I opened a self-directed IRA with Sterling-Trust, after having read the fee disclosure which is clearly posted on their web site. I understood from the fee schedule that I would be paying them an annual fee of about $400. There was really no question about this fee.
As soon as they received my account application, they charged my credit card $970 in fees, so of course I protested. They told me that I did not "qualify" for the $400 fee rate because I didn't have an "assigned rep" (whatever that is, none of this is explained on their web site or in the information they sent me by mail).
Based on this, as well as their history of sluggish or no response to my inquiries with a previous account, I decided not to deal with them any more and canceled my account. The assets, on which they based their fee, had not yet even been transferred to their custody. [continued below]....
They did not return my fees, despite several phone calls, emails, faxes and letters sent to them. After over a month of no response from Sterling, I disputed the charge with my credit card company. The credit card company forced them to refund $920 of my fees, however they maintained that $50 was "non-refundable" as a set-up fee.
I explained that I did not simply change my mind, but that I had based my decision to open the account on the fee structure which they had listed on their site. Hence, the product was "not as advertised" and I should receive a full refund.
They essentially told me that it was my fault for not checking into this further before entrusting them with my money and refused to refund the $50 fee. This amount is still in dispute through the credit card company, but I have had to jump through a lot of hoops, put together extensive documentation and several follow-ups. As of now, I still do not know if I will get my $50 back. The person I spoke to on the phone told me I would NOT be refunded the $50 under any circumstances, repeating the line that I was at fault for not knowing that their fee schedule, the only one I could find anywhere on their site, did not apply to me.
There is nothing in the fee schedule that states that higher fees will apply to some customers. The only reference to a "designated rep" suggests that there are discounts available from the posted fees for reps with sufficient accounts (which is true).
I have had other problems with Sterling Trust, but this was by far the most egregious. I will never trust them with my money again, and I agree with the other poster who was also critical of other firms that refer their customers to Sterling. A referral is an tacit endorsement, and any firm should be very wary of endorsing a company that will handle money and other investments.