M1 Finance vs Wealthfront – Are The $0 Fees Worth It?

M1 Finance vs Wealthfront Compared

With the robo-advisor world dominated by low-priced services like Wealthfront, M1 Finance has created a free service with a highly-customizable platform to beat the competition.

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Nowadays, people are more and more aware that investing is something you have to do to see a wealthy retirement and protect your money from universally-dreaded inflation. That’s why robo-advisors exist, and that’s why they are trying to be as low-cost as possible.

Simply put, a financial advisor with a high fee isn’t really maximizing your returns, but the young M1 Finance is trying to do just that with its free service. M1 isn’t just doing this to stay competitive, though.

As Brian Barnes, the young founder and CEO of M1 says, creating a free investment service has been his dream ever since he stepped into the workforce. When the service became free in 2017, Andy Rachleff, Wealthfront’s CEO called this a “desperate move by a late entrant.”

The move wasn’t so desperate it seems, as M1 saw an exponential increase in clients almost immediately afterward, and became a serious competitor. However, as one of the top dogs of the industry, Wealthfront, is not letting this new rival go without a fight.

On top of its already-low management fee, Wealthfront has a bundle of cost-reducing tricks up its sleeve. Taking all these factors into account to determine which is the cheaper and better robo-advisor is complex and can be a bit of a headache.

Luckily, this article is here to explain and compare M1 Finance and Wealthfront quickly and without giving anyone a migraine. Hopefully, you’ll be able to decide which one is better for your financial goals and investing preferences.

So, without further ado, let’s get into it.

FeaturesM1 FinanceWealthfront
Minimum Deposit$100 for taxable accounts; $500 for retirement accounts$500
Annual Fees00.25% annually
Tax Loss HarvestingNoYes
Portfolio RebalancingYesYes
Provision of 401(k) AssistanceYesNo
Ideal For Experienced investors, New investors, Investors with a low starting capital, Investors with specific portfolio preferences Beginning investors, Intermediate investors, Young investors, Smartphone users, IRA investors, and Goal-oriented investors
PromotionsNo fees, free rebalancing, free buying and selling. $5,000 in assets managed for free

M1 Finance Overview

M1 Finance Logo Banner

Fast Facts and Features

  • Account Minimum: $100 for taxable accounts, $500 for retirement accounts
  • Fees: $0
  • Ideal for: Investors who want to customize their portfolios
  • Automatic rebalancing: Yes
  • Tax-loss harvesting: No
  • Advice: No human-assisted consultations

Founded in 2015, M1 Finance is an online financial services company with a robo-advisor based in Chicago, IL. The company is well-known for its easy-to-use platform and a $0 management fee.

M1 removed all management fees in December 2017, after which its customer base doubled in a matter of two months. These low costs paired with a convenient platform made the company very popular among millennials who seek a flexible, low-cost investing medium.

Automated investing isn’t M1’s only offering, though. The company also has the M1 Spend account, as well as a money lending service, where the borrowing limit is based on your portfolio size.

The young robo-advisor is mature for its age, as it has about 250,000 funded accounts with over $500,000,000 in assets under management. M1’s flexible platform is currently one of the favorite tools of investors looking for highly customizable portfolios, ease-of-use, and low fees.

Wealthfront Overview

Wealthfront Logo

Fast Facts and Features

  • Account Minimum: $500
  • Fees: 0.25% annually
  • Ideal for: New investors
  • Automatic rebalancing: Yes
  • Tax-loss harvesting: Yes
  • Advice: No human-assisted consultations

Since its founding in 2014, Wealthfront has become one of the leading robo-investors in the country. Wealthfront’s platforms are designed for ease-of-use as well as a degree of customizability not present among most similar services.

The high level of accessibility combined with competitive prices is what attracted clients in the hundreds of thousands to this robo-advisor service. Wealthfront’s fully-digital service is one of the most popular in the US at the moment, as the company holds over $20 billion in assets under management.

Planning and Portfolio Strategy

Every profitable investment journey begins with a sensible plan, but don’t worry. This doesn’t mean you have to research stocks, draw charts and make market predictions. These fully-digital planning systems do all that for you.

Both robo-advisors have very quick and intuitive planning methods that lean on the Modern Portfolio Theory. This means that your stocks can be diversified to lower risks, and you’ll be given a good prediction of how long it will take to reach your financial goals. However, the main difference between the two platforms is that one is highly customizable, while the other is not so adaptable. Let’s see how this looks like in practice.

M1 Finance – Make Custom Portfolios

If you’re looking for a combination of simplicity and flexibility, you’ll likely find M1’s planning system interesting. Like with most other platforms, you first need to input some parameters like your age, income, monthly deposits, etc.

Then you need to set your financial goal, after which the platform will recommend some of the 80 expert-made portfolios. M1 will then invest your money to create one of these portfolio types for you, but you can also customize them to your heart’s content.

M1 Finance Expert-Made PortfoliosCustomizing a portfolio means that you can order the platform to invest in whatever you want. This is not the case with most robos, as they usually offer a limited number of portfolio options that are not too risky. This means that you can make an inefficient portfolio for yourself, but also a super-profitable one if you’ve got the know-how.

The portfolios are automatically rebalanced every month and users can also force rebalance them whenever they see fit. The customizability of this system is more comprehensive than Wealthfront’s, and a great perk for more experienced investors with specific preferences.

However, you can not set up multiple investment goals. Rather, M1 will invest all your money into a single pool of assets, which you can then use for whatever purpose. Be it buying a house or saving for retirement, all that money will be in a single bundle.

There are no human advisors to help you out here, but the planning system is very easy-to-use as it is. Your portfolio is displayed as an easy-to-understand pie chart, which will make keeping an eye on your investments effortless.

There’s more to M1 than this, but we didn’t go into too much detail to keep this article as straightforward as possible. Check out the full M1 Finance review to see this interesting offer in full and decide if it’s the best option for you.

Wealthfront – Detailed And Simple

As soon as you open an account, Wealthfront will direct you to their planning system called “Path”. The first step here is answering a questionnaire by inputting data like your age, income, starting capital, desired retirement age, etc.

Then, you need to set financial goals like buying a house or saving up for retirement, after which the platform will recommend a portfolio type. If it’s not perfect, you can use Path’s prediction tools to find a portfolio that you like and tweak it to suit your preferences.

Setting up multiple separate financial goals is also possible, and Wealthfront will simultaneously manage all your goals individually. This feature is something that M1 doesn’t provide and is a good way to organize your investments.

Wealthfront Path Planning ToolThe platform will use data from reputable third-party websites to calculate factors like real estate prices and college tuition costs, so you don’t have to do the research yourself. After everything is set up, and it doesn’t take long, you need to make a deposit, and Wealthfront will put your cash to work.

The planning system is very detailed, as you can even add information like a sabbatical, which will be put into the equation. Such a comprehensive method is a good way to make up for the fact that there is no human assistance available with Wealthfornt’s fully-digital service.

The ability to customize your portfolio is greater here than with most robo-advisors. However, it is much more limited than M1, which allows you to make just about any kind of portfolio you want.

If one of your goals gets set back, the platform will send you a notification and recommend a course of action, be it depositing more money or changing up your portfolio. One more handy feature is something Wealthfront is good at, namely, account aggregation.

This means that you can have all your financial accounts in one place. Linking your banking account with Wealthfront’s platform is easy and will give you a holistic view of all your finances. This is highly convenient and is something that more investing platforms should have.

All these features combined make a detailed, organized planning system with a good degree of customizability. This, along with Wealthfront’s other perks is why we consider the company one of the 7 “Best” Robo-Advisors for this year.

WINNER: M1 Finance. The flexibility of M1’s portfolios allows users to make any investments they want, whereas Wealthfront is more limiting. M1 also offers expert-made portfolios to investors who feel more confident using an experienced trader’s strategy. Wealthfront’s advantage is the capability to create multiple separate goals, which might be preferable to some investors. However, M1’s high customizability and intuitive design make it the stronger platform when planning is concerned, in our opinion.

Pricing & Fees

One of the main problems with traditional financial advisors is the high prices they would often charge clients. On the other hand, most robo-advisors are relatively cheap, and some are even free.

These low costs are one of the main reasons why robos are such a disruptive trend, responsible for democratizing the investing game with their accessible offers. These two are well-known for being on the cheap side, but let’s see how low-cost they really are.

M1 Finance – Zero Management Fees

First of all, there are no management fees at M1. This means that you can invest your money for free, and you can only incur losses if your portfolio isn’t performing well. Starting is also not so expensive, as you only need $100 to open a regular, taxable account and $500 if you want a retirement account.

The company offers two other services, namely, the M1 Spend and M1 Borrow. You can borrow an amount of money equal to 35% of your portfolio without paperwork, credit checks, etc. Your portfolio will vouch for you. The interest rate you have to pay is acceptable at 3.5%, which is a lot lower than your average student debt or mortgage.

M1 Finance Zero Management Fees

If you want a banking service, you can deposit the cash you want to spend on your M1 Spend account and use it through the company’s debit card. There are several upsides to using this service over a bank, one being the 0 management fee.

There’s one thing to keep in mind, though. There are no management fees for the basic account, but you will get a bill if your account has less than $20 and remains inactive for 90 days. Therefore, it’s not a good idea to leave your account dormant and without funds for long.

M1 Plus

If you want a premium account with extra perks, you can get one, but it has a $125 annual management fee. These perks include a reduced borrowing interest rate of 2.75%, as well as more investing options.

M1 Plus FeesThe M1 Spend account will also get boosted with a 1% annual yield for your cash and you’ll get 1% cash back from all purchases made with the M1 debit card. Also, 4 of your monthly ATM withdrawals will be free with M1 Plus, whereas you only get one for free with a regular account.

Wealthfront – Cost-Reducing Services

Unlike M1, Wealthront isn’t free but has a competitive 0.25% annual management fee. The account minimum is $500, which is a bit higher than M1 but still very reasonable, making the service accessible for young investors.

All clients with taxable accounts get access to PassivePlus, which is Wealthfront’s signature suite of features, designed to reduce costs for investors. As your portfolio gets bigger and bigger, you get more and more money-saving services. Here’s how it all works.

At $500 you get tax-loss harvesting. This means that your assets will be sold if they drop in value and others will be bought afterward. Selling assets at a loss helps reduce taxes, and can save you money that would otherwise have gone to the government. Most robos offer this service, and it can basically negate the 0.25% management fee.

After your portfolio hits the $100,000 mark, you get direct indexing. Instead of ETFs and mutual funds, Wealthfront will buy individual stocks, making an index just for you. This saves money because doing it this way doesn’t incur fees that ETFs and mutual funds have.

Wealthfront PassivePlus

Clients also get risk parity, which is a method of diversified investing. In theory, this method should reduce risk while maintaining high returns for the investor. However, risk parity is a subject of controversy and has caused problems for Wealthfront in the past, as the company was accused of underperforming with their risk parity service.

Clients with balances of $500,000 or more get one more advanced service, Smart Beta. This means that Wealthfront will conduct more research and build your portfolio with more care. At the end of the year, this should lead to even higher returns.

All in all, Wealthfront’s management fee can’t compare with M1’s free service, but the bonus services you get here can increase your returns in the long-run. This is something worth considering, but make sure you check out the full Wealthfront review before deciding if this robo-advisor ticks all the boxes for you.

What Wealthfront Doesn’t Tell You About Tax-Loss Harvesting

The company advertises its tax-loss harvesting as something that can increase your returns up to 2% per year, which is true in some cases, but not always. First off, this method is more effective in high-tax states like New York, California, and Illinois. So, clients from these states can see the bonuses advertised by Wealthfront, or can they?

The TLH is capped. You can deduct up to $3,000 annually against income, which is great if your Portfolio is worth around $100k. However, let’s say you have a $500k portfolio. In that case, $3,000 is significantly less than the 2% you can see on Wealthfront’s website. Still, TLH is a great way to counteract the 0.25% management fee, if nothing else.

Wealthfront Cash Account

If you’re looking for minimal risk, you can always stash your cash on Wealthfront’s Cash account. This is a high-yield cash account where you can store money and receive an annual interest rate.

Wealthfront Cash Account

The Federal Reserve has recently reduced interest rates, and most banks have followed in their footsteps. After temporarily raising the interest rates to 2.57%, which outpaced the 2.5% inflation rate, Wealthfront recently lowered the rates to 0.26%.

You can also borrow money from Wealthfront with rates ranging from 3-5%. Keep in mind that all these rates tend to change very often, especially nowadays, so make sure you check before borrowing or depositing money into a cash account.

WINNER: Wealthfront. Despite the higher management fee and cost-reducing methods that aren’t effective in real life as they seem to be on paper, Wealthfront can noticeably reduce clients’ losses. M1 is free, so it is hardly a bad choice when prices are concerned, but Wealthfront can reduce costs even further in the long run. Investors who are confident in their ability can use M1’s customizable platform to make great returns if they’ve got the know-how. On the other hand, Wealthfront should be more profitable for investors who want to put their money on autopilot.

Investment Offerings

M1 Finance

There’s a broad suite of asset types you can buy and sell with M1 Finance. This includes a colorful platter of stocks and ETFs with fractional shares, as well as mutual funds and more. There’s also a selection of commodities, precious metals, and real estate investments to choose from.

Fractional shares are a good addition to every brokerage’s arsenal. This means that you don’t have to spend, let’s say, $289 to buy a share of Apple because you can buy a fraction of it for the amount of money you want to spend.

Also worth mentioning is M1’s wide variety of ETFs, which have relatively low expense ratios ranging from 0.06% to 0.20% on average. However, some investors won’t be pleased with just any ETFs or stocks.

That is why M1 offers socially-responsible investing. With this program, you can choose stocks from a list of “green” companies you would like to invest in. This requires a bit more effort, as you have to research and pick the stocks out yourself, but is nonetheless a boon for investors who want to take the time to find enterprises that adhere to their ethical standards.

Wealthfront

The list of investment types is even longer at Wealthfront. Aside from ETFs, bonds, mutual funds, and stocks, the company also offers investments in natural resources, real estate investments, and most other products.

Basically, if you can find something on NYSE, NASDAQ, or BATS exchange it’s likely available with both robo-advisors, but ETFs are Wealthfront’s game. There are ETFs from 11 asset classes and portfolios usually have around 6-8. Moreover, these are good financial products, as the average ETF expense ratio is 0.06% to 0.13%. Here’s a list of of Wealthfront’s primary ETFs:

Asset ClassPrimary ETFExpense Ratio
US StocksVTI0.04%
US Government BondsBND0.05%
Treasury Inflation-Protected SecuritiesSCHP0.05%
Foreign StocksVEA0.07%
Municipal BondsVTEB0.09%
Dividend StocksVIG0.09%
Real Estate VNQ0.12%
Emerging MarketsVWO0.14%
Natural ResourcesXLE0.14%
Wealthfront isn’t the only famous robo-advisor that’s big on ETFs, though. The competition is fierce, and Betterment has an arguably more dominant position in the industry than the great majority of its competitors. Check out the Betterment vs Wealthfront duel if you want to see if one of these two robo-advisor giants is the best choice for you.

Portfolios you get with Wealthfront are safe and profitable in the long-run, and ththe company’s range of offerings shows it. On the other hand, the lack of flexibility on this platform will deter investors who have specific plans or want stock-heavy portfolios. M1 is better suited for that purpose.

Socially-responsible investing is also available with Wealthfront for users with $100,000 or more on their accounts. The procedure here is the same as with M1. You can pick out a number of “green” companies to invest in, but that requires a bit more research and effort on your part.

WINNER: Wealthfront. When it comes to the sheer volume and the expense ratios of ETFs, Wealthfront has a slight advantage over M1 Finance. However, this is not a huge difference, and investors looking for a wide range of offerings will find neither of these two robo-advisors lacking.

Platforms

Investing with a robo-advisor wouldn’t be as alluring if they didn’t have good-looking and intuitive investing apps. It just so happens that M1 and Wealthfront provide such apps, which allow users to manage their wealth through the phones in their pockets.

Even though both of these apps strive for maximum accessibility, they have differences in some fundamental features. Let’s take a look at some screenshots and see what these platforms can do.

M1 Finance

The dashboard is made to give you the basic info about your portfolio and allow easy access to the platform’s other features. The portfolio is displayed as a pie chart, called “the pie” and clearly shows you how much money you’ve got in each asset type when you hover your mouse over it.

M1 Finance Portfolio

You can also view your portfolio’s historical data and use a screener to find the best customizations for it. If you don’t like the default “pies” you have at your disposal as a new user, you can simply create your own.

M1 Finance Custom Pies

Creating custom pies is as simple as clicking on the “new pie” button and choosing the financial products you like. Everything is easier on the desktop platform, but the mobile app is also very intuitive and mirrors the functionality of its desktop counterpart completely.

There’s also news and very basic research tools, useful when creating custom pies.

In general, the user interface is packed with features, but there’s also a lot of space which makes the platform look very clean and easy to understand.

Custom Pie M1 Finance

A system like this gives users the option to choose one of the 80 expert-made portfolios if they feel that’s the best choice but also offers full customizability. The platform is much more flexible than what Wealthfront offers, as we will see in a moment.

Wealthfront

The desktop platform is designed for accessibility and minimal typing to make it as handy as possible. The dashboard will give you an overview of your portfolio’s progress, and you can access all the platform’s basic functions from the main screen.

Wealthfront Account Platform

Deposit and transfer buttons are in plain sight, and data like monthly deposits and dates are shown on the drop-down menus on the top of the page. Your portfolio’s asset allocation is visible on the main page, and the workflow is generally very intuitive and logical.

The mobile Experience is what Wealthfront’s platform was originally designed for. That’s why the mobile app has the capabilities of its desktop counterpart but in a smaller frame. Checking the status of your portfolio, making transfers, and changing up your plan is simple and doesn’t take long, same as on the desktop version.

Wealthfront Mobile App

The only typing you have to do is when you’re logging in and linking external accounts to the platforms. Otherwise, the UI most likely won’t confuse new investors that are yet to get used to investing via a mobile device.

DRAW. Both platforms are very easy-to-use and have similar basic functions. Keeping an eye on your portfolio’s progress, making transfers, and depositing is effortless on both platforms, be it on a desktop computer or a mobile device. M1 is more comprehensive when it comes to creating a portfolio, but Wealthfront’s charts and prediction tools are more accessible. Therefore, investors who want to make portfolios will likely prefer M1, while Wealthfront is more suited for clients focused on long-term goals.

Customer Support

M1 Finance can be contacted by phone and email, which are available 5 days a week from 9:30am to 5pm EST. We had a few questions about the company, so we sent out an email, which didn’t get a reply.

After 5 business days, there was still no response from M1’s customer service, and the only answer we got was an automatic email saying that our request was confirmed. I don’t know about you, but a whole working week is a long time to wait in case I need help like getting my password restored.

There’s an extensive FAQ section on the company’s website, which is always handy, but the phone service gets mixed reviews. The phone agents usually answer within a couple of minutes. However, there were also cases such as this one in the past, where phones are not available for hours on end. M1 clearly expects independence from its customers, but still, this level of customer service left us unimpressed.

Wealthfront also doesn’t have live chat capabilities, but its customer service agents can be reached via email and phone. The phone service is available 5 days a week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, and the average waiting time is under 2 minutes, which is not bad at all.

The email service is even more praiseworthy, though. We sent an email to Wealthfront asking a basic question about the PassivePlus program and we got a helpful reply in as little as 3 hours. The mail also had links to relevant web pages, so the customer service did a great job here. Here’s their answer:

Email From Wealthfront SupportThe representatives are licensed professionals and can help you with most things, from recovering a lost password to more complex issues. The customer support can also be reached via Twitter, but email and phone are the quicker options by far.

WINNER: Wealthfront. Both companies have capable customer support representatives who can help with most questions, however, time is of the essence when it comes to financial advisors. Wealthfront’s email response was really quick, while M1 Finance didn’t respond to our queries promptly.

Safety

M1 Finance is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which provides insurance of up to $500,000 to users in case the company fails in any way. M1 Spend and M1 Plus accounts are covered by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) up to $250,000 and further protected by Lincoln Savings Bank.

However, it’s not disclosed how big Lincoln Savings Bank’s coverage is on M1’s website. Also, all the data on M1’s website and apps are protected by military-grade 4096-bit encryption. That level of encryption, along with two-factor authentication is considered very safe.

Wealthfront is also a member of the SIPC, which guarantees clients protection of up to $500,000 in case the company goes bust. What’s more, Wealthfront Cash account holders are covered with up to $1,000,000 by the FDIC.

The data on Wealthfront’s site and platform has 256-bit encryption, which is the industry-standard level of protection you’ll likely find at most robo-advisors. Encryption is more simple than at M1, but Wealthfront also has two-step authentication and is considered a safe-to-use service.

Keep in mind that the money protection provided by SIPC and FDIC is there in case the company goes bankrupt, breaks their terms of use, or mismanages your money in a major way. Clients are not protected if their portfolio value drops due to changes in the market.

WINNER: Wealthfront. Wealthfront simply has greater protection for their cash account than M1, which is why we think it comes out on top here. M1’s military-grade might make your account as bulletproof as it gets, but Wealthfront doesn’t have a history of hacked accounts and is also considered very safe.

FAQs

How Does M1 Finance Make Money?

The $0 management fee means that M1 has to earn a buck through something other than charging for its robo-advisor service. The company also offers the M1 Spend and M1 Borrow services, and that’s where they can actually make a profit.

M1 Borrow is obvious. When you take out a loan, you have to repay it with a 3.5% interest rate, which goes to the company. What’s more, when you use an M1 Spend debit card, the company gets a small percentage form purchases at no additional cost to the buyer, like any other bank.

M1 also makes money from the M1 Plus account which costs $125 per year, among a few other minor sources. The company is very transparent about its cash flow and business practice in general, so you can take a look at M1’s blog where they explain how the company works in detail.

Can Wealthfront Manage My 401(k)?

No. Wealthfront can’t manage your 401(k) account with your current employer. However, if your plan is a 401(k), 403(b), 457, TSP, or some other employer-sponsored retirement plan, you can roll it over to a Wealthfront IRA account.

Bottom Line – Which Robo-Advisor Is Better for You?

Although they are both reputable and popular nowadays, these are two different robo-advisors for different kinds of investors. While Wealthfront leans towards a simple service that enables users to put their accounts on complete autopilot, M1 offers more options.

The portfolios on M1 are highly customizable, so the platform is well-suited for investors with specific plans, as well as those who want to use one of M1’s expert-made portfolios. Both platforms are easy-to-use and low-cost since Wealthfront’s cost-reducing features make up for the higher management fees.

About Author

Tim Fries Tim Fries is the cofounder of The Tokenist. He has a B. Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tim is also the co-founder of Protective Technologies Capital (protechcap.com).