking for is financial consideration. Whether you're objecting to credit determinations, or increases or decreases to limits, these categories typically get addressed with explanations. Unfortunately, one category that gets minimal financial relief is perhaps comprised of those consumers who need it the most: bankruptcy complaints.

Resolutions by Complaint Category

This graph shows how much each complaint gets resolved through an explanation, monetary means, or non-monetary relief

*Fraud includes identity theft and embezzlement

Who Complained the Most?

We also looked at complaints by states in the continental U.S. to see where credit cardholders were calling in issues from. The CFPB received 4.1 complaints per 100,000 residents across America for all credit card companies. The top three states with the most dissatisfied cardmembers were Washington, DC; Delaware, and Maryland. These Mid-Atlantic states averaged 8 complaints per 100,000 residents. The happiest states with the least complaints by this measure were: North Dakota, Mississippi, and Indiana.

Complaints per Capita by State

Data is presented as number of complaints per 100,000 residents in state:

This graph illustrates how many credit card complaints were submitted by state per 100,000 residents

Other Statistics on Complaint Submissions

61% of users submitted their complaints through the CFPB's complaint web portal, while 19% came through as referrals from other regulatory agencies. Traditional media channels - postal mail, telephone, and fax - made up nearly a fifth of all remaining user submissions, while 15 cardholders emailed their complaints through.

Once submitted, complaints are turned around reasonably quickly. More than 80% of complaints get forwarded to the company in question in three days or less - most make it to the company in the same day they were received (40%). Only 6% of complaints take longer than a week. Of this subset, 31 complaints waited more than 100 days before being forwarded to credit card companies for response, with the longest turnaround being 224 days. 

Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 2013 Credit Card Complaints database

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