M1 Finance Review: Looking for an exceptional, all-in-one robo investing and cash management system? Here it is.

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M1 Finance offers some sophisticated tools that can benefit all long-term investors. Its flexible portfolio construction tool uses simple pie charts to select asset classes and products, or investors can choose from over 80 model portfolios. A sophisticated auto-rebalancing system manages portfolios, and there is a user-friendly margin account system for borrowing or debit card use. M1 is a complete robo-advisor that deserves a close look. Read our full review to find out if M1 Finance is right for you.

M1 Finance Review

This robo-advisor is a good fit for all types of long-term investors looking for a fully integrated investing, borrowing, and checking account system with some impressive special features.

Pros

  • Free access to over 80 professionally designed model portfolios
  • Automatic portfolio rebalancing
  • Fractional equity shares available
  • Flexible line of credit and margin account for portfolios over $10,000
  • Automated and manual order management system
  • $100 minimum for taxable accounts, and a $500 minimum for retirement accounts.
  • No commissions or management fees

Cons

  • Client service is done by email. It’s nothing personal. Most robo-advisors do it this way.
  • No access to options, individual bonds, and mutual funds.
  • Stocks and ETFs are limited to those most actively traded.
  • M1 Finance only accepts market orders for buying and selling. Limit or stop-loss orders are not accepted.
  • Trades are only entered once or twice a day (9:30 am and 3 pm EDT.)
  • The M1 Plus account has limited benefits.

Top perks

A great combination of self-service and robo-investing

Flexibility is built into M1. Investors can create their own portfolios using individual stocks or ETFs. They can also take advantage of 80 professionally constructed ones modeled after those used by hedge funds, Warren Buffet, and mutual fund expert Paul Merriman. Once a portfolio is selected, M1’s auto-rebalancing kicks in to keep the individual asset exposures on target.

Investors can also manually rebalance a single segment or the entire portfolio. To keep the model portfolios robust, the “Expert Pie” portfolios are updated on a specified schedule described in each Pie’s description. These updates vary and can be quarterly, annually, or longer. When updates are available, the changes are automatically applied to the customer’s portfolio.

A flexible, transparent margin account

Margin accounts can be complicated and risky, but M1 has streamlined the process. A $10,000 minimum in invested assets allows clients to borrow up to 35% of this sum for any purpose. M1 says it charges a low interest rate (3.5% or 2% for M1 Plus members) and a flexible repayment plan with next-day funding. Clients will get alerts on any maintenance margin calls on their dashboard to avoid costly delays.

Automated management of tax-losses

One of the least understood but essential aspects of trading are tax management. M1 uses a “tax-efficient” system of selling stocks in a particular order to minimize future gains. That’s a nerdy way of saying your tax obligation can be minimized when stocks are sold in a specific order. This is a great example of the benefits provided by robo-advisors. This feature applies to all clients, regardless of account size.

What could be improved

The human touch is missing

This is not unique to M1 since most robo-advisors don’t have humans in their call centers. Come to think of it, most do not have call centers. However, M1 has some short videos and an easy-to-navigate library of financial articles and how-to guides that are self-explanatory.

Account types

M1 doesn’t offer custodial accounts, Coverdells, and 529 savings plans.

Limited trading hours

Trading is only done once or twice a day (morning or afternoons) as opposed to continuous trading throughout the day. M1 said it is designed “for the person that wants to build long-term sustainable wealth, not for active day trading. These two behaviors require very different tools.” However, this should not be a problem for long-term investors.

The M1 Plus account is limited

M1 offers a Plus account for clients who pay $125 annually. However, the benefits–1% cashback on credit card purchases, 1% APY, a higher ACH daily limit, a base borrowing rate of 2%, and a twice-daily trading window–are limited.

Alternatives to consider

If you need the human touch and want to talk to a human customer service rep, the robo-advisor world has some choices. While this may be comforting, remember that this is a premium service compared to a straight robo-advisory, so that it may involve higher minimum account sizes and fees.

The good news is that there are more choices, so consider the following firms and be aware of their minimum requirements. Here are the options: Personal Capital, Betterment, SoFi Invest (formerly SoFi Wealth), Ellevest, RobinHood, Wealthsimple, SigFig, TD Ameritrade Essential Portfolios, and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.

If you want a full-service robo advisor that combines automation and human contact, they do exist. The gap between the early robo advisors that had limited services and the ones operating today is quickly shrinking as robos add more assets under management (expected to reach $4.6 trillion by 2022) and expand their menu of services. For example, Wealthfront offers free personalized financial planning to its clients, while Betterment has added no-fee, high-yield checking, and savings account options.

How M1 Finance works

Minimum Investment

M1 has a $100 minimum account size for taxable accounts and a $500 minimum for retirement accounts. M1 does not charge fees or commissions on its investments. There is also a premium membership (which allows for two trading windows per day, among other features) that costs $125, but all trades made on the platform are free.

Services Offered

M1 has been growing rapidly since it launched in 2016 [5], and it has been expanding its services in the process. In addition to the continuous portfolio rebalancing and investing excess small amounts of cash in fractional shares, this platform can link client brokerage accounts to debit cards and margin accounts. This allows direct deposits and fund transfers to be made seamlessly.

For those who want more benefits, M1Plus offers an added afternoon trading window, access to a rules-based cash management system, 1% cashback on debit purchases, a 1% rate of return on checking accounts, and lower rates on lines of credit. M1 also has an app for mobile investors. It also has been cited for offering socially responsible investing (SRI) model portfolios.

Pricing and Fees

Like many other robo-advisors, M1 does not charge any trading commissions or markups on its ETF and stock trades. M1 says it doesn’t charge for “normal platform use,” so clients don’t pay for regular investing activities. However, it does charge ancillary services, such as closing an account, inactivity fees, and transfer of death paperwork. The good news is that these fees are all spelled out on the M1 Site.

Customer Service and Support

Client support by email is available on days when the U.S. stock market is trading between 9 am – 4 pm EST. There is no access to human customer services, regardless of account size.

This robo-advisor is right for you if:

  • You want access to an impressive array of free 80 real-world portfolios used by investment professionals or want to design your own allocation model.
  • You want to remain fully invested in a risk-managed portfolio that is automatically rebalanced and applies cash to purchase fractional shares.
  • Are novice or experienced users of margin accounts and know how to use them.
  • You are a long-term investor who wants to open a standard brokerage, joint, traditional Roth, SEP, Simple IRA, or trust

 

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Chuck Epstein has managed marketing communications and public relations departments for major global financial institutions and participated in the launch of industry-changing financial products. He also has written by-lined articles for over 50 publications, five books and served as editor and publisher of nation’s first newsletter on the topic of using the PC for personal investing and trading. (“Investing Online, 1994-1999). He also is a marketing consultant, writer and speaker on topics related to investor protection and opportunities in the very dynamic cannabis industry. He has held senior-level marketing, PR and communications positions at the New York Futures Exchange, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Lind-Waldock, Zacks Investment Research, Russell Investments and Principal Financial. He has won national awards from the Mutual Fund Education Alliance (MFEA) and his web site, www.mutualfundreform.com, was named best small blog in 2009 by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW).

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