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Merrill Edge Review 2021: An Online Broker with an Edge

Merrill Edge offers zero-commission trades, high-quality research, and seamless integration with Bank of America.

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Merrill Edge® is one of the largest brokerages today providing an array of active and passive investing solutions. Similar to other brokerages in the country, Merrill Edge offers zero-commission trades, advanced trading features, and a wide range of available securities.

Merrill Edge, now a subsidiary of Bank of America, is one of the largest asset management companies in the United States. Currently, it manages more than $2 trillion in assets for its clients and employs more than 14,000 financial advisors to assist investors in accomplishing their financial goals.

In this review, we will take a closer look at Merrill Edge’s® top features to help you make an informed decision. 

4.3
4.3/5

on Merrill Edge’s website

Quick Summary: Merrill Edge, a subsidiary of Bank of America, is one of the largest brokerages in the United States. Merrill Edge offers zero-commission trades on stocks, options, and ETFs, as well as, advanced research tools and features for active traders.

Promotion: None

Pros:

Cons:

What Is Merrill Edge?

Merrill Edge® gives investors the ability to trade US-listed stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETF) without paying a commission. It also offers competitive costs for trading other instruments like options, bonds, and mutual funds.

Merrill Edge also provides advanced trading features as part of its Merrill Edge MarketPro® solution. Traders also have access to top-notch research materials so they can keep up with today’s rapidly-evolving financial markets.

Merrill Edge Review
Source: Merrill Edge

See Also: 12 Best Online Brokers for Stock Trading

How Does Merrill Edge Work?

Even though we will focus solely on Merrill Edge’s self-directed trading solution in this review, you should also know that this provider offers other services including an automated passive investing platform — a.k.a a robo-advisor — and human-guided financial advisory services.

Investing Account Types 

The following list summarizes the account types that Merrill Edge® currently supports for its self-directed trading program:

  • Bank accounts (provided by Bank of America)
  • Individual or joint taxable online brokerage accounts
  • Individual retirement accounts (traditional IRA, Roth IRA, rollover IRA).
  • Small business 401(k)s, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs.
  • 529 college savings accounts
  • Custodial (UGMA/UTMA) accounts

Opening an Account

The process of opening an account with this provider starts with the red “Open an Account” button, located on the upper right side of the firm’s official website.

After that, the user has two options: let the system suggests the most suitable account based on his or her goals (general investing, retirement, or education), or directly pick a type from the list of available accounts.

Once the type of account is selected, the user will have to provide some personal and financial information including his or her Social Security Number (SSN), e-mail address, employment information, and other selected financial data that the system uses for profiling purposes.

The application can be completed online. The user will have to sign and submit the application form.

It is important to note that Merrill Edge only offers self-directed trading accounts for individuals that reside in the United States.

How to Open a Merrill Edge Account
Source: Merrill Edge

See Also: 7 Best Micro-Investing Apps 

Merrill Edge Features

Merrill Edge® has multiple interesting features to offer that go beyond their zero-commission offering.

These features include advanced trading solutions, in-depth market data, insightful educational resources, and top-tier research materials. In this section, we will dig deeper into some of the most appealing features for investors and traders.

Minimum Investment $0
Stock & ETF Fees $0
Options Fees $0 per trade + ($0.65 per contract)
Mutual Funds Fees $0 per trade
Inactivity Fee $0
Withdrawal Fee $0
Investment Types Stocks, ETFs, Options, Mutual Funds, and Bonds
Account Types Individual Taxable, Joint, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Rollover IRA, SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, Solo 401(k), Custodial, HSA, 529, Estate and Trust
Platform Web-based and Mobile (iOS / Android)
Account Funding Bank transfer
Paper Trading
SIPC Protection
Banking Services
Support Live Chat, Phone and Email

Commission-Free Trading (ETFs and Stocks)

Similar to other brokerage firms in the United States, Merrill Edge® offers zero-commission trades for thousands of US-listed stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETF).

These instruments can be traded easily by using the company’s top-notch web-based or mobile trading platform, while traders can also rely on Merrill Edge’s advanced solution, Merrill Edge MarketPro®, to identify potential opportunities on the US market.

According to the company, approximately 94% of their trades are executed at a better price than the quoted value of the instrument, while the speed of execution is 0.008 seconds on average. Meanwhile, Merrill Edge claims that it saves clients an average of $17.8 per transaction on orders of 1,000 shares or more.

Options Trading

Merrill Edge® allows traders to buy and sell options, a derivative that gives the holder the right, not the obligation, to buy and sell shares at a certain price once the instrument expires.

These instruments can also be traded without incurring any commissions, although there is a $0.65 per-contract fee that applies when they are both bought and sold.

Meanwhile, options traders can rely on the OptionsPlay® feature included in the firm’s MarketPro® solution to identify potential trading strategies. They can also browse and filter thousands of instruments by using the platform’s screener feature.

Mutual Funds Investing

Investors can buy and sell thousands of in-house and third-party mutual funds by using Merrill Edge’s self-directed trading platform, allowing them to build diversified portfolios by placing funds in a wide range of available alternatives.

These mutual funds include index funds, sector-specific funds, and strategy-focused funds, among others, and most of them can be bought and sold for free while some might generate a $39.95 short-term redemption fee if the investor decides to exit the fund before a 90-day minimum threshold.

Fixed Income and Bonds

Merrill Edge® offers an ample portfolio of fixed-income instruments, including US treasury bonds, certificates of deposits (CDs), and corporate, municipal, and government-backed agency issues. Clients can use these instruments to build income-generating investment portfolios.

There is no commission on new issues, US treasuries, and brokered CDs, as long as the transaction is made online. Phone-assisted trades cost $29.95.

Meanwhile, other bonds – aside from US treasuries – that are bought or sold on the secondary market will generate a $1 fee per bond with a minimum of $10 per trade and a maximum of $250 for online orders.

Margin Trading

Merrill Edge® offers the possibility of trading on margin through its taxable margin accounts, which require a minimum of $2,000 in cash or margin-eligible securities to be opened with this provider.

The Base Lending Rate (BLR) currently charged by this provider for margin loans is 5.25% and the effective rates start at 8.625% for account balances lower than $25,000. They progressively diminish as the balance of the loan grows. 

It is important to note that margin trading is risky and it can lead to severe losses if the trades suddenly turn against you. Meanwhile, you could be subject to a margin call if your account’s balance falls below the maintenance margin.

How Merrill Edge Margin Trading Works
Source: Merrill Edge

See Also: 12 Best Robo-Advisors: Automate Your Investments

Merrill Edge Guided Investing 

Merrill Edge’s Guided Investing program is the robo-advisor feature offered by Merrill Edge to individuals who prefer to let professionals handle their investments for them.

This service works through a set of algorithms that recommend the most suitable investment strategy for each client based on their financial goals, risk tolerance, income, job situation, and other variables.

Merrill Edge currently charges an annual fee of 0.45% with a minimum balance of $5,000 required to be enrolled in the program.

That said, users can also opt for a combination of the firm’s robo-advisor services and human advice in exchange for a higher 0.85% fee. In this case, the minimum amount to be invested goes up to $20,000.

The Guided Investing program uses a combination of asset classes in the form of exchange-traded funds (ETF) and mutual funds to build investment portfolios for clients, while the system also reviews and rebalances the portfolios periodically to meet the initial allocation targets.

Meanwhile, clients can easily check the progress of their financial goals through an online dashboard and they can schedule monthly contributions to their accounts.

This program was named the Best Robo-Advisor for Education by financial portal Investopedia in 2020.

Merrill Edge MarketPro

Merrill Edge’s MarketPro® advanced trading solution is designed to help active traders in making informed decisions by accessing in-depth market information and insightful research reports from highly-reputable security analysis firms.

The platform can be customized to suit the needs of each trader. Layouts and templates display real-time information as needed with 26 fully-customizable windows available within the interface and dozens of tools including Recognia®, OptionsPlay®, Market Depth, and Webfeeds.

This system is only available for Merrill Edge® clients and it is entirely free. The charting tool comes with a total of 104 different technical indicators and 25 drawing tools and the Recognia® feature can be used to easily spot technical patterns. 

Meanwhile, the platform also provides access to Level 2 market data from the Nasdaq exchange including its order book, market-maker view, net order imbalance, and depth meter.

Finally, for options traders, the platform provides in-depth analytics and potential strategies through its OptionsPlay® feature, which only requires the ticker symbol of the underlying security to display a wide range of useful data that can help in analyzing potential trades.

Merrill Edge Select Mutual Funds and ETFs

Merrill Edge® provides access to thousands of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETF) managed by some of the most renowned financial services companies in the world through its Merrill Edge Select® portfolio, which is an exclusive selection of the very best of the investment management industry.

Investors can screen this wide selection of funds by using Merrill Edge’s tools, which allows them to filter all the available funds by asset class, economic sector, geographical exposure, strategy, and provider – among other criteria – while also allowing for performance and quality-based screening.

Investors can use these funds to diversify their portfolios or gain exposure to different industries, latitudes, and strategies that allow them to achieve their financial goals.

Education & Research Tools

When it comes to education, Merrill Edge clients have a wide range of materials at their disposal, including articles, videos, webinars, and systematic courses covering a wide variety of topics to help investors further expand their skills.

These materials have been designed with both beginner and experienced investors in mind and they expand on topics such as personal finance, stocks, margin, options, and portfolio management. Some materials focus on specific matters such as navigating market volatility and understanding the impact of taxes in the performance of a portfolio.

Meanwhile, Merrill Edge also gives investors access to top-notch research materials from reputed financial services firms and research powerhouses, such as Bank of America’s Global Research team, Morningstar, and CFRA Research.

These materials go from in-depth security analysis reports to lists of top-rated instruments for multiple asset classes, allowing investors to confidently build their portfolios by incorporating the best securities out there.

Meanwhile, Merrill Edge has also built powerful research tools including a screener for stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, and other instruments, an advanced tool, called OptionsPlay®, which provides potential strategies for options traders, and Recognia®, software that identifies potential trading patterns for a wide range of instruments.

Meanwhile, the Level II market data provided by its MarketPro® solution enables clients to analyze the market’s supply and demand dynamics with data provided directly by Nasdaq.

Merrill Edge MarketPro
Source: Merrill Edge

See Also: 12 Best Investment Apps: For Beginners & Pros

Customer Service & Support

Merrill Edge’s support section is designed to tackle most of the questions and issues that clients will often face when opening an account, placing a trade, depositing money, or building a portfolio – along with multiple other topics.

The support section of the firm’s official website also has a dedicated space to address the most frequently asked questions and there is a team of customer support representatives standing by 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle investor’s queries.

Meanwhile, the company offers free consultations that can be easily scheduled through the support section as well, making this provider one that stands out above the crowd in this particular aspect.

Merrill Edge Pricing & Fees

Similar to most brokerage firms nowadays, Merrill Edge does not charge a commission for trading US-listed stocks or exchange-traded funds (ETF) through its online platform. That said, a $29.95 fee applies for any trade made through a representative.

Meanwhile, the firm clarifies that there is a small transaction fee that goes from $0.01 to $0.03 for every $1,000 of principal. These costs are commonly associated with the expense ratios of ETFs or with regulatory fees.

For options, Merrill Edge also waives its commissions but charges a $0.65 fee per contract. On the other hand, the broker does not charge any fees or commissions for exercising the contracts.

On the other hand, the cost of transacting with mutual funds varies depending on the fund. Load-waived funds are not charged with a transaction fee and the same applies for no-load, no-transaction-fee funds unless they are redeemed in less than 90 days after the investment was made. In that case, a $39.95 fee applies. 

For no-load, transaction fee funds, the fee ranges from $19.95 for online transactions and $29.95 for broker-assisted trades. This fee applies to buy, sell, and exchange orders.

Other securities, such as fixed-income instruments, can be traded for a fee of $1 per bond with a minimum of $10 per trade and a maximum of $250. This fee is waived for new issues, brokered certificate of deposits (CD), and US treasury bonds purchased at auctions or the secondary market.

Finally, Merrill Edge charges certain non-trading fees, including a $49.95 fee for full account transfers and closeouts and a $24.95 fee for domestic and international wires.

Merrill Edge Security

Through the Merrill Edge Fraud Protection Guarantee, the company claims that it will reimburse any monetary losses that occur as a result of unauthorized access by a third party to a client’s account.

Meanwhile, the company is a bank-backed asset management firm owned by one of America’s largest financial institutions – Bank of America – and it is a registered broker-dealer and a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which provides coverage for investors’ accounts for a total of $500,000 per account, including $250,000 in cash.

Merrill Edge Review
Source: Merrill Edge

See Also: Webull Review: Is Webull the Ultimate Free Investing App?

Merrill Edge Pros

  • Highly-reputable asset management firm with more than $2 trillion in assets under management and more than 100 years of history in the financial industry.
  • The firm is backed by one of the largest banks in the United States, Bank of America.
  • Merrill Edge offers a wide range of investment solutions, including its self-directed trading platform Merrill Edge®, which gives investors plenty of choices to determine how they would like to manage their investments.
  • Merrill Edge®’s advanced trading solution gives its clients an edge when it comes to identifying potential opportunities in the US markets through features like Recognia® and OptionsPlay®.
  • Investors can enjoy inexpensive or even free trades for many of the instruments offered through Merrill Edge’s platform.
  • The company gives investors access to top-notch educational and research tools that allow them to make informed decisions while also assisting them in the process of building their investing skills.

Merrill Edge Cons

  • Individuals outside the United States cannot open an account with this provider.
  • Merrill Edge® does not provide the possibility of trading forex pairs, futures, cryptocurrencies, fractional shares, or foreign stocks at the moment.
  • The company’s Guided Investing solution requires a high minimum account balance compared to some of its rivals like Betterment and M1 Finance.

Merrill Edge Alternatives

With so many other good alternatives out there, it’s always advisable to check out other brokers before becoming a Merrill Edge client.

Fidelity 

Fidelity offers virtually all of the features, account types, and solutions supported by Merrill Edge, including a robo-advisor known as Fidelity Go. That said, Fidelity has already introduced fractional shares to their portfolio. These instruments are not yet supported by Merrill Edge’s platform.

Additionally, the annual fees charged by Fidelity Go are lower than those charged by Merrill Edge’s Guided Investing program.

Vanguard

Different from Merrill Edge, Vanguard focuses mostly on long-term investors who have clear financial goals instead of offering a brokerage service for active traders – which is what Merrill Edge® offers.

That said, Vanguard does compete with Merrill Edge in offering a wide range of low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETF), mutual funds, and other investing solutions that are designed to help individuals build their wealth.

4.3
4.3/5

Minimum Investment

$0

Fees

$0

Promotions

None

Stock and ETF Trades

$0/trade

Options Trades

$0 + ($0.65/contract)

Investor Protection

$500,000 (securities up to $500,000, cash up to $250,000)

4.9
4.9/5

Minimum Investment

$0

Fees

$0

Promotions

None

Stock and ETF Trades

$0

Options Trades

$0 + ($0.65/contract)

Investor Protection

$500,000 (securities up to $500,000, cash up to $250,000)

Vanguard Logo
4.1
4.1/5

Minimum Investment

$0

Fees

$0

Promotions

None

Stock and ETF Trades

$0

Options Trades

$0 + ($1/contract)

Investor Protection

$500,000 (securities up to $500,000, cash up to $250,000)

Who Is Merrill Edge Best for and Who Should Avoid It? 

Considering the wide range of accounts, solutions, and instruments that Merrill Edge® offers, this provider should be a suitable choice for most investors. It could also be a one-stop-shop if one decides to open a bank account with Bank of America as well.

That said, Merrill Edge® might not be the best choice for traders who want to dabble in forex pairs, futures, or cryptocurrencies.

Finally, for investors with a small account balance, the absence of fractional shares can also be a dealbreaker.

Merrill Edge FAQ

We’ve found some of the most common questions about Merrill Edge and its features; here are our answers.

Is Merrill Edge Good for Beginners?

Even though Merrill Edge’s wide range of solutions makes it a plausible choice for beginners, the absence of fractional shares could limit their ability to adequately diversify their portfolio by incorporating multiple stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETF) regardless of their budget.

That said, for US residents with an account balance higher than $5,000, this provider is possibly one of the best choices.

In A Nutshell

  • Account Minimum: $0
  • Fees: Zero-commission stock, ETF and per-leg options trading (+$0.65 per contract)
  • Promotion: None at this time

on Merrill Edge’s website

Final Thoughts

Merrill Edge® is a self-directed trading platform that offers access to a wide variety of financial instruments while empowering investors to make more informed investment decisions through the use of its powerful analytics tools.

Considering the limited number of downsides associated with opening an account with Merrill Edge — i.e., no access to cryptocurrencies or fractional shares – there are so many upsides that one can hardly go wrong in picking this provider as your broker.

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