As the trend continues away from commission-based investing, toward fee-based accounts, the number of brokerages that have transitioned to offer fee-based services has jumped dramatically in the past two years, from 98 firms to 171, according to a recent study. Caught in the middle of this development are investors who, despite not being active participants, could possibly end up paying more for the maintenance of their accounts than if they were paying by trade.

The survey by Weiss Ratings -- a provider of comprehensive commission comparisons and broker safety ratings -- found that currently 50.2% of those brokerages surveyed offer the fee-based compensation arrangement, compared to the 28.7% that did in 1999. Fees ranged from 0.33% to 2.25% of account assets.

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