Compare Bank of America vs Fidelity, Vanguard, and Firstrade: IRA, commissions, investing fees, trading tools, account differences, pros and cons. Which online broker is better?


Bank of America brokerage service is called Merrill Edge.

Vanguard, Fidelity, Firstrade, and Merrill Edge are major brokerage firms in the United States who attract a lot of investors. Let's take a close look at these brokers, and try to determine which firm is the best choice.


Broker Review Stock/ETF
Mutual Fund
Annual IRA
Fidelity $0 $49.95 $0 $0 Get 500 free trades with $100,000+ deposit.
Firstrade $0 $0 $0 $0 Get transfer fee rebate.
Merrill Edge $0 $19.99 $0 $0 None
Vanguard $0 $20 $20* $0 None

** Vanguard is charging $20 annual maintenance fee (waived if user chooses to receive statements and other information electronically).


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

Commissions and Account Minimums

Fidelity clients pay $0 for stock and ETF trades, Merrill Edge is at $0, too. Vanguard has a sliding scale ranging from $0 to $20. Clients with under $50,000 in Vanguard funds are charged $7 for the first 25 trades per year. Trades after the initial 25 come with a $20 price tag.

Option trades at Fidelity and Merrill Edge cost an additional $0.65. Vanguard customers pay $1 per contract plus a base charge of $1, $7, or $20. The base charge is determined by account size. Accounts with less than $50,000 in Vanguard mutual funds and ETF's pay $20.

Trading with a human broker at Merrill Edge is at $29.95, while doing the same at Fidelity is $32.95. As in the other cases, Vanguard's commission varies and is determined by account size. The charge is on a sliding scale between $25 to $0.

All three brokers offer accounts with no maintenance fees or inactivity fees. Vanguard does require customers with less than $50,000 to enroll in electronic communications. Fidelity has a minimum initial deposit requirement of $2,500, while Merrill Edge and Vanguard don't have a minimum.

Firstrade charges $0 commission on all stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds trades. There is no minimum to open nor account fees. There is no catch, either.

Firstrade easily wins this category.

Mutual Funds and ETF's

Merrill Edge clients can buy and sell more than 4,000 mutual funds. Over 800 of these funds come with no load and no transaction fee. Mutual funds with a transaction fee carry a $19.95 charge.

There are more than 10,000 mutual funds at Fidelity. Less than 1,000 have no load and no transaction fee. The price for purchasing a transaction-fee fund is $49.95.

Investors at Vanguard have the ability to trade over 16,000 mutual funds. Some of these have no load and no transaction fee. Mutual funds with a transaction fee carry a charge of $35 in a small account. This commission is reduced for accounts with larger balances.

Firstrade customers have access to over 10,000 mutual funds from all leading families, including Vanguard and Fidelity. There are no commissions to invest in any of these funds.

Firstrade takes this category too.

Customer Service

Fidelity offers customer service over the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Additionally, the broker has more than 180 branches for investors who want some personal assistance.

Merrill Edge has customer service representatives on the phone 24/7. The firm has offices inside some Bank of America locations for investors who are looking for investment advice for a fee.

Vanguard doesn't offer 24/7 customer service on the phone. The broker unfortunately does not have local branches.

Fidelity wins the category.

Trading Technology

Fidelity's website is user friendly and easy to navigate. A useful trade ticket makes order entry simple. The broker also provides an advanced platform for active traders. Fidelity recently rolled out an app for Apple TV.

Active Trader Pro

Merrill Edge also has a well-designed site. Using the browser to place orders is a snap. At the bottom of the browser, there is a handy trade ticket, which provides essential security data and quick order entry. The firm's best platform is available for frequent traders.

Compared to Fidelity and Merrill Edge, Vanguard's website is more difficult to navigate. Unfortunately, the broker has no advanced platform.

Vanguard versus Others

Firstrade’s website is very user-friendly. A trade bar at the bottom of the screen may be used to complete many tasks including gathering information on securities’ spreads, volumes, price etc. Orders involving limits, trailing, stops, and more can be made right from the trade bar. There is a built-in options feature that makes viewing options change and making put/call orders a breeze.

Fidelity and Merrill Edge tie here.

Mobile Platforms

Investors at Fidelity can trade on Android, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, and Windows phone. Useful features include funds transfer and mobile check deposit. Live steaming of Bloomberg financial news is also available, at no cost.

At Merrill Edge, investors can pay bills, transfer funds, and make a mobile check deposit using the broker's app. Available platforms include Android, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Market news is on the app, but there is no streaming business news.

The Vanguard app can be used on Android, Kindle Fire, and Apple. Mobile check deposit is available along with account history. Unfortunately, the app has no live streaming of financial news.

Firstrade’s app is compatible with the same operating systems. A recent software update provides horizontal viewing of a chart and many technical studies. A watchlist is sortable by price or volume. News article are available by security.

Firstrade mobile app

Fidelity is victorious in this category.

Cash Management

Merrill Edge provides cash management features attached to its brokerage account. Checks and a debit card can be added at no cost. Withdrawals at Bank of America ATM's are free. Up to $200 annually is reimbursed for non-Bank of America ATM's.

Fidelity offers the Cash Management Account, which is a hybrid brokerage-cash management account. It comes with checks and a debit card free of charge. All ATM charges are refunded, and FDIC insurance covers the account up to $1,250,000.

Vanguard's policies on cash management are the most restrictive. Traders must have at least $500,000 in order to open an account with cash management features. Checks and a debit card can be attached to the account, but they carry fees if the account has less than $1,000,000 invested in Vanguard products.

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