The bottom line:
Pros & Cons
Robust third-party research.
Integrated with Bank of America.
High order execution quality.
Advanced traders may find fewer securities on offer.
Low interest rates on uninvested cash.
Compare to Similar Brokers
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when you open and fund a J.P. Morgan Self-Directed Investing account with qualifying new money.
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Where Merrill Edge Self-Directed shines
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 the effort to create a seamless experience for clients who use both services. You can view Bank of America accounts and Merrill Edge accounts with a single login.
Educational resources: In addition to a library of educational articles, courses, videos, webinars, virtual events and free tools and calculators, Merrill Edge has an Idea Builder tool to help newer investors find investments that appeal to them, such as ESG products.
Where Merrill Edge Self-Directed falls short
Investment selection. Advanced traders may find fewer securities on offer.
Fractional shares. Fractional shares let investors buy by the dollar amount, rather than the share amount. This makes it much easier — and more affordable — to diversify, but Merrill Edge doesn’t offer this ability.
Merrill Edge Self-Directed is best for:
Bank of America customers.
Environmental, social and governance investors.
Merrill Edge Self-Directed at a glance
Stock trading costs
$0 + $0.65 per contract.
Account fees (annual, transfer, closing, inactivity)
No annual, inactivity or partial transfer fees; $49.95 full outgoing account transfer fee.
Number of no-transaction-fee mutual funds
• Stocks. • Bonds. (Treasuries, CDs and bond funds at no additional charge. Corporates and municipal bonds for an additional fee.) • Mutual funds. • ETFs. • Options.
Interest rate on uninvested cash
Three trading platforms:
Some technical issues with the platforms.
Advanced features mimic a desktop trading platform. Some mixed reviews.
Research and data
Research, ratings and reports from a handful of providers, including Bank of America, Morningstar and CFRA.
Customer support options (includes how easy it is to find key details on the website)
24/7 phone, chat, email, with in-person appointments available during Bank of America branch open hours.
More details about Merrill Edge Self-Directed's ratings
Account minimum: 5 out of 5 stars
Merrill Edge has no minimum account requirement.
Stock trading costs: 5 out of 5 stars
There are no commissions on stock or ETF trades at Merrill Edge.
Options trades: 4 out of 5 stars
Merrill Edge has no commissions on options trades, though you will still have to pay $0.65 per contract, a fairly typical charge among brokerages.
Account fees: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Merrill Edge gets high marks when it comes to account fees: There are no partial transfer, annual or inactivity fees for brokerage accounts. If you close an account and transfer out all assets, you’ll pay a fee of $49.95, but that charge is still lower than at some other brokerages.
Interest rate on uninvested cash: 1 out of 5 stars
Merrill Edge doesn't offer the lowest cash interest rate of any broker we review — some don't pay any interest at all. But among brokers who do pay interest on uninvested cash, Merrill Edge offers one of the lowest rates — just 0.01% per year, regardless of account balance.
Number of no-transaction-fee mutual funds: 2 out of 5 stars
Merrill Edge offers more than 800 no-transaction-fee mutual funds to choose from.
Tradable securities: 3.5 out of 5 stars
While most investors will find Merrill's selection of stocks, options, ETFs and mutual funds more than adequate, active traders eager to invest in futures or forex will need to go elsewhere. It’s also worth pointing out that Merrill Edge doesn’t offer fractional shares. Such an offering is becoming more commonplace among brokers, as it lets investors with less capital build diverse portfolios. Without fractional shares, this can be harder to do. (Learn more about fractional shares.)
When it comes to bonds, Merrill offers investors access to Treasuries, CDs and bond funds at no additional cost, as well as corporate and municipal bonds for an additional fee of $1 per bond (capped at a minimum of $10 and a maximum of $250).
Merrill's margin rates are fairly standard among brokers, ranging from the high-13% range to the mid-9% range, depending on account balance.
Trading platform: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Like many brokers, Merrill Edge offers website trading and an active trader platform, called Merrill Edge MarketPro. The company’s website is clean and intuitive and offers several screeners so you can quickly sort through stocks, mutual funds, ETFs and bonds. There's also a "quick trade" feature that lets you make stock and ETF trades from just about any page on the website.
The MarketPro platform, available to all Merrill Edge customers, is also robust, with much of what active traders expect: interactive charts, alerts, Level II quotes (which show real-time bid and ask prices for Nasdaq stocks), a customizable dashboard, and streaming data and news. All of the platforms give investors access to over-the-counter (OTC) stocks at no additional cost. They also allow extended trading hours — from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time on weekdays.
The platform boasts excellent order execution quality — more than 99% of trades are executed at the National Best Bid and Offer (NBBO) price or better. This may be a consequence of Merrill's decision not to accept payment for order flow (PFOF), a business model in which customer trades are routed to trading firms for execution, potentially resulting in slower and less efficient execution.
The average execution quality of all brokers we review was 97.4% as of August 31, 2023. That means 97.4% of orders were executed at a price that was at or better than the National Best Bid and Offer. Executing at or above the NBBO means you may receive price improvement, or a better share price than you were originally quoted.
However, the platform does not offer initial public offering (IPO) access, and sometimes experiences technical problems — in particular, a buggy sign-up process.
Mobile app: 4 out of 5 stars
Merrill Edge’s mobile app is highly rated among iOS users, but receives lower ratings from Android users. The app connects with a Bank of America account, letting customers get a holistic view of their financial situation in a single app.
Research and data: 2.5 out of 5 stars
The company provides research from its own BofA Global Research, as well as third-party providers, including Morningstar, Center for Financial Research & Analysis and Lipper. Mutual fund reviews and rankings come from Morningstar and Lipper. Although these are reputable data providers, Merrill doesn't offer free access to as many providers as some other brokers.
Customer support options: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Customer support is a strong suit for Merrill Edge, with 24/7 phone, chat and email support. For those who want in-person customer support, appointments are available at Bank of America branches during the bank’s business hours. However, Merrill Edge's website can be somewhat confusing to navigate.
Merrill Edge IRAs
Merrill Edge offers both Roth and traditional IRAs, which are individual retirement savings accounts. IRAs have lucrative tax advantages — including tax deductions on contributions or tax-free distributions in retirement, depending on the type of IRA you choose — and experts recommend using them when saving for retirement. You can have an IRA in addition to another brokerage account, such as one you might use for non-retirement goals or to trade stocks.
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- Robust third-party research.
- Integrated with Bank of America.
- High order execution quality.
- Advanced traders may find fewer securities on offer.
- Low interest rates on uninvested cash.
Is Merrill Edge Self-Directed right for you?
Regardless of your experience as an investor, there's a good chance this broker has much of what you would need — high-quality research, a good investment selection, helpful customer service and an innovative user experience. The company ranks among the top of the field when it comes to online brokers.
How do we review brokers?
NerdWallet’s comprehensive review process evaluates and ranks the largest U.S. brokers by assets under management, along with emerging industry players. 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 more than 20 factors. The final output produces star ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars).
For more details about the categories considered when rating brokers and our process, read our full methodology.