The Fee Factor

NEW YORK -- The outrage was nearly seismic when big banks recently toyed with debit cards fees and Verizon floated its ill-fated "pay to pay" fee.

But rarely is anything ever said about "investment expenses", those fees and commissions brokerage firms charge every time you trade, and sometimes when you don't.

Personal finance experts say we don't protest because we aren't paying attention.

"If I asked you how much you're paying for cable TV, you can probably tell me rounded to the next dollar. With this stuff, you probably have no idea," says Morningstar personal finance director Christine Benz. "People aren't paying a bill. They aren't writing a check for these fees...It's just this invisible hand that comes into your account and takes money out."

Benz says there can be fees if your balance drops below a certain level, or extra fees for not trading very much.

Robert Long at Kiplinger says fees can eat away at profits.

"In a market where the returns can be minimal, you don't want to be giving away what little you're getting back on the front end in the form of fees," he says.

They advise investor to monthly statements more closely and establish a maximum.

"For stock mutual funds, one-percent is a decent threshold to look at, preferably you'd look at funds with a much lower expense ratio than that but I would never pay more than one-percent," Benz says.

Also, be willing to shop around and willing to take your business elsewhere if it looks like you're being nickled and dimed to death by your brokerage firm.

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