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. It is not, however, an advisory service. The firm now has more than $2 billion in assets under management and over 500,000 clients. M1 Finance is our top choice for sophisticated investors due to its unique combination of automated investing with a high level of customization, allowing clients to create a portfolio tailored to their exact specifications. It's also our top choice for low costs as it does not charge any portfolio management or trading fees, or any fees for deposits or withdrawals to a connected bank account.

New and Notable

  • M1 Spend, an integrated digital bank along with its investment service, sweeps your excess cash into an account that includes a debit card that earns 1% cash back on purchases. 
  • M1 Borrow, a portfolio line of credit available to customers with over $10,000 of marginable securities in their accounts, charges 3.5% interest. You can set up a payback schedule on the app or website.
  • M1 Plus, a subscription service that costs $125/year, allows members to earn 1% interest on their cash balances. M1 Plus also drops the interest charged for loans to 2%. There are frequent discounts on M1 Plus that are worth looking for.
  • Smart Transfers, available to M1 Plus members, lets you set a cash threshold in your M1 Spend account. Any amount over that threshold gets transferred into an Invest account, according to rules defined by the user.

Key Takeaways

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 investing world. 

Pros
  • 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 the firm generates revenue since it charges no management fee.

Cons
  • 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.

Account Setup

4.9

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. Account types supported are individual and joint taxable accounts, traditional and Roth IRAs, and trust accounts.

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.

Goal Setting

1.8

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 the 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.

Account Services

4.8

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 called M1 Plus, 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. The Borrow feature allows 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.

Cash Management

M1 Finance offers an integrated digital bank along with its investment service. M1 Spend, which launched in spring 2020, sweeps your excess cash into a savings account. It includes a debit card that earns 1% cashback on purchases. Launching in October 2020 is M1's newest service, Smart Transfers, which helps you automate dealing with excess cash, and is open to M1 Plus subscribers. You can specify the maximum you would like to hold in your Spend account, then set up rules for how to handle anything above that amount by transferring it into an M1 Invest account. You can layer the transfers by, for example, funding your IRA until you hit the annual maximum, and then transferring any excess into a taxable M1 account, or paying off a Borrow balance. A notification is sent out 24 hours prior to a transfer, which gives you a window for pausing it or editing the rule.

M1 Smart Transfer setup
M1 Smart Transfer setup.

Portfolio Construction

4.5

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. 

Portfolio Management

4.3

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 9:30 a.m. Eastern 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 8 a.m. Eastern 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 with over $25,000 balances can place trades twice a day, with the second trading window occurring in the afternoon Eastern time.

User Experience

5

Mobile Experience

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.  

Desktop Experience

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.                                      

Customer Service

2.3

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

5

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. 

M1's blog, social media, and email newsletter are intended to help investors understand the markets and improve their skills. A new newsletter called "The Investor's Mindset" was launched in August 2020. All content is tailored for self-directed investors looking to improve their long-term mindset.

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

5

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 $125, 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 earn interest on cash through the M1 Spend feature. 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%. There is, however, an account termination fee—accounts with less than $20 and no trading activity for 90 days are charged a fee.

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.

Investopedia Robo-Advisor Rating Methodology

Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of robo-advisors. Our 2020 reviews are the result of in-depth evaluations of over 20 robo-advisor platforms, including the user experience, goal-setting capabilities, portfolio construction, costs and fees, security, mobile experience, and customer service. You can read our full robo-advisor rating methodology for a much more in-depth explanation than the summary below.

Overall Star Rating Explained

With the individual investor in mind, we took a critical look at the services and technology provided by robo-advisors. We organized our methodology into nine categories, scoring each advisor across multiple variables to rate performance in every applicable category. The score for the overall award is a weighted average of the categories.

EVALUATION CATEGORIES
Review Category Weighting Variables
Account Setup   5% 6
Goal Setting 15% 4
Account Services 10% 8
Portfolio Construction 15% 7
Portfolio Management 20% 4
User Experience 15% 6
Customer Service   5% 5
Education & Security   5% 6
Fees 10% 5

The Review Process

To evaluate these platforms, we sent questionnaires with over 100 queries to the participating robo-advisories. Most of the companies we reviewed gave us socially-distanced video demonstrations of their platforms and services during August 2020.

From the questionnaires, the hands-on testing of the platforms, and the platform demonstrations, we scored each category and then combined the category scores into an overall rating for each robo-advisor. Each category covers the critical elements users need to thoroughly evaluate a robo-advisor.

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