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M1 review

M1 review: A self-directed brokerage service with low fees

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🗓️

Updated: October 31, 2023

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M1 logo

4

Commissions and fees 5

Customer service3.5

Ease of use4.5

Tools and resources 3.5

Investment options 4.5

Asset allocation 4.5

Although it doesn't offer tax-loss harvesting or mutual fund investing and is not ideal for active traders, M1 is a self-directed brokerage service with low fees. It also charges no commissions, and there's no required minimum deposit.

M1 functions similarly to a robo-advisor, but this investing platform also offers the ability to borrow and spend your money alongside investing tools. Our M1 review covers how all of their features work, pros and cons, and how to ultimately decide if M1 is right for you.

What is M1?

M1 is a versatile financial services company that began in 2015. M1 is not a robo-advisor and only offers self-directed online broker services, with the ability to borrow money and use a credit card. The fact you can customize your portfolio but also rely on prebuilt M1 portfolios also makes it one of the more flexible options out there.

Overall, M1 caters to both hands-off and active investors. And with its low fees and a $100 investing minimum, it's also very beginner-friendly.

M1 pros and cons

Pros

Pros

  • Doesn't charge broker fees or commissions

  • Low $100 minimum investment requirement

  • Select your own investments and get automated portfolio management

  • No fee for buying and selling securities within each Pie

  • Maintains your investment allocations using fractional shares thereby fully investing your money

Cons

Cons

  • Doesn’t recognize certain investments, such as employer-sponsored retirement plans

  • Isn't ideal for active traders like day-traders

  • No tax-loss harvesting

M1 features

Feature Details
Minimum investment $100
Fees No management fees
Accounts Taxable, Joint, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Rollover IRA, SEP IRA, Trusts
401(k) assistance
Tax loss harvesting
Portfolio rebalancing
Automatic deposits ✅ Daily, Weekly, Monthly
Advice Automated
Smart beta
Socially responsible
Fractional shares
Customer service Phone: M-F 9A-5P CT; Email
  • Dividends — All dividend income will be reinvested in your portfolio once it reaches at least $10.
  • Tax reporting — M1 integrates directly with H&R Block and TurboTax.
  • Margin account status — Since M1 doesn’t hold any of your portfolios in cash, your account is established as a margin account if it has a balance of over $2,000. The margin account status enables you to withdraw money quickly from your account without having to liquidate asset positions.
  • Free consultation — You can schedule a free consultation with a product specialist who will show you around the platform and discuss how it will benefit you.
  • Possible ETFs and stocks used — M1 has over 6,000 ETFs and stocks available for you to choose from, with individual stocks that are available on either the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq (preferred stocks are excluded).
  • Account protection — The SIPC covers up to $500,000, including $250,000 in cash, against broker failure.
Invest with M1

How does M1 work?

M1 departs from other robo-advisors in that it gives you complete control over the investment process in your portfolio. That even includes security selection. M1 manages your ongoing investment flow. But you are in complete control of how your money is invested. You can even make changes after the fact.

M1: Portfolio management made simple

M1 investment portfolio templates

M1's robo investing element provides investment portfolio templates, referred to as “Pies.” The Pies are based on Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT). Most robo advisors use MPT in their algorithms. But unlike other robo-advisors, with M1, there’s no questionnaire used to determine your investment risk tolerance.

You can invest all of your money in one of these prebuilt templates or customize it in any way that you want. M1 then automatically manages your account by maintaining your allocations within the Pie through rebalancing and allocating your new contributions.

But M1 works more like a traditional investment brokerage platform in that you can choose your own investments for your Pies. You can even purchase individual stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) within your account — as well as the prebuilt Pies.

M1 Pie investing

As mentioned above, “Pies” are the basis of investing with M1. During the signup process, you will be offered a suggested Pie with preselected investment categories. Each Pie is a collection of as many as 100 “slices.” Each slice represents an investment — be it a stock, an ETF or even another pie.

The Pie then becomes the tool that you will use to manage your portfolio. M1 has more than 60 pre-built pies for you to choose from. You can also customize them by adding any stocks or ETFs that trade on either the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq.

Once you've made your Pie selections, M1 will automatically buy your investments in the correct proportions, both when you initially fund your account and when you add additional funds.

Read more: 5 best M1 Pies

Available investment categories

M1 has Pies available from all of the following categories:

  • General Investing — a diversified portfolio based on your own risk tolerance
  • Plan for Retirement — invest for your target retirement date
  • Responsible Investing — options for the socially responsible investor
  • Income Earners — builds a portfolio based on dividends and income returns
  • Hedge Fund Followers — mimics investment strategies from some of the most successful investors and reputable hedge funds
  • Industries and Sectors — enables you to invest in specific sectors
  • Just Stocks and Bonds — builds a diversified portfolio with two ETFs, focused on stocks and bonds
  • Other Strategies — additional investment strategies to help you find what works best for you

Each of these general Pie categories also offers variations. For example, the Just Stocks & Bonds Pie offers nine different Pies. You can choose a mix of 10% stocks and 90% bonds, 20% stocks and 80% bonds, and all the variations up to and including 90% stocks and 10% bonds.

Each Pie listed also includes the dividend yield, historical performance and risk level.

Outlining all of these options helps you pick the Pie composition that best fits your investing goals and level of risk tolerance.

Filling your Pie

You can also customize your Pie. M1 offers nearly 2,000 ETFs that you can use in its construction. You can just check off the fund from the list and add it to your Pie. You can also add individual stocks from a similar display.

I chose the 70/30 Pie, which accounted for 50% of my custom Pie, and then added three stocks and one bond ETF. The Pie looked like this:

Once you have constructed your Pie, you save the changes, and it forms the basis of your investment portfolio going forward. You can also create different Pies for various investment goals. There’s no limit to how many Pies you can own in your account (yet another departure from other robo advisors).

More M1 products and services

Automated investing with M1's Pie system is what this robo-advisor is known for. However, there are several other banking features you can take advantage of.

Owner's Rewards Card by M1

With the Owner's Rewards Card by M1 you can earn up to 10% cash back on popular brands. The Owner's Card pays a base rate of 1.5% on all eligible purchases. But M1 Plus clients can earn even more cash back on 70+ brands that are organized into three different reward tiers:

  • Tier One (10% Cash Back): Includes companies like AMC, Dollar General, Netflix, Spotify, and Tesla.
  • Tier Two (5% Cash Back): Includes companies like American Airlines, BP, Etsy, Nike, Starbucks, and Wayfair.
  • Tier Three (2.5% Cash Back): Includes companies like Apple, Airbnb, Amazon, DoorDash, and Target.

Note that the 2.5%, 5%, and 10% cash back tiers are only available to M1 Plus members.

The main downside of this card is that it caps rewards at $200 per month. But you can automatically reinvest cash back into your M1 portfolio, putting your money to work faster. And you also get perks from Visa, like Visa Zero Liability and access to its Signature Luxury Hotel Collection.

Get started with M1

M1 loans

Customers can borrow money against their investments, with a line of credit equal to 40% of portfolio value. Rates depend on if you're a regular M1 customer or an M1 Plus customer. You can enjoy rates as low as 6.75% with M1 Plus.

You also get a flexible payment schedule; there isn't a minimum monthly loan repayment amount. You can also create an automated payback schedule to gradually pay off your loan.

Note that M1 Borrow is only available for margin accounts with at least $2,000 invested. It's not available for retirement, custodial, or trust accounts.

Tax minimization

M1 doesn't offer tax-loss harvesting (TLH). But they do offer a new feature called “Tax Minimization” standard on all accounts. This feature enables you to sell asset positions in the most tax-favorable way.

Whenever you sell an investment, M1 prioritizes the sale in a way that will minimize your taxes. The order of assets sold looks like this:

  1. 1.

    Lots that don’t result in a tax liability

  2. 2.

    Lots that result in long-term gains

  3. 3.

    Lots that result in short-term gains

While it’s likely that this strategy will, in fact, minimize your taxes, it doesn’t seem likely to have the same consistent benefit that’s provided by TLH.

M1 crypto investing

In July 2022, M1 announced that cryptocurrency investing is coming to the platform. If you have a funded M1 Invest account, you can apply sign up for early access to a M1 Crypto account when it becomes available. This account will offer.

  • Expert Crypto Pies: Create M1 Pies based on different strategies like DeFi, Web3, and various large-cap cryptocurrencies. You can also set target percentages for different pies in your M1 Crypto portfolio.
    Automated Trading: Since crypto trades 24/7, M1 Crypto users will be able to place their own orders and create automated trading rules to run their portfolio.
  • Expert Crypto Pies: Create M1 Pies based on different strategies like DeFi, Web3, and various large-cap cryptocurrencies. You can also set target percentages for different pies in your M1 Crypto portfolio.
  • Automated Trading: Since crypto trades 24/7, M1 Crypto users will be able to place their own orders and create automated trading rules to run their portfolio.
  • Dynamic Rebalancing: M1 can rebalance your portfolio when you make a deposit to help keep you on target with your goals.
  • Commission-Free Trading: M1 Crypto doesn't charge any trading fees. However, Apex Crypto, the custodian that actually securely holds your crypto, charges a 1% or 100 basis points fee to all crypto transactions.

Once you sign up for early access to M1 Crypto, you get notified via the app and email when you're eligible to start investing.

M1 fees: M1 Basic vs. M1 Plus

M1 doesn't charge portfolio management fees or trading fees. This is one of its main competitive advantages since most robo-advisors charge annual fees.

The main fee you can pay is for M1 Plus, which costs $125 per year. M1 Plus customers get perks like cash-back with their Visa debit card, and better borrowing rates.

Additionally, M1 Plus customers can use its Smart Transfer feature. This lets you set rules to manage your various accounts so you have the right amount of money when you need it. 

Here's how M1 Basic and M1 Plus compare against one another:

Features
M1 Basic
M1 Plus
Annual cost
$0
$125
Trading windows
AM only
AM and PM
Owner's Rewards credit card
1.5%
1.5%-10%
Smart transfers
No
Yes

Other potential M1 fees you can encounter include:

  • Inactivity Fee: $20 for accounts with up to $20 and no activity for at least 90 days.
  • IRA Termination: $100.
  • Outgoing Account Transfers: $100.
  • Wire Transfer: $25.

Right now, M1 is giving customers a three-month free trial of Plus, so it's the perfect time to maximize the rewards you can get.

Get started with M1

Opening an M1 account

To sign up for an account with M1, you first need to create a password. Once you do, you’ll be directed into the first part of a three-step process:

  1. 1.

    Build Portfolio

  2. 2.

    Create Brokerage Account

  3. 3.

    Fund Your Account

The Build Portfolio part introduces you to the M1 Pie concept. At that phase of the signup, you will determine your portfolio as described above. Once you have created your portfolio, you then complete the application process and fund your account.

Top M1 alternatives

We think M1 is one of the best robo-advisors on the market because of its lack of fees and the control it gives you to pick your investments.

However, other robo-advisors and wealth management companies might be superior depending on the types of portfolios you want to invest in or if you want human advice. Here's how M1 stacks up to to Betterment and Empower, two other popular options for investing and building wealth.

Highlights Empower Betterment M1 Finance
Rating 4.5/5 4.5/5 4/5
Minimum to Open Account $100,000 $10 $0
401(k) Assistance
Two-Factor Auth.
Advice Options Automated, Human Assisted Automated, Human Assisted Automated
Socially Responsible Investing
- Get started Get started Get started

Betterment is an excellent alternative that also offers a variety of investment ETF portfolios at an affordable price. Their portfolios are based on modern portfolio theory and they also offer an SRI portfolio called the Broad Impact portfolio. This portfolio focuses more on companies that meet specific social, environmental and governance goals. Betterment costs 0.25% annually but includes features like tax-loss harvesting.

Read more: Betterment review

As for Empower, it offers professional wealth management services for clients with over $100,000 to invest. If you want human advice and a tailored portfolio, this is your best option. Plus, Empower also has a host of free tools like an investment fee analyzer, retirement planner, and budgeting software.

Read more: Empower review

FAQ

  • Is M1 free?

    +

    M1 doesn't charge commission on stock and ETF trades or annual management fees for its robo-advisor. This makes most of its core offerings free. However, it charges $125 per year for the M1 Plus membership.

  • How does M1 make money?

    +

    M1 generates money in several ways, including interest on cash, interest on lending securities, M1 Borrow, and payment for order flow. The company also makes money from M1 Plus membership fees.

  • Is M1 safe and legit?

    +

    M1 is a legitimate company that is safe to use. They are a registered broker/dealer with FINRA and a member of the SIPC. The company is also transparent about how it generates revenue and provides customers with protection like FDIC-insurance on cash balances. Overall, M1 a safe and legitimate way to invest.

    Furthermore, M1 says all data is encrypted to protect your privacy. Users can also enable extra security features like two-factor authentication to keep their accounts safe.Top

  • Does M1 offer customer service?

    +

    M1 offers customer support via their live chat widget or or by email. You can submit an email support ticket on its website. You can also call M1 at 312-600-2883. Customer support hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 4:00pm ET unless there's a market holiday.

The bottom line

M1 is one of the more interesting of the automated investment platforms that have been coming out in the last few years. You choose the investments that go into your portfolio.

The platform then performs all of the day-to-day management of your account, including regular rebalancing. Plus, it's now free. That's right — there are no longer any broker fees or commissions.

Since you select your own investments (though you could simply default to the pre-built pies), it isn’t quite a traditional robo-advisor like Betterment that offers a fire-and-forget platform.

M1 is primarily for buy-and-hold investors who prefer to select their own investments. At the same time, it can enable you to have control over your investments, without having the day-to-day responsibility of managing the portfolio.

If M1 allowed investment in mutual funds, offered tax-loss harvesting, and retirement planning tools, we’d be giving this platform a higher rating. But apart from those three missing pieces, M1 is very much worthy of consideration.

Invest with M1

The Owner's Rewards Card by M1 Disclosure - Credit Card not available for US Territory Residents. Review Cardholder Agreement and Rewards Terms for important information about the Owner’s Rewards Card by M1. The Owner’s Rewards Card by M1 is Powered by Deserve and issued by Celtic Bank, a Utah-Chartered Industrial Bank, Member FDIC.

The Owner's Rewards Card by M1 Disclosure - To review the current list of Cash Back brands and tiers, please visit https://m1.com/owners-rewards

M1 Plus DIsclosure: M1 Plus is a $125 annual subscription offering products and services from M1 Spend LLC and M1 Finance LLC, both wholly-owned, separate but affiliated subsidiaries of M1 Holdings Inc.

Kevin Mercadante Freelance Contributor

Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com.

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