Merrill Edge + Preferred Rewards = Up to $1,000 Bonus For Moving Assets, Improved Credit Card Rewards

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(Updated again July 2020: Let’s try this again with a non-expired link! BofA has new promotion for up to $1,000, even higher than the previous offer and worth considering if you have adequate brokerage assets to move over to Merrill Edge. Thanks to comment Ken Nand for the pointer. See updated full review below.)

Merrill Edge is the self-directed brokerage arm formed after Bank of America and Merrill Lynch merged together. They are currently offering an increased cash bonus of up to $1,000 for moving “new money” or assets over to them from another brokerage firm. This new bonus is linked to the BofA/Merrill Preferred Rewards program, which is another reason to consider using them as it gets you waived banking fees and better credit card rewards. Here’s an overview along with my personal experience as I’ve had an account with them for a few years now.

Cash bonus. Brokerage firms love to collect assets. The good news is they don’t require cash that will be earning zero interest, and Edge has no management fees if you stick with DIY. If you are holding shares of stock, ETFs, or mutual funds elsewhere, you can simply perform an “in-kind” ACAT transfer over to Merrill Edge. Your 100 shares of AAPL will remain 100 shares of AAPL, so you don’t even have to worry about price changes, lost dividends, or tax consequences. Any cost basis should transfer over too.

This specific offer is better than the standard offer:

  • $50 bonus with $20,000 to $49,999 in new assets
  • $250 bonus with $50,000 to $99,999 in new assets
  • $500 bonus with $100,000 to $199,999 in new assets
  • $1,000 bonus with $200,000 or more in new assets

Note that you must keep the assets there for 180 days. For comparison, here is an expired offer that was the highest I’ve seen. Here is the standard offer that has been around for a while.

This offer includes both IRAs and regular taxable (CMA) accounts:

Offer valid for new individual Merrill IRAs or Cash Management Accounts (CMAs). Offer is limited to one CMA and one IRA, with no more than two enrolled accounts per accountholder. Eligible Merrill Edge IRAs limited to Rollover, Traditional, Roth and Sole-Proprietor SEP only. The Merrill IRA or CMA may be a Merrill Edge Self-Directed account, Merrill Edge Advisory Account or Merrill Guided Investing account. You may be eligible for a different or better offer. Please contact us for more information.

Note that last sentence! It’s not just boilerplate. After I did this bonus once with a partial transfer (just enough to satisfy the requirements), a Merrill Edge rep contacted me and offered me a custom bonus to move even more assets over. (The bonus ratios were about the same, but higher limits.) Therefore, if you are considering this and happen to have more than $200,000 to transfer over, you may want to give them a call and see if they can offer even more money.

You can even transfer in Admiral Shares of Vanguard mutual funds that they don’t let you trade there, but you can only hold or sell them. You can’t buy more shares. You can, however, buy more shares of the corresponding Vanguard ETF if you wish. (Alternatively, you should consider having Vanguard convert your Admiral share into ETFs on a one-time basis that will preserve your original cost basis. After you have ETFs, you can move those over to Merrill Edge and trade them as you wish.)

Preferred Rewards bonus. The Preferred Rewards program is designed to rewards clients with multiple account and higher assets located at Bank of America banking, Merrill Edge online brokerage, and Merrill Lynch investment accounts. Here is a partial table taken from their comparison chart (click to enlarge):

At the Platinum and Platinum Plus levels, Merrill Edge used to offer 30 and 100 free online stock trades every month, respectively. However, now everyone gets unlimited $0 trades. Bank of America’s interest rates on cash accounts tend to be quite low, so moving cash over to qualify may result in earning less interest on your cash deposits. Merrill Lynch advisory accounts also usually come with management fees. The sweet spot is if you have brokerage assets like stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs.

Checking accounts. With Gold status ($20k in assets) and above, you’ll get the monthly maintenance fee on up to 4 checking or savings account waived. That means you no longer have to worry about a minimum balance or maintaining direct deposit, depending on your account type. You’ll also get waived ATM fees at non-BofA ATMs at certain levels (12/year at $50k assets, unlimited at $100k). Free cashier’s checks.

Credit cards rewards. With the Preferred Rewards boost, you can get up to 2.6% cash back towards travel on all your purchases on the Bank of America Travel Rewards Card. You can also get up to 5.25% cash back (on up to $2,500 per quarter) on your choice of gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement and furnishings with the Bank of America Cash Rewards Card.

My personal experience. In terms of Merrill Edge, I’ve had an account with them for a few years now and my lightning review is that they have a “okay/good” user interface and solidly “good” customer service (i.e. real, informed humans available 24/7 on the phone, not email-only customer service that takes hours to days like Robinhood). I would add that I am not an active trader and only make about 10-15 trades a year. I have been quite satisfied with the account. I can also move money instantly between my Merrill Edge and Bank of America checking accounts, making it easy to sweep out idle cash into an external savings account.

The biggest financial benefit to this BofA/Merrill Edge combo has probably been the 75% boost to their credit card rewards, allowing me to get 2.625% cash back on basically all my daily purchases. The second biggest benefit has probably been this cash bonus, and the third is the occasional waived checking or ATM fee. One negative is that the cash sweep options are not very good, but as of July 2020 the interest difference is quite small.

Bottom line. Merrill Edge is currently offering up to $1,000 if you move over a significant amount of assets to their self-directed brokerage. This can simply be mutual fund or ETFs shares currently being held elsewhere. When you keep enough assets across Bank of America and Merrill Edge, their Preferred Rewards program can offer ongoing perks like waived bank account fees and boosted credit card rewards.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing about ML. I just did the $1K promo and have their Platinum level. I only have $100 in a Bank of America checking account since their rates are not competitive. So the 2.6% you calculated is based on the 75% boost you get in transferring the cash bonus to your ML brokerage account? I never figured out the percentage. I just know as soon as my cash reward hits $25.00 I get an additional 75% added.

    I have accounts at Vanguard, Fid and Schwab. ML is best for self-directed investors who do not need any help. My experience with their call reps is poor. Most reps lack training and cannot answer basic investing questions. Schwab and Fidelity have a better trained staff.

  2. atish banerjee says

    One caveat: It doesn’t work for people on work visas like H1b. It works only for citizens and green card holders.
    TD Bank provides the same deal but even for people on a work visa.

  3. Jason Boxman says

    This is timely, mostly because I didn’t realize you can transfer your assets without liquidating your positions. I have a Firstrade account right now, but they don’t allow you to select your tax lot treatment. (Either FIFO or LIFO for the life of the account.) I’ll probably transfer to ML when I have enough to qualify for free trades.

    Thanks.

  4. The Frugal Millionaire says

    A question, Jonathan, regarding Vanguard Admiral shares transferred…you say we can hold them or sell them, but NOT buy additional mutual fund shares. Are reinvested dividends and gains considered a “buy”? Thanks!

  5. I am considering but will check first how good they are with payable upon death (pod). If I move assets over I want to make sure my family will have access.

  6. I really cant tell from the offer’s website if existing BofA & Merrill Edge customer are eligible if they simply move the required amount of assets over to their existing account. Any advice?

    • Yes, existing clients are eligible but it must be new assets from an external broker. If you scroll down to fine print #1:

      “Offer valid for new and existing individual Merrill Edge IRAs or Cash Management Accounts”

  7. A few updates for everyone since I used this promotion in April and last week collected the bonus:

    1) Vanguard funds did not transfer via ACAT, only my ETFs. Fortunately this was the form in which I held most, but this means I have a small leftover at Vanguard. ACAT worked perfectly otherwise; thank you for teaching me of its existence, Jonathan. Cost basis info came over, just as you said.

    2) I was able to collect the $900 bonus, but it did not come on its own. I waited four months and then sent a message asking about it using “Send & Receive Messages,” subject line “$900 incentive bonus appears to be late.” The bonus was deposited about a week later.

    It’s otherwise been a very good experience. While I did this fully intending to ACAT back to Vanguard once I got the bonus, the credit card bonus is great for us, and the ability to speak to a human at a bank has been nice for a couple of unusual inheritance-related actions. I think ME may actually have earned me as a longtime customer, so this promotion did what it was meant to do. Since I don’t mind using ETFs, this is fine.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. That’s interesting as I *only* transferred over mutual funds from Vanguard to Merrill Edge when opening my account. They were even Admiral shares.

      I wonder what the issue was. Are your mutual fund and ETFs perhaps held in separate accounts still, as they still have a traditional mutual funds-only account and Vanguard brokerage account?

      • That’s a good guess, but no, it’s in a Brokerage Roth IRA account, I just double checked. I remember doing the account “conversion” or whatever they called it back in ~2014.

        They are admiral shares, but you said that worked for you. Anyway, I can’t explain it, but it happened! About 100 shares got orphaned at Vanguard, making my life just a tad more complicated.

  8. Question regarding this offer:
    Is this bonus credited to the newly opened IRA/Roth IRA account OR would it go into the Cash/Money account. I have a taxable brokerage account there as well.

    If they credit to Roth IRA account it will create tax complications with regards to over contribution.

    Thanks

  9. So i guess if you’ve already done this and gotten a bonus you won’t be able to do it again – as it says only one ‘in aggregate’ per account holder

    • If you want to do it again, I would call them up on the phone and ask directly. As noted, they do have some discretion and if you are moving a sizable amount and it has been a while, they may allow it.

  10. Ken Nand says

    Jonathan, The link you provided above (for Merrill Edge + Preferred Rewards = Up to $900 Bonus For Moving Assets) expired on 7/15/20. However, after speaking with a Merrill advisor I got a new code which will give up to $1,000. The new code is “1000BONUS”

    • *facepalm*. How did I miss that? I need more fresh air! Thanks for the code, I used it to find the link to the new offer and updated the post. Apologies for the late comment approval, your comment was incorrectly placed in the spam folder by an automatic plugin.

  11. Which Bank of America checking account do you find useful in order to maintain Preferred Rewards status? Can one expedite Preferred Rewards enrollment after 1 month if transferring $200K?

    • I believe that BofA has different checking account structures for different regions/states. You usually either need direct deposit or some minimum balance to avoid a monthly maintenance fee. However, if you have the $200k you’ll soon have Platinum Honors which will waive the monthly maintenance fee on any checking account anyway once you reach the status. (Even $20k gets you Gold which waives monthly maintenance fee on up to 4 accounts.) With Plat Honors, you’ll also get unlimited waived non-BofA ATM fees. If you sign up under this offer, the $200k will get you Platinum offer within 45 days.

    • My husband had a portion of his retirement with a Merrill advisor for a decade. They never made money. Even when the stock market was up 20% in a year. The best they didn’t was one year when the market was down 19%, they were down 17%. Their fees are high. I don’t know that their people are that qualified. It’s all about sales into a brokerage that probably won’t make you money. They are desperate for wealth management clients though so think you’ll get good up front treatment. This account bonus is great, but I definitely would stick with self directed. Their checking accounts are okay. You have to wait very very long times to talk to anyone on the phone and the branches are phasing out all their tellers. If you’re doing it for the account bonus, hit it and quit it. Don’t linger.

    • From what I understand, you have to have an average daily balance of the required amount over a three month period to qualify for the reward tier. It isn’t a crossing the threshold once thing to get it. Once you’re in, Bank of America reviews the account once a year to see if you can renew. They give you a warning that you need to get your balance up to x or risk losing the reward status before they pull it the following year. Technically, once you’re in, you can pull your money out and keep your reward tier all year until review, rinse repeat.
      Their reward tiers for credit cards aren’t quite as generous as they would first seem as they have limits per quarter of $2500. So while yes, it’s great to earn that 3.5% tier reward, it might be fairly easy for some people to max out on line shopping bonus category or groceries at $2500 a quarter. Worse, they don’t give you anything on line to tell you you’ve maxed out and are no longer earning a platinum/gold/ etc reward for the quarter. Once you stop earning you’re down to 1%.
      Personally I found the Bank of America rewards programs too opaque, too hard to keep track of. I think you could just have their credit card and use it for one thing-like shopping at Costco-but it’s easier in the long run just to have a straight up cash back card at 2-2.5% for everyday.

  12. My husband had a portion of his retirement with a Merrill advisor for a decade. They never made money. Even when the stock market was up 20% in a year. The best they didn’t was one year when the market was down 19%, they were down 17%. Their fees are high. I don’t know that their people are that qualified. It’s all about sales into a brokerage that probably won’t make you money. They are desperate for wealth management clients though so think you’ll get good up front treatment. This account bonus is great, but I definitely would stick with self directed. Their checking accounts are okay. You have to wait very very long times to talk to anyone on the phone and the branches are phasing out all their tellers. If you’re doing it for the account bonus, hit it and quit it. Don’t linger.

  13. P.s. personally I prefer a credit union or a bank like FNBO. Free checks and free safe deposit boxes. Tellers when you need them. Sterling service. There are a lot of good banks out there. I wouldn’t settle for subpar management of money at a big bank.

  14. The BofA Premium Rewards card is even better than the Travel Rewards Card. It has an annual fee, but is offset by perks and additional cash back, airline credit, sign-up bonus, and 3.5% on travel + dining, plus you can set the redemption to be automatic rather than having to go in each month.

  15. The nice thing is if you transfer a ROTH account, the bonus is treated as a dividend and added to your ROTH account, thus the $1000 will not be taxed.

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