Table of Contents
Last Updated: November 20, 2020
Do you want to invest for free?
M1 Finance is leading the way with $0 in commissions and membership fees, user-friendly portfolio customization, and smart automation. With M1 you can:
- Invest toward any financial goal with taxable accounts
- Save for retirement with a traditional, Roth, or SEP IRA
- Borrow with a low-cost portfolio line of credit
- Earn interest and cashback on your checking account
But are they the right service for you? This in-depth M1 finance review will help you figure it out.
Everything You Need to Know
M1 Finance makes a compelling offer — ease-of-use, full customization, and no fees. Here is everything you need to know about the service that claims to offer low-cost high-quality investing. Yes, including the small print.
- Sleek and easy-to-navigate platform
- Complete portfolio customization
- Copy pro investors with M1 Finance expert pies
- Intelligent automation and rebalancing
- Invest with taxable and tax-exempt accounts
- Fractional shares to stay fully invested
- Low-cost portfolio line of credit
- Start borrowing with as little as $10,000 in investments
- Digital banking with 1% APY and no minimum account balance
- Affordable M1 Plus fee to enjoy extra perks
- No financial advisor option
- No control over the transaction time
- No risk assessment or financial planning tools
- No M1 Finance API yet (but it’s in the works)
M1 Finance Overview
Individual, joint, IRA, trust
What Is M1 Finance Best for?
M1 trading is perfect for intermediate to advanced investors who already know what they’re doing. Unlike other fintech companies in the field, M1 isn’t an advisory service. Instead, they offer automated investment management, along with borrowing and checking account options.
There is no risk assessment questionnaire, nor are there planning tools for specific goals.
While beginners will appreciate the slick, user-friendly interface, M1 Finance is meant for people who already have the necessary investing knowledge and prefer a simple, commission-free trading experience.
- Intermediate to advanced investors
- Hands-off investing
- Robust customization options
- Affordable investing (with $0 in commission and management fees)
M1 Finance Overview
M1 Finance reviews praise the platform’s ease-of-use and $0 fees. With M1, you can invest in a traditional taxable account, IRAs, or protect your assets with an M1 Trust account.
The basic account is free, while M1 Plus will set you back $125 per year. The premium membership grants you lower rates on credit, cashback for your checking account, and two daily trade windows (as opposed to just one for free accounts).
Whether you’re starting a free or M1 Plus account, the minimum investment is $100. You can start using portfolio-backed credit once you have over $10,000 in investments.
The M1 Spend checking accounts have no minimum amount and enjoy complete liquidity and an FDIC-insurance.
Setup & Ease-of-Use
Getting started with M1 Finance couldn’t be easier. Enter your email, choose a password, and you’re ready to build your pie.
M1 pies are a visual interface for portfolio creation and management. Each asset is a slice on the pie, growing and shrinking depending on the performance. There is no risk tolerance questionnaire or a goal-planning page — you’re supposed to figure this out on your own.
Once you’ve adjusted the pie, you link an account to fund the investments. M1 offers individual, joint, IRA, and trust accounts. You have to select this when you’re first opening the account.
You can’t switch a taxable portfolio to an M1 Finance Roth IRA, for instance, later down the line. If you’re transferring from another institution, account types must also match (joint account to joint account, Roth IRA to Roth IRA, etc.)
Are you ready to start building your pie? M1 offers over 6,000 stocks and exchange-traded funds to invest in. While some securities are price and volume restricted, you have ample choice of stocks and funds. You can invest in almost everything traded on the NYSE, NASDAQ, and the Better Alternative Trading System (BATS).
You can build a custom portfolio and see how it would perform before funding it (and risking actual money). Or, you could copy one of the M1 Finance expert pies, optimized for specific methodologies. Finally, you can use an expert selection and customize it to create the best M1 finance pie for your needs.
The pie interface and smart automation make portfolio management intuitive and effortless. You don’t have to trade manually. Instead, certain events trigger a trade:
- First account funding — the first deposit you make will be invested according to the targets (pie slices) you set up during registration.
- Top-ups and withdrawals — when you deposit or withdraw money, they’re invested according to your targets.
- Dynamic rebalancing — as stocks and ETFs change, their proportion may drift away from your initial goals. M1’s system notices this and automatically trades to restore the original pie balance.
- Changing your portfolio — if you decide to switch up the slices on your investment pie, M1 doesn’t make the trades immediately. Instead, they use dynamic rebalancing to reach your new goals eventually.
- Liquidating assets — when you remove a slice, M1 automatically sells it and reinvests the money in the rest of your pie (according to the targets you have set).
Your portfolio can contain multiple pies, built with different goals in mind. Auto trading makes keeping track of the assets under management much easier. But if you do want to trade right now, you can force a rebalance. This overrides the dynamic rebalancing and executes the trades in the next window.
On taxable accounts, M1 optimizes trades to limit your tax burden.
M1 Finance Trading Window
To reduce expenses and keep management fees at $0, M1 Finance only trades twice per day. Since they’re a long-term investing platform, M1 doesn’t care for short-term fluctuations, instead prioritizing savings and long-term earnings.
Basic accounts have one trading window, beginning at 9:30 am EST every working day and ending once all trades are completed. Plus, members enjoy a second window, beginning at 3:00 pm EST.
But here’s the catch:
M1 Plus members with less than $25,000 in their portfolio can trade in either of the windows. Only members with over $25,000 in investments can use both windows.
M1 is an investment automation platform, but they do offer additional services. Here’s what you need to know about them:
M1 Spend Account
This account lets you keep your cash accessible and FDIC-insured. M1 will also issue a Visa debit card for you and cover some ATM fees.
Plus, members enjoy 1% APY and 1% cash back on qualifying purchases, as well as four ATM fees covered per month. Basic accounts can withdraw for free only once per month.
There is no minimum amount to open an account, and daily limits are $50,000 for Plus members or $10,000 for Basic.
The portfolio line of credit allows you to finance current expenses without draining your investments or damaging your credit score.
Once you have over $10,000 in investments, you can borrow up to 35% of your portfolio value with a low-rate loan. The interest for basic members is 3.5%, while M1 Plus accounts get cheaper 2% rates.
Use these loans to eliminate high-interest credit, make a downpayment for your home, or pay for unforeseen expenses. In some cases, the interest may even be tax-deductible.
Using a Loan to Buy More Securities
You can borrow money to buy stocks or ETFs, expecting the profit to exceed the interest rate. To do this, you need a taxable margin account, and you can only purchase:
- Over $2,000 in stock
- Stocks over $5 per share
- NYSE and NASDAQ stocks
FINRA rules also state that your minimum margin amount should be $2,000 or 100% of the asset purchase price (whichever is lower.) But M1 will only start lending you if you have $10,000 in your account and up to 35% of the portfolio value, which is lower than the legally required 50%. This is done for your protection — to limit your risk and potential losses.
The M1 margin rates (and all credit rates) change depending on your daily adjusted debit balance and daily margin interest rate.
If your securities value falls under a minimum maintenance level, you might receive a margin call and be asked to deposit more money. If you don’t, the broker can sell assets to get to the maintenance level even without consulting you.
M1 Finance Cons
M1 Finance reviews are overwhelmingly positive, but some downsides do come up over and over again:
No Financial Advisors
The lack of financial advisors on call makes M1’s customer support less efficient and has arguably angered a lot of reviewers. What’s more, this makes the platform less beginner-friendly overall and means you have to be extra careful about the decisions you make (or risk losing your hard-earned money).
No Financial Planning Tools
M1 Finance doesn’t offer much in terms of financial goal planning. They build a portfolio for you and offer expert-made combinations to fit your goals. But, you’re responsible for:
- Researching which type of account is best (individual, joint, retirement, etc.)
- Deciding your money contribution and keeping track of your progress.
- Determining your risk preferences and choosing the right securities to match them.
While experienced investors will enjoy this distraction-free model, it’s not the best if you’re brand-new to investing.
Limited Trading Windows
While the lack of financial advice and planning tools are cons for beginners, this one might put off active short-term investors. Since M1 is a long-term investing platform, they only have two trading windows — one starting at 9:30 am EST and another at 3:00 pm EST (for M1 Plus members only). While the transaction time is unlikely to influence your long-term investments, day trading enthusiasts will feel limited by this policy.
No M1 Finance API
Once again, a downside for more advanced users, we hope M1 will soon come out with an API. They have mentioned a public API is in the works, so here’s to seeing it sooner than later.
M1 Finance Customer Service
While some M1 Finance review sites mention poor customer service as a downside, we think their offer is pretty decent for a free service. The knowledge base is easy to navigate, well-written, and answers virtually all common questions.
You can also contact them by email, where the company is responsive and usually solves things in a single interaction. Since they don’t provide financial advice, less confident investors might become frustrated with the support.
There is no M1 support phone number, which is a downside (but not something we wouldn’t expect from a free/low-cost service.) We do wish they at least had a live chat option, though.
M1 Fees & Expenses
M1 takes pride in offering free investing, regardless of your account balance. They don’t charge a maintenance fee or commissions but instead make their money through other streams of income (like loan interests).
While M1 doesn’t charge any fees, ETFs do have expense ratios. Since they’re handled in-house by the fund, you won’t notice the charge on your statement, but it’s still there.
The M1 Plus membership is $125 per year, with occasional discounts. The main perks of a paid account are:
- 1% APY for your M1 Finance checking account
- 1% cashback on qualifying M1 Spend purchases
- 2% interest rate on loans (as opposed to 3.5% for free accounts)
- Afternoon trading window
Is M1 Plus Worth It?
We think so, especially if you prefer more active asset allocation and additional control over portfolio management. The high-interest checking account is also a significant advantage since you’re getting 25 times the national average APY and cashback.
Ease-of-use is the name of the game with M1 Finance. Their mobile app works on Android and iPhone and includes all desktop platform functionality. For this M1 Finance app review, we tested it out, and are happy to report it works perfectly. You can stay on top of your investments, request and receive a loan, or make transfers between accounts securely and effortlessly.
M1 Finance User Reviews
Virtually every M1 Finance review in 2020 praises their low-cost, high-quality investing service. Here’s what real-life users have to say:
M1 is an affordable option for intermediate to advanced investors, looking for long-term earnings, and easy DIY asset management. The passive asset allocation mechanisms, along with the forced rebalancing, offer robust functionality to manage your portfolio. Most clients are happy with the M1 Finance margin ratio and their earnings. The easy access to a portfolio-backed line of credit and the high-interest checking account are additional perks users enjoy.
While the M1 Finance review consensus on Reddit and other forums is positive, some complaints come up over and over. The lack of beginner-friendly advice and tools and the limited trading windows put off short-term investors and novices. Customer support is email-only and not qualified to give you advice, which is also a common complaint in M1 Finance reviews.
Is M1 Finance the Best for You?
Unlike traditional brokerages, M1 Finance has a $0 fee and a sleek, user-friendly interface. This makes it perfect for:
- Automated, simplified investing
- Customizing your portfolio or copying expert-made asset selections
- Hands-off long-term wealth generation
- Saving up for your retirement with a traditional, Roth, or SEP IRA
- Low-rate line of portfolio loans to cover immediate expenses
- High-yield checking account
But if you’re just researching how to get into stocks, we don’t recommend getting started with M1. If you lack investing knowledge, M1 Finance makes it deceptively easy to start. Since they don’t help you assess risk tolerance or choose stocks based on your goals, it’s also easy to lose money. So, we highly recommend that beginners check out other alternatives.
Alternatives of M1 Finance
M1 Finance combines high-quality user experience with $0 in fees. But are they the best investment management option? Let’s see how the company stacks up:
M1 Finance vs Betterment
Betterment is one of the biggest and oldest advisors, offering low-cost robo advising to help you save money for any goal. Unlike M1, they offer robust financial planning tools and no minimum investment. But, Betterment does charge 0.25% in management fees and much less flexibility in choosing your investments.
|No fees regardless of your investment amount||No financial planning tools|
|User-friendly interface||No financial advisor available (not even through customer service)|
|Self-driven and completely customizable investments||No risk preferences questionnaire|
|Pie-style visualization for easy investing||No public API|
|Expert pies based on tried-and-tested methodologies||Two trading windows (one for free accounts)|
|Automated investing and dynamic rebalancing|
|Force rebalance option|
|Variety of investment accounts, including taxable and tax-exempt options|
|Trades optimized to limit the tax burden|
|Fractional shares trading|
|Portfolio-backed credit with as little as 2% interest|
|High-yield checking account|
|FDIC-insurance and complete liquidity on cash accounts|
|M1 Plus membership for extra perks|
It’s refreshing to see financial technology empowering people to invest, and this is exactly what M1 does. Our M1 Finance review shows that if you already have investing experience but want a cheaper alternative, M1 might be just the thing.
FAQ About M1 Finance
What Is M1 Finance?
M1 Finance is an automated investment management platform, free for all users. You can invest in over 6,000 exchangeable securities, tailoring your portfolio to meet your needs and preferences. With smart automatization, manual trading is left behind, and you even get to reap certain tax benefits. What's more, M1 also offers low-interest loans with as little as $10,000 in your portfolio and a high-APY checking account to keep your cash liquid and FDIC-insured.
Is M1 Finance legit?
Yes, M1 Finance is a legitimate company with years of experience. The multiple positive M1 Finance reviews online further underscore the group’s reputation.
Is M1 Finance safe?
Yes, M1 Finance uses the highest-level 4096-bit encryption for all communications. You can also set up two-factor authentication for additional protection.
How does M1 Finance work?
M1 Finance helps you invest in stocks and ETFs with a custom-made portfolio that automates trading to keep your preferred asset ratios. You can manually override the trading if need be, and enjoy hands-off investing for the rest of the time.
Is M1 Finance free?
Yes, M1 Finance doesn’t charge any commission or management fees, regardless of your account balance. Their M1 Plus membership gets you an additional trading window, lower rates on portfolio-line credit, and a high-yield checking account.
How Does M1 Finance make money?
M1 makes some income from the optional M1 Plus membership ($125 per year.) The M1 Spend accounts come with Visa debit cards, which pay interchange fees to M1. The company also generates income from the net interest margin of lending cash, lending securities, as well as the portfolio line of credit they offer. Since this is a question virtually every M1 Finance review online asks, they did an article on their company blog. Check it out here.
Is M1 Finance FDIC-insured?
M1 Spend checking accounts are FDIC-insured for up to $250,000.
Is M1 Finance good for beginners?
No, M1 Finance is a better fit for intermediate to advanced investors. If you're just getting into stocks, get educated before investing in an M1 portfolio, or try copying expert-made pies.
Can You make money with M1 Finance?
Yes, M1 Finance is an excellent way to increase your savings and build wealth for any financial goal. That said, your results depend on the market, so it's essential to learn about investing and make educated decisions about your money.