M1 Finance offers a unique combination of automated investing with a high level of customization, allowing clients to create a portfolio tailored to their exact specifications. You can create portfolios containing low-cost ETFs or use individual stocks – or both. M1’s target customer has a long-term focus and experience with using a traditional online brokerage to invest in stocks and ETFs. M1 is offering these potential clients a lower-cost alternative that allows fractional share transactions and a large amount of control over the portfolio contents. This is the key difference between M1 and many other offerings, as you often are giving up much of the control in exchange for the portfolio management services.
With M1, you can choose one of more than 80 expert portfolios or build your own. You can also build pies – M1’s name for the circular charts showing asset mixes in a portfolio - made out of other pies and keep them all balanced to your specifications. Overall, M1 is offering a remarkably flexible platform that includes stock and ETF screeners to help with investment selection. This type of tool and the approach behind it are still rare in the robo-advisory world.
You can trade fractional shares so you are fully invested
No trading fees or asset management fees
Flexible portfolio building, including more than 80 "expert" portfolios you can follow
The dashboard illustrates the current composition of your portfolio
You can also place individual stock/ETF orders
Transparency about how it generates revenue since it charges no management fee
The way trades are placed puts transaction timing out of your control
Accounts with less than $20 and no trading activity for 90 days are charged a fee
There is no online chat capability
M1 does not employ any financial advisors
The platform offers very little help for setting financial goals
You cannot consolidate external accounts for planning purposes
Opening an account with M1 Finance is simple and straightforward. Enter your email address and your chosen password, and you’re taken to a pie-building feature. There is no risk assessment questionnaire at M1.
At this point, you can build your own pie or choose one made up of ETFs or individual stocks. The Expert Pies are displayed near the bottom of the screen. You pick three items and then you can customize the “slices” on the following screen. That first pie is saved for you if you want to use it for investing, but it’s mostly there as a tutorial to show you how the site works.
After you have practiced customizing a pie, you enter your personal information and link a bank account. M1 offers individual joint accounts, IRAs, and trust accounts.
The goal setting and tracking that makes up the core of some other robo-advisories is notably absent in M1 Finance. This is because M1 doesn’t brand itself as an advisory service. M1 is actually an automated investing platform designed to take care of the ongoing management of the portfolio you create. This is a do-it-yourself investing platform, and it expects you to know what you are doing and why. As such, M1 doesn’t have many tools for setting goals beyond several dozen articles about retirement savings. Money is not “bucketed” for any specific goals other than the ultimate one of overall growth of your assets. This will be jarring to investors expecting more hand-holding, but intermediate investors may welcome the lack of distractions standing in the way of actual portfolio creation.
M1’s account services within the brokerage are solid, and it looks like the company is committed to growing them over time. Setting up your automatic deposits is part of the initial account setup process and can be edited whenever you please. M1 added a new tab to its site and apps, labeled Transfer, offering a single place for the movement of cash, either within M1 itself or to or from external accounts.
M1 Finance also has a premium offering, currently priced at $125 for the first year though discounts are offered frequently, which includes additional trading opportunities, lower interest rates on loans through M1 Borrow, and higher interest rates on cash held in an M1 Spend account.
M1 Borrow lets you borrow up to 35% of your account value (minimum account size: $10,000) at 3.5% interest (2% for M1 Plus account holders) for buying additional investments on margin, or for non-investing purposes. The usual limit on margin lending is 50% of the account value, but M1 has chosen to be more conservative with its lending to avoid margin calls. You can also place trades for individual stocks or ETFs during the daily trading window. M1 does not currently have the ability to consolidate external accounts. In May 2020, M1 updated the Borrow feature to allow the client to easily direct the proceeds to an external account, or to use it within the M1 app. You can automate the repayment of this loan as well.
M1 Finance offers an integrated digital bank along with its investment service. M1 Spend, which launched in spring 2020, sweeps your excess cash into an account paying 1% per year as of May 2020. It includes a debit card that earns 1% cashback on purchases.
As mentioned, all the portfolios are displayed as “pies,” which are circular charts with slices that represent each asset. There is a wide variety of pies to choose from, and you can create pies of pies with overall rules to guide rebalancing. Those investing for retirement, for example, can easily invest in a target-date portfolio made up of ETFs.
There are also socially responsible pies, created in partnership with Nuveen, that offer passive investment opportunities. Last but not least, M1 allows you to pick individual stocks, giving your portfolio a level of personalization that few other robo-advisories can come close to.
Portfolios are monitored constantly and rebalanced to reduce portfolio drift as new funds are added or funds are withdrawn. M1 brands this as dynamic rebalancing, as it tries to address drift with cash flowing in and out rather than a reallocation of the funds already deployed. That said, you can force a rebalance at any time, which is a rare feature in a robo-advisor.
Each individual stock or ETF is displayed as a slice of a pie representing the portion of your portfolio, and the edges of the slices show how that particular item is behaving in relation to your desired portfolio allocation. If a stock or ETF has shrunk compared to the desired allocation, that slice looks like it has shrunk, whereas a stock or ETF that is outperforming the rest of the pie appears as though it has outgrown its original area. When you make a deposit, the shrunken slices are shored up. In taxable accounts, withdrawals are managed in a way to limit your tax bill.
M1's trading window begins at 9 a.m. Central time on days that the NYSE market is open, and it runs until all orders have been completed. All changes to your portfolio made before 9 a.m. Central time on trading days are generally executed the same day during M1's trading window. You can make buy or sell orders on an individual slice in a pie, but the orders are entered in dollar amounts, not shares. M1 Plus members can place trades twice a day with the second trading window occurring around 12:30 p.m. Central time.
M1 offers a well-designed app that mirrors all the functionality of the website. You can do anything on your mobile device, from opening and funding an account to changing how your pies are allocated. There is an adequate use of white space, so the layout isn’t too crowded.
The website moves new customers from step to step without bogging them down in too much detail. Once a portfolio is defined and funded, each pie’s performance is easy to view. If you are familiar with online brokerages already, M1’s website is a big step up for ease of use.
Most customer support is provided over the phone or via email. There are very detailed FAQs available that answer the majority of customer queries and you can usually find the answer you are looking for there. Some of the FAQs include video walkthroughs of a particular feature. Here again, M1 expects a bit of independence in its clientele and leans on their likelihood of doing the research on their own. Since M1 is not an investment advisory service, there are no financial advisors to consult.
Education & Security
Most of the videos available from M1 involve how to use particular pieces of the platform itself. There are many articles about retirement planning, but since M1 is not registered as an advisory service, there is little that could be construed as advice on the site. Still, you can read megabytes of articles about the ins and outs of IRAs and the benefits of putting money away on a regular basis.
The website’s security is the highest available using 4096-bit encryption for data transfers, and you can set up two-factor authentication using your mobile device. Fingerprint and face recognition are available on mobile as well. Your investments are covered with excess Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance, and cash balances are FDIC insured.
Commissions & Fees
M1 does not charge any portfolio management or trading fees or for deposits or withdrawals to a connected bank account. However, regulatory fees and additional service fees (i.e. IRA conversion) do apply. You can sign up for an M1 Plus account for $100 in the first year ($125 per year thereafter), which gives you a second daily trading window as well as a discount on the interest rate when taking out a loan through M1 Borrow. You’ll also get additional interest on cash through the M1 Spend feature when it is launched later this year. There are frequent discounts offered for M1 Plus, so keep an eye out for those notices.
- Monthly cost to manage a $5,000 portfolio: $0
- Monthly cost to manage a $25,000 portfolio: $0
- Monthly cost to manage a $100,000 portfolio: $0
Portfolios held in stock only will not incur any fund management fees. Portfolios with ETFs can incur management fees on the underlying funds that range from 0.06% to 0.20%.
Is M1 Finance a Good Fit for You?
Experienced investors will find a lot to like about M1 Finance, especially the high level of customization that can go into your portfolio. You can follow the investments of money managers and then tailor the portfolios defined to your own specifications.
There are socially responsible portfolios already defined, but you can also create your own if that’s your thing. Basically, M1 is tailor-built to give investors who already know what they want to do a cheaper and easier way to do it.
M1 isn’t really competing with the robo-advisories trying to scoop up beginning investors and it doesn’t pretend to. Instead, M1 is competing against the online brokerages where experienced individual investors usually end up. You won’t be walked through goal setting, you are responsible for understanding your own risk tolerance and you should probably understand how stocks, ETFs and markets work before you jump in. If you are ready for that level of responsibility, then M1 is offering you a high level of control over your portfolio along with powerful automation to manage it at a very reasonable price.
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