Merrill Edge Safety Review: How Secure is Your Information?

Laptop, magnifier, box with archive folders and a padlock on top of the laptop with score bar showing 9.3/10

Launched by Bank of America, Merrill Edge is a secure investment app with backing from one of the largest banks in the United States. It’s the most convenient app for existing BofA customers and it’s also one of the few no-commission trading platforms available today.

More than 57 million users and small businesses trust their trading and brokerage accounts to the Merrill Edge platform and app. Think you might be interested in joining the ranks? Have a look at our full breakdown of just how safe and secure the platform is.


Merrill Edge: Short Review

ProsCons
Strong, clear Fraud Protection Guarantee against unauthorized activityParent company Bank of America has some aggressive personal data-sharing marketing strategies
Two-factor authentication for login from new devices (SMS or email code)128-bit encryption is solid but could be stronger
Biometric authentication for mobile app (facial ID or fingerprint)No cryptocurrency trading
No significant data breaches in 2020 or 2021
No platform outages in 2020 or 2021
No financial or material losses in past four years due to technology failure, cyberattacks, or data or security breaches
Easily integrated with Bank of America for existing customers
SIPC-insured up to $500,000 for securities, up to $250,000 cash. Additional coverage through Lloyd’s of London up to $1 billion

Merrill Edge is a trading platform that provides the necessary security and safety required from stock trading apps. Currently, you can only open an account if you’re residing in the United States, and people with foreign citizenship may need to provide a copy of their green card.

For US-based traders and existing Bank of America customers, Merrill is the best option, especially if you’re looking to keep your financial activity under one roof. Merrill Edge also gets plus points for being one of the few no-commission trading platforms on the market and for not engaging in payment-for-order flow.

In terms of security, we can give Merrill Edge a strong recommendation, with the following caveat: be sure to disable your cookies while on the website. Merrill Edge will collect plenty of data from you otherwise.

Score scale 9/10

All in all, we rate Merrill Edge a solid 9/10. With this score, it earns the number 1 spot in our list of best investing apps. If secure trading is your top concern, then Merrill is what we recommend. You may have to sacrifice crypto trading, but you do get a highly satisfying and convenient experience, especially if you’re already a Bank of America client.

Visit Merrill Edge

Merrill Edge Specifications

FeaturesSpecifications
Investment choicesStocks, ETFs, options, mutual funds, annuities, certificates of deposit, and bonds
Investment minimum$0
Fees per trade$0
Stock per trade$0
Options trade$0 + $0.65 per contract
Account feesNo annual fee, inactivity fee, transfer fee, and closing fee for brokerage accounts. $49.95 fee for retirement accounts.
Cryptocurrency access
Customer support24/7 customer service
Fraud protection
Mobile appAndroid and iOS

Safety: Is Merrill Edge Secure?

Score image showing 10/10

Investors looking for a secure online app will find one in Merrill Edge, which scores a 10 out of 10 in safety. Bank of America, Merrill Edge’s parent company, has a high A rating from independent cybersecurity reviewer UpGuard, scoring 912 out of 950. BofA takes the cybersecurity steps needed to protect its site and platforms from outside hacks and attacks.

It also provides users with the features needed to protect their Merrill Edge accounts from unauthorized transactions. Moreover, the company has a stronger and clearer fraud protection guarantee than any other brokerage out there. Mix that with good cybersecurity educational resources and encouragement, and you’ve got one of the safest apps on the market.

Merrill Edge security features

Merrill Edge has the cybersecurity features necessary to keep your securities and funds safe from outside attacks, and they’ve also provided essential tools for you to protect yourself.

Here’s a rundown of what Merrill Edge offers you security-wise:

  • Two-factor authentication: Using a code sent to your authentication app, email, or via SMS, Merrill Edge can offer an additional layer of security for logins or additional identity verification. If the platform thinks your activity is suspicious, you may be prompted to answer security questions you set up during registration.
  • Biometric logins: For mobile logins, users can use fingerprint or facial recognition scans.
  • High-grade encryption: Strong encryption creates a safe connection between Merrill Edge’s site and your browser, or the app and your device. Any transmitted data, including passwords, biometrics, transactions, and financial and otherwise sensitive personal data, is coded and can’t be read by third parties.
  • Personal authorization code: Merrill Edge gives you the option to create a personal authorization code for phone or online confirmations. You can access this option in your privacy and security settings. We recommend activating it.
  • Automatic logouts: If you’ve been inactive for a while, Merrill Edge logs you out automatically so potential unauthorized users can’t access your account.
  • Failed logins: After a certain amount of attempted logins (usually three), Merrill Edge will automatically block access to your account. Calling or emailing customer support can get you back in. This protects against password-guessing software, brute force attacks, and hacking attempts.
  • Free fraud protection software: Merrill Edge and Bank of America offer customers free fraud protection software from IBM’s Security Trusteer Rapport. Rapport works with your existing antivirus program and provides additional protection against malicious sites that might try to steal your online ID, password, and other sensitive data.
  • Informational website: The Merrill Edge website offers plenty of cybersecurity tips and guides. The platform is very transparent about how it uses your personal information, though the company tends to do some aggressive marketing with it.

Is your money safe with Merrill Edge?

Merrill Edge provides heavyweight security to protect itself from outside attacks. The security features we mentioned above are there to protect your account and funds (so you should activate them all).

Is your money safe iconWe’re fond of Merrill Edge’s Fraud Protection Guarantee. Many online brokerages aren’t as clear when it comes to unauthorized transactions. Let’s say you fall victim to a phishing attempt, and someone sells shares of stock and transfers them out of the account. If Merrill Edge can clearly establish you did not intentionally make or approve the transactions, they’ll reimburse you.

In the case of Bank of America’s or Merrill Edge’s bankruptcy, your funds are protected by government-approved organizations and government agencies.

  • Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC): All major brokerages should be covered by SIPC insurance. Your securities are minimally protected up to $500,000 or $250,000 in cash. Merrill Edge offers an “excess” of SIPC coverage through Lloyd’s of London, as well. Up to $1 billion in aggregated losses after SIPC is exhausted.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates Merrill Edge. The SEC is a government agency that regulates financial markets while upholding US finance laws, imposing penalties, and taking legal action against violators.
  • Financial Industry Regulatory Authority: Merrill Edge is a member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). FINRA is a government-approved nonprofit that works with the SEC to identify fraud and other misconduct, oversee brokerages, and prevent investor losses.

Has Merrill Edge had a data breach?

Merrill Edge has a solid track record in its cybersecurity practices. At the time of writing, Merrill Edge and Bank of America have had no significant data breaches or consequences from cyberattacks or tech failures. No customers have experienced financial loss from outside cyber attackers or data breaches at the time of writing.

Its parent company, Bank of America last experienced a data breach in 2012. Credit cards were reportedly exposed in a breach of a third-party merchant that Bank of America worked closely with. In 2011, a Bank of America insider cost the company nearly $10 million after selling customer data to criminals. Since these incidents, no significant breaches have occurred that resulted in financial loss for customers or the bank itself.


Privacy: How Does Merrill Edge Handle Data?

Score scale 8/10

State and federal laws require that you provide your most closely-protected sensitive information when signing up for a brokerage account. There’s no way to get around that.

Luckily, Merrill Edge offers the necessary cybersecurity and encryption protocols to protect information such as social security and bank account numbers. They do, however, also collect tons of other information to identify your devices and can even pinpoint your GPS location. Merrill Edge uses this kind of data collection for fraud prevention (such as checking to see if you were at an ATM or local branch for a transaction).

Still, if you don’t want some of this data collected, you’ll have to contact Merrill Edge to opt out. For these reasons, we gave Merrill Edge a score of 8 out of 10 for privacy.

What information does Merrill Edge collect?

Here is some of the info Merrill Edge collects when you sign up for an account.

  • Identifying information: Your social security number, date of birth, account numbers, driver’s license, and government ID number
  • Contact information: Name, email, mailing addresses, and telephone number
  • Financial data: Income information, credit scores, and other financial info
  • Access authorization data: User names, alias, PINs, passcodes, and security questions and their answers

Merrill Edge also collects information from your computer and mobile devices. If your privacy settings are lax on your browser or operating system, they’ll pull data from there, such as:

  • Device identifiers: Your IP address, Media Access Control, timestamps, and logins.
  • Browsers: Browser type, version, language, and screen settings
  • Site and app interaction: Pages you visit, links you click, and patterns such as keystrokes, mouse clicks, movements, swipes, and other gestures
  • Advertisement interaction: Clicks and responses to the ads on their site or app
  • Search queries: Search and voice-to-text queries within the mobile app
  • Geolocation data: GPS location
  • Social media: Social media preferences
  • Transactions: Amount of the transaction, date and time it was executed, and the type of transaction

How does Merrill Edge use your information?

How does investment apps use my data icon

Some data Merrill Edge collects is used for advertising purposes, while other information is used for functionality on the platform. Usage, location, and device data might be used to tailor the app and advertising to your preferences. It could also serve to protect your account from fraud. Of course, your personal and contact data might be retrieved and used when using their services, products, and customer service.

Here are some other ways Merrill Edge might use and share your information, according to their privacy policy:

  • Sharing with third-party services: Merrill Edge needs outside companies to perform services for them. This could be fraud protection agencies, tax and accounting firms, identification verification services, or outside marketing agencies. Merrill Edge’s privacy policy states it can and will share data with companies they have agreements with to offer financial products and services.
  • Analytics and marketing purposes: This wouldn’t include your identifying info, but usage, location, and device data might be used for market research and marketing purposes.
  • Advertising: Whether it’s through cookies gathered online or usage data gathered from your device, Merrill Edge can create interest-based advertising for you. You can block cookies in your browser and tweak your privacy settings to put a damper on this kind of collection.
  • Legal concerns: If required by law, Merrill Edge will also give your personal data over to the government and authorities.
  • Fraud protection: Many users are wary of giving up so much information to a company. While it may feel invasive, data like your GPS location, IP address, and device identifiers can be used to confirm whether or not it was you who made a fraudulent transaction.

How does Merrill Edge make money?

Merrill Edge is one of the few stock trading apps that doesn’t sell your data to third-party firms. One of the biggest money-makers for brokerages that offer no-commission trades is a business practice called “payment-for-order-flow.” It’s important to note that Merrill Edge is one of the few investment apps that doesn’t make its money through payment-for-order flow. This means that users can invest and trade, knowing that their data won’t be used for Wall Street profits.

Merrill Edge doesn’t charge any fees or commissions for ETF, equities, or OTCBB trades. There are also no hidden annual fees. The company makes its money elsewhere, such as off of interest from margin lending and fees for actions performed on the platform.

How to use Merrill Edge as anonymously as possible

If you want to use Merrill Edge without giving away more information than necessary, you can take the following actions:

  • Disable cookies in your browser to prevent much of your usage data from being collected, stored, and used. Tracking cookies and other tracking technology can store all kinds of data from your device. This could be your internet service provider, IP address, type of device and operating system, which browser you’re using, date and time stamp, and a unique device or account ID.
  • Change your privacy settings. As a Bank of America company, Merrill Edge allows you to change your privacy settings through the BoA privacy choices page here. You’ll be able to set preferences on how Bank of America and Merrill Edge use your data for marketing and information sharing. We weren’t able to adjust privacy settings within the app or website themselves.
  • Contact Merrill Edge’s customer service to opt-out of certain kinds of data collection. You can also call 1-888-341-5000 or visit any Bank of America or Merrill Lynch Wealth Management systems in person.

Although, due to the nature of investment apps, it won’t be possible to use Merrill Edge completely anonymously, these actions will help you keep control of the information the company has about you and how they use it.


Usability: How User-Friendly is Merrill Edge?

Score scale 9.5/10
Merrill Edge has an extremely easy-to-use interface on both its browser and mobile platforms, and the signup process for Merrill Edge is pretty straightforward. Their customer service is also stellar, with a broad range of choices, from live chat to email and landline. Overall, Merrill Edge’s usability nets 9.5 out of 10.

How to sign up for a Merrill Edge account

Though the signup process is straightforward, note that it’s only available on the website. You’ll need to set up an account via a browser — be it PC, laptop, or mobile — as the option currently isn’t available on the Merrill Edge app.

When signing up, you’ll need to provide information such as your social security number, contact information, employment information, and general financial information to get approved for an account.

NOTE: When signing up for a Merrill Edge account, verify that you’re on the correct webpage by examining the URL in your browser’s address bar. It should say https://merrilledge.com (that’s two Rs and two Ls). Never provide any sensitive information to a webpage that you’re not sure is the official website.

Here are the steps for signing up for a Merrill Edge account:

  1. Click on the red “Open An Account” button on the Merrill Edge homepage.
  2. Screenshot of Merrill Edge App, Open an account
  3. Choose between “Help me get started” or “Show me all accounts.”
    • Clicking “Help me get started” brings up a short “quiz” that lets you choose what you’re investing for (e.g. general investment, education, retirement) so that Merrill Edge can recommend a type of account for you.
    • Clicking “Show me all accounts” lets you skip the quiz so you can choose among Merrill Edge’s list of available accounts.
  4. Check the information needed to open an account and click “Continue” to proceed to the next step.
  5. Screenshot of Merrill Edge App, Existing clients
  6. The website will ask you if you’re an existing Merrill Edge customer, an existing Bank of America customer, or a new customer altogether.
    • Pick “I have a Merrill Lynch User ID and Password” to sign in to your Merrill Edge account.
    • Pick “I have a Bank of America Online ID and Passcode for a personal account” to sign in to your BofA account.
    • Pick “I’m a new client. I don’t have either one” to be sent to the signup questionnaire.
  7. If you’re a new client, fill in the questionnaire and create a Merrill Edge username and password.
  8. Once your account is approved, log in again. You’ll run through some prompts for security verification (like verifying your email with a security code) and to create security questions.
  9. Set up your account, and you’re ready to go.

Software usability and options

The interface of the Merrill Edge browser app on desktop is especially clean, and all your self-directed options are simple enough to find.

Once you’ve connected your bank account and deposited funds, you’re ready to go. We were able to line up purchases of Apple stock and Vanguard Institutional Target Retirement 2015 Fund (VITVX) in well under a minute.

Screenshot of Merrill Edge App, Mutual funds window

Screenshot of Merrill Edge App, Buy stocks

Accessing Merrill Edge is simple enough using a laptop or PC browser, but the Merrill Edge mobile app is where its ease of use really shines. Once you’ve enabled their Touch ID or facial recognition security feature, logging in takes a matter of seconds. Then you’ll be able to start trading immediately.

Depending on what you’re looking to do, the app guides you right through. You’ve got the option for quick stock and ETF trades, or you can do after-hours trading, mutual funds, options, or shorts.

Screenshot of Merrill Edge App, How would you like to trade window

Searching for a ticker and acting out a trade on Apple stock took seconds.

Screenshot of Merrill Edge App, Buy Apple

Buying into mutual funds was a simple process, as well.

Screenshot of Merrill Edge App, Mutual fund buy

We were quickly and easily able to set up Merrill Edge’s app and get to investing and trading.

Risk-assessment

While Merrill Edge may not make its privacy settings all that easy to get to, there is a Research tab that stands out. You can jump into stock or options as fast as you’d like, but there isn’t a push or prompting to do so. Under Research, you’ll also find “Investing Ideas” for newbies, or anyone looking for a helping hand. They’ll start you off with conservative recommendations like target-date funds, high-paying dividend funds, and Merrill Edge fund recommendations.

There are also ideas for individual stocks. They’ve got Bank of America’s global research picks for best stocks, Warren Buffet’s picks, as well as “high quality and dividend yield” ideas. Right out of the gate, they offer high-quality, low-risk long-term stocks. You’ll find overviews and articles on the U.S. and global markets, as well as plenty of news. There’s also a calendar for company and worldwide economic events.

All in all, we feel the educational resources are there to make responsible investment decisions possible. On top of that, there are no badgering messages or emails to “get started trading now.” While there are no particular warnings before you start trading, it seems like Merrill Edge is interested in setting up its self-directed customers to make smart investment decisions.

Pricing and fees

Merrill Edge doesn’t work with an annual fee for the use of its app by brokerage accounts. There are, however, some other fees you can expect to encounter:

  • Mutual fund trades (outside No Transaction Fee program): $19.95
  • Fixed income trades for secondary issues: $1 per bond
  • Full outgoing transfer fee: $49.95 (no fee for partial transfers)
  • Domestic and international wires: $24.95
  • Broker-assisted trades: $29.95
  • Options contracts: .65 cents per contract, and order of 50 for $32.50
  • Margin interest: Under $25,000 at 8.26%; $25,000 – $99,000 at 7.5%; $100,000 + call for rates
  • Retirement closure fee: $49.95

Customer service

Customer service iconMerrill Edge’s customer service goes above and beyond what we expected. First of all, you have plenty of options to choose from, so you can contact them via live chat on their website, their support email, or a landline number that’s available 24/7. There’s also a number available if you’re outside the US, which is a plus for people who travel frequently.

We did notice that the live chat icon comes and goes, so you’ve got to catch it when it pops. We tried inquiring about encryption protocols on the site and app, and a representative was able to give us a satisfactory answer in about five minutes.

When we signed up for an account, we got a follow-up call from Merrill Edge, as well as follow-up emails and even snail mail — which shows us that Merrill Edge is serious about making customers feel supported throughout the signup process.

Note that you need to provide your personal information so customer service reps can confirm that they’re speaking with the account holder. We were asked our full name, the last four digits of our Merrill Edge account, and the last four digits of our social security number.

WARNING: Be careful about giving information to customer service

If you’re communicating via live chat, make sure that you’re on the correct website (and not a phishing website) by checking the URL of the webpage (https://merrilledge.com/).

If a customer service representative calls you over the phone, never give them your personal information, even if they claim that it’s an urgent matter. This may very well be a scammer trying to get information out of you.

Instead, thank the agent for contacting you and call the number listed on the Merrill Edge website. This way, you’re sure that you’re talking to an official Merrill Edge representative.


What to Do in Case of a Merrill Edge Breach

Data breaches iconThe banking and FinTech sectors take some of the most stringent cybersecurity measures of any industry. After all, keeping customers’ funds and sensitive data safe is part of their business model. While Merrill Edge and Bank of America have a solid ten-year track record when it comes to data breaches, the bottom line is that you never really know what could happen.

Savvy hackers and cybercriminals are always figuring out new ways to break into systems. If Merrill Edge was to suffer a data breach, here’s what you should do immediately:

  1. Find out what was stolen. If hackers made off with emails and customer names, you’ll need to keep an eye out for targeted phishing emails. In case your social security number is compromised, you’d need to notify law enforcement at once. Such sensitive data could be used to commit all kinds of identity fraud.
  2. Change your passwords. Unfortunately, password-guessing software has become quite sophisticated. If your usernames and even partial passwords were stolen, you could be vulnerable to attacks. Change your account password, and make sure it’s a strong one you don’t use anywhere else. You can also use a secure password manager like 1Password.
  3. Set fraud alerts. Credit rating bureaus won’t charge you a penny to set up fraud alerts. You’ll be notified when someone is trying to commit credit fraud in your name. You can do this at Experian’s fraud alert center, Equifax’s credit fraud alert section, or TransUnion’s fraud alert center.
  4. Get a credit monitoring service. After a data breach, companies usually offer a year of free credit monitoring. If you’re concerned about your info being compromised in a cyberattack or leak, or you want to be vigilant, make sure to sign up for some. Check out CNBC’s list of the top services for this year.

Is Merrill Edge Right for Me?

If you’re already a Bank of America customer, there’s no better choice. Setting up your Merrill Edge brokerage account and transferring between banking and investment accounts is a breeze. Even if you’re not a Bank of America customer, you can still take advantage of an easy-to-use app with access to long-term wealth-building.

However, even with Merrill Edge’s MarketPro desktop trading app, active day traders may require more features to meet their needs. Cryptocurrency enthusiasts may need to look elsewhere as well, as Bitcoin and other crypto aren’t yet available.

After signing up, you can get approved quite quickly for tax-friendly retirement or investment accounts (like Roth IRA) and trade stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, or bonds. Investors interested in guidance can use broker-guided trades.

If you’d like to compare Merrill Edge to some other investment apps out there, check out our other reviews:

Merrill Edge Safety Review: Frequently Asked Questions

Have some questions about the Merrill Edge app? We’ve got all the answers about privacy, safety, and cybersecurity below. Just click on a question for the answer.

Merrill Edge is a very secure and safe platform for investors. It provides top-tier security features within the app, coupled with advanced protection measures for its systems and servers. It’s insured by the SIPC for $500,000 in securities and $250,000 in cash. For more information, check out our full security and privacy review here.

All account holders can easily trade stocks, ETFs, and certain mutual funds commission-free within the app. Merrill Edge also provides access to an assortment of wealth-building tools and tax-friendly retirement accounts. More active traders can use Merrill Edge’s MarketPro interface.

There are no account minimums, and account holders can trade stocks, ETFs, and certain mutual funds completely free. There are fees for other services, such as broker-assisted trades, certain mutual fund trades, and options contracts. For a full rundown of fees from Merrill Edge, read our full review.

No. Merrill Edge does not engage in payment-for-order-flow. Though they offer $0 trades on stocks and ETFs, they make money on fees for certain services and products, margin trading interest, or loaning stocks for short-sellers.

Author
Tech journalist
Taylor is a tech writer and online journalist with a special interest in cybersecurity and online privacy. He’s covered everything from sports and crime, to explosive startups, AI, cybercrime, FinTech, and cryptocurrency. For VPNOverview.com he follows news and developments in online privacy, cybersecurity, and internet freedom.
Contributor
News & Tech Editor
Nica is a news and tech editor at VPNOverview. She has an educational background in journalism and has worked in content marketing across several industries, including finance and cybersecurity.