A Consumer Reports' survey of 10,700 readers rated Amica Mutual Group, USAA Group, and the Chubb Group of Insurance Cos. higher for claims satisfaction than most other insurers.

However, those services aren't available to all consumers. USAA homeowners insurance is available only to those with a connection to the U.S. military, and Chubb markets itself as a high-end insurer, with premiums to match. (Amica says it has moved away from its tradition of selling only to those referred by policyholders.)

The CR survey also found claims problems with some large insurers. Thirty-five percent of Allstate clients reported having problems with that carrier, the nation's second-largest. That contrasts with just 14 percent who reported problems with highly-rated Amica. Allstate and Travelers, another large insurance group, were also among the lower-rated groups overall.

Delayed payments are common. Twenty-one percent of those asked said they faced delays having claims paid. Amica and USAA got better marks than most.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed readers about their experience with homeowners insurance claims in the last few years. Insurance companies were rated on reports of overall satisfaction and claims of reported problems, including dissatisfaction with claim pay out amounts, and payment delays.

The survey did find some good news, especially for people with decent credit and claims history. Lots of consumers are finding lower prices. More than half (53 percent) of the respondents who switched companies in the past few years said they had found a better premium with their new carrier.

And respondents were reasonably content. Overall, 73 percent were highly satisfied with their current carrier. That compares with a satisfaction rate of 77 percent in 2003, the last time the magazine published ratings of homeowners insurance.

Only five percent indicated their claims were rejected, and 11 percent said they received too little payment for their claims. The remaining 84 percent got what they expected with the settlement of their claims.

Consumer Reports' home insurance group survey is part of a larger investigative report that found that insurers are scaling back coverage, imposing high deductibles on claims for damage from windstorms in many places, and cutting coverage for mold and dog bites. Some companies are using credit-based insurance scores to reject prospective clients and to raise premiums of current ones. In some areas, insurers have abandoned homeowners coverage entirely.

Disasters and dire situations are when consumers truly need coverage that lives up to its promises. Yet CR's evaluation of home insurers found that doesn't always happen. Consumers can find excellent insurers, but they can also face a whirlwind of complexity, cost, and difficulty getting their due. Consumer Reports offers some quick tips to get started:

• Read your policy and any other correspondence thoroughly. Ask your agent to explain anything you don't understand.

• Learn how to deal with the adjuster, who might be your chief connection with the insurer after you make a claim.

• Compare prices at least every five years, even if you're not being elbowed out.

Make sure you compare costs of identical policies. Check with an independent agent or insurance-shopping Web site for a wide selection of quotes.