Merrill Edge is a financial platform owned by Bank of America. It offers access to online and advised investing, trading, brokerage, and banking services. Customers can be self-directed, work with advisors, or access portfolio management through Merrill Edge Guided Investing. In recent years, Bank of America has opened 600 new Merrill Edge investment centers (bringing the total to 2,800) and added 300 financial solutions advisors to its stable.

Since launching in 2010, Merrill Edge has offered a convenient way for investors to manage their banking and brokerage needs under one roof. Customers can take advantage of Bank of America's Preferred Rewards program, which offers discounts like preferred pricing on Merrill Guided Investing accounts and discounts on ATM transactions, auto loan interest rates, and mortgage origination fees. The higher your average daily balance in your Bank of America and Merrill investment accounts, the better the perks—which means there is an incentive for Bank of America customers to open a Merrill Edge account.

Merrill Edge is a solid choice for long-term, DIY investors, especially those who already have a relationship with Bank of America. It's also a good choice for investors who want varying degrees of financial guidance. We'll look at Merrill Edge's features, costs, and resource quality to help you decide if it's the right fit for your investing style. Aside from this Merrill Edge broker review, we've also reviewed the Merrill Edge Guided Investing robo-advisor service.

Key Takeaways

  • Merrill Edge seamlessly connects the investing accounts and with the BoA banking experience.
  • Merrill Edge is cost competitive with $0 online stock and ETF trades with no account minimums.
  • Customers of Merrill Edge and BoA can access discounts and other perks through Bank of America's Preferred Rewards program.
  • Merrill Edge offers excellent fundamental research with proprietary and third-party research and stock ratings.

Who Merrill Edge Is For

Beginner and intermediate DIY investors will be well-served by Merrill Edge's technology and range of services. As an online brokerage, Merrill Edge offers a comprehensive platform with adequate technical and fundamental tools suitable for long-term investors and casual traders. As part of Bank of America's overall financial services universe, Merrill Edge offers perks (through the Preferred Rewards program), a seamless banking/investing experience, a wide variety of educational offerings, and strong in-person support.

Pros
  • Integrated with Bank of America

  • Robust proprietary and third-party research

  • No fees and no minimums for self-directed accounts

Cons
  • Narrow product line-up

  • Limited platform capabilities

  • Two-leg maximum on options strategies

Pros Explained

  • Merrill Edge's deep integration with Bank of America means customers can manage their banking and investing accounts under one roof—enjoying additional perks for doing so.
  • Merrill Edge integrates research from Morningstar and Lipper with its own research team to provide top-notch reports on individual stocks, news, and market commentary.
  • Merrill Edge has no account minimums and unlimited $0 online stock and ETF trades. Clients with at least $20,000 in combined deposit and investment accounts qualify for additional perks through the Preferred Rewards program.

Cons Explained

  • Merrill Edge supports stock, ETF, options, mutual fund, and fixed income trading, but it's missing some of the products that many active traders want, including futures, futures options, forex, and crypto. Investors looking for more advanced trading opportunities won't find them here. 
  • The Merrill Edge platform is suitable for casual DIY investors and traders. However, the lack of advanced order types and direct market routing—combined with a slow order entry interface—make it less suitable for active traders.
  • Options strategies on Merrill Edge are limited to two legs (many brokers offer at least four). The company states it will support four-leg strategies in 2021. 

Usability

It's simple to get started on Merrill Edge, especially if you're already a Bank of America customer. After logging on to the Merrill Edge website, you can view your account balances, portfolio performance, and market updates. Five tabs across the top of the screen—Accounts, Trade, Research, Guidance & Retirement, and Help & Settings—make it easy to find tools and resources. From the Trade tab, you can launch the MarketPro platform, which is available to all clients regardless of account size or activity. While the website isn't customizable, you can customize the layout and set trading defaults in MarketPro.

MarketPro and the Merrill Edge mobile app (available for Android and iOS) provide streaming real-time quotes and news, which you can view on multiple devices simultaneously. The app supports the same order types and, except for fixed income, the same asset classes as MarketPro. You can monitor, manage, and create new watchlists on the app and share them between the web and mobile app. However, MarketPro watchlists are saved to your local device instead of the cloud. Charting and research are available on both MarketPro and the app, and you can overlay a variety of technical indicators and drawing tools on either platform.

Trade Experience

The trading experience across Merrill Edge's platforms is straightforward and intuitive. MarketPro offers a decent amount of customization options, including color schemes, font size, layouts, alerts, trade defaults, and hotkeys. MarketPro users can right-click the chart and choose “buy” or “sell” at the current price. Web and mobile users can click the “Trade” icon in the chart header, which prefills the order ticket with the symbol information. Overall, our review found the MarketPro chart trading interface less elegant than what you may find on some other trading platforms. Still, it gets the job done, especially for retail traders with less complex needs.

MarketPro and mobile provide streaming real-time quotes, which you can view on multiple devices simultaneously. You can stage orders for later entry and enter multiple orders simultaneously. 

Mobile Trade Experience

You can't customize many features on the Merrill Edge mobile app. Still, it's well-designed and has most of the tools and resources you'll find on the desktop platform. The app doesn't support chart trading, but you can click the “Trade” icon in the chart header, which prefills the order ticket with the symbol information. Unlike MarketPro, you can't stage orders for later entry or enter multiple orders simultaneously on the app. You can filter which news feeds are displayed in the app just as you can online. As previously mentioned, watchlists created through the web platform are synced to the mobile app, but MarketPro watchlists are only on the computer running it.

Range of Offerings

Merrill Edge customers can trade stocks, ETFs, options, mini options, weekly options, binary options (new), mutual funds, CDs, Treasuries, municipal bonds, and corporate bonds. App traders are limited to stocks, ETFs, options, and mutual funds. Merrill Edge does not offer futures, futures options, forex, or cryptocurrency trading. Some international transactions can be made with the help of a live broker. Investors can trade the following with Merrill Edge, both on the website and MarketPro:

  • Stocks long and short. Merrill Edge's stock borrow process is fully automated for all short sale locates. It includes securities that have historically been on ETB lists and many others, and it can provide an instant locate when inventory is available.
  • OTCBB (penny stocks). There are certain restrictions in place that could limit OTCBB transactions based on market cap. 
  • Mutual funds (about 3,100 no-load, no transaction fee).
  • Bonds: corporate, municipal, treasury, CDs.
  • Single leg and two-leg options (with plans to introduce four-leg strategies in early 2021).
  • Robo-advisory integrated into the website and mobile app.
  • International trades via a live broker.

Order Types

Merrill Edge supports basic order types (e.g., market, limit, stop limit, trailing stop) across all platforms, but it doesn't offer the advanced conditional orders that active traders want. If you've been buying into a stock over time, you can choose the tax lot when you close part of the position—or you can set an account-wide default for the tax lot choice (such as average cost, last-in-first-out, etc.).

Trading Technology

Merrill Edge uses the Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML) smart order router. The smart order router looks for displayed and reserve liquidity at hidden and visible venues at each price level up to the order's limit price. If an order becomes unmarketable, the router posts any residual quantity across multiple venues and redistributes residual posted share quantities dynamically as executions occur. Essentially the technology is approaching the process of filling an order by first seeking price improvement rather than execution speed. Merrill reports that 98.38% of orders are executed at better than the quoted price and the average execution speed is 0.018 seconds. Merrill Edge does not accept payment for order flow from market makers.

Despite boasting an advanced order router, Merrill Edge is limited beyond that. The broker doesn't support any simulated trading, backtesting, or automated trading capabilities.

Costs

Many brokers have shifted to commission-free trading stock and ETF trading, and Merrill Edge is no exception. It moved to $0 online stock and ETF trades in Oct. 2019. Otherwise, its fees are in line with the industry.

  • $0 commissions for online equity, ETF, and OTCBB trades. 
  • There is no per-leg commission on options trades. Per-contract commissions are $0.65. 
  • An order for 50 options contracts is $32.50. 
  • A covered call trade of 500 shares plus five contracts costs $3.25. 
  • Mutual fund trades for funds outside the No Transaction Fee program cost $19.95. 
  • Fixed income trades for secondary issues are $1 per bond. 
  • Margin interest ranges from 8.625% for a $10,000 balance to 7.5% for balances between $25,000 and $99,999 (as of September 2021). Rates for balance tiers $100k and above are not disclosed on the website.
  • No fees for inactivity, receiving wires, sending checks, or paper statements and trade confirmations. 
  • Sending a wire is $24.95 (domestic and international)
  • There is a $49.95 fee for fully transferring an account out. No fee for partial transfers.
  • Account closure fee is $49.95 for retirement accounts.
  • Broker-assisted trades are $29.95 per trade.

How This Broker Makes Money From You and for You

With fewer brokerages charging commissions these days, it's less obvious how they stay in business. Here are some of the behind-the-scenes ways Merrill Edge makes money from you—and for you.

  • Interest on cash: Merrill Edge makes money on the difference between what it pays you and what it can earn on your cash balances. You can opt for a bank deposit account or a money market account for your cash. It's automatically swept to earn an interest rate at least half of the Federal Funds rate. If you don't choose, you'll earn 0.01% on your cash balances.
  • Stock loan program: Merrill Edge earns money by loaning the stocks in your account for short sales. It does not share that revenue with you.
  • Payment for order flow: Merrill Edge does not accept payment for order flow (PFOF) from third-party market makers.
  • Price improvement: Merrill Edge's smart order router looks for quality trade executions. Customers achieve, on average, price improvement of $0.66 on orders of one to 99 shares, $3.98 on 100 to 499 shares, $11.51 on 499 to 1,999 shares, $19.95 on 2,000 to 4,999 shares, and $24.41 on 5,000 to 9,999 shares. For options, the net price improvement per contract is $0.084.
  • Portfolio margining: Merrill Edge does not offer portfolio margining, which can lower how much margin you need based on overall risk. In general, portfolio margining works best for customers who trade derivatives that offset the risk of their equity positions.

Account and Research Amenities

Merrill Edge has excellent fundamental research tools, including an impressive collection of proprietary and third-party research and stock rankings.

Stock Screener

Merrill Edge has a solid stock screener available on the "Research/Stocks" page. There are 29 prebuilt screeners—such as "Warren Buffett Stocks" and "Cash Cows"—or you can create your own using metrics like price, sector/industry, exchange, index, dividend yield, P/E ratio, market cap, and institutional ownership. Technical screeners are provided by Recognia, and you can save any screener to use later. 

ETF Screener

There are two proprietary ETF screeners on the "Research/ETFs" page. You can search by product type, type of underlying investments, Morningstar rating, leverage/inverse, family, premium/discount, socially responsible, market cap, price, equity sector, performance, risk and portfolio assets, turnover, dividend, expense ratio, dividend yield, and management fees. Merrill Edge Select ETFs is a simplified screener with most criteria selected by Investment Management & Guidance Group of Merrill Lynch. Choose between “Domestic Equity”, “International Equity”, “Taxable or Non-Taxable Fixed Income”, and “Miscellaneous Fixed Income” groups to view matching funds.

Mutual Fund Screener

The "Research/Mutual Funds" page offers several easy-to-use screeners and information about available funds. No transaction fee (NTF) funds are clearly labeled as such, and the screeners include Morningstar and Lipper ratings, among other criteria. The Fund Story, introduced in 2019, helps you quickly evaluate mutual funds and ETFs, including holdings, costs, and ratings.

Options Screener

The “Research/Options” page has a screener where you can filter by basic option features or security fundamentals—or more advanced criteria like option value and volatility. Use the options strategy builder to find strategies that match your risk tolerance, outlook, and goals for symbols in your portfolio and watchlists. Merrill Edge's options chains let you search available contracts for specific optionable securities.

Fixed Income Screener

The “Research/Fixed Income” page includes a screener to filter bonds by type, industry, maturity date, price, yield, YTW, S&P rating, Moody rating, call info, and coupon rate. The Merrill Edge Select Funds tool screens five categories of funds, including “Domestic Equity”, “International Equity”, “Taxable Fixed Income”, “Non-Taxable Fixed Income”, and “International Fixed Income”. The interface is clunky compared to some of Merrill Edge's other screeners, but it gets the job done. 

Tools and Calculators 

Merrill Edge offers more than 24 tools and calculators for personal finance, retirement, college planning, and investing needs. Examples include the “Roth IRA Conversion Calculator”, “Asset Allocator”, “Portfolio X-Ray”, and “Estate Tax Calculator”.

Trading Idea Generator 

Merrill Edge launched Idea Builder in August 2020. It lets you search for investment opportunities by ideas instead of traditional metrics like performance, sector, or individual companies. There are dozens of ideas—such as “Target Date Funds”, “Big Data”, “Millennials + Gen Z”, “Warren Buffett Stocks”, and “Climate Change Vulnerability”. The underlying research has been available on Merrill Edge for years, but Idea Builder combines it into a visual and personalized experience.

News 

Merrill Edge provides news from more than 30 sources, including Associated Press, BBC Newsfile, Boston Globe, Briefing.com, Business Wire, Canada Newswire, Chicago Tribune, Dow Jones, The Economist, Globe Newswire, Information Week, The Guardian U.K., Investor's Business Daily, Marketwired, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Xinhua News Agency. You can filter the news stream by holdings, watchlists, and preferred news outlets.

Third-Party Research

Merrill Edge has a searchable database on its website for six months' worth of analyst reports on about 1,500 equities. If you're a bond investor, you can read Municipals Weekly and the quarterly Fixed Income Digest. You'll find information about individual equities in the Stock Story feature, which pulls in data from dozens of sources. There is an emphasis on impact investing with MSCI environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scores on stock pages and in Stock Story, and Fund Story takes a similar look at mutual funds.

Charting

Merrill Edge MarketPro has full charting and customization capabilities with streaming real-time data. Choose from bar, line, OHLC, mountain, area plot, and candlestick charts, and a variety of tick and time-based charting intervals. There are more than 70 technical studies, all with customizable study parameters, and you have access to market depth data (Level II, open book, total view, ARCA, and TSX book).  The web and mobile platforms have limited charting capabilities but enough features for casual, long-term investors to trade on the go.

Cash Management

Merrill Edge allows you to enroll in a cash sweep program where your idle cash is automatically moved to a money market fund. If you don't choose to enroll, you'll earn 0.01% on your cash balances.

Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP)

Merrill Edge clients can enroll dividend-paying stocks in a DRIP program.

SRI/ESG Research Amenities

As mentioned, Merrill Edge makes it easy for investors to evaluate their portfolio from a socially responsible investing (SRI) perspective. The MSCI ESG scores appear on stock pages and customers have access to 20,000 ESG ratings and reports and sector organizational displays of every ESG leader across the investing universe. You can view ESG ratings for your portfolios, along with ratings for individual stocks and funds within. 

Portfolio Analysis

Merrill Edge's portfolio analysis capabilities are excellent. Portfolio reports and analysis are available on an overnight basis. Portfolio Story is a proprietary tool that shows a complete breakdown of your portfolio, not only by sectors and holdings but also by performance, analyst ratings, and MSCI ESG scores. It's a valuable piece of portfolio analysis technology and should be especially helpful to new investors. You can isolate option portfolio performance via the Holdings by Product Class view.

Morningstar's Portfolio X-Ray is available on the website. It identifies how your holdings break down across various world regions (and if there is any overlap), shows how your investments are concentrated across 11 different sectors, and explains how your holdings are diversified across asset classes. MarketPro has its own customizable portfolio analysis tool.

Dynamic Insights, which launched in 2020, displays AI-driven insights and analysis on your holdings, accounts, and current market conditions. The reports adapt to portfolio and market changes in real-time. 

Balances, buying power, margin information, and internal rate of return are all updated in real-time. Despite the overall strength of the portfolio analysis tools, there are some gaps. There's no tool to help you figure out the tax impact of a planned trade, and the platforms do not include a trading journal, although you can attach notes to a symbol in your holdings or watchlists.

Education

Merrill Edge's Investor Education center opens with the question: "How do you like to learn?" You can pick an investing experience level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced) or a topic—such as investing & markets, stocks, ETFs, options, mutual funds, margin, and others. From there, you can select your preferred learning format, whether that's articles, videos & webinars, courses, or calculators.

There's also the Merrill Edge Investing Classroom, powered by Morningstar. You can learn about various investment topics through a series of courses that go from basic to more sophisticated strategies. Course examples include “Modern Portfolio Theory”, “20 Stock-Investing Tips”, and “Using Morningstar's Ratings for Stocks”.

Customer Service

  • 24/7 phone line      
  • Online chat    
  • FAQs primarily focused on trading-related information 
  • You can speak with a live broker (there is a surcharge for any trades placed via the broker) and a financial advisor 
  • Non-U.S. residents cannot open an account  

Merrill Edge's phone line is available 24/7 for technical support and trading assistance. Calls start with an automated menu before being routed to a person, and Merrill Edge reports the average hold time is 90 seconds. Merrill Financial Solutions Advisors are available at Bank of America branches in most states for in-person assistance, or you can contact one via phone.

Security and Reliability

  • Biometric entry (fingerprint scanner or face recognition) for mobile devices.
  • Soft token for login and high-risk trade authorization available through text, phone, and email.
  • A device token is offered through the SafePass card for high-risk trade authorization.
  • Excess Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance provided by Lloyd's of London. There is an aggregate loss limit of $1 billion. 
  • No significant breaches were reported by the Identity Theft Research Center during 2020.
  • Merrill Edge states it had no material platform outages during 2020. It also reports that during the last four years, Bank of America has not experienced any material losses or other material consequences related to technology failure, cyber attacks, or other information or security breaches. 
  • For additional information regarding cyber risks, interested customers can view the disclosure in Bank of America Corporation's most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • Under the company's Fraud Protection Guarantee, Merrill Edge will reimburse you for "quantifiable monetary losses that occur in any of your Merrill Edge accounts due to unauthorized third-party activity."

Transparency

Merrill Edge's pricing page details self-directed trading fees and commissions, broken down by stocks & ETFs, options, mutual funds, and fixed income & bonds. You'll also find current margin rates, though you have to call for balance tiers $100k and above. If you scroll down, you can find additional fees and services by account type (investing, retirement, and education).

Our Verdict

Merrill Edge is a good choice for long-term investors, especially those who already have an account with Bank of America. The Preferred Rewards program offers discounts and perks that increase with your balance—so you could benefit by having deposit and investment accounts under the same roof. Merrill Edge offers high-quality proprietary and third-party research, a product line-up that should appeal to most investors, helpful customer service, an intuitive trading platform (MarketPro), and a solid mobile app.

Where Merrill Edge falls short is with the active trader crowd. The platform doesn't support advanced order types, you can't backtest or automate strategies, and there's no way to enter trades as fast as active traders would require. Also, the limited investment selection could be a deal-breaker for active traders who want access to futures, futures options, forex, or cryptocurrencies. If you don't need advanced platform capabilities and the product line-up suits your needs, Merrill Edge remains a solid choice as both a brokerage firm and a trading platform.

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Methodology

Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of online brokers. Our reviews are the result of months of evaluating all aspects of an online broker’s platform, including the user experience, the quality of trade executions, the products available on its platforms, costs and fees, security, the mobile experience and customer service. We established a rating scale based on our criteria, collecting thousands of data points that we weighed into our star-scoring system.

Click here to read our full methodology.