The Bottom Line: Merrill Edge is an award-winning full-service broker offering free trades, no minimums, a wealth of market research, and brick-and-mortar support. Best suited for self-directed investors or high-balance investors looking for a reputable name with discount brokerage costs and excellent customer service.
Now is a great time to be an investor. 2019 was a banner year for stock returns.
As we move into 2020, you may be wondering, how can I make 2020 more profitable?
If you are pleased with your portfolio and its returns, the answer may be to try your hand at a better brokerage.
The brokerage you use has a sizable influence on your success as an investor.
Fees, order execution speed, research quality, and customer service are all components of successful investing.
If you are less-than-satisfied with your current broker, it’s time at look to the competition.
The company operates as a subsidiary of Bank of America. Merrill Edge customers can receive customer support at over 2,500 Bank of America locations nationwide.
Current account holders at Bank of America may find value in the seamless integration Merrill Edge has with Bank of America.
You may have read about Merrill Edge’s recent turn towards discount broker pricing.
In late 2019, the brokerage slashed prices, moving to commission-free trading for stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and options.
As of late 2018, the company had over $200 billion in assets under management and over 2.5 million customer accounts.
Beyond self-directed trading, Merrill Edge offers retirement planning, guided trading, financial advice, and market research services.
Read on to find out if this full-service brokerage is for you.
Account Minimum: $0
Fees: $0 per trade
Promotion: Up to $600 (cash credit with a qualifying deposit)
What is Merrill Edge?
Founded in 2010, Merrill Edge is a brokerage run as a subsidiary of Bank of America.
Technically a full-service brokerage, Merrill Edge recently began offering discount broker pricing on some of its trades.
Merrill Edge allows investors to complete trades, manage portfolios, conduct market research, and obtain investing advice.
The company is seamlessly integrated with Bank of America services, making it a particularly attractive brokerage for existing Bank of America customers.
In 2019, Merrill Edge began to offer commission-free trades on stocks, ETFs, and options. Continued price wars are driving many brokers to reduce or dispense with commissions entirely.
Trades are conducted on one of Merrill Edge’s two platforms and can be executed online, via Android or iOS app, or with the assistance of a financial advisor.
Merrill Edge is known for offering no account minimums or inactivity fees.
Since 2010, the company has garnered a host of awards, making it an established and well-respected name in the brokerage space.
Below are a few of the more recent award highlights.
- Barron’s 2019 Best Online Broker List (5th place)
- J.D. Power’s 2018 Outstanding Customer Service Experience – Phone
- Kiplinger’s 2019 Best Online Broker – User Experience (1st place)
- Institutional Investor’s 2018 Top Global Research Firm
Merrill Edge was launched in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession. You may recognize the Merrill name, which came from Merrill Lynch acquired by Bank of America at the height of the financial crisis.
After the acquisition, Bank of America Securities, previously Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML), launched Merrill Edge as an electronic trading platform integrated with Bank of America.
Merrill Edge operates as a part of Bank of America’s retail banking division.
Officially, Merrill Edge operates as a no-frills full-service brokerage.
In recent years, full-service brokers have for opted zero-fee commissions in an effort to compete with the success of discount brokerage firms.
Merrill Edge continues to compete with wide sections of the brokerage market, including full-service firms like Fidelity, Charles Schwab, and Edward Jones.
Merrill Edge Features
One-stop Shop. Make trades, track your portfolio, conduct market research, and get professional financial advice all in one place.
Outstanding Customer Support. Have a question? Get help online, over the phone, or from a financial advisor in over 2,500 Bank of America financial centers nationwide.
Trade in Six Different Securities. Trading services in stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, fixed income, and options.
Margin Trading for Advanced Investors. Access to margin accounts with rates at 10% or less, depending on account balance.
Guided Investing. Simplify your investing problems by having Merrill Edge manage your portfolio.
Open a Variety of Account Types. From brokerage accounts to retirement and college planning.
Zero-dollar Account Minimum. Open an account without paying a dime.
Commission-less Trades. No commissions on stocks, ETFs, or options (other fees apply).
No Annual or Inactivity Fees. Pay nothing each year to hold an account with Merrill Edge.
Award-winning Brokerage. Consistently recognized as a leading brokerage since inception.
How Does Merrill Edge Work?
First and foremost, Merrill Edge is a full-service broker that offers a wealth of investment-related services.
The brokerage offers trading, managed portfolios, market research, retirement guidance, investor education, and live support at over 2,500 Bank of America locations nationwide.
You can access Merrill Edge online, through their Android and iOS apps, or by visiting a participating Bank of America branch.
Merrill Edge offers three different ways to invest, depending on how much or how little guidance you want with your trades and your portfolio.
These are grouped into the following three tiers:
Self-directed IRA Investing
You are in control as a self-directed investor. With this investing style you receive free, unlimited stock, ETF, and option trades.
Active and more advanced self-directed traders will want to consider the MarketPro platform.
This is a hybrid approach that blends online investing with professional portfolio management.
The company states that a team of Merrill Lynch portfolio managers will manage this portfolio, though this likely means a combination of technological and human management (not unlike a robo-advisor).
As this is a managed portfolio, there is a 0.45% annual fee and a $5,000 account minimum.
For those who want more personalized, one-on-one service with a financial advisor, this is the path for you.
The fees are higher, accounting for the fact that an advisor will work with you to establish your goals, build your portfolio, and to hold periodic reviews of your portfolio to keep you on track towards your financial goals.
There is a 0.85% annual fee and a $20,000 account minimum.
Merrill Edge offers many account types depending on your investing needs.
- Online brokerage, joint brokerage, custodial investing
- Retirement: Rollover IRA, traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA
- College: 529 savings, custodial planning
Investment Products & Services
With Merrill Edge you can trade six different asset types:
- Mutual funds
- Fixed income
Stocks, ETFs, and options all trade commission-free, however options will have an extra fee per contract executed.
Remember that ETFs and mutual funds will also carry a yearly management fee.
Merrill Edge has two investment services targeted at more novice traders and more experienced traders, respectively.
Novice trades can get simplified investing lists for stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs.
These are curated lists to help you narrow your investment criteria. More advanced traders have access to margin trading, credit available for a range of investment activities.
Margin trading has its fair share of risks, so make sure you understand the rules before taking margin credit.
Merrill Edge Pricing & Fees
Pricing is an important component of both trading and investing.
As mentioned previously, Merrill Edge has reduced its prices to $0 on stocks, ETFs, and options, making it competitive with the other big-name brokers.
As with many brokers, while there may be no commission fees, most trades will incur some sort of fee.
Below is a breakdown of the commission pricing and fees with Merrill Edge.
Fixed Income & Bonds
For trades that require representative assistance, a fee of $29.95 per trade will be added.
Account Minimums, Fees & Additional Fees
The following is a list of the fees associated with opening or holding an account with Merrill Edge.
- Minimum initial investment fee - $0
- 529 college savings account minimum initial investment fee - $25
- Annual account fee - $0
Like many brokerages, Merrill Edge has a host of additional fees.
Visit their pricing page for more details on additional pricing, including pricing on security transfers, check writing, bill payment, and debit card fees.
- Returned ACH debit fee - $30
- Full account transfer fee - $49.95
- Partial account transfer fee - $0
- Retirement account closeout fee - $49.95
- Non-retirement account closeout fee - $0
- Return deposit - $20
- Wire transfer fee - $24.95
Merrill Edge offers two trading platforms: simplified mobile trading and MarketPro.
- Simplified trading. Access your Merrill Edge investment account or Bank of America account on browsers, Android, iOS, or Apple Watch. This method is good for tracking your portfolio or making trades that don’t require real-time data.
- MarketPro. This is the advanced trading platform offered by Merrill Edge and is available on desktops through download. There are some restrictions however. Investors need either an account balance over $50,000 or to maintain a certain number of quarterly trades. Traders looking for real-time quotes and access to level two data should look here.
Pros & Cons
Merrill Edge is an award-winning full-service broker offering free trades, no minimums, a wealth of market research, and brick-and-mortar support. Best suited for self-directed investors or high-balance investors looking for a reputable name with discount brokerage costs and excellent customer service.
Getting Started with Merrill Edge
The first step to getting started with Merrill Edge is to select which account type you want. This will determine your costs and the time to open your account.
You can open an account online, on your mobile device, or in any Bank of America branch.
Existing clients of either Bank of America or Merrill Lynch can complete the process quicker by linking an account.
Merrill Edge will ask you for the following information when opening your account:
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Valid mailing
- Email addresses
- Employment information
- Some general financial information (annual income, household net worth, etc.)
The process shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to complete. Afterward, you’ll have to wait for verification, and then you can proceed to fund the account.
The entire process will likely take a day or two. After your account is funded you can begin building your portfolio.
Should You Open a Merrill Edge Account?
Overall, Merrill Edge is a strong full-service broker with good pricing and access to tons of market research and education.
We like that, since inception, the brokerage has continued to receive awards, ranking consistently as a top firm.
The recent turn to commission-less trading demonstrates that the company is willing and able to compete with other leading brokerages.
We think Merrill Edge really shines for investors already doing business with either Bank of America or Merrill Lynch.
The integration between Bank of America systems, and the ability to get in-person advice at over 2,500 locations, makes Merrill Edge a natural choice.
The company has put a lot of work into offering a clean website with tons of useful information, including straightforward pricing and fees.
We can see why this is a top-ranked brokerage. While Merrill Edge might not have everything for everyone, it certainly has the right mix of price, accessibility, and research for many different types of investors.
Courtney Bower writes about investing, behavior economics, real estate, and psychology. He served as a US Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. He is originally from the Midwest.