Vanguard vs Merrill Edge

Vanguard vs Merrill Lynch/Edge


Vanguard or Merrill Lynch/Edge/Bank of America - which is better in 2021? Compare IRA/Roth accounts, online investing fees, stock broker mutual fund rates, and differences.



Merrill Lynch vs Vanguard Introduction


Who is the better broker, Vanguard or Merrill Edge? Vanguard does well for retirement savings and fund investing; while Merrill Edge outperforms in the realms of software and active trading. With Bank of America backing it, Merrill Edge also has better cash management tools than Vanguard.


Pricing


Broker Fees Stock/ETF
Commission
Mutual Fund
Commission
Options
Commission
Maintenance
Fee
Annual IRA
Fee
Merrill Edge $0 $19.99 $0.65 per contract $0 $0
Vanguard $0 $20 $1.00 per contract $20* $20*
Ally Invest $0 $9.95 $0.50 per contract $0 $0


Services


Broker Review Cost Investment Products Trading Tools Customer Service Research Overall Rating
Merrill Edge
Vanguard
Ally Invest


Promotions


Merrill Edge: Get up to $600 when you open a new Merrill Edge account with at least $20,000.

Vanguard: none.

Ally Invest: Up to $3,500 cash bonus + $0 commission trades.



Pros and Cons of Merrill Edge


Merrill Edge is the low-cost alternative to the more expensive Merrill Lynch. On top of its inexpensive portfolio management, Merrill Edge also provides self-directed accounts that will appeal to active traders.

Merrill Edge’s advantages are:

  • Very good software
  • Banking resources
  • Inexpensive financial planning
  • Linking to Bank of America accounts
  • Free FICO score

The broker’s weaknesses include:

  • Hasn’t yet rolled out a robo advisor
  • It’s list of mutual funds is rather small


Pros and Cons of Vanguard


Vanguard started off pretty much the opposite of Merrill Edge; it was a long-term buy-and-hold broker. But now with a $0 commission schedule, it could be used for active trading. Plus, it has launched an investment-advisory program.

Vanguard’s highlights include:

  • Good selection of mutual funds
  • Low-cost financial planning service

Vanguard’s downsides include:

  • Underdeveloped software
  • Over-emphasis of Vanguard funds
  • Small accounts still pay higher prices in some situations

Now we’ll see what these two firms look like when pitted against each other in vital categories.


Securities Offered


Both brokerage houses offer the same cornucopia of tradable instruments:

  • Options
  • Stocks (plus penny and over-the-counter securities)
  • Mutual and closed-end funds
  • ETFs
  • Fixed-income instruments

Winner: Draw


Websites


A good place to start trading at either broker is on its website. Vanguard’s isn’t overly complicated; during our probing, we found it difficult to navigate at times. There is a search field at the top of the site that simplifies the process somewhat.


Vanguard or Merrill Edge


To actually place a trade, you need to search for a security using a company’s name or ticker symbol in the search box just mentioned. Doing so will produce a new page with a small info box containing buy and sell links. At this point, you can also click on the company’s name and move to the full profile.

On a security’s profile, there strangely is no trade button. Instead, Vanguard places a link in the right-hand column that says Trade this stock. This is how you get Vanguard’s order ticket. We would prefer an actual trade button prominently displayed on the profile, but Vanguard didn’t ask us.

The order ticket provides real-time quote data, which is a must. There are also links that explain the order types and how to place a trade.

The Merrill Edge trade ticket has more trade types than Vanguard’s. Plus, its site is easier to navigate, thanks to a well-designed top menu and tile format. Like Vanguard’s site, the Merrill site also has a search bar at the top. Unlike Vanguard’s site, Merrill Edge puts a trade button on every security profile.

Winner: Merrill Edge


Desktop Software


Now we come to desktop platforms. Vanguard clients get nothing at all, while Merrill Edge traders have access to MarketPro. This advanced program delivers a very good trading experience, although it does take a bit of practice to learn. Here are a few highlights:


Merrill Lynch vs Vanguard


  • Level 2 data
  • Portfolio analysis widget
  • The day’s market movers
  • Watchlist
  • Good charting program with many tools
  • Order ticket with several trade types (although direct-access routing isn’t available)

Winner: Merrill Edge


Mobile Apps


Merrill Edge continues its impressive software performance with its mobile app, which delivers free bill pay and mobile check deposit. For trading, there are 8 order types and 2 time-in-force choices. There is an alternate ticket for extended hours, and options and mutual funds have their own tickets as well.


Merrill Lynch or Vanguard


Graphs on Merrill’s app offer a decent amount of sophistication, including:

  • 4 graph styles
  • More than 30 technical studies
  • Company events (such as stock splits)

While Vanguard’s website was rather underwhelming, its mobile app doesn’t impress, either. Believe it or not, there are no graphs for stocks and funds. There is a graph of account value, and market indexes have graphs as well.


Vanguard or Merrill Edge


On the plus side, Vanguard’s software does incorporate a mobile check deposit tool, and account documents can be viewed and saved in pdf format. Vanguard’s order ticket offers 4 order types and 2 duration choices.

Winner: Merrill Edge


Options Trading


Vanguard provides option chains on its website. These are for calls and puts only; there are no complex strategies.

Merrill Edge customers have much, much more. The broker’s website delivers an option strategy builder, a screener, explanations of option spreads, and profit-loss graphs. MarketPro offers even more; incorporated is OptionsPlay, a very useful derivative platform.

Winner: Merrill Edge


Fund Investing


Although both brokerage firms offer trading in ETFs, resources differ dramatically. The Vanguard site has scant information on them, although the broker does have an ETF screener. It’s actually combined with its mutual fund screener.

During our investigation, the tool returned 2,346 ETFs available for trading, while Merrill’s showed 2,345. Merrill’s screener has more search criteria by far. Merrill also has more ETF resources, including an ETF center and a list of recommended ETF trades.

As for mutual funds, we found 6,419 at Vanguard; Merrill’s mutual fund screener returned a much lower 3,098. But before jumping on the Vanguard bandwagon, you should be aware that Merrill’s site has better mutual fund profiles. For example, the broker posts ratings from both Lipper and Morningstar; while Vanguard offers neither.

Winner: Draw


Financial Education


Vanguard’s website and YouTube channel collectively have many educational videos; these are good resources if you need to brush up on investing topics. Examples include:

- How dynamic is your retirement spending strategy? (1:12)
- Principles for investing success (1:39)
Interest rates outlook: Lower for longer (3:09)

Vanguard’s website also has podcasts and a number of articles on a variety of topics. The broker-dealer sends out an e-newsletter, and its blog has recent posts.

Merrill Edge doesn’t have a YouTube channel, although its website does have educational videos. We also found articles, calculators, webinars, and self-guided courses.

The Merrill site offers the ability to sort through materials by education level (beginner, intermediate, or advanced), topic (e.g., stocks or annuities), and format (articles, calculators, courses, or videos/webinars).

What we really liked on Merrill’s site was self-guided courses courtesy of Morningstar. It’s easy to browse through these, take a quiz, and save a course. Examples include:

- Introduction to Financial Statements
- Start Thinking Like an Analyst
- Economic Moats

Winner: Tie


Miscellaneous Services


Dividend reinvestment program: Both firms in this clash have DRIP services.

IRAs: Individual Retirement Accounts are available at both Vanguard and Merrill Edge. Both brokers also charge IRA fees in various situations.

Automatic mutual fund investing: Each brokerage house offers periodic mutual fund investing. However, Vanguard only offers it for Vanguard-branded products.

Winner: Merrill Edge


Now, Our Recommendations


Stock trading: Merrill Edge.

Beginners: Merrill Edge.

Small accounts: Merrill Edge.

Long-term investors and retirement savers: Either.


Promotions


Merrill Edge: Get up to $600 when you open a new Merrill Edge account with at least $20,000.

Vanguard: none.

Ally Invest: Up to $3,500 cash bonus + $0 commission trades.



Merrill Lynch vs Vanguard Results


Vanguard’s funds aren’t enough to give the broker an edge over powerhouse Merrill. Fund investors nevertheless can do well at Vanguard, but the broker needs a major software overall to be competitive. Value oriented investors can find a better deal at Ally Invest.