M1 Finance review 2021

Bankrate senior reporter James F. Royal, Ph.D., covers investing and wealth management. His work has been cited by CNBC, the Washington Post, The New York Times and more.

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M1 Finance Logo

Best For

  • Automatic investing
  • Margin loans
  • Learning how to manage your portfolio

M1 Finance straddles the line between broker and robo-advisor, between letting you run wild and giving you basic tools and portfolios that can guide you. It’s in a strange limbo, and may attract those who are looking for automated investing from their broker but who may not want the restrictions of a typical robo-advisor. Still, those wanting the full-featured experience of either broker or robo-advisor may not find what they’re looking for. But those who fit the mix of features offered at M1 Finance may find it especially useful and won’t be able to imagine going elsewhere. 

Those looking for a fully featured broker might turn to Charles Schwab or Fidelity Investments, while those on the hunt for optimized portfolio management may turn to Wealthfront or Betterment, the latter of which offers some extra flexibility in choosing your portfolio. 

M1 Finance at a glance

Star Rating

  • Cost: 5 of 5
  • Investments and Portfolios: 5 of 5
  • Account Types: 4.5 of 5
  • Features and Tools: 3.5 of 5
  • Customer Experience: 4.5 of 5
  • Account Minimum:
    $100 for taxable account, $500 for retirement accounts
  • Management Fee:
    No cost for trading or commissions, M1 Plus costs $125 a year
  • Account fees:
    Inactivity fee for accounts less than $20 and no activity for 90+ days: $20; $100 outgoing account transfer; $100 IRA termination fee
  • Portfolio Mix:
    Can choose from preselected portfolios or design your own with any combination of stocks and funds
  • Fund Expense Ratio:
    Funds range from 0.03 -0.24 percent, with an average portfolio below 0.10 percent
  • Account Types:
    Individual and joint taxable, Roth IRA, traditional IRA, SEP IRA and rollover IRA, custodial account, trust account
  • Cash Management Account:
    Yes, with debit card, margin loans, no monthly minimum account fee, 1 ATM reimbursement per month on basic plan; M1 Plus adds 1 percent on debit card purchase, 1 percent on cash balances
  • Customer service:
    Phone Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET, email response within one business day
  • Tax Strategy:
    Tax minimization, but no tax-loss harvesting
  • Rebalancing:
    No automatic rebalancing, but clients can request rebalancing.
  • Tools:
    Stock and ETF screener, news feed
  • Promotion:
    One year free trial of M1 Plus, $30 referral bonus, up to $4,000 cash for depositing money

Pros: Where M1 Finance stands out

Automated investing and investing pies

The real draw for investors here is the ability to set up an automatic investing plan and then have it run the way you want. It’s like having your broker run your financial plan on your behalf, and you can kick back and do something you find much more meaningful. It may be a great choice for those who want to build their own custom portfolio and then let it ride. 

Unlike a robo-advisor, which builds a portfolio for you, M1 Finance lets you select what you want to invest in. You create a “pie” – think pie chart – with the investments that you want. Your pies can consist of thousands of stocks or ETFs available on the platform, and you can weight the slices in your pie however you like. You can create multiple pies for different strategies even. It's useful to know what you want to invest in, because you’re basically on the spot to pick your slices. 

If that’s a bit too daunting, you can select from professionally created pies. Turn to a general investing pie, for example, and select one that fits your risk tolerance (conservative, moderate, aggressive and others). M1 helpfully shows the returns of these pies (over the last one, three and five years), shows the funds that comprise the pie and explains what the specific pie hopes to achieve. So even newer investors can select a pie that fits their needs. These general investing pies are typically constructed with funds from Vanguard, so they’re low cost. 

You’ll also be able to select from expert pies that include socially responsible investing, dividend and income portfolios, a basic stock-and-bond blended portfolio, a target-date portfolio for retirement planners and pies that mimic popular hedge funds, among others. In each case, you’ll see the longer-term returns of the pies and their objectives, so that can help you gauge your selections. 

Once you’ve selected what you want to invest in, you can set up auto-invest and buy your pies automatically. If you want to buy individual stocks or funds in your portfolio, you can turn off auto-invest at any point and simply buy any stock or fund that’s in one of your pies. 

In order to reduce its costs, M1 places trades during a “trade window” each day. The morning trade window begins at 9:30 a.m., so you’ll need to have your order in before that to have it executed that trading day. You may also have access to an afternoon window starting at 3 p.m if you’re a member of the M1 Plus program (more below).

While M1 doesn’t automatically rebalance your portfolio, you can click a rebalance button to get that done. It’s worth noting that this move may create tax liabilities, since you’ll be selling some positions to buy others. But absent a rebalance order, your auto-invest program will add money to your underinvested stocks and funds, helping you to rebalance without the tax issues.

It won’t take a lot to get started investing. You’ll need $100 in a taxable account of $500 in a retirement account to get going. And M1 Finance allows you to buy fractional shares, so you’ll be able to be fully invested with your money. 

You’ll get all these features in the standard plan with no commission or trading expense. However, if you’re invested in funds, you’ll still have to pay the fund’s management expenses.

M1 Plus

While anyone can sign up and access M1 Finance’s standard plan for free, the robo-advisor really packs in the extra features with what it calls M1 Plus, its upgraded plan at $125 a year. (However, you may be able to get a free year of M1 Plus when you sign up for the program.)

Here’s what that annual fee buys you: 

  • An extra afternoon trade window (in addition to the morning window)
  • Custodial accounts
  • Smart transfers (more below)
  • Margin loans at a discounted rate
  • 1 percent interest on the balance in your cash management account
  • 1 percent cash back on your debit card purchases
  • Up to 4 ATM withdrawal fees reimbursed monthly
  • All international fees reimbursed
  • 5 debit card design choices 

Depending on how you actually use your account, that extra fee may be worth it for you. But some features such as reimbursed ATM fees are available at other robo-advisors for free. 

Smart transfers

Smart transfers are M1’s way to help you automate your financial life. You can set rules and allow your account to act automatically. For example, you can set smart transfers to keep a minimum balance in your cash account and move the rest of your money over to invest. 

You could set up your account to take out a margin loan if your cash account drops too low, or you could move cash to several different accounts, a taxable account and an IRA, say. You can also set them up to move money from one savings goal to another. The point is, you’re able to automate so much of your financial life that you won’t even need to think about it any more. 

It’s a cool feature, for sure, and rivals such as Wealthfront have rolled out similar features. But if there’s a downside, it’s that you have to be a member of M1 Plus to avail yourself of this perk.

Margin loans

M1 Finance offers you the ability to access a margin loan, and it’s what the robo-advisor calls M1 Borrow. What makes the plan a superstar is that the interest rate is so low. Crazy low.

In its basic plan, the robo-advisor charges just 3.5 percent – about equal to rate on the portfolio line of credit offered at Wealthfront. That’s already attractively low in its own right. But if you’re part of M1 Plus, the robo-advisor drops its rate to a mere 2 percent. That’s truly hard to beat. 

And you won’t need $25,000 (as you would at Wealthfront) to access a margin loan. At M1, you’ll need just $5,000 to take out a margin loan, and you’ll be able to tap the account for up to 35 percent of your account’s value. You’ll be able to use the line of credit in taxable accounts. 

Like other margin loans, M1’s margin loan has no fixed repayment schedule, and as long as you have an outstanding balance you’ll accrue interest expenses. However, if your account value declines, you may be on the hook to replace the borrowed money, depending on the equity in your account and how much you’ve borrowed. Again, this is standard for margin loans. 

So this feature allows you to remain invested and be able to tap your funds, when needed, at a low interest rate. If you’re thinking about going with a broker instead, Interactive Brokers offers a low rate without having to buy in to a specific plan, like M1 Plus. 

Is the extra fee for M1 Plus worth it for the interest savings? While the annual fee of $125 does get you some other perks, let’s assume the lower cost of margin is what you’re really after. You’ll start to break even on margin expenses with an average outstanding balance of $8,333 over the course of a year. You’d need an account of nearly $24,000 at max leverage to break even. 

But M1 Plus does get you some other features, as mentioned above, that may draw you.

Quick comparison of Robo-Advisor options:
Robo-Advisor Overall Rating Cost Rating Investments and Portfolios
M1 Finance logo
5 5 of 5
Wealthfront review 2021 logo Read Our Review
5 5 of 5
Betterment review 2021 logo Read Our Review
5 5 of 5
Ellevest review 2021 logo Read Our Review
4.5 5 of 5

Cons: Where M1 Finance could improve

No advisory services or financial planning

While this review has spent a lot of time discussing how M1 Finance is like a robo-advisor, it’s necessary to mention that it is not a robo-advisor, nor does it employ financial advisors to work with clients. In this regard, it’s more like a traditional broker. And that means it doesn’t offer real financial planning to help you meet goals, for example. It lets you mimic professional portfolios or helps you design your own, but planning how your money fits into your life is up to you.

If planning is important to you, check out Betterment or Ellevest, both of which offer robust services. They also offer access to advisors, though it costs more than the standard service. 

No tax-loss harvesting

M1 Finance does not offer tax-loss harvesting on its accounts, which is too bad, since so much of the rest of the account feels automated. Tax-loss harvesting involves selling losing investments to help offset any gains and reduce your overall taxes. It’s a standard feature among the top robo-advisors, and both Wealthfront and Betterment offer versions of it. 

What M1 Finance does offer, however, is what it calls tax minimization. This process involves reducing your tax burden by categorizing your investments by their tax effects and then, when you sell a specific stock or ETF, prioritizing those that minimize your tax burden. It’s not tax-loss harvesting, but it can reduce your taxes at the margin. 

Cash management account

The cash management account here – what the company calls M1 Spend – is nothing special, particularly when put side by side with other cash accounts at rival robo-advisors. 

The basic cash management account gives you a debit card, FDIC insurance up to $250,000 and one ATM fee reimbursement per month. You’ll also pay international fees at a very low rate, if you spend in foreign countries. And there’s no minimum balance fee. 

As mentioned above, M1 Plus gets you a few extras, including some rewards cash for spending, interest on your cash balance and more ATM reimbursements, among other things. These alone won’t justify the fee, especially as rivals charge little or nothing for more robust cash accounts. 

For example, both Betterment and Wealthfront allow you a no-cost cash account, even if you’re not investing there. You’ll get a smidgen of interest, no monthly minimums, fee-free ATMs or reimbursed ATM fees. Wealthfront and Cash App both offer direct deposit up to two days early

Bottom line

For some investors, M1 Finance will feel like exactly what they’ve been looking for in a broker or robo-advisor. So with its mix of automation and light portfolio management, M1 fills a niche perfect for one kind of do-it-yourself investor who wants some model portfolios along with freedom. But with some nice features hidden behind the service’s $125-a-year plan, newer investors with a bit less cash may feel put off, even if they can get started with little cash. 

Investors looking for more guidance and planning should look at Wealthfront and Betterment, or if they can bring more money to the account, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios. Those leaning more toward a full brokerage account may find Interactive Brokers, Schwab or Fidelity to their liking. 

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