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Vanguard wants $30 per year "maintenance fee" for me to open 3 $1000 funds

Hmm, I don't think you have that quite right, and it looks like it might be even worse than you suspect. From my interpretation of their terms (excerpt below)...

There's the "account maintenance fee" you're talking about, which as I read it is $10/year until you have over $10,000, regardless of number of funds.

Then the "IRA Custodial Fee" which is per IRA fund less than $5000, not per account.

So, overall, it would be:

Account Management: $30
IRA Custodial: $150 (by the time you get $5000 in each fund)
Total: $180


Account Maintenance Fee: Shareholders are charged an annual $10 account maintenance fee, which is paid directly to the fund. This fee is waived for accounts with balances of $10,000 or more.

12b-1Fee: None

Low Balance Fee: The fund will deduct a $10 annual fee if your non-retirement account balance falls below $2,500. The fee is waived if your total Vanguard fund account assets are $50,000 or more. In addition, the low-balance fee does not apply to IRAs and other Vanguard retirement plan accounts.

IRA Custodial Fee: Vanguard charges a custodial fee of $10 a year for each IRA fund account having a balance of less than $5,000. However, we automatically waive this fee if you have assets totaling $50,000 or more at Vanguard, in any combination of accounts (whether in IRAs or not, and including employer-sponsored plans, brokerage accounts, and annuities).

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