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 more than 2,100 Bank of America locations. Those who meet minimum balance requirements qualify for a limited number of commission-free trades each month.
- Commissions: $6.95 per trade
- Account minimum: $0
- Promotion: New customers get 300 free stock and ETF trades for 90 days, plus $100 to $600 cash bonus, depending on account size
Merrill Edge is best for:
- Investors who value customer service
- Bank of America customers
- High-balance customers
- Penny stock traders
Merrill Edge at a glance
|Overall||Winner of NerdWallet's award for best broker for research.|
|Stock trading costs||$6.95. Customers who maintain a three-month average combined balance of $50,000+ in Bank of America and Merrill Edge accounts can qualify for up to 30 commission-free trades per month (100 free trades with $100,000+).|
|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.
|Commission-free ETFs||None, other than promotions detailed elsewhere in table.|
|Mutual funds||Over 3,290 no-transaction-fee mutual funds.|
|Tradable securities||• Stocks
• Mutual funds
|Trading platform||Online trading platform; Merrill Edge MarketPro available to customers who maintain a balance of $50,000+ or make at least 15 trades per quarter (customers in Preferred Rewards Platinum or Platinum Honors also qualify).|
|Mobile app||Advanced features mimic a desktop trading platform, but MarketPro program doesn't integrate with mobile app.|
|Research and data||Free and extensive.|
|Customer support options||Phone support 24/7; live chat and email support. Investors can meet with a Merrill Edge Financial Solutions Advisor at over 2,100 Bank of America locations.|
|Promotion||300 free stock and ETF trades online for 90 days, plus 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 has improved its customer service 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 2,100 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 Fidelity, Charles Schwab and Ally Invest, 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.
And with nearly 3,300 choices, Merrill Edge is one of the best brokers for no-transaction-fee mutual funds.
Commission-free trading promotion: If you open a new brokerage account at Merrill Edge, you’re eligible for 300 free online ETF and stock trades for up to 90 days. And if you open your account with $20,000 or more, you become eligible for a $100 to $600 cash bonus (the $600 requires a $200,000 opening balance).
Also, Merrill Edge has a continuous promotion that allows customers to earn 30 to 100 commission-free online stock or ETF trades each month if they qualify for the Preferred Rewards Platinum or Platinum Honors program. To qualify for Platinum, which gets you 30 free trades a month, you must have an active Bank of America checking account, plus a three-month average combined balance of $50,000 or more in Bank of America deposit accounts and/or qualified Merrill Edge and Merrill Lynch investment accounts. For Platinum Honors status, which comes with 100 free trades per month, you must have an active Bank of America checking account and maintain a three-month average combined balance of $100,000 in the same types of accounts listed above. The Preferred Rewards program also gives you access to other discounts and promotions.
Mobile platform: Merrill Edge’s redesigned mobile app, available on iPhone, iPad and Android, offers streaming quotes (including after hours), the ability to execute multi-legged option strategies and other trades, interactive charts and research reports. The app also offers retirement planning, goal-setting and educational content. But Merrill Edge’s MarketPro platform is unavailable on the mobile app.
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 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 get a limited number of free trades each month.
But even customers who don’t qualify for free trading will want to keep Merrill Edge on their short list of options, due to no minimum account balance, low fees, and strong research and educational offerings. (All these plusses earned it a spot on the list of best brokers for IRAs, too.) The company ranks among the top of the field when it comes to online brokers.
» Want more choices? See our best online brokers for stock trading