Good for the Broker But Not for You
Brokers are obligated to see that what they sell fits you...but complaints of unsuitable investments are among the most common.
(MONEY Magazine) - Unlike, say, salespeople in a clothing store, brokers are obligated to see that what they sell fits you--your financial condition and sophistication, investment objectives and tolerance for risk. But complaints of unsuitable investments are among the most common to reach the NASD, the securities industry's self-regulator. And it goes beyond brokers stuffing your 90-year-old Uncle Jack's portfolio with penny stocks. Last year the NASD fined brokers $40 million for steering their customers into certain share classes of mutual funds, maximizing the brokers' take at their clients' expense.
How to Fight Back
1 FIND A BOSS First, complain to your broker's supervisor or compliance department. (Ignore a broker who says he's his own boss; there's always a higher-up.) Document your phone call. Take care in any subsequent written correspondence not to weaken your case. "Don't cast blame on yourself or make unneeded admissions," says Mason Alan Dinehart III, a securities arbitration veteran.
KO PUNCH 2 GET A BIG GUN Better than writing the letter yourself, says Dinehart, is getting a securities lawyer to write one for you. "If they see you have backup," he says, "it's much more likely they'll fix the problem."
3 TELL THE AUTHORITIES Depending on where you live, your state securities regulator may be willing to take on the broker. (See nasaa.org for a listing). You can also file a complaint with the NASD (complaint.nasd.com), a particularly useful tactic if your claim is too small to justify hiring a lawyer.
4 MOVE QUICKLY You'll have a stronger case, more rights and an easier time undoing wrongs if you act as soon as you become aware of the problem, says attorney Philip M. Aidikoff, who represents aggrieved brokerage customers. "This isn't something people can sit on their hands about."
Class Acts Among mutual funds charging sales loads, different classes of shares--identified by the letters A, B and C--carry different sales charges and expense ratios. A's are usually the best deal for a long-term investor, says business prof Thomas Smythe of Furman University.
Use this table and the NASD's fund expense analyzer (www.nasd.com/fundanalyzer) to check what your broker is telling and selling you.
SOURCES: Morningstar, Smythe.
OTHER STUFF YOU HATE
Hidden Hotel Fees
More and more little charges, from $20 resort fees to "discretionary"
service fees (read: tips)--are popping up on bills. What's up with that? Travel
experts say that people tend just to look at basic room rates when deciding
where to stay. Extra fees let hotels add to the bottom line while still looking
like a good deal.
How to Fight Back
Scour the Bill
Ed Perkins, author of Business Travel: When It's Your Money, says the front
desk often can waive such charges. But consultant Bjorn Hanson of
PricewaterhouseCoopers warns that hotels, which are looking to recoup
renovation costs lately, have been taking a tougher line. His strategy: Ask
about extra charges up front, and note the agent's name. That will give you
leverage if the bill at checkout says something different.
Last year the NASD fined brokers $125 million.