However in all fairness, I've heard things have improved at ML during the years since. So should you get one of the Merrill Lynch credit cards if you also use them as your broker? Well, I’ll let you read this review for 2013 and decide for yourself.
There are actually three different cards they offer. Here’s a review of each:
Total Merrill - Also called the Total Merrill Cash Back card, this seems to be one they promote the most. It offers an attractive 1.25% cash back on purchases, which is 25% higher than the typical 1% seen on most reward cards. The minimum amount required for redemption is 5,000 points (so $50.00 of accumulated cash back). The interest rate seems to be pretty reasonable and there is no annual fee.
When it comes to benefits, there's not a whole lot going on. The Total Merrill is a Visa Signature card so you do get some perks with that, but aside from that to the best of my knowledge there are no additional benefits.
Verdict? The 1.25% is a good rebate for non-category spending. For category spending though, you should strive to get up to 5% cash back.
Merrill Plus - Sometimes written as “Merrill+” this also has no annual fee.
With the Merrill Plus credit card, you will get 1 point per dollar spent, but the value of the points varies depending on how on you redeem them. The options consist of the usual: cash rewards, merchandise, gift cards, travel, charitable donations, etc.
The best and worst ways to redeem your points are:
- Worst: The merchandise is almost always a lousy deal. But not to pick on the Merrill Lynch card specially, because the same holds true with merchandise redemption on most reward cards.
- Best: Airline tickets costing up to $500 are the best deal:
So the "Preferred Airlines" are: British Airways, Delta, Continental/United, and American Airlines. If the price of the ticket is above $500, then you can redeem an additional 2,500 points for every $25 needed.
The only drawback is that you have to redeem your reward travel through Merrill Lynch's customer service department (vs buying it on your own and requesting a statement credit). But regardless this is a good deal if your tickets cost close to $500. If your ticket only costs $250 to $312.50, then you would only be earning 1% to 1.25%.
Another option to keep your eye on is the American Express Starwood card because it's the only one on the market that let's you convert on a 1 for 1 basis to almost 30 different frequent flyer mileage programs.
The others benefits on this Merrill Lynch credit card are pretty typical. They do offer so called "Beyond Rewards" Status Levels, which qualify you for extra perks, depending on the amount you spend annually (aka “Status Level” . However, most of these Status Level benefits are far from impressive (Such as 10% off at Blue Nile, when in reality, you can probably just Google a coupon code to do the same thing).
One of the "Beyond Rewards" is good though - for those that spend above $50,000 annually, the account reaches status level 3 and with that comes airport lounge access. It's a Priority Pass membership for 10 visits annually (additional visits cost $27 a pop).
Merrill Accolades - This card has actually been out for years but it was previously branded as the BofA Accolades until late 2009. The annual fee for this card is $295 however if at least $250k is kept at BofA and/or Merrill Lynch then the fee is waived.
Because this Merrill Lynch credit card bears the AmEx logo, many people assume it is an American Express card, but it's probably not what you think. What the AmEx graphic means is that transactions are processed over their payment processing network – the Merrill Accolades card is not actually issued by American Express. It’s issued by FIA Card Services, which is Bank of America’s credit card division... they manage your account, they are who you talk to when you call customer service.
You do get airport lounge access (regardless of how much or little you spend) but aside from that, the benefits are lackluster and without the fee waiver requirement, I definitely wouldn't pay the $295 for it.
They appear to brand this as a premium status card but the consensus seems to agree it falls short. If you look at what the American Express Platinum offers ($450 annual fee) in comparison, the $295 Merrill Acccolades card falls flat on its face.
That being said, if you don't have an AmEx Platinum and the only benefit you want is the Priority Pass membership, then the Merrill Accolades AmEx would be a bargain as long as the $250k minimum is met.
How to get the cards?
You can't apply for the Merrill Lynch Plus Visa, Total Visa, or Accolades online. To complete the application you will have to call up customer service and do it over the phone or ask them to mail it to you.
As far as credit score requirements, being that these are broker-affiliated cards that cater to investors, naturally they're looking for people with at least good credit.