Reviewed in: Oct. 2022
Period considered: Aug. - Oct. 2022
The bottom line:
Unpaid non-client promotion
Pros & Cons
Human portfolio management.
No proprietary ETFs.
Access to human advisors (for a higher fee).
High management fee.
No tax-loss harvesting.
Compare to Other Advisors
per trade for online U.S. stocks and ETFs
per share; as low as $0.0005 with volume discounts
when you open a new, eligible Fidelity account with $50 or more. Use code FIDELITY100. Limited time offer. Terms apply.
US resident opens a new IBKR Pro individual or joint account receives 0.25% rate reduction on margin loans. Tiers apply.
Up to $600
when you invest in a new Merrill Edge® Self-Directed account.
no promotion available at this time
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Where Merrill Edge Guided Investing shines
Easy integration: Merrill Edge makes it enticing for existing customers or Bank of America clients to get on board with its investing service. The Preferred Rewards program reduces management fees, increases interest rates, gives discounts on auto loans and increases credit card rewards as account balances grow.
Human management: Merrill Edge is a robo-advisor with a twist. It offers human portfolio management in a robo-advisor format.
Where Merrill Edge Guided Investing falls short
Many robo-advisors offer more for less: More tax strategy, more advisor access, lower account minimums and management fees.
Merrill Edge Guided Investing is best for:
Investors who seek human oversight for their investments.
Existing Merrill Edge or Bank of America customers.
Merrill Edge Guided Investing at a glance
Reviewed: Oct. 2022
Period considered: Aug. - Oct. 2022
Account management fee
Investment expense ratios
Core ETF portfolios: 0.04% to 0.05%. Socially responsible portfolios: 0.10% to 0.17%
Account fees (annual, transfer, closing)
$49.95 full account transfer and closeout fees.
Portfolio mix is well-diversified but lacks exposure to non-market correlated assets like REITs and commodities.
Clients can request restrictions on specific ETFs or mutual funds.
Socially responsible portfolio options
Clients can choose to invest in an ESG portfolio for no extra fee and request restrictions on certain ETFs.
Individual, joint and custodial taxable accounts.
Roth, traditional, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs.
Clients may roll over assets into a traditional IRA or another retirement account.
This service doesn't include tax-loss harvesting or other active tax-management strategies, but does offer 10 "tax aware" portfolios to clients whose situation warrants it.
Free and as needed. Rebalancing is performed by Merrill's Chief Investment Office.
Human advisor option
None. Advisor access is available at Merrill's Guided Investing with an Advisor tier (see more information below).
Bank account/cash management option
Cash management account with an interest rate of 0.01%.
Customer support options (includes how easy it is to find key details on the website)
24/7 support via phone, online, mobile and chat, or in person at select locations.
More details about Merrill Edge Guided Investing's ratings
Looking for access to financial advisors? Jump to Merrill Edge Guided Investing with Advisor.
Account minimum: 4 out of 5 stars
Merrill Edge Guided Investing has a $1,000 account minimum. Many competitors have a $0 minimum. If you’re starting to invest with a smaller amount of money, you may want to look elsewhere.
Account management fee: 3 out of 5 stars
Like its account minimum, Merrill’s account management fee is higher than most: 0.45% compared to the more typical robo-advisor fee of around 0.25% or less. That means for a $10,000 account balance, you’ll pay $45 a year in fees.
Merrill Edge Guided Investing accounts also may qualify for the company’s Preferred Rewards program, which offers perks to clients with an eligible Bank of America checking account and three-month average combined balances of $20,000 or more in qualifying Merrill Edge and/or Merrill Lynch investment accounts or Bank of America deposit accounts.
The benefits of the program increase as combined balances grow and include a reduced management fee on Guided Investing accounts. The 0.45% fee drops to:
0.40% if your combined balance is $20,000 to $49,999;
0.35% for combined balances of $50,000 to $99,999;
0.30% for balances of $100,000 or more.
Unfortunately, 0.30% is still more than many robo-advisors charge.
Investment expense ratios: 5 out of 5 stars
In addition to a management fee, most robo-advisors pass on the expense ratios, or the fees charged by the funds themselves, to the consumer. Merrill’s expense ratios are quite low, ranging from 0.04% to 0.05% for its core portfolio.
Account fees: 4 out of 5 stars
We prefer to see no fees, but Merrill’s Guided Investing Fees are fairly standard. There is a $24.95 wire transfer fee, a $49.95 full account transfer fee and a closeout fee (for traditional and Roth IRAs) that also costs $49.95.
Portfolio mix: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Robo-advisor portfolios are typically managed by computer algorithms; that’s the “robo” part. Merrill Edge Guided Investing is built on similar technology but also integrates human oversight. Investors are matched to a recommended investment strategy, or asset allocation, based on the results of an onboarding questionnaire designed to peg their risk tolerance and goals, but portfolios are actually managed by people at the firm.
Many brokers see a double opportunity in the robo-advisor movement: They can charge a management fee for each portfolio and use their own funds within those portfolios, also collecting the expense ratio on these funds.
But Merrill Edge doesn’t have any proprietary ETFs, nor does Merrill Lynch or parent company Bank of America, so ETFs are pulled from a variety of sources.
The service selects from about 25 different portfolios based on risk tolerance, time horizon and allocation and offers portfolios that focuses on socially responsible investments.
Socially responsible portfolio options: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Merrill Edge Guided Investing offers more flexibility and customization within their managed portfolios than most robo-advisors, including within its socially responsible portfolio option. Merrill uses a specific framework including avoiding investments that have negative social or environmental effects and supporting positive ones, and Merrill lets you customize your investment strategy so that you can support particular issues you care about. Merrill's socially responsible portfolios have expense ratios between 0.10% and 0.17%.
Accounts supported: 4 out of 5 stars
Merrill supports individual, joint and custodial taxable accounts, Roth, traditional, SEP and Simple IRAs. Clients may roll over assets into the traditional IRA or other retirement account.
Tax strategy: 2 out of 5 stars
This service doesn't include tax-loss harvesting or other active tax-management strategies, but does offer 10 "tax aware" portfolios to clients whose situation warrants it. Tax-loss harvesting is an investment strategy that can significantly reduce capital gains taxes, and it is offered for free by several of Merrill’s competitors.
» Want to check out other providers? Here are our top picks for best robo-advisors.
Automatic rebalancing: 5 out of 5 stars
Rather than a set rebalancing frequency, rebalancing needs are determined by Merrill’s Chief Investment Office. Those rebalancing needs can include changes in target asset allocation and flows into and out of the account. That means rebalancing isn’t automatic, but it does have a human touch. There are no additional fees for rebalancing.
Human advisor option: 1 out of 5 stars
Merrill Edge Guided Investing’s 0.45% fee tier does not offer access to a human financial advisor.
If you’re looking for advice from a financial advisor, jump to Merrill Edge Guided Investing with Advisor.
Savings account/cash management options: 2 out of 5 stars
Merrill partners with Bank of America to offer a cash management account with an interest rate of 0.01%. Compared to providers that offer a high-yield savings account, this is quite low. If you are able to participate in the Preferred Rewards program, that interest rate can increase depending on your qualifying account balance (qualifying combined balances of your Merrill investment accounts and Bank of America deposits):
Interest rate boost of 5% if your combined balance is $20,000 to $49,999;
10% boost on combined balances of $50,000 to $99,999;
20% boost on balances of $100,000 or more.
Those percentages may sound generous, but as it stands, Bank of America’s interest rate is so low that even a 20% increase is negligible.
Customer support options: 3.5 out of 5 stars
In addition to 24/7 phone, online, mobile and chat support, clients can meet with a Merrill Edge advisor at one of about 2,500 locations across the U.S. The advisors aren’t there to offer investment advice or financial planning guidance, but they can answer general questions, such as how to fund the account and how to use the account's tools.
Merrill Edge Guided Investing with Advisor
Merrill Edge Guided Investing with Advisor has a management fee of 0.85% and a $1,000 account minimum. Some portfolios, such as their Alpha-Seeking strategies, require a $20,000 minimum. If you qualify for the rewards program described above, that fee drops to 0.80%, 0.75% or 0.70% depending on your total combined balance.
The upper-tier service offers access to a human advisor who can give you one-on-one advice, help you establish goals and meet with you for periodic reviews. These advisors hold a variety of designations, and while some of them are CFPs, not all of them are. You can, however, get help in person at Bank of America locations.
While Merrill does offer access to human advisors, other companies provide the same service at a lower cost, or even for free. Vanguard Personal Advisor Services charges 0.30% and includes a team of financial advisors; Charles Schwab's Intelligent Portfolios Premium offers unlimited access to CFPs for $30 per month plus a $300 one-time planning fee — which shakes out to 0.36% on a $100,000 balance plus the planning fee. Personal Capital, which caters to high-net-worth clients, charges 0.89% on your first million, a tad higher than Merrill's 0.85% management fee for the robo-plus-live-advisor tier. Many of those services offer higher-end financial planning services, while Merrill’s are more limited.
Merrill Guided Investing with an Advisor offers the same strategies as the lower tier, plus it offers an Alpha-Seeking strategy which includes mutual funds in the portfolios. Because of this, the portfolio costs are generally a bit higher than the Core portfolios: — 0.34% to 0.50% versus 0.04% to 0.05%.
» Want to compare options? Check out our roundup of the best wealth advisors
Merrill Edge Guided Investing with Advisor at a glance
Reviewed: Oct. 2022
Period considered: Aug. - Oct. 2022
$1,000. Some portfolios require a $20,000 minimum.
Account management, planning or subscription fee
Setup or onboarding fee
Advisor access and credentials
Dedicated advisors meet with clients at least annually, but can connect on an as-needed basis. Some advisors are CFPs, but not all. Advisors can be contacted by phone, email, video chat, as well as in person at a local Bank of America financial center.
Advisors are usually available in-person at Bank of America financial centers Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (though hours may vary depending on the location). Advisors are also available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. by phone through the national office.
Financial planning services
Advisors can help with retirement planning and goal planning but cannot help you with tax strategy, estate planning or investment management.
Investment expense ratios
Core ETF portfolios: 0.04% to 0.05%. Socially responsible portfolios: 0.10% to 0.17%. Alpha-Seeking strategy: 0.34% to 0.50%.
Portfolio mix is well-diversified but lacks exposure to non-market correlated assets like REITs and commodities. Clients can request restrictions on specific ETFs or mutual funds.
Includes access to the Alpha-Seeking strategy not available at the lower tier of service.
Must have assets custodied with Merrill Edge. Advisors can consider assets held in accounts outside Merrill Edge for goal tracking.
Is Merrill Edge Guided Investing right for you?
If you’re a Merrill Edge or Bank of America loyalist and you’ve been wanting to take a dip in the robo-advisor waters, this might be where you get started. It’s a relatively easy transition, and your account will integrate pretty seamlessly with your existing accounts. You may also qualify for the company’s Preferred Rewards offering, which could mean a lower management fee and other perks.
Otherwise, investors are likely to get more for their money elsewhere, because many other online advisors charge lower fees while offering better tax strategy and financial planning services.
How do we review robo-advisors?
NerdWallet’s comprehensive review process evaluates and ranks the largest U.S. robo-advisors. Our aim is to provide an independent assessment of providers to help arm you with information to make sound, informed judgements on which ones will best meet your needs. We adhere to strict guidelines for editorial integrity.
We collect data directly from providers through detailed questionnaires, and conduct first-hand testing and observation through provider demonstrations. The questionnaire answers, combined with demonstrations, interviews of personnel at the providers and our specialists’ hands-on research, fuel our proprietary assessment process that scores each provider’s performance across 16 factors. The final output produces star ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars).
For more details about the categories considered when rating robo-advisors and our process, read our full methodology.