A few years ago, I opened a Roth IRA with Merrill Lynch. While this was a bad idea at the time (I used borrowed money to finance the account), over the years the account hasn’t continued to financially hurt me. Until now.
I did pretty well with my taxes this year – pretty much came out even with Uncle Sam. But I expect to owe some money next year, and have recently been considering opening an IRA to help reduce my future tax burden. So I was wandering around Merrill Lynch’s website looking for information on an IRA when I came across their fee schedule for IRA’s and Roth IRA’s. Having never paid an annual fee, I was shocked to see a $50 annual fee for balances under $20,000. So I called to find out what that meant. The man told me that yes, they have started charging an annual fee of $50, and that it has already been charged to my account. I asked him why I was never notified about the fee. He said they sent out e-mails a long time ago and it was also posted on their website. I never got that e-mail, and told him so. I also argued that it took me 7 clicks to view the fee schedule and didn’t feel it was fair to bury the notice under 7 clicks and then claim it was “posted” on their website. He checked my account and found that the notice had been sent to an inactive e-mail address (which I specifically recall updating last year). Simple enough, I thought: they will see my point of view and refund the fee. I asked him to void the fee. He checked with his supervisor, who said no. I told him I was very upset with their service and would be closing the account if he did not refund the fee. He put me on hold and went to ask his supervisor again. While I was on hold, I was browsing the fee schedule and I saw another $50 fee, called an “Account Termination Fee”. The guy finally came back on the line and said his supervisor would not approve the refund. I asked him about the account termination fee and he said that when I closed the account they would indeed charge me another $50.
To restate: They take $50 out of my account without notifying me, provide crappy customer service, and then help themselves to another $50 when they drive me away. Is this a freaking JOKE?
I said as much to the rep and he agreed that this was unfair. He put me on hold again and a while later told me they will have to charge me the termination fee, but that he will refund it later. He gave me his name, city, and extension. I started filling out the paperwork to move the account to Vanguard as soon as I hung up. I have wanted to move my account to Vanguard for a while anyway (I was already unhappy with ML’s customer service and commissions before their final assault). I am going to deposit some extra cash into my ML account before the transfer goes through so they won’t liquidate my holdings (at the cost of another $180 charge) to cover my fees.
I think I’ll try calling again and argue the same fight with a different rep. Maybe I can get them to refund both fees. In any case, I am pretty confident that it is going to take a LOT more work before I see any refunds!