M1 Finance Review 2021: Pros, Cons, & Expert Opinion

Bob Haegele By: Bob Haegele

May 16, 2021

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4.9/5

4.9 rating based on 5 ratings

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In a nutshell: M1 Finance is an investment app combining automated investment with customizable stock portfolios to give you to best of both worlds.

It achieves this with its pie investing and automatic rebalancing. The result? More investment options and more ease of use.

Fees Account Minimum Promotion
$0 - $125/year $0 Invest for Free

M1 Finance is an online trading platform offering investment pies, one-click rebalancing, and customizable portfolios. It allows you to choose from a set of pre-built portfolios or build your own portfolio from scratch with stocks and ETFs.

M1 Finance is best for:

  • Passive investors
  • DIY investors
  • Socially-responsible investors
  • Fee-conscious investors

Pros & Cons

PROS

  • No minimum balances
  • No monthly or annual fees
  • Automatic portfolio rebalancing
  • Invest for Free

CONS

  • No tax-loss harvesting
  • Only supports IRA for retirement accounts

Compare to Other Investing Platforms

M1 Finance
4.9 rating based on 5 ratings
4.9/5
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Fees$0 - $125/year

Minimum Investment$0

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Betterment
4.9 rating based on 5 ratings
4.9/5
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Fees0.25% - 0.40%

Minimum Investment$0

PromoUp to 1 year free

Sofi
4.7 rating based on 5 ratings
4.7/5
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Fees$0

Minimum Investment$0

PromoInvest for free

Full M1 Finance Review

M1 Finance is the perfect robo-advisor for anyone to start investing in the stock market. M1 allows you to create fully custom stock portfolios. And after the initial setup, you can automate your investment strategy. Or just pick from one of the portfolios built by M1’s team of experts.

Whether you have a large amount of cash to invest upfront or you are just starting to save, this robo-advisor has something for you.

M1 Finance at a Glance

Account Minimum
  • No account minimum.
Management Fees
  • $0 for a basic account.
  • $125 per year for M1 Plus.
Expense Ratios
  • Expense ratios for ETFs range between 0.06% and 0.20%.
Account Fees
  • $20 inactivity fee for accounts with up to $20 & no activity for 90 days.
Portfolio Mix
  • Portfolio is fully customizable.
  • Users gain access to M1’s expert pies.
Account Types
  • IRA, SEP IRA, Brokerage, Trusts, Checking.
Tax Strategy
  • No tax-loss harvesting but has tax minimization.
Automatic Rebalancing
  • One-click rebalancing.
  • Automatic rebalancing on deposit.
Savings Account/Cash Management
  • Cash management account offered to all M1 users.
  • High APY and cash back only for M1 Plus subscribers.
Customer Support
  • Phone and email support during business hours.
  • Automated chat tool available 24/7.
Human Advisors
  • Not offered with M1 Finance.

What is M1 Finance?

M1 Finance is a robo-advisor and investment platform that combines features of various other investing services. The company is based in Chicago, IL, and was founded in 2015. Its parent organization is M1 Holdings Inc.

Today, M1’s assets under management exceed $3 billion.

The company’s CEO, Brian Barnes, created M1 because “The financial services industry has lacked any meaningful innovation for far too long, and I decided it was time for change.”

Barnes then did exactly that: he created a unique, innovative product. If you aren’t sure how to buy stocks, M1 is a great way to start.

What is M1 Finance

 

M1 Finance automates your investments for a hands-off experience. But it also allows you to hand-pick your investments—something most other robo-advisors don’t offer.

What is similar to other robo-advisors is that it directs users to a questionnaire that helps assess risk.

Other robo-advisors may use this questionnaire simply to determine your stock/bond allocation, but M1 uses it to suggest different portfolios.

Those with lower risk tolerance will have more bonds; higher risk tolerance means more stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

These are only suggestions, however. You are still able to create your own custom portfolio from the ground up.

M1 Finance is a member of FINRA. Each investment portfolio is covered for up to $500,000 by the SIPC.

In addition, up to $250,000 cash in M1 Spend is covered by the FDIC. Also, there is no trading commission, much like other popular apps, such as Robinhood.

Still have questions? We’ll try to answer all of them, but you can also check out the company’s About page.

M1 Invest: Building Your Portfolio

The main feature that sets M1 apart from other investing platforms is its investment pies. Pie investing allows you to build an easy-to-maintain, custom portfolio. Plus, you can buy fractional shares, making investing both fun and lucrative.

What Are Investment Pies?

M1 Pie-Based Investing
Investment pies allow investors to create “pies” where each asset is one slice. Those slices can be stocks, bonds, or ETFs. Each time you invest, M1 will automatically balance each slice to match your target allocation.

 

These pies are exactly what they sound like: they are made up of individual “slices,” which can be either individual stocks, bonds, or low-cost ETFs. And they can be tailored to any risk tolerance.

When you first sign up, you’ll be prompted to make three selections from a list of popular stocks, funds, and expert pies. You can also search for your own if you prefer.

Thousands of different bonds, stocks, and ETFs are available on M1 Finance’s platform, so you should have no problem finding the ones you’d like to buy.

Unfortunately, M1 Finance does not offer mutual funds. For more info, have a look at M1’s How it Works page.

Funding Your Account

When you run through the setup process, you won’t be required to make an initial deposit. However, in order to actually start investing on the platform, you must deposit at least $100. Retirement accounts require an initial deposit of $500.

Also note that if you want to enable automatic deposits, there is a minimum of $10 for each deposit.

During the setup process, you will be prompted to add your bank account via Plaid. You’ll see a list of common banks, or you can search for your bank if you don’t see it.

You also have the option to add your bank manually using your routing and account numbers.

Account Types

Opening a brokerage account is the most likely option for M1 Finance users, but that isn’t the only type of account you’re able to add. An M1 Finance Roth IRA is a great choice as well.

M1 Finance offers the following account types:

Other types of accounts, such as a 401k, 403b, or 457b are not currently supported.

Features

M1 has a few key features that make it unique. Where it really shines is its pie-based investing.

M1 Finance Pies

M1 Finance pies allow you to maintain your M1 Finance portfolios in pie form. You simply add slices to your investment pie, allowing for easy management.

Plus, you can see a visual representation of your pie, and slices shrink and grow based on whether you are underweight or overweight against your target allocation.

Investment pies let you create “pies” where each asset is one slice. Those slices can be stocks, bonds, or ETFs. Each time you invest, M1 will automatically balance each slice to match your target allocation.

You can either build your own pie or use one of M1’s expert pies. Later, we’ll cover what some of those are.

Expert Pies

M1 Finance offers expert pies, which make investing with M1 easy. You can use any of M1’s expert pies as-is, or you can add it to an existing portfolio.

M1 Pies Aggressive

Some examples of expert pies include:

  • General investing
  • Plan for retirement
  • Responsible investing
  • Income earners
  • Hedge fund followers
  • Stocks & bonds
  • Other strategies

Each expert pie can contain a combination of stocks, ETFs, or bonds. Whether you’re interested in socially responsible investing or just stocks and ETFs in general, M1 offers it.

You can use an expert pie as-is or you can make it a percentage of your custom pie, then add other slices to it. In other words, you can make expert pies part of your own pie.

M1 Finance model
“Our selection model takes into account the fund’s cost, volume, size, and tracking error (how well the fund tracks the benchmark it seeks to replicate).”

M1 uses a quantitative analysis on all traded ETFs to determine the best ones for each pie. The result is that each pie leaves you with the best combination of diversity and performance. When you view each expert pie, you can also see a performance chart, letting you know what to expect.

M1 Finance offers different pies suited to different goals, such as socially responsible investing. That is great for investors who want to invest in companies that align with their values.

What is the Best M1 Finance Pie?

It’s not easy to pick one pie as a blanket recommendation because everyone has such different goals. Your risk tolerance and your values may play a part, among other factors.

The best way to get started is to take a look at one of the M1 Finance expert pies. Once you have a feel for how you want to invest, you can further refine your strategy.

Managing Your M1 Finance Portfolio

Your account with M1 can contain several expert pies, allowing you to customize it exactly the way you want. Any time you add a stock slice to your portfolio, it will be bought during the next trading window when the New York Stock Exchange is open.

For free users, that means 9 a.m. Central time on the New York Stock Exchange each business day. Since there is only one trading window, M1 is not the best for active traders. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to invest in ETFs.

However, note that if you want to create more than one asset allocation, you have to create an entirely new account. To give an example, let’s say you have a diversified portfolio that is 80% stock funds (ETFs) and 20% bond funds.

But you’d also like to separately invest in a few stocks just for fun. Maybe you buy some Apple shares, some Tesla shares, and some Microsoft shares. If you want to do this, it’s not possible to add them to your investment portfolio without changing your 80/20 asset allocation.

If you were to change that 80/20 allocation, it will affect all of your investments going forward. Changing your allocation to 70/20/10, where 10 is your “fun money” means any time you invest, 10% of it will go to those individual stocks.

You can’t just invest in a few individual stocks here and there.

So if you wanted to create another allocation of a few fun money stocks without affecting your main ETF/bonds portfolio, you have to create a whole new account with M1 Finance.

This isn’t terribly inconvenient, but it seems that technology should enable this all within one account.

Asset Performance

Like most investing platforms, M1 gives you basic performance indicators for each stock/bond.

This includes several key pieces of information, such as the number of holdings, expense ratios, performance, and the share price.

Automatic Rebalancing

Another nice feature of an M1 account is its built-in rebalancing. Because each slice of your pie has a percentage allocated to it, M1 will distribute each deposit you make so that it fits your allocation.

If one of your assets is outperforming all the others and you make a deposit, that asset will get less of the cash balance than the others so that the others can “catch up.”

What is Automatic Rebalancing?

Automatic Rebalancing
Automatic rebalancing will rebalance your portfolio as your investments grow. In the case of M1, this is done by allocating money deposited to any assets that are lagging until each one is as close as possible to your target allocation.

Going back to our 80/20 allocation, if your stocks are performing exceptionally well and your portfolio is now 85% stocks, more of your deposited money goes to bonds until your portfolio is back to 80/20.

Having that built-in rebalancing is nice – especially if your pie has dozens of slices.

And when you sell your shares, M1 also does so in a way that helps balance your portfolio.

How money is withdrawn depends upon your current portfolio allocation compared to your target allocation.

One-Click Rebalancing

M1 Finance Rebalancing

You also have the option to rebalance with a single click. To do so, all you have to do is click “rebalance” under your portfolio pie on the dashboard:

Once you click rebalance, M1 will automatically execute trades for you to match your target allocations. Those trades will start at the next trade window, which is 9:30 a.m. Eastern on business days. M1 Plus members have an additional trade window at 3 p.m. Eastern.

You can also find your target allocations by clicking “edit” next to the rebalance button (see snippet above).

Tax-Loss Harvesting

M1 doesn’t have tax-loss harvesting like some other platforms, but it does have features built in to help minimize tax implications when selling shares.

In particular, when you sell your shares, the system will sell them in this order:

  • Losses that offset future gains
  • Lots that result in long-term gains
  • Lots that result in short-term gains

While this is not the same as real tax-loss harvesting, it is better than the system selling shares in totally random order.

Fractional Shares

M1 has fractional shares which let you purchase pieces of stock as small as 1/100,000th of a share. Thus, you’ll never have cash sitting on the sidelines until you can afford another share.

M1 fractional share
“A fractional share is equity in a security that is less than one full share. M1 splits every share into 1/100,000th of a share so you can trade exact amounts of each based on the targets set in your portfolio.”

Say you want to buy a share of Facebook (NYSE: FB) stock or Amazon (NYSE: AMZN) stock.

If you only have $100 to invest, with a traditional brokerage, you’d have to save up until you have enough to buy a whole share.

That’s not the case for fractional shares. As long as what you want to buy isn’t smaller than 1/100,000th of a share, you’re good to go.

Cash tends to lose purchasing power over time due to inflation, even when put in high-yield savings accounts.

Therefore, being able to invest all of the cash you set aside for that purpose is a big win.

If you combine this with an M1 Spend account, you’ll be able to fully leverage your cash at all times. M1 Spend is an online checking account and money is moved from M1 Spend to your taxable account/IRA the next business day. It takes two-three business days when using an external bank.

Dividend Reinvestment

Dividends are displayed in the activity tab as well as the performance for individual securities. When you receive a dividend, it will be added to your cash balance.

If you set your cash balance to auto-invest in your account, your dividends (plus any other cash you deposit) will be automatically invested. Thus, M1 Finance has DRIP style reinvesting.

In order to be invested automatically, your cash balance must reach at least $25. You also have the option to set a minimum cash balance, which will result in a set amount of cash not being automatically invested.

As is always the case with M1, that money will be evenly distributed based on the allocation set in your investment pie.

Mobile App

One of M1’s strong points is the excellent M1 Finance app. That’s because it doesn’t sacrifice much. In truth, the experience when moving between the desktop site and the mobile app is seamless.

The app is available on both Android and iPhone. Indeed, just about all the functionality of the desktop site is available on this little mobile app.

M1’s mobile app lets you purchase new investments, access M1 Spend and M1 Borrow, transfer money, and see investment research.

The app supports biometric (fingerprint) login, and the system has military-grade 4096-bit encryption, keeping your investments safe.

You can also optionally enable two-factor authentication for added security.

M1 Finance Fees

A basic M1 Invest account is completely free. There are no monthly fees or management fees, no minimum balances, and no trading fees.

Of course, M1 still wants to make money. It does so through fees on its other services, M1 Spend and M1 Borrow.

M1 Spend

M1 Spend is M1’s free checking account and can serve as a place to hold cash that you’d like to set aside but aren’t quite ready to invest. M1 Spend is a bank account that earns modest interest for M1 Plus members, but none for basic account members.

You will receive a debit card in the mail if you opt in for M1 Spend. If you incur ATM fees when using your debit card, M1 will reimburse you once per month (or up to four reimbursements with M1 Plus).

M1 Borrow

M1 Borrow is a portfolio line of credit that allows you to borrow up to 35% of your portfolio’s value. The base interest rate for these loans is 3.5% or 2% for M1 Plus members.

This could make them an attractive borrowing option for anyone making a large purchase. Or you could use it to refinance student loans, pay off credit cards, etc. In order to borrow against that balance, you must have a brokerage account with a balance of at least $10,000.

On the plus side, there is no payment schedule, and interest accrued may be tax-deductible if you itemize your tax deductions.

M1 Plus

M1 Plus works as an upgrade to what you get with a free account. For $125/year, it either adds new features or upgrades existing ones.

M1 Plus does provide benefits that may appeal to some, such as cashback and high APY for checking accounts. That said, these benefits can be had elsewhere without an annual fee.

M1 Plus

If you’re an active trader, the higher daily ACH limit may seem appealing. In addition, the 2% base rate on M1 Borrow could prove useful for some.

All in all, whether the $125 annual fee is worth paying will depend on your spending/borrowing/investing habits.

M1 Finance Customer Service

In terms of customer support, M1 can answer basic questions via email and phone. Their phone support is available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. eastern. There is also an AI-driven chat box at the bottom of the website.

You can also find several FAQ pages to answer some of your common questions. Plus, there are detailed blog posts and webinars with more information on the customer support page.

Unlike some other investment apps and services, M1 does not offer access to financial advisors. However, most charge a fee for that privilege, with the exception of SoFi InvestBetterment and Blooom offer access to financial advisors for an added fee.

M1 Finance vs. Betterment

When looking at M1 Finance vs. Betterment, what you should know is that each is an excellent investing platform, albeit for different reasons.

M1 Finance is great for its pie-based investing, which makes it easy to create custom portfolios. You have the option to use M1 completely for free unless you opt for M1 Plus for some additional features.

Unlike Betterment, M1 doesn’t have tax-loss harvesting. It does, however, allow you to rebalance your portfolio with one click.Betterment Review

Betterment, on the other hand, has excellent diversification, but it doesn’t allow you to customize your portfolio (beyond stocks vs. bond allocation).

As Betterment is strictly a robo-advisor, it doesn’t have a free option. Still, the fee isn’t too bad for those who want a truly hands-off experience.

Neither service lets you deal with mutual funds.

M1 Finance vs. Robinhood

When considering M1 Finance vs. Robinhood, we can see that both are great platforms depending on how you use them. However, there are significant differences.Robinhood

M1 Finance is ideal for long-term investors who want an easy-to-manage portfolio of stocks, ETFs, and bonds. The M1 app makes it easy to trade on the go. Plus, M1’s expert pies make it easy for anyone to create a portfolio in a matter of minutes.

Robinhood, on the other hand, is great if you find the M1 Finance trading window to be an issue. Indeed, if you want to be a day trader, Robinhood is a better bet. That’s because it lets you trade whenever you want. M1 only lets you trade once per day (or twice per day for M1 Plus).

Robinhood is also known for letting its users trade on leverage, which became controversial during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, if you want to be a pattern day trader on Robinhood, you’ll need to maintain at least $25,000 in equity.

Both apps are nice for buying individual stocks. M1 Finance fees and Robinhood fees are both $0 for trades. Both have excellent mobile apps and, overall, make trading a breeze.

M1 Finance vs. Vanguard

In some ways, M1 and Vanguard are similar. In other ways – not so much. Both are great in their own ways, but there are significant differences, too. Let’s find out howVanguard the two brokerages compare.

M1 Finance is best for DIY investors, like Vanguard. However, it has a more modern approach to investing and makes things simpler with its investment pies.

It also has no minimum balance with fractional shares. Although a Vanguard brokerage account has no minimum balance, several of its funds do have a minimum investment.

Plus, Vanguard doesn’t offer fractional shares with its brokerage accounts, unlike M1 Finance.

Vanguard is one of the original DIY investment tools. In fact, Jack Bogle, the company’s founder, created the first index fund.

These days, it doesn’t have quite the ease of use of more modern tools like M1 Finance. That’s because it’s more of a traditional brokerage. Nevertheless, its fees remain quite low.

In addition, it now has a robo-advisor called Vanguard Digital Services. At 0.15%, its management fee is actually lower than other popular robo-advisors such as Betterment.

So, while Vanguard is a bit antiquated in some ways, it has recently introduced some new products that could be attractive to new investors.

» Want to see how M1 compares to its competitors? Check out our list of the best robo-advisors.

M1 Finance FAQ

As M1 is still relatively new compared to names like Fidelity and Vanguard, I’d like to address questions you may have about the platform.

Is M1 Finance Safe?

Yes, M1 is a safe and legitimate company. M1 is a member of FINRA and cash deposits are FDIC-insured. Plus, investments are SIPC-insured. Thus, M1 Finance is safe and you don’t have to worry that your money isn’t protected.

Despite the fact that M1 is relatively new, there is little reason to have doubts about the company. In addition, M1 is an American company based in downtown Chicago, IL—not some obscure foreign country.

You can learn more about M1 Finance’s About page.

Is M1 Good for Beginners?

M1 can be good for beginners used the right way. M1 offers a variety of ETFs and pre-built expert pies, meaning there’s no need for you to sift through thousands of possible investments.

That being said, it’s likely that intermediate to advanced investors will appreciate the platform more. That’s because it allows for almost unlimited flexibility, and you still have to select your own investments.

Beginner investors may prefer a platform like Betterment or Wealthfront, which select all your investments for you.

How Does M1 Finance Make Money?

M1 Finance makes money from fees it charges investors for M1 Plus, M1 Borrow, and on interest earned from lending securities. It also makes money from cash management and payment for order flow (PFOF).

M1 Borrow is another source of revenue as the company charges interest on the money you borrow. Rates start at 2% for M1 Plus and 3.5% for free users.

That said, a basic M1 Invest account is completely free. You can easily create a portfolio and never spend anything unless you decide to upgrade to M1 Plus.

Is M1 Finance Right For You?

M1 is an excellent investing platform with very minimal fees. It’s one of our favorite robo-advisors and the company has over $3 billion in assets under management.

It simplifies the investing process and makes it easy for the passive investor to maintain a healthy, balanced portfolio and personal finance through automated investing.

That said, M1 is not great for active traders and day traders because there is only one trading window (9 a.m. Central). M1 Finance allows trades only during that time.

If you transfer funds into your M1 Finance account after that time (or on the weekends), they won’t be invested until 9 a.m. the next business day. If you pay for M1 Plus, you’ll get two trade windows, but that still isn’t nearly enough for an active trader.

If you’re looking for a simple solution that will demystify investing and create a diversified portfolio that helps you grow your investments with minimal intervention, M1 is for you.

In fact, if you enable automatic deposits, your portfolio will require virtually no ongoing maintenance. That is all thanks to M1 Finance’s automatic rebalancing.

It’s always good to check it from time to time, but checking it every day – or even every month – might be unnecessary.

Regardless of your goals, M1 is a great platform for all kinds of investors, and one worth checking out for anyone who wants to start investing.

Start investing with M1 Finance for free.

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Bob Haegele

About the Author:

Bob Haegele is a personal finance writer, entrepreneur, and dog walker. Bob has been writing about personal finance for three years and now manages several personal finance sites, including The Frugal Fellow, Modest Money, and Blooming Wealth. You can also find him contributing to popular websites such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, and GOBankingRates. You can see more of his work on Muck Rack and Contently, or connect with him on LinkedIn.