Merrill Edge is the online investment platform of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a financial services industry heavyweight. Self-directed investors can use the Merrill Edge online brokerage platform to trade stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, options contracts and more. As an online broker, commissions and fees are much lower at Merrill Edge than on the full-service side of the firm, but Merrill Edge still provides access to research and financial counselors, if needed. Here’s a look at all the features and benefits of Merrill Edge, along with comparisons to other brokers, to help you decide if it’s the right self-directed platform for you.
Merrill Edge offers the strengths — along with the research and customer service — of a major Wall Street firm as well as the technological advantages of an online, self-directed account.
|Equity Trades: from $2.95|
|Account Minimum: $0|
|Promotion: $100 cash with a $20,000 deposit; up to $600 in cash with larger deposits|
While Merrill Edge is a broker worth checking out, you can find information on other top online brokerages, the best retirement accounts and other information on investing in the articles linked here:
- Best Brokers 2019-2020
- Best Online Brokerages of 2019-2020
- Best IRA Providers of 2019-2020
- Best Roth IRA Providers 2019-2020
- Best Online Stock Brokers for Beginners 2019-2020
- Best 401(k) Companies of 2019-2020
- Best Day Trading Platforms of 2019-2020
- Best Investment Apps of 2019-2020
- Best Robo-Advisors of 2019-2020
- About Merrill Edge
- Pros and Cons of Merrill Edge
- Merrill Edge at a Glance
- Individual Services Reviews
- Best For
- Falls Short
- Current Promotions
- Comparison: Merrill Edge vs. Other Brokers?
- Should You Invest With Merrill Edge?
Investing for Beginners: What First-Time Investors Need To Know
About Merrill Edge
The Merrill Edge platform evolved out of the union of venerable firms Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. The combined firm is a powerhouse in investor education, being named one of the top global research firms from 2011-18 by Institutional Investor magazine. The financial publication Barron’s named Merrill Edge one of the best online brokers for six years running, from 2014 through 2019, and J.D. Power recognized the firm for outstanding customer support for eight years in a row.
Although the combination of Bank of America and Merrill Edge provides enhanced services, the combination of a traditional bank with a brokerage firm is the ultimate cross-selling opportunity for the combined entity. In other words, the Merrill Edge platform as a whole is designed to make it as easy as possible for you to open a Bank of America banking relationship and transfer money back and forth between the two sides of the firm. In fact, the company proudly touts how you can instantly transfer money between your Bank of America and Merrill accounts instantly. For fans of both Bank of America and Merrill, this instant transfer capability is a plus. If you’d rather keep your bank’s nose out of your investment portfolio and vice versa, this could be more problematic for you.
Pros and Cons of Merrill Edge
No broker is perfect at everything, but Merrill Edge has far more good points than drawbacks.
- User-friendly interface
- Ability to earn free trades
- Powerful research capabilities, with the resources of both Merrill Lynch and Bank of America
- Excellent 24/7 customer service
- A wide variety of investment options, from stocks and bonds to mutual funds, ETFs, options and more
- Commissions are a bit higher than most online brokers
Merrill Edge at a Glance
Take a look at some of the most important points when considering using Merrill Edge for your investments.
|Merrill Edge at a Glance|
|Stock Trading Costs||$2.95 per equity trade, $2.95 + $0.75 per self-directed options trade|
|Options Trading||$2.95 per trade + $0.75 per contract for online trades, $29.95 per trade + $0.75 per contract for representative-assisted trades, $2.95 per trade for exercised/assigned|
|Account Fees||No annual fee|
|Mutual Funds||$0 per transaction for load-waived funds and no load, no transaction fee funds; $19.95 per online transaction and $29.95 per representative-assisted transaction for no load, transaction fee funds|
|Mobile App||Manage your account from your phone|
|Customer Support||24/7 live customer service|
|Promotion||Earn $100 cash with a $20,000 deposit; up to $600 in cash with larger deposits|
Individual Services Reviews
A broker is only as good as the depth and quality of its services. Here’s a comprehensive look at how Merrill Edge fares in all of the important service categories for an online broker.
The beauty of the Merrill Edge website is that it can be as simple or as complicated as individual investors desire. If you’re a beginner — or just not that interested in having advanced trading capabilities — you’ll likely be perfectly content with the standard Merrill Edge interface, which is very intuitive and provides user-friendly graphical representations to help you build a portfolio matching your desired risk and return characteristics. Advanced traders will enjoy the MarketPro trading platform, which provides interactive charting, 36 technical analysis studies and Nasdaq Level II quotes, if you make at least 30 trades per quarter or have $1 million invested.
Account and Investment Minimums
In spite of all the advanced research and trading capabilities offered by Merrill Edge, there’s still no minimum account balance to invest on the self-directed platform. You’ll receive better offers if you deposit more money, but if you just want to open an account, you won’t be required to deposit anything at all.
Commissions and Fund Expenses
For an online broker, Merrill Edge costs are high. At $2.95 per equity trade and $2.95 plus 75 cents per contract for options trades, Merrill Edge has been left behind in the race toward low fees that have swept the online brokerage industry. Many other firms charge fees as low as $0 for online stock trades. Merrill Edge’s fees jump to $29.95 for equity trades and $29.95 plus 75 cents per contract for options trades if you use a representative to place your trades. No-load mutual funds can cost anywhere from $0 to $19.95 for online transactions, rising to $29.95 for broker-assisted trades. However, costs are much lower than you’d encounter with a full-service broker, and there are ways to get free trades from Merrill Edge, such as by joining the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program. A $20,000 balance earns you 10 free stock or ETF trades per month, while $50,000 and $100,000 deposits earn 30 and 100 free stock/ETF trades per month, respectively.
Merrill Edge routes orders through an execution system designed to get you the best possible price for your order. The order processing system is electronic and automatically sends your order to the appropriate execution center based on the characteristics of your order, trading statistics and market data.
The Merrill Edge user interface is very customizable. Basic traders can choose from different performance tracking tools to present investment information in the most digestible format. The more advanced MarketPro platform allows traders to create a customized account view that only shows selected information. You can drag or drop windows into your custom view or rearrange the information on the page at any time.
Mobile and Emerging Tech
You can access your Merrill Edge account on the go at any time with both Android and iOS mobile apps. New features for the apps include a customizable dashboard, interactive charts and so-called “heat maps,” which show the relative outperformance and underperformance of different market areas. You can initiate trades from either app, and you can also get quotes, analyst ratings and news headlines. If your phone is enabled for the technology, you can also log in to your app with your fingerprint.
Range of Offerings and Investment Selection
Merrill Edge has more than enough investment options for beginning investors, and even advanced traders will likely be satisfied with the Merrill Edge platform. The firm offers thousands of no-load and load-waived mutual funds, stocks, ETFs, bonds, other fixed-income securities and options. For investors looking for simple solutions, the firm offers Merrill Edge Select Funds, Merrill Edge Select ETFs and a BofAML US 1 List of buy-rated stocks. The firm also offers diversified portfolios created by a Merrill Lynch financial advisor and automated portfolios through a robo-advisor. Advanced traders can take advantage of the firm’s margin account capability. Note that Merrill Edge doesn’t offer forex or futures trading.
News and Research
The combined power of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch are on full display with the firm’s research offerings. Merrill Edge has three proprietary “story” legs, each with a different research focus and capability. Stock Story, launched in November 2017, provides award-winning, jargon-free stock research. Portfolio Story is the firm’s portfolio analysis and performance review tool. Fund Story, launched in 2019, provides a comprehensive review of a fund’s holdings, historical performance, costs, risk ratings and third-party fund research. The firm also provides a wide range of articles and videos with investing insights and other valuable securities information for all of its offerings, including stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
Merrill Edge gets high marks for its customer service. In addition to 24/7 live phone service, you can get help via email, online chat or in a Bank of America branch.
Merrill Edge comes with a fraud protection guarantee designed to give customers peace of mind. Under the terms of the program, Merrill Edge will reimburse clients for any losses caused by unauthorized third-party activity.
As outlined above, commissions at Merrill Edge run above-average for an online broker. At $6.95 per equity trade and $6.95 plus 75 cents per option contract, Merrill Edge will not win any low-cost competitions. Those borrowing on margin will also face high rates, currently 10.625% for loan balances less than $25,000. However, investors with larger balances can avoid some or all of the equity trading commissions, as a $100,000 balance qualifies for 100 free trades every month and even a $20,000 balance garners 10 free trades monthly.
When making a decision about whether a broker is right for you, examining its strengths can be helpful. Here are some areas where Merrill Edge excels:
- News and research
- Portfolio analysis and reports
- Range of offerings/investment selection
- Customer service
Even the best of the best brokers have a shortfall or two. Here’s where Merrill Edge might not be as competitive:
- Commissions and fund expenses
Merrill Edge currently offers up to $600 in cash to new investors who sign up for a Merrill Edge self-directed account. By using offer code 600ME at the time of sign-up, you can snag instant cash in your account — but there’s a catch, of course. To earn the full $600, you’ll have to deposit at least $200,000 in your new Merrill Edge account. A deposit of $100,000 triggers a $250 bonus, while a $50,000 deposit will get you $150. And with a deposit of $20,000, you’ll still earn $100. Amounts between $0 and $19,999 don’t qualify for a cash bonus.
Although not technically a promotion, you can also earn free trades if you sign up for Preferred Rewards through a Bank of America banking account. With a $20,000 deposit, you’ll qualify for 10 free trades a month. A $50,000 deposit gives you 30 free trades per month, while a $100,000-plus deposit garners 100 free trades per month. This is an ongoing arrangement, not a sign-up bonus, meaning you’ll continue to qualify for those free trades as long as your balance remains above the respective threshold.
Comparison: Merrill Edge vs. Other Brokers
On a strictly numbers basis, Merrill Edge is competitive but not the best overall for everyone. Although the firm doesn’t have an account minimum and the current promotion is attractive, stock commissions are above-average.
|Broker||Stock Commission||Account Minimum||Promotion|
|Merrill Edge||$2.95||$0||Up to $600 cash with new account deposit|
|TD Ameritrade||$0||$0||60 days of commission-free trading, plus up to $600 in cash with new account deposit|
|Charles Schwab||$0||$0||500 commission-free online equity and options trades for two years with a $100,000 deposit|
|Fidelity||$0||$0||500 commission-free trades with a $100,000 deposit|
|Firstrade||$0||$0||Up to $200 in transfer fee rebates|
|Robinhood||$0||$0||1 share of free stock when your brokerage application is approved|
|E-Trade||$0 with 30+ trades per quarter||$500||Up to 500 commission-free trades plus up to $2,500 in cash with qualifying deposit|
Should You Invest With Merrill Edge?
Merrill Edge has plenty of investment options and excellent customer service. However, it’s not a perfect match for all investors. Active traders might not shy away from the firm’s relatively low $2.95 commission, ETF traders will no doubt miss the commission-free options offered at other firms and advanced traders might bemoan the lack of forex or futures trading capability.
The overall package at Merrill Edge is appealing, however. The combined might of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch means that help is just a phone call away, 24/7, and advisors stand ready in branches across the country to provide further assistance. The educational tools provided by the combined entity are top-notch as well, and as the firm is both a bank and a broker, convenient features like instant account transfers are welcome. Customers with a preferred banking relationship via higher-level deposits can garner free commissions every month, removing one of the objections to the firm.
All-in-all, for the average customer seeking a complete banking relationship with the benefits of an online brokerage account, will find a good home with Merrill Edge, which is without doubt one of the best online brokers. Yet, those with more niche needs or smaller account balances might be able to find better or more affordable options elsewhere.
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John Csiszar served for 18 years in the financial services industry, earning his Registered Investment Adviser and Certified Financial Planner designations along the way. He now writes for a wide variety of financial publications about investing and the markets.
Disclaimer: This content is not provided by Merrill Edge. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by Merrill Edge.