I have reviewed a lot of brokerages throughout the years. All of the reviews have been based on my personal experience with the services. The personal experience and ideas is a main point of what I write about on this site too. I try to spread out my assets between several brokerage accounts, for additional diversification and peace of mind.
Over the past few years, I have opened and maintained an account with Merrill Edge. After a few years of contributions, the balance is set to exceed $50,000 for the first time. Why is that important?
Well for starters, Merrill Edge will provide me with 30 free trades per month, provided that I have at least a $50,000 combined balance between my Merrill Edge brokerage account and my Bank of America checking account. You need to have a Bank of America checking account, in order to take advantage of this bundled deal. When you have a checking account, the fees are waived, as long as you still have at least $50,000 in combined assets. Once you reach $50,000 in assets for three months in a row, you become part of their platinum preferred rewards tier. The value of your stocks, bonds and ETFs/funds counts towards that combined balance calculation.
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There are other perks for meeting the platinum tier. Namely, if you have a credit card with Bank of America, and you deposit your rewards point into a Bank of America checking account, you get a 50% bonus on it. Therefore, if you spent $100 on gas and were eligible to earn 3% cash back on gasoline purchases, you will receive $4.50 worth of rewards when you convert and deposit those rewards into your Bank of America checking account. You are also eligible for free 12 ATM withdrawals/year. There are also some bonuses on certain other products.
If you do not meet these requirement, you will pay $6.95 per stock trade. Even if you meet the requirements for free stock trades however, you will still pay $6.95/trade + $0.75 per option contract if you trade options through Merrill Edge.
Another way to qualify for 30 free stock trades per month is if you have $25,000 or more in combined balances in your Bank of America deposit accounts or $25,000 or more in combined cash balances in your Merrill Edge self-directed Merrill Edge online brokerage accounts and/or IRA accounts. I am not interested in having $25,000 in cash sit in a low yielding checking or brokerage account, in order to save a few bucks on trades. There is an opportunity cost of having so much cash sitting unproductively on my balance sheet. After all, you can easily earn $750/year from dividends alone from a portfolio of companies. This is enough to pay for my trading for several years in a row. Since we are long-term investors, we want the best offers that will provide free trades for the assets we have already accumulated.
On a side note, if you have a combined assets exceeding an average of$100,000 for three months in a row, you become a part of Merrill Edge’s platinum honors tier. You will be eligible for 100 free stock trades per month. This is more trades than what a serious dividend investor would need for several years, but it is still good to know that they are there if you need them for whatever reason.
If you have a credit card with Bank of America, and you deposit your rewards point into a Bank of America checking account, you get a 75% bonus on it at the Platinum Honors Tier. Therefore, if you spent $100 on gas and were eligible to earn 3% cash back on gasoline purchases, you will receive $5.25 worth of rewards when you convert and deposit those rewards into your Bank of America checking account. You are also eligible for unlimited ATM withdrawals at no cost. There are also some bonuses on certain other products.
Right now, Merrill Edge offers some cash bonuses to investors who open a new account, and fund it with a certain amount of cash or assets within 45 days of opening. You will also get up to 300 commission free trades to be used within 90 days of opening the account, if you use offer code “ME600” There are several tiers for rewards:
Cash reward Qualifying assets
So if you open a new account and transfer $20,000 to it, you will receive $100 bonus along with up to 300 free trades.
Other than that, Merrill Edge is a pretty easy to use brokerage account. It allows you to buy and sell stocks and ETF’s. The interface is easy to use. You can reinvest dividends automatically, and also research companies.
The brokerage is safe, SIPC insured, and backed by Bank of America. I think that this brokerage account would be a good fit for plenty of dividend investors out there.
You can easily link other accounts to your broker – such as your Bank of America ones.
Transferring money from my checking to my brokerage account is easy. If it is an outside account, just link the bank account to the brokerage by inputting the ACH and account numbers.
I have had some minor issues transferring assets from another broker to Merrill Edge. They required that certain paper forms be printed and sent back to Merrill Edge either by upload, by fax or by mail. I chose to upload documents, but for whatever reason the brokerage could not read all the documents (even though they scanned and uploaded crystally clear on my end). Of course, it is possible that I have been spoiled by Interactive Brokers, where asset transfers from another brokerage are just a couple of clicks away. I definitely prefer not having to fill online forms, print them, sign them, and figure out a way to send them either by scanning and uploading, faxing or mailing. I just do not have a lot of time for extra hassle. Of course, if you are after the $100 bonus, then this exercise might be worth your time.
The other thing I do not like about Merrill Edge is that their representatives are calling me at least once every six months to check how I am doing (especially as my level of assets there is increasing). I believe they are doing this to upsell me on their investment management services, but I find it to be a waste of my. I have had experiences with other brokers such as Interactive Brokers, Fidelity, Schwab, Tradeking, Etrade, and they have never really called me for anything other than specific issues. Of course, none of those brokers has offered 30 free trades each month, so I guess that is the price to pay.
Have you used Merrill Edge before? What have your experiences been?