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Updated on Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Merrill Edge brings a full-service broker to the online discount broker space, and it’s a welcome player for those investors looking for all the advantages of full service. Merrill provides a whole suite of research and responsive 24-hour customer service at a competitive — though not the cheapest — price point. However, customers can qualify for free trades as part of parent company Bank of America’s preferred customer program, turning Merrill into quite a deal for those with enough assets to qualify.
Who should consider Merrill Edge
Merrill Edge is good for individual investors from beginning to advanced, especially those who want professional research as an added perk. Merrill is best for those clients who already have a relationship with Bank of America, as the accounts can be linked online, allowing for the seamless transfer of cash and all-in-one viewing. Bank of America customers with larger amounts of assets with the bank or the brokerage also can derive significant benefits in the form of free trades.
The basic trade interface is cumbersome and not well-suited for investors who do hundreds of trades per month, but it is fine for investors who make a few dozen trades or fewer per month. Those wanting a smoother trade platform will need to move up to the MarketPro platform, though it’s restricted to wealthier or more active customers.
Merrill Edge fees and features
|Stock trading fees|
|Amount minimum to open account|
|Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)|
|Mobile app||iOS, Android|
|Customer support||Phone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email, 2,200 branch locations|
Strengths of Merrill Edge
Merrill Edge’s strengths lie in the following areas:
- Research and education: While some discount brokers, such as Robinhood, offer little or no research, Merrill Edge competes with the best in this category, offering a wealth of data to customers. That’s a real benefit for investors who require the analysis in one easy-to-access place rather than having to access outside research. Merrill’s offerings include the following:
- Pages for each stock or fund with financial details, including prospectuses
- Stock ratings and reports from Merrill Lynch, Morningstar and CFRA
- News feeds, market commentary and adjustable charts
- Stock and fund screeners
- Extensive library of educational tools and videos
The educational resources help new investors get up to speed, while the research (including direct links to SEC filings) provides a comprehensive view of the stock.
- Customer service: Especially for new investors who may need more guidance, strong customer service can be the difference between a positive experience and a negative one. In this category, Merrill Edge also scores top marks, and you can reach someone at any hour of the day. Phone help is available 24 hours a day all week long, and the broker also offers chat and email support.Finally, if you need a consultation, you can book an in-person meeting with a Merrill Edge advisor at many Bank of America locations or any Merrill location or set up a phone meeting with an advisor instead. So unlike many online-only brokers, Merrill Edge can help you in the brick-and-mortar world too.
- Commission-free trades: Merrill Edge normally charges $0 per trade, putting it in line with peers such as TD Ameritrade and E-Trade but behind Charles Schwab and Fidelity at $4.95. However, Merrill leverages its connection with Bank of America to amp up its game, offering commission-free trades to customers who are part of its Preferred Rewards program. Customers with total assets of $50,000 at the bank and/or broker earn 30 free trades a month, while more than $100,000 earns up to 100 free trades a month (and that’s in addition to other perks).At just a trade per week, that could save you more than $360 per year, and even modestly more trading could save you substantially. This program should be a real hook for Bank of America clients who are looking to open a brokerage account and like to save money while getting top-shelf research and customer service. Plus, if you have at least $50,000 in assets, you’ll qualify to use Merrill Edge MarketPro, the broker’s professional trading platform. Otherwise, to use MarketPro, you’ll have to make 15 trades per quarter.
- Integrated with Bank of America: This perk is valuable only if you have a Bank of America account, but it’s definitely useful for customers of both the broker and bank. You can access both accounts with a single log-in, transfer money quickly and verify that it’s been transferred all in one visit. It’s like the brokerage account is just another Bank of America account (because, of course, it is), and navigation between the two is easy. Merrill also offers a robo-advisor called Merrill Guided Investing, and it too is integrated with the Merrill-Bank of America platform.
Drawbacks of Merrill Edge
Merrill Edge’s negatives are limited but include the following:
- Clumsy trade interface for basic trading: While the integration with Bank of America accounts is a positive, navigation around the Merrill Edge page can be cumbersome, and it often feels like a broker page from last decade.
But that’s a comment on the basic trading page. Frequent investors who are using the MarketPro trading platform will have a much more professional experience that is built for speed and efficiency.
- Pricier than some top rivals: Merrill Edge sits near the top of the range among discount brokers, although $0 per trade is not all that expensive, to be fair. But why pay more than you have to? Quite a few rivals beat it in this category while still offering strong customer service — notably, Charles Schwab and Fidelity. On the other side, Interactive Brokers has long been known for its low costs, with trades as low as $1, but you won’t get the research that you’ll find at Merrill.
Is Merrill Edge safe?
Merrill Edge is part of one of the largest and most respected brokerages in the U.S., and it’s owned by one of the largest American banks, providing clients tremendous safety. The broker is part of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) — meaning investors’ assets are protected up to $500,000, including $250,000 for cash only — in the event that the broker is unable to return your assets. Of course, that doesn’t mean your stock and fund investments won’t lose money, as they are subject to market risk, unlike bank deposits.
Merrill Edge offers a strong product, with top marks for research and customer service, and it’s a solid all-around pick for any investor. But it’s a slam dunk for existing customers of Bank of America thanks to its seamless integration with the bank and the potential for up to 100 free trades each month. Of course, any customer with enough assets also could take advantage of this valuable promotion, but new investors with limited funds likely will not be able to yet.
Merrill Edge competes favorably with all the big-name brokerages across most dimensions, and like those rivals, it charges relatively high margin rates. On this basis, Interactive Brokers makes for a very attractive alternative while still keeping overall trading costs low.