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Broker Reviews


Merrill Edge

Published by
On Monday, July 7th, 2014 .

Overview

Merrill Edge on the whole provides clients a well-rounded offering worth being a client for, especially Bank of America clients.

Dislikes

Advanced order types not supported; only supports up to two legged option spreads; direct market routing not available.

Merrill Lynch was acquired by Bank of America in January 2009 and Merrill Edge was formally launched in June 2010. Despite the acquisition, Merrill Edge is not restricted to clients from Bank of America. Instead, any investor can open a Merrill Edge account.

Naturally, there are synergies for those who are already clients of Bank of America. From viewing all accounts together to managing those accounts transferring funds, updating contact information, universal log-ins, etc. and qualifying for free monthly trades, Bank of America makes it an easy win for current banking customers.

Commissions & Fees

Merrill Edge is a full-service broker that offers equities and options trading. Regular stock trades are a flat $6.95 per trade with no additional charges for stocks less than $1 per share. Options trades cost $6.95, plus $.75 per contract. When compared to other full-service brokers such as TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, Charles Schwab, ETRADE, and Scottrade, Merrill Edge offers the lowest rates.

Merrill EdgeTD AmeritradeCharles SchwabFidelity ETRADE
Stock Trade Fee (flat)$6.95$9.99$8.95$7.95$9.99
Options Base Fee$6.95$9.99$8.95$7.95$9.99
Options Per Contract Fee$0.75$0.75$0.75$0.75$0.75
Mutual Fund Trade Fee$19.95$49.99$76.00$49.95$19.99
Commissions & Fees
Overall

Alongside its competitive commissions structure, Merrill Edge also offers something unique that its competitors do not: free trades. As long as clients maintain a $25,000 minimum cash balance in either their Merrill Edge account or a connected Bank of America account, they automatically qualify for up to 30 commission-free trades each month. Another way to receive the free monthly trades is by qualifying for Platinum Privileges ($50k combined Bank of America / Merrill Lynch balance). While we were not able to test execution quality or speed, free trades is a huge advantage for clients.

Customer Service

Through our testing of Merrill Edges phone and email support, we found the broker to be excellent. Merrill Edges phone support was No. 1 in our 2014 Review, and for good reason. Every broker rep we spoke to was friendly, knowledgeable, and professional. It is very apparent Merrill Edge trains its staff well and understands what it takes to provide consistent, high-quality support for its clients.

Our email support experience was similar the broker responded to all of our email inquiries within one business day, and had no problem answering our questions. In fact, the email templates Merrill Edge uses are so perfect that several times, especially when our answers required lengthy explanations, it felt like the emails were automated. Even so, we didnt mind one bit.

Merrill Edge finished No. 3 in email support, and No. 2 overall for customer service behind Fidelity Investments.

Research

Merrill Edge uses both Morningstar and Lippers as its primary research providers. Typically, online brokers use one or the other, so to see Merrill Edge use both is an extra benefit for clients.

Thanks to this dual provider offering, Merrill Edge's ETF and mutual funds research is very strong and extremely thorough. For example, pulling up a quote of SPY reveals not only the infamous Morningstar Style Map but also the Lipper Ratings as well.

Merrill Edge research ETFs

For equities research, pulling up a quote for Apple (AAPL) reveals three research report providers: Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Morningstar, and S&P Capital IQ. While offering clients a report from its own research group is unique, I found the report to be the weakest of the three. Furthermore, while three report providers is above average, it is still lower than the leading brokers in research, including Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and TD Ameritrade, which offer clients access to seven or more research reports.

Despite not having a large selection of report providers available to clients, Merrill Edge still offers clients great coverage of equities that will satisfy the vast majority. This includes both ETFs and mutual funds research, where we also found Merrill Edge excelled. Overall, while Merrill Edge trails its larger competitors, the broker still finished with a Best in Class finish in our 2014 Review.

Ease-of-Use

Thanks to being owned by Bank of America, Merrill Edge is a natural win for current clients. As a Bank of America client myself, I found the account opening process extremely straightforward. Much of my information was prefilled for me, which was a nice touch, and immediately after completing the application, funding the account was a breeze thanks to the account linking. Now when I log in to my Bank of America account, I can see all my bank, credit cards, loan, and investment accounts right on the same screen. If I want to access Merrill Edge, I simply click and go.

Focusing on the Merrill Edge website, the broker covers the main bases I expect to see: sitewide quote bar with sticky quotes (meaning they remain as you navigate the site, so you do not have to constantly keep re-entering the symbol) and real-time quotes. Looking ahead, however, it would be nice to see streaming real-time quotes not be limited to just the Streaming Quotes application.

I found navigating the website easy as the broker does a good job of organizing its primary navigation. Performing research, placing trades, and managing my account are also all very straight-forward. All in all, Merrill Edge makes it easy for clients to perform the tasks they want, when they want, and is an excellent fit for current Bank of America clients.

Other Notes

Merrill Edges offering for active traders is a mixed bag. While the broker does offer an active trader platform, Merrill Edge Market Pro, which is well built and has a variety of bells and whistles, the order options currently available to traders are very weak. Direct market routing is not available, nor are advanced order types such as conditional orders. The broker just began offering after hours trading in late 2013, and it is apparent they still have some work to do to attract active traders.

Merrill Edge MarketPro

On the mobile front, Merrill Edge supports both the Apple iPhone and iPad alongside Android smartphones. All things considered, I found the apps to be good, but not great. They accomplish their job by allowing clients to perform core actions: pull real-time quotes, see a chart, view their watchlists (syncing with the site is a nice plus), set alerts, and place basic trades. The apps could be kicked up a notch with the addition of customizable dashboards and streaming real-time quotes, for example.

Concluding Thoughts

Merrill Edge provides investors with several key highlights: excellent customer service, up to 30 commission-free trades each month with a $25,000 cash balance, and great ease-of-use for Bank of America clients. The primary drawbacks revolve around order entry capabilities: no conditional orders, max two legged options, and no direct market access.

The broker on the whole provides clients a well-rounded offering worth being a client for. Casual investors will find the broker to be a very good fit, and Bank of America clients will find the broker to be an excellent extension of the Bank of America brand.


Blain Reinkensmeyer

Reviewed by

Blain has been involved in the markets for over 12 years, heading StockBrokers.com equity broker research and reviews. His personal blog, StockTradingToGo.com, provides to-the-point daily market recaps to over 17,000 subscribers.

Commission Notes

Merrill Edge commissions structure details below:

Stock Trades - Flat rate $6.95. Receive up to 30 free trades per month with a cash balance of atleast $25,000 or by qualifying for Platinum Privileges ($50k combined Bank of America / Merrill Edge balance). After hours trades are supported but trailing stops and contingent orders are not. There is no additional charge for trading stocks under $1 or OTCBB.

Options Trades - $6.95 + $.75 per contract.

Mutual Funds - $19.95 per trade. Any sale within 90 days of purchase results in a $39.95 early redemption fee.

International Trading - International Trading not currently offered.

Other Investments - Merrill Edge does not support futures and forex.

Trade Commissions Breakdown

$6.95 Stock Trade Fee (flat)*
N/A Stock Trade Fee (per share)*
$6.95 Options Base Fee*
$0.75 Options Per Contract Fee*
$6.95 Options Exercise Fee
$6.95 Options Assignment Fee
$19.95 Mutual Fund Trade Fee
$29.95 Broker Assisted Trades Fee
$0.00 Minimum Deposit

Margin Rates

8.63% Under $24,999.99
7.50% $25,000.00 to 49,999.99
7.50% $50,000.00 to $99,999.99
6.13% $100,000.00 to $249,999.99
6.13% $250,000.00 to $499,999.99
5.88% $500,000.00 to $999,999.99
5.25% Above $1,000,000.00

Miscellaneous Fees

N/A Bond Trade Fee
N/A Treasury Trade Fee
$0.00 CD Trade Fee
$29.95 IVR Trade Fee
$0.00 IRA Annual Fee
$49.95 IRA Closure FEe
N/A Forced Margin Sellout Fee
$30.00 Returned ACH Fee
$0.00 Returned Wire Fee
$25.00 Stock Certificate Processing Fee
$0.00 Stock Certificate Delivery Fee
$5.00 Paper Statement Fee
$3.00 Paper Confirmation Fee
$24.95 Domestic Wire Fee
$24.95 International Wire Fee

Broker Ratings

Overall
Commissions & Fees
Ease of Use
Research
Platforms & Tools
Customer Service
Mobile Trading
Offering of Investments
Education

Broker Awards

2014

Merrill Edge finished #3 Overall with 4.5 stars; Best in Class for Commissions & Fees, Research, and Customer Service; Was awarded #1 for Banking Services. Read the 2014 Online Broker Review.

Offering of Investments

Yes Stock Trading
Yes Options Trading
Yes Mutual Funds
Forex Trading
Futures Trading
Yes OTCBB / Pink Sheets
Yes DRIPs
Yes After Hours Trading
0 Commission Free ETFs
1500 Retail Locations
5174 Mutual Funds (Load)
2200 Mutual Funds (No Load)
1861 Mutual Funds (NTF)
9235 Mutual Funds (Total)
2 Complex Options Max Legs
Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Clearing Firm
Yes No Inactivity Fees
Yes No Minimum Deposit
Yes No Fee IRAs
Yes Broker Assisted Trades

Research

Mutual Funds Research
Yes Pink Sheets / OTCBB Research
Yes Fixed Income Research
Yes Global Market Overview
Yes Equity Research - SEC Filings
Yes ETF Research - Top 10 Holdings
Yes ETF Research - 3rd Party Reports
Yes Fund Research - Strategy Overview
Yes Fund Research - 3rd Party Reports
Yes Fund Research - Fees Breakdown
Yes Fund Research - 3rd Party Ratings
Yes Screener - Stocks
Yes Screener - ETFs
Yes Screener - Funds
Yes Screener - Options
Yes Screener - Bonds

Banking

Yes Checking Accounts
Yes Savings Accounts
Yes Credit Cards
Yes Debit Cards
Yes Mortgage Loans
Yes Retail Locations
Yes No Fee Banking
Yes Mobile Check Deposit
ATM Fee Reimbursement

Customer Service

Yes Phone Support
Yes Email Support
Yes Live Chat (prospect clients)
Yes Live Chat (current clients)
Yes 24/7 Support

Recommended For

Yes Best in Class Commissions & Fees
Best in Class Platforms & Tools
Yes Best in Class Research
Yes Best in Class Customer Service
Best in Class Ease of Use
Best in Class Investor Education
Best in Class Mobile Trading
Best in Class Active Trading
Best in Class Options Trading
Best in Class New Investors

Mobile Trading

Yes iPhone App
Yes iPad App
Yes Android App
Yes Mobile Site

Platforms & Tools

Virtual Trading
Yes Web Platform
Desktop Platform
Mac Platform
Yes Platform Backtesting
Trade Hot Keys
Yes Streaming Time & Sales
Level 2 Quotes
Streaming CNBC TV
Yes Sitewide Real-time Quotes
Yes Watchlist Streaming Real-time Quotes
Yes Options - Chains Basic View
Yes Options - Chains Spreads View
Yes Options - Greeks Analysis

Active Trading

Internalizes Trades
Receives Payment for Order Flow
Direct Market Routing (Stocks)
Client Liquidity Rebates
3800 # of Easy to Borrow Stocks

Education

Yes Investor Dictionary
Yes Live Seminars
Investor Community

Compare Merrill Edge:



All pricing data was obtained from a published web site as of 04/07/2014 and is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed. The StockBrokers.com staff is constantly working with its online broker representatives to obtain the latest pricing data. If you believe any data listed above is inaccurate, please contact us using the link at the top of this page. * For stock trade rates, advertised pricing is for a standard order size of 500 shares of stock priced at $30 per share. For options orders, an options regulatory fee per contract may apply.

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