It's getting more expensive to be a small investor these days.
''Brokerages have been mighty quick to pass on their rising costs to
their customers,'' notes James Cloonan, president of the American
Association of Individual Investors. Some of the latest examples:
-- Merrill Lynch has just jacked up the annual fee on its asset
management account by 25%, to $100. This all-in-one account combines
a money-market fund in which your stock dividends are automatically
reinvested, a checking account, and a regular or gold Visa debit
card.
-- Merrill Lynch has begun charging $15 if a customer wants to
receive a stock or bond certificate rather than have just a
computerized record of a security held in his brokerage account.
-- Shearson Lehman Bros. has raised its annual fee on inactive
accounts to $50 from $30. Paine Webber, Prudential Securities and
Smith Barney already charge $50. Dean Witter Reynolds plans to adopt
an inactive-account fee -- also $50 -- in January. Brokerages define
''inactive'' differently, but if you have an account that generates
less than $100 a year in commissions, you are a strong candidate for
a fee.
-- On top of commissions, Dean Witter, Shearson and Paine Webber
have begun charging processing and handling fees ranging from $2.30
to $2.85 per trade.
So if you're shopping for a broker, ask for a rundown of the
firm's charges. Most discount brokers have resisted adding or
increasing niggling fees. Discounter Quick & Reilly doesn't charge
anything for its asset management account, but the account doesn't
come with a debit card.

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