Merrill Edge appeals to casual traders with a powerful combination of strong customer service and competitive pricing.
The online broker integrates seamlessly with parent company Bank of America: Customers can access accounts at both with a single login, and Merrill Edge brokerage clients have access to investment advice at over 2,000 Bank of America locations. Those who meet minimum balance requirements qualify for a limited number of commission-free trades each month.
Jan. 1, 2017
- Commissions: $6.95 per trade
- Account minimum: $0
- Promotion: $100 to $600 cash bonus, depending on account size
Merrill Edge is best for:
- Commission-free trading.
- Bank of America customers.
- High-balance customers.
- Investors who value customer service.
- Penny stock traders.
Merrill Edge at a glance
|Overall||Winner of NerdWallet's award for best broker for no account minimum and for research.
|Stock trading costs||$6.95. Customers who maintain combined balances of $25,000 or more in Bank of America deposit accounts or combined balances of $25,000 or more in Merrill Edge self-directed accounts can qualify for up to 30 commission-free trades per month.|
|Options trades||$6.95 + 75 cents per contract
|Account fees (annual, transfer, closing, inactivity)||No annual or inactivity fees; $49.95 full outgoing account transfer.
|Trading platform||Online trading platform; Merrill Edge MarketPro available to customers who maintain a balance of $50,000 or more or make at least 15 trades per quarter.|
|Mobile app||Average capabilities|
|Mutual funds||Over 2,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds|
|Research and data||Free and extensive|
|Tradable securities||• Stocks
• Mutual funds
|Customer support/branches||Phone support 24/7; live chat and email support. Investors can meet with a Merrill Edge Financial Solutions Advisor at over 2,000 Bank of America locations.|
|Promotion||Cash bonuses ranging from $100 for deposits of $20,000 to $49,999, to $600 for deposits of $200,000 or more|
Where Merrill Edge shines
Customer service: Merrill Edge’s customer service has improved greatly over the past few years. The company has around-the-clock phone support, along with chat and email. Customers can schedule complimentary consultations in person or over the phone with Merrill Edge Financial Solutions Advisors in more than 2,000 Bank of America locations across the U.S. Merrill Edge’s website also has a lot of educational resources, including videos, courses, webinars and articles, all searchable by investing experience or topic. Morningstar’s investing classroom is available on the site, too.
Commissions and fees: Merrill Edge’s $6.95 stock and exchange-traded funds trade commission is in line with those of many competitors, including TD Ameritrade and E-Trade. It’s a couple of dollars higher than those at OptionsHouse, Fidelity, Charles Schwab and TradeKing, which offer $4.95 commissions, as well as brokers like Interactive Brokers that are a good value for high-volume traders. The company’s fees are also competitive, with no inactivity charges and a low account closing fee.
Commission-free trading promotion: Merrill Edge has a continuous promotion that allows customers to earn up to 30 commission-free stock or ETF trades each month. To qualify, you must have a balance of $25,000 or more in Bank of America deposit accounts or $25,000 in cash in a Merrill Edge self-directed account.
In addition, clients who qualify for the company’s Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors status can have access to 100 commission-free online stock or ETF trades per month. To gain that status, you must have an active Bank of America personal checking account and maintain a three-month average combined balance of $100,000 in qualifying Bank of America deposit accounts and/or qualified Merrill Edge and Merrill Lynch investment accounts. This program also provides access to other discounts and promotions.
Integration with Bank of America: Merrill Edge is a product of Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch, and it’s clear that the parent company has made efforts to create a seamless experience for clients who use both services. You can view your Bank of America accounts and Merrill Edge accounts with a single login, and real-time transfers move money between accounts instantly. The same integrated experience is available on mobile, and you can even view your Merrill Edge investment account balances on Bank of America ATMs.
Research: The company provides research from its own BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, as well as third-party providers Morningstar, S&P Capital IQ and Recognia. Mutual fund reviews and rankings come from both Morningstar and Lipper, and the company compiles a list of Merrill Edge Select ETFs and Merrill Edge Select Funds, with the top funds in each category as evaluated by Merrill Lynch investment professionals.
Penny stocks: Merrill Edge doesn’t impose surcharges for stocks that trade below $1, making it a low-cost choice for penny stock traders.
Where Merrill Edge falls short
Trading platform restrictions: Like many brokers, Merrill Edge offers both website trading and an active trader platform, called Merrill Edge MarketPro, which is browser-based. The company’s website is clean and intuitive, and offers several screeners so you can quickly sort through stocks, mutual funds, ETFs and bonds. The MarketPro platform is also robust, with much of what active traders expect: interactive charts, alerts, a customizable dashboard, and streaming data and news.
But MarketPro requires Java and has restricted access. It’s available only to customers who maintain a balance of $50,000 or more in Merrill Edge, Merrill Lynch or Bank of America accounts or make at least 15 trades per quarter. (Customers who qualify for the Preferred Rewards Platinum or Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors programs also get access to MarketPro.) Level II quotes, which show real-time bid and ask prices for Nasdaq stocks, are available only to investors who trade at least 30 times per quarter or maintain a total combined balance of $1 million or more in their Bank of America and Merrill Lynch accounts.
Commission-free ETFs: The company doesn’t have any, though the commission-free trading deals mentioned above apply to ETFs as well as stocks. A lack of commission-free ETFs isn’t unheard of at a discount broker, but it’s worth noting. Even with Merrill Edge’s low-cost commissions, ETF investors may pay more here if they don’t qualify for free trades.
Merrill Edge vs. similar brokers
Is Merrill Edge right for you?
If you’re a high-balance customer who qualifies for one of Merrill Edge’s free trading offers, this could be a no-brainer. The broker has much of what you’d need — high-quality research, a good investment selection and helpful customer service — and you’ll trade a limited number of times per month for free.
But even customers who don’t qualify for free trading will want to keep Merrill Edge on their short list of options, due to low commissions, no minimum account balance, low fees and strong research and educational offerings. The company ranks among the top of the field when it comes to online brokers.
Updated March 3, 2017.