Merrill Lynch vs TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade vs Merrill Edge


Merrill Lynch or TD Ameritrade - which is better in 2019? Compare IRA/Roth accounts, online investing fees, stock broker mutual fund rates, and differences.



Overview


Before opening a brokerage account with either TD Ameritrade or Merrill Edge, be sure to thoroughly evaluate them in key areas. We’ve done all the groundwork for you.


Pricicng


Broker Fees Stock/ETF
Commission
Mutual Fund
Commission
Options
Commission
Maintenance
Fee
Annual IRA
Fee
TD Ameritrade $0 $49.95 $0 + $0.65 per contract $0 $0
Merrill Edge $6.95 $19.99 $6.95 + $0.75 per contract $0 $0


Services


Broker Review Cost Investment Products Trading Tools Customer Service Research Overall Rating
TD Ameritrade
Merrill Edge


Promotions


TD Ameritrade: Trade stocks and ETFs for free + get up to $600 bonus.

Merrill Edge: none right now.



Trading Software


This is going to be a close category because both firms have good trading tools. On the Merrill Edge side, we were impressed with the company’s website after we logged into our trial account. We were able to submit trades for equities using the broker’s trade bar, which appears at the bottom of the screen. One weakness it has is the inability to trade options. We did like the pop-up chart on the trade bar. Another plus is data similar to Level II quotes.


Merrill Lynch vs Ameritrade


Another great tool on the Merrill site is a quote box that displays a drop-down menu for an entered ticker symbol. Vital information is displayed here, such as Morningstar and CFRA ratings, the ex-dividend date, the day’s volume, and the bid-ask spread. A trade button appears here and on a security’s profile page. Clicking on it produces a simple trade form on a new web page (not on the trade bar). Trailing and extended-hours orders are available.

Although Merrill doesn’t offer a browser platform, it does have a desktop program. Called Merrill Edge MarketPro®, it provides some very sophisticated tools. We found multiple watchlists, advanced charting with technical tools, option chains with other derivative tools, customization, and much more. Missing on the software’s trade ticket is direct-access routing, something we would hope to see at this level.

We found similar trading technology inside our TD Ameritrade account. The first difference is that its trade bar is able to submit orders for options. Another difference is that the trade bar’s chart doesn’t offer multiple timeframes (Merrill’s does). A third difference is that TD Ameritrade’s bar offers a basic mode where orders can be quickly typed. For example, we were able to sell 40 shares of Facebook at a limit price of $131.02 by typing s40fb131.02.


TD Ameritrade vs Merrill Lynch


TD Ameritrade’s desktop system is thinkorswim. One difference between it and MarketPro is that Merrill Edge restricts the platform to active traders, while TD Ameritrade offers its platforms to all customers. Another difference is that thinkorswim offer direct-access routing. We also found more technical studies on thinkorswim.


Mobile Platforms


For on-the-go trading, Merrill Edge offers an app for Android and Apple devices. It has tools for bill pay, check deposit, and funds transfer. It’s one of the few apps to offer educational materials. A chart can be rotated horizontally, and offers several tools, such as technical studies, company events, and comparisons. Mutual funds and options can be traded on the app (although multi-leg strategies are missing).


Ameritrade vs Merrill Lynch


There are three mobile apps at TD Ameritrade. Two of them are designed for advanced traders. These two come with professional-level charting with lots of technical studies. Complex orders are available along with direct-access routing. We also found option chains and the ability to trade multi-leg strategies, such as strangles, iron condors, and calendars.


TD Ameritrade vs Schwab


The third TD Ameritrade app offers mutual fund trading, mobile check deposit, and funds transfer (but not bill pay). In addition to live streaming of CNBC, there is also a TD Ameritrade Network feed.


Investment Advice and Portfolio Management


TD Ameritrade offers several investment-advisory services. The first is a computer program that buys and sells ETF’s with low expense ratios. This package is 30 basis points per year and requires $5,000 to sign up. Traditional management varies between 0.20% and 0.90% with a variety of minimum balance requirements.

Merrill Edge doesn’t have a robo advisor, but it does offer traditional packages starting at just 0.45% with a $5,000 minimum. Higher minimums and fees produce better options, such as a one-on-one working relationship with a Merrill Edge financial planner.


Account Types and Financial Instruments


At Merrill Edge, traders can buy and sell ETF’s, stocks, derivatives, fixed-income products, and mutual funds. Besides IRA’s, we found self-employed 401(k)’s, annuities, UGMA/UTMA accounts, and 529 college savings plans. TD Ameritrade clients get everything Merrill Edge customers get plus futures and forex trading.


Mutual Funds and ETF’s


Using TD Ameritrade’s mutual fund screener, we found around 13,000 securities that were open to new investors. Nearly 4,000 of them carry no load and no transaction fee. On the ETF side, the broker offers all ETF's commission-free.


Ameritrade or Merrill Edge


The mutual fund screener at Merrill Edge shows just 3,141 funds available for purchase. On this list, only 697 are no-load, no-transaction-fee products.


Merrill Lynch vs TD Ameritrade


As for fund resources, we really like Merrill Edge’s Select Funds. This is a list of funds (both mutual and exchange-traded) screened by Merrill Lynch financial professionals that are expected to outperform their peers. Access to the list is free of charge. Screeners on both websites have many search criteria and are user-friendly.


Banking Features


Both brokerage houses in our survey are affiliated with banks. This, however, does not necessarily mean they provide great cash management features.

Merrill Edge offers checks and a debit card with zero fees. They are attached to an existing brokerage account, so they don’t create a separate account or a bank account.

TD Ameritrade customers also have access to free checks and a debit card. Like Merrill, they aren’t connected to a separate account. TD Ameritrade reimburses ATM fees from any machine in the United States, whereas Merrill restricts its policy to Bank of America machines.

Both brokerage firms offer FDIC sweep programs, SIPC cash protection, and money market mutual funds as options for uninvested cash. TD Ameritrade’s FDIC program doubles the normal $250,000 insurance by using two programs banks.


Customer Service


Both brokerage firms in our investigation offer customer service around the clock. The TD Ameritrade website has an artificial intelligence named Ted who is capable of answering many questions. If Ted doesn’t answer your question, there’s a link to a human chat service with his answer. Unfortunately, Merrill Edge hasn’t yet launched a robo chat service; although it has added a human chat service that is up certain hours of the day. We received accurate service during a trial.

Although Bank of America has thousands of branches, Merrill Edge has zero. Customers who sign up for portfolio management can access a Merrill financial advisor at some Bank of America locations. These do not provide customer service for general issues, however. TD Ameritrade, on the other hand, manages over 450 brick-and-mortar locations that provide customer service for inventors who want to bypass phone and online services.


Recommendation


For retirement savers, we recommend TD Ameritrade over its rival. Merrill charges a $49.95 fee to close an IRA, whereas TD Ameritrade does not.

Mutual fund investors should stick with TD Ameritrade as well. Merrill’s selection is just too small, and its no-fee fund list is even worse.

If you need advanced software tools, we suggest TD Ameritrade over its competitor. While Merrill does have good trading tools, they are a level below TD Ameritrade’s.

The one area where we can recommend Merrill Edge over TD Ameritrade is for Bank of America customers who have at least $50,000 in combined bank/brokerage balances. Merrill offers free trades to these clients.


Promotions


TD Ameritrade: Trade stocks and ETFs for free + get up to $600 bonus.

Merrill Edge: none right now.



Merrill Edge vs TD Ameritrade: Which is Better?


Compared to many brokerage firms, Merrill Edge is a good choice. But compared to TD Ameritrade, it doesn’t quite measure up in most categories. Bank of America customers who qualify for free trades can get a great value, though.