TD Ameritrade, Fidelity and Merrill Edge are three large and well-known brokerage options for retail investors. Each one has made a name for itself in helping people build financial wealth. However, there are significant differences between TD Ameritrade, Fidelity and Merrill Edge, which we’ve highlighted below to help you choose the right firm for you. If you want help investing, consider working directly with a financial advisor to create a financial plan and even actively manage your assets.
Overview of TD Ameritrade vs. Fidelity vs. Merrill Edge
Let’s start by talking about each of these companies’ histories and their area of focus. TD Ameritrade is a stock brokerage that was founded in 1971. Since then, it has grown into a well-known electronic trading platform, being named the best free trading platform for stocks in 2021. In 2020, TD Ameritrade was acquired by the multinational financial services corporation, Charles Schwab.
Of the three, Fidelity has been around the longest: since 1946 as a financial management company, but its history dates back to 1930 with the Fidelity Fund. As of 2020, they are one of the largest asset managers in the world. Fidelity also manages a variety of funds and specializes in retirement planning, but they’re also known for its electronic trading platform and life insurance options.
Although once its own entity, Merrill Lynch is now under the ownership of Bank of America (BoA). Therefore, Merrill Edge is an especially natural fit for anyone who maintains accounts at BoA. The brokerage firm has racked up its fair share of accolades in recent years. Barron’s, Institutional Investor and J.D. Power have all awarded Merrill high marks on numerous occasions.
TD Ameritrade vs. Fidelity vs. Merrill Edge: Fees
TD Ameritrade offers $0 commissions on online-traded U.S. exchange-listed stocks, ETFs and options, with a $0.65 fee per options contract. If you want assistance, you can pay a $5 commission to use their interactive phone system or a $25 commission for broker assistance. There’s a $6.95 commission for unlisted, over-the-counter (OTC) stocks.
They also offer no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds, commission-free load funds and no-load funds that charge up to $74.95 for buys and $0 for sells. Unlike some other companies, TD Ameritrade applies no platform or data fees and no trade minimums. For some of these accounts, the fees can be waived by investing over a certain amount or signing up for delivery of e-statements.
In terms of fees, Fidelity aligns largely with TD Ameritrade. On top of the commission-free ETFs and no annual account fee, Fidelity also offers zero expense ratio index funds. Where Fidelity collects most of its fees is through planning and advice services. These generally charge a percentage of the money in the account that is managed, and some require account minimums to be utilized.
Merrill Edge has an extremely low-cost trading fee schedule. In fact, stocks, ETFs and options are available for $0 per trade. There is no minimum deposit necessary to join Merrill Edge, and the firm does not charge annual account fees. Further, BoA Preferred Rewards members receive access to the firm’s proprietary investment research service if they have a three-month combined average balance of at least $50,000.
TD Ameritrade vs. Fidelity vs. Merrill Edge: Services and Features
These three firms offer many of the same amenities: robo-advisors, low-cost funds and ample research and educational tools as just a few examples. But let’s take a look at what sets them apart from each other.
TD Ameritrade positions itself as a brokerage that offers several trading platforms, including its complex pro-grade thinkorswim platform. While other brokerages offer some level of education, TD Ameritrade offers hundreds of webinars as well as in-person seminars. The company has clearly invested in its tech, too, allowing users to chart performance and customize screeners for stocks, funds, as well as options and bonds. On top of this, you have access to a wide swath of assets and derivatives to work into your investment strategy.
Fidelity competes squarely with TD Ameritrade in terms of services and features. Fidelity offers highly customizable screeners, especially for ETFs, packaged in an incredibly easy-to-use interface. Where TD Ameritrade may beat out Fidelity in terms of its platform, Fidelity has lower fees and margin rates, and more mutual funds to choose from.
Merrill Edge offers a desktop-centric proprietary investment research tool that features a flexible dashboard so you can include the information that’s most important to you. You can take advantage of price alerts, interactive investment charts and data, financial and investment news and more.
TD Ameritrade vs. Fidelity vs. Merrill Edge: Online and Mobile Experience
The online and mobile experience between these three highlights the philosophical approaches of each company. TD Ameritrade offers a variety of platforms for web, desktop and mobile. Their in-depth thinkorswim platform gives you professional-level trading, with access to an incredible amount of tools to build an investment strategy. On the App Store, their mobile app retains a 4.5-star rating, with users praising its speed and ease of use. Android users, however, have rated the app lower, at a 3.6, with recent reviews claiming it’s buggy and crashes frequently.
Fidelity’s approach is user-friendliness. Its online platform is extremely easy to navigate and makes research and trading a breeze. Many mobile users note that its app leaves some things to be desired. First, it’s slow to learn certain pages, and second, it doesn’t support fully real-time updates. This means you may not see the actual price of your buy or sell until you get to the buy/sell page. Despite this, Fidelity remains a great place to start and grow as an investor.
Merrill Edge’s online experience is intuitive and informative. Users can access extensive analysis, research and charts highlighting stocks, the companies they are paired with and their overall performance histories. There are also asset allocation charts and the ability to track your portfolio and compare it against selected indexes. The mobile experience, which offers much of what is offered online, earns high ratings on the Apple and Android app stores.
Who Should Use TD Ameritrade, Fidelity and Merrill Edge?
TD Ameritrade is a great, all-around platform for any type of investor. However, their big draw is for those who want extensive tools to research and strategize. Their thinkorswim platform is powerful and made for those who have the knowledge and the will to dig deeper.
Fidelity fits a little closer to TD Ameritrade, but with some lower costs. Its approach to user-friendliness makes it slightly more geared to investors just starting out.
Merrill Edge is a good choice for anyone who likes investing from a desktop or laptop computer. Customer service is strong with 24/7 help. This platform will also appeal to BoA Preferred Rewards members.
The Bottom Line
Between TD Ameritrade, Fidelity and Merrill Edge, which one is right for you will depend on your goals. All are great platforms where you could make smart investments to help you build wealth. There’s a reason these brokerages have made names for themselves and each one could be right for different investors. With the right choices about where you put your money, you could prosper with any of these three.
Tips for Investing
- Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- If you decide to invest on your own, it pays to know what you’re doing. SmartAsset has you covered there as well. For example, check out our free investment calculator.
©iStock.com/Skarie20, ©iStock.com/Prostock-Studio, ©iStock.com/time99lek