E*Trade Sticks Me With $40 Inactivity Fee, I say G'bye

Dave says he feels he was stuck with a hidden fee by E*Trade, which threatened to sell his stock to recover a $40 inactivity fee. So much for the buy and hold strategy.

He writes:

I wish I would have read your “E*Trade Sells Your Stock To Pay Inactivity Fee” article back in October of 2008 before opening an E*Trade brokerage account. Luckily E*Trade did not sell my stock but they did threaten to — I owed them $37.81 from a $40 inactivity fee. I have since changed brokers.

I could have avoided the fee by making a “less than $9.99″ trade. E*Trade charged me $40 for inactivity. How could they possibly justify this, even if they tried?

Charging me four times more than what I would paid if I had been “active”? I can understand them charging me “less than $9.99″ since they may plan for a certain revenue but multiplying that by four?

Why not buy me $30 worth of stock instead? Could the answer be as simple as “greed”?

I decided not to argue with E*Trade over it. I read your article which talks about Brice sending eight EECBs just to close his account. That along with E*Trade’s “Commissions & Fees” chart discouraged me.

E*Trade’s customer service had provided me with a hyperlink to that chart. I decided to try navigating there myself. I couldn’t figure it out. After over an hour I called E*Trade and was told I needed to type “fees” into the search box to find it. I asked if that was the only way and was told yes. No wonder why it was so difficult to find!

To make things more confusing, if you happen to find that chart the Account Service Fee is not displayed like other fees. Other fees are lined up neatly with a margin and the dollar amounts are shown in bold. The Account Service Fee is not in bold and the “$40″ is written in the middle of a sentence at the beginning of a paragraph. You can see it here: https://us.etrade.com/e/t/estation/pricing?id=1206010000#AAF

I think consumers should be aware of banks doing the following, which are done to intentionally obfuscate things in my opinion:

1. Changing the well-known name “inactivity fee” to “account service fee.”

2. Hiding fee schedules. Try to hide the least ethical fees as much as possible on the schedule itself.

3. E*Trade in specific makes their “Forms & Applications” page daunting to look at — watch out for things like this. This is the page I am refering to: https://us.etrade.com/e/t/prospectestation/pricing?id=1201010000 There are 17 subsections of forms, each with a “more” link at the bottom. Clicking more takes you to a whole new page. There is no way to expand all subsections on a single page. If E*Trade’s entire site was presented this poorly I believe it would impact their bottom line in a negative way.

Online stock traders, which service do you prefer and why?