Is there anything more frustrating than dealing with a customer service representative who is unhelpful or rude? To find out which U.S. retailers have the best telephone reps, Boston consultant Dalbar grilled the people who answered the phones at the 21 largest companies on topics such as product information, return policies, and warranties. The tables below rank the retailers in order of the quickest to respond and the friendliest reps. The findings are based on calls made in February and March, 2004.
Trust fund babies beware. A recent Internal Revenue Service regulation may make you poorer. The rule could affect you if part of the payout from the trust comes from an individual retirement account. Traditionally, many trustees counted the entire annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from an IRA within a trust as income for the beneficiary. But the IRS has sided with 40 states that want to slash that payout to just 10% of the RMD, unless otherwise specified. That means the other 90% would stay within the trust, where it can get taxed at a federal rate as high as 35%.
An IRA owner can fix the problem by making sure the trust specifies that 100% of the RMD should be income to the beneficiary, says Seymour Goldberg, a Melville (N.Y.) trust and estate attorney. But if the IRA's original owner is deceased, a solution isn't so easy. While many states give trustees ways to alter payouts, disputes may arise between beneficiaries, says Ed Slott, editor of Ed Slott's IRA Advisor newsletter. Kids from dad's first marriage might rather see stepmom's income cut, leaving more in the trust for them.
A fast-growing british retailer of soaps and shampoos is giving new meaning to the term "fresh beauty." Lush, which plans to open 15 U.S. stores this year for a total of 19 here (and 185 worldwide), uses fresh fruits and vegetables in its products and stamps an expiration date on many. Its Bio Fresh line features masks and scrubs ($7.95 to $9.95) that need refrigeration and spoil after three weeks. The After Tango foot cleanser ($7.65) uses "cooling avocado, skin-softening almond oil, and the pain-relieving properties of asparagus." Bet it would make a nice salad, too.
The Hollywood Bowl opens its season with a bigger, acoustically improved band shell, its first new one in 75 years. Besides the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl orchestras, the 18,000-seat outdoor amphitheater will feature performances by the Joffrey Ballet, B.B. King, cancan dancers from the Moulin Rouge in Paris, Harry Connick Jr., and k.d. lang. On 16 nights the concerts will end with fireworks. Tickets start at $1 and $3 and top out at $106; shows run through Sept. 21.