Merrill Guided Investing Review 2024: Pros, Cons and How it Compares

Merrill Guided Investing stands out for human portfolio management, and current Merrill and Bank of America customers will appreciate its rewards program. But the management fee is higher than many robo-advisors.
Alana Benson
By Alana Benson 
Edited by Chris Hutchison

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Our Take


NerdWallet rating 

Reviewed in: Oct. 2023

Period considered: Aug. - Oct. 2023

The bottom line:

Merrill Guided Investing requires a $1,000 minimum investment and charges an annual management fee of 0.45%. If you’re looking for access to a human advisor along with your investing account, Merrill offers that for a steeper fee.

Merrill Guided Investing
Merrill Guided Investing
management fee
Account minimum
no promotion available at this time

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



Varies by Advisor (free initial consultation)



management fee



management fee



with a balance over $20K or qualifying recurring deposit. Otherwise, $4/month.

Account minimum 


Account minimum 


Account minimum 


Account minimum 


$10 to start


3-Month Satisfaction Guarantee


1% match on IRA contributions

Only offers made via ACH are eligible for the match. ACATs, wires, and rollovers are not included.


Get a $50 customer bonus

when you fund your first taxable investment account



no promotion available at this time

Learn more

on Zoe Financial's website

Learn more

on SoFi Invest's website

Learn more

on Wealthfront's website

Learn more

on Betterment's website


Paid non-client promotion


Paid non-client promotion


Paid non-client promotion


Paid non-client promotion

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Full Review

Where Merrill Guided Investing shines

Easy integration: Merrill 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 is a robo-advisor with a twist. It offers human portfolio management in a robo-advisor format.

Where Merrill Guided Investing falls short

Many robo-advisors offer more for less: More tax strategy, more advisor access, lower account minimums and management fees.

Merrill Guided Investing is best for:

  • Hands-off investors.

  • Investors who seek human oversight for their investments.

  • Existing Merrill or Bank of America customers.

Merrill Guided Investing at a glance

Reviewed: Oct. 2023

Period considered: Aug. - Oct. 2023

Account minimum


Account management fee


Investment expense ratios

Core ETF portfolios: 0.05% to 0.16% (includes expense ratios for ESG portfolios).

Account fees (annual, transfer, closing)

$49.95 full account transfer and closeout fees.

Portfolio mix

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.

Accounts supported

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.

Tax strategy

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.

Automatic rebalancing

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.

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 Guided Investing's ratings

Looking for access to financial advisors? Jump to Merrill Guided Investing with Advisor.

Account minimum: 4 out of 5 stars

Merrill 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 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 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 0.05% to 0.16% for its core portfolio (that range includes the expense ratios for the socially responsible portfolios as well).

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 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 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 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 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 Guided Investing with Advisor.

Savings account/cash management options: 2 out of 5 stars

Merrill partners with Bank of America to offer a cashmanagement account. Compared with providers that offer a high-yield savings account, the interest you could potentially earn 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 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 Guided Investing with Advisor

Merrill Guided Investing with Advisor has a management fee of 0.85% and a $1,000 account minimum. Some portfolios, such as 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. 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.

Empower (formerly 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 0.05% to 0.16%.

» Want to compare options? Check out our roundup of the best wealth advisors

Merrill Guided Investing with Advisor at a glance

Reviewed: Oct. 2023

Period considered: Aug. - Oct. 2023

Account minimum

$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 centralized call center locations.

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: 0.05% to 0.16%. Socially responsible portfolios: 0.10% to 0.17%. Alpha-Seeking strategy: 0.36% to 0.47%.

Portfolio construction

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.

Brokerage options

Must have assets custodied with Merrill. Advisors can consider assets held in accounts outside Merrill for goal tracking.

Is Merrill Guided Investing right for you?

If you’re a Merrill 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.