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Merrill Lynch Debit Card Review

This is a guest post by Michael from Credit Card Forum

If you want the best cash back credit card, check out Mike’s recent post about the Fidelity Retirement Rewards American Express, which offers rewards worth 2%. But if you prefer debit cards over credit cards, you may want to consider the Merrill Lynch Signature Rewards debit card.

What makes it special?

As we all know, it’s rare to find a debit card that offers rewards. There are a few on the market, but the fine print often includes traps or tricks. For example, Chase recently started offering a debit card with “up to” 3% cash back, but it’s not nearly as good as it sounds — there’s an annual fee, cash back is only given on a few categories of spending, and you have to spend over $1,000 per month to qualify for the maximum rebate.

The Merrill Lynch debit card is different from the rest. For starters, it offers a flat 1% back on spending — for a credit card that may be average, but for a debit card that is almost unheard of. It also offers a wide array of benefits that, to the best of my knowledge, aren’t offered on any other debit card at the moment. There is an annual fee, but you won’t necessarily have to pay it (which I will discuss further in a moment).

A closer look at the rewards…

You earn 1 “Merrill Point” per dollar spent, and for most redemption options, each point equals a penny (so 1% rewards). Here’s what you can cash them out for:

  • IRA Account: You can convert the points to cash which will be deposited into your Merrill Lynch IRA.
  • 529 Account: Your points can also be converted to cash for your Merrill Lynch 529 account (college savings account).
  • Fees & Commissions: If you don’t have a Merrill IRA or 529 account, you can still redeem your points to pay for fees and/or commissions posted to most other Merrill Lynch accounts during the current calendar year.
  • Travel: They say you can “travel anytime, anywhere, any airline with no blackout dates starting at 25,000 Merrill Points”
  • Miscellaneous: There are other options for merchandise, gift cards, etc.

A closer look at the benefits…

This debit card is a Visa Signature, which is something normally only found on credit cards. It comes with benefits for travel purchases made on the card, such as lost luggage reimbursement, trip cancellation insurance, medical evacuation coverage, common carrier travel accident insurance, and more. One benefit in particular I like (because I do not believe AmEx offers it) is the Hotel/Motel Burglary Coverage –- in the U.S. and Canada, you’re eligible for up to $1,000 in coverage if personal property is stolen from your room.

They also throw in phone concierge service and “Purchase Security” which covers eligible purchases made with the card for up to 90 days against theft, some types of accidental damage, etc.

What’s the catch?

For starters, you must have a Merrill Beyond Banking or Cash Management account. Your card will be linked to it and purchases will automatically be debited from its balance. Last but not least, there is a $95 annual fee which you may or may not have to pay. I know at least one accountholder who has the fee waived. Whether or not they will be willing to waive it likely depends on your balance and relationship with Merrill Lynch.


If you use Merrill Lynch for your brokerage account, their Signature Rewards debit card can be a great way to offset fees and commissions. Alternately, the card can be an easy way to add to your 529 college savings or IRA. That being said, if they’re not willing to waive the annual fee for you, it might not be worthwhile.

Michael runs CreditCardForum, which is a message board and blog for the discussion of credit cards and debit cards. Topics range from cash back credit cards to credit card customer service. On a personal note, traditionally Michael has invested in individual stocks based on intrinsic value, but due to time constraints, during the last few years he has been sticking with index funds.

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  1. I think Michael is a little confused about the two options available for the MerrillEdge Cash Management Account. Bizarrely, the CMA detailed features page is only accessible for existing account holders, but the link is below anyway.

    The two options are either: 1) a CMA Access Visa deferred debit card, or 2) a Visa Signature credit card.

    The Visa Signature credit card is a *credit* card, not a debit card. It has a $95 annual fee and earns 1 Merrill Point per dollar spent. It also doubles as your ATM card.

    The CMA Access Visa debit card is the *debit* card. It has no fee and no rewards. However, it does have many credit card-like benefits, including the hotel burglary insurance described above. Another unique feature is that debits are deferred until the end of the month, similar to the way a charge card paid off in full works.

  2. Hi Corey. Not being an ML account holder myself, I’m not entirely certain either way.

    But from the information on this page, it appears that there is in fact a signature rewards debit card.

    Note for clarity’s sake: This is Mike (the normal author of the blog), not Michael (the author of the post).

  3. I’m sorry for the confusion. Merrill’s marketing is totally scrambled between and The best I can figure out is that the only two offerings available to new customers are:

    1) CMA Access Debit Card (deferred debit, no fee, no rewards):

    2) Signature Rewards Visa Signature Debit Card (deferred debit, $95 fee, 1 Merrill Point per dollar)

    And it looks like you and Michael were right, after all, that it really does operate as a (deferred) debit card. Thanks for the information!

    By the way, this page on describes the features of the CMA without requiring logging in:

  4. No problem. You’re absolutely right that their marketing isn’t the clearest due to trying to be both a “full service” brokerage firm with the original ML branding, plus the self-serve brokerage platform that used to be Bank of America, but to which they’ve now applied the ML branding as well.

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