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Written by Ed Canty, CFP® on November 15, 2021
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M1 Finance vs Betterment 2022: Best Modern Investing Platform?

Investing in the stock market can be confusing and, at some points, totally overwhelming. Today, there are many options for automated investing. These automated platforms are often referred to as robo-advisors.

By leveraging algorithms and other cutting-edge technology, investors can use these platforms for a fraction of the cost of a traditional advisor.

This has revolutionized the financial services industry and has caused many old-school financial advisors to rethink their business models. When consumers can get investment management for a fraction of the price, this becomes an attractive offer that many are flocking to.

Two of the platforms that have effectively capitalized on this trend are M1 Finance and Betterment.

M1 Finance vs Betterment: The Basics

M1 Finance and Betterment are both investing platforms that are incredibly cheap (or free)  to use and that do not require large account minimums. If you are looking for a great, low-cost investing platform with automation capabilities, then both of these platforms are a great choice for you to grow your wealth!

On the surface, both platforms are pretty similar. M1 Finance is a completely free robo-advisor/brokerage hybrid, while Betterment charges a small fee but offers more functionality. Betterment offers human advisor features and tax loss harvesting but comes with a fee. M1 Finance offers prebuilt portfolios and fractional shares for free.

In this M1 Finance vs Betterment comparison, we will be helping you understand which platform may be a better fit for you.

FeatureBettermentM1 Finance
Minimum Investment$0$100 ($500 Retirement)
Fees0.25% Digital, 0.40% PremiumNone
Trading CommissionsNoneNone
AssetsETFsStocks, ETFs
Fractional SharesYesYes
Individual StocksNoYes
Expert GuidanceYesNo
Account TypesIndividual, Joint, Traditional IRA, SEP IRA, Roth IRA, Business 401(k) Plans, Trust, Checking, SavingsIndividual, Joint, Traditional IRA, SEP IRA, Roth IRA, Trust, Checking
Checking AccountYesYes
High Yield Savings AccountYesNo
Access To Financial AdvisorsYesNo
Tax StrategyTax Loss HarvestingTax Efficient Selling/Buying
Best ForPassive Investors, Hands OffDIY Stock/ETF Investors

Betterment vs M1 Finance: Summary

  • Both M1 Finance and Betterment offer automated robo investing.
  • M1 Finance offers custom portfolios where you choose what stocks or ETFs to invest in.
  • Betterment does not offer this level of customization.
  • M1 Finance also offers dozens of expert-built portfolios completely free.
  • M1 Finance charges zero fees for investing with them, even if you choose to invest in the expert-built portfolios.
  • Betterment collects an annual asset management fee of 0.25%, however they build a custom portfolio for you based on your specific goals and objectives.
  • Betterment offers several features that go above and beyond what M1 does, such as the coordinated tax portfolio, Cash Back Offers, and Cash Reserve.
  • Neither platform is ideal for short-term traders, as they are both geared towards long-term investors.
  • M1 Finance lets you follow an active or passive approach to investing.
  • Betterment only offers a passive investing approach.
  • M1 has a minimum of $100 to invest or $500 for a retirement account.
  • Betterment has no minimum balance to begin investing.

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What Is M1 Finance?

M1 Finance is a fast-growing brokerage that is based out of Chicago, Illinois. The company offers an investing platform with two primary options.

The first is a custom portfolio of stocks and ETFs you build yourself.

The second is a hands-off approach, where you invest in one of the free expert portfolios.

These portfolios are constructed and allocated based on the opinions of financial experts as well as help from algorithms. While it is a "one size fits all" approach, there are dozens of portfolios to choose from.

A differentiator for M1 Finance is that you're not purchasing shares of individual stocks and ETFs. Instead, you're designing a "pie" with your target portfolio allocation and then depositing money into that pie. For example, you can't just buy a share of Apple on M1 FInance, but you could design an investment pie that contains a slice of Apple.

That is the gist of the investment options, however, the features are really what sets M1 apart from other free investing apps.

Which robo-advisor is the best for you?

Answer a few quick questions and we'll recommend the best advisor for you, based on our objective analysis.

So-Fi Automated Investing

Read Full Review

Open Account

Management Fees $0

Account Minimum $0

Best For: low account balances, beginner investors

M1 Finance

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: $0

Account Minimum: $100/$500

Best For: beginner investors, pre-built portfolios

So-Fi Automated Investing

Read Full Review

Open Account

Management Fees $0

Account Minimum $0

Best For: low account balances, beginner investors

M1 Finance

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: $0

Account Minimum: $100/$500

Best For: beginner investors, pre-built portfolios

So-Fi Automated Investing

Read Full Review

Open Account

Management Fees $0

Account Minimum $0

Best For: low account balances, beginner investors

M1 Finance

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: $0

Account Minimum: $100/$500

Best For: beginner investors, pre-built portfolios

So-Fi Automated Investing

Read Full Review

Open Account

Management Fees $0

Account Minimum $0

Best For: low account balances, beginner investors

M1 Finance

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: $0

Account Minimum: $100/$500

Best For: beginner investors, pre-built portfolios

Personal Capital

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: 0.49% to 0.89%

Account Minimum: $100,000

Best For: Access to human advisors, larger account balances

Betterment

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: 0.25% to 0.40%

Account Minimum: $0

Best For: Full investment automation, access to human advisors

Personal Capital

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: 0.49% to 0.89%

Account Minimum: $100,000

Best For: Access to human advisors, larger account balances

Betterment

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: 0.25% to 0.40%

Account Minimum: $0

Best For: Full investment automation, access to human advisors

Personal Capital

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: 0.49% to 0.89%

Account Minimum: $100,000

Best For: Access to human advisors, larger account balances

Betterment

Read Full Review

Open Account

Fees: 0.25% to 0.40%

Account Minimum: $0

Best For: Full investment automation, access to human advisors

M1 Finance Features

M1 Finance offers several features that make it a unique choice among other investing platforms like Betterment. Couple this with a highly competitive and limited fee structure and M1 certainly stands out from the crowd!

Free Automated Investing

Automated investing is made easy on M1 Finance! So how does the process work exactly? First, you will be able to choose from the 1,000's of stocks and ETFs that are offered on its platform. From large technology companies to smaller biotech names, you have a multitude of options on M1 Finance.

Now that you have made a portfolio, you can set up an investment schedule where money is automatically deposited on a weekly or monthly basis. M1 Finance will allocate that money across your portfolio automatically, or you can do this yourself by turning "auto invest" off. You can also choose to reinvest your dividends back into the companies you are investing in to amplify the effects of compound interest. Compound interest is essential for enhancing portfolio returns and this is made easy through the dividend reinvestment feature on M1!

Last but not least, sit back and watch your portfolio grow. Because of the highly automated features part of this portfolio, the only thing left to do is to be patient.

Fractional Shares & Smart Rebalancing

When you add more money to your M1 Finance account, they will automatically rebalance your portfolio. This is accomplished by buying whatever assets you are underweight in. On the other hand, if you take money out, they will sell whatever you are overweight in first.

You can also rebalance your portfolio at any time at the click of a button, but this may result in a taxable event.

Fractional shares are another game-changing feature offered by M1 Finance. With most brokerages out there, you have to purchase whole shares of stock. This isn't a big deal with shares like Ford that trade for $10 a share. It is a big deal when looking at stocks like Amazon that trade for close to $3,000 a share.

M1 gives you the ability to purchase as little as 1/10,000th of a share of any stock that trades on the platform.

This allows you to build a well-diversified portfolio with a small account.

M1 Finance Expert Pies

Investors have the option to create their portfolios or use the expert-built portfolios on the M1 platform.

M1 Finance offers a variety of prebuilt portfolios called expert pies. Securities professionals create these pies which are then managed by M1 Finance. Expert pies may be a suitable choice for beginners who do not want to build an investment portfolio from scratch.

These expert pies can make up your entire investment portfolio or just a portion of it. They are 100% free to invest in!

M1 Finance Expert Pie Portfolios

  1. General Investing: Choose from risk levels ranging from ultra-conservative to ultra-aggressive.
  2. Plan For Retirement: Invest for your target retirement date. Your portfolio allocation will adjust over time to become more conservative as you approach retirement.
  3. Responsible Investing: Socially conscious investing. This investment category invests in companies that are concerned about financial obligations as well as social and environmental obligations.
  4. Income Earners: Contains dividend and interest-paying securities.
  5. Hedge Fund Followers: Pies that track public funds such as Berkshire Hathaway and Icahn Enterprises.
  6. Industries & Sectors: Invest in one segment of the overall economy.
  7. Stocks & Bonds: Multiple options for diversified stock and bond exposure.
  8. Other Strategies: Other investment options like blue-chip stocks, domestic growth, domestic value and more.
  9. Trinity Portfolios: Portfolios created by Cambria Investments.

With 30+ different expert pies to choose from, most investors will find a pie that aligns with their goals and risk tolerance.

M1 Finance Free Training

We put together a free 30 minute video training that walks you through the entire process, step by step. This training will help you get up and running in no time at all.

GET THE GUIDE

Hassle-Free Borrowing

With M1 Borrow, you are able to borrow up to 35% of the value of your portfolio. You can use this borrowed money to invest on margin or for other expenses like unexpected medical bills. There is no additional paperwork, credit checks, loan officers, or denials with this borrowing.

So, it is extremely convenient. However, you will have to pay it back on a schedule. Since this is a secured loan, interest rates are much lower than unsecured loans.

Investors in need of a low-interest loan may find M1 Borrow extremely convenient and effective for accessing capital quickly.

M1 Spend

With M1 Spend, members gain access to a fully integrated checking account and debit card. This account comes with a few benefits like cashback and APY (for M1 Plus members only). You can also receive your paycheck 2 days early with a direct deposit.

Be sure to check out our full review on M1 Spend to learn more.

M1 Credit Card

In addition to the M1 debit card, there is also a credit card. Their latest feature, the Owner's Rewards Credit Card, comes with 1.5% cashback on all purchases. However, members can earn up to 10% cash back at certain locations. They currently have over 70 participating companies. If you own stock with one of these companies and then make a purchase with them, you can earn 2.5%, 5.0%, or 10.0%. Check out the full list of companies and see their accompanying cashback percentages.

This card is available for all M1 members who apply and are approved. Without an M1 Plus membership, however, this card comes with an annual fee of $95.

Dividend Reinvestment

Dividend investors are loving M1 Finance thanks to the portfolio level DRIP they offer. When you earn a dividend, that money is added to your cash balance held within your portfolio.

Once that cash balance exceeds $25, it is automatically invested across your entire portfolio. This dividend reinvestment allows you to earn compound interest.

The M1 Finance DRIP is different from most other DRIPs out there because, with M1 Finance, dividends are re-invested across your entire portfolio, not just back into the stock that paid them out.

Smart Transfers

In addition to setting up recurring deposits into your M1 Finance portfolio, you can also enable Smart Transfers to take things a step further. Smart Transfers allow you to put every single dollar to use by setting up threshold-based rules for your account.

For example, if you knew you wanted to keep $1,500 in your checking account at all times and invest anything above and beyond that amount, you could do that. By setting up a Smart Transfer, M1 would move money from your checking account to your investment portfolio whenever your checking account reached that balance.

This can be a great feature for investors who have a plan in place and want to spend as little time as possible on their investments. M1 has also stated that they plan to add more functionality to their Smart Transfers over the coming weeks so make sure to stay tuned for more updates!

Currently, this feature is only available to M1 Plus members. It's possible that they'll end up rolling it out to more users over time. But for now, you'll need to fork over the $125 per year for M1 Plus in order to utilize Smart Transfers.

Trading Windows

A definite downside to M1 for active traders is the trading windows. This is a cost cutting measure and something that allows M1 Finance to make money. They offer members 2 trading windows:

  1. Morning Trade Window (All Users) - This trade window opens each weekday at 10 AM EST when the market is trading. This trade window can be accessed by all M1 Finance clients.
  2. Afternoon Trade Window (M1 Plus Users Only) - This trade window opens at 3 PM EST and is reserved only for M1 Plus members. Clients with the “standard” M1 accounts will only have access to that 10 AM window.

M1 Finance Pros

  • Free $0 fee robo-advisor/brokerage hybrid
  • Dozens of free portfolios to choose from, or you can build your own
  • Assets are sold in the most tax-efficient manner
  • Fractional shares allow you to remain fully invested and well-diversified
  • Tools for fully automating your portfolio and saving time
  • $100 minimum and $500 minimum for retirement accounts

M1 Finance Cons

  • This is not an ideal platform for active traders as there is only one trading window per day
  • There is no 401k guidance
  • Limited to stocks and ETFs
  • No access to financial advisors

What Is Betterment?

Betterment is another investing platform that is very similar to M1. However, there are several key differences. The two biggest differences are the fee structure and portfolios.

Betterment builds you a portfolio from scratch based on your specific needs and goals. That tailored service comes at a small fee of 0.25% per year.

If you want to take it a step further, they offer the Premium plan for those with $100,000 or more invested. This gives you unlimited access to financial advisors for just 0.40% per year. 

Both Betterment and M1 Finance are designed to be extremely easy to use and to be very low cost. They are great platforms for beginners and experienced investors alike. Betterment offers several features that go above and beyond M1, so it may be worth considering this platform even though they do charge a small fee.

Read our Betterment review here!

Betterment currently has $29 billion in assets under management. This makes the company significantly larger than M1 Finance, which only has $5 billion in assets under management. However, M1 is growing very quickly, largely due to its free pricing structure. So, it could grow a lot larger shortly.

Betterment Features

Betterment's features are really what make the online broker shine. Let's take a look at some of the most popular and notable ones now!

Personalized Guidance

Unlike M1, Betterment offers personalized guidance that is based on your preferences, risk tolerance, and needs.

This is accomplished via the algorithm for the Digital accounts or Premium users have access to a team of financial advisors.

For brand new investors, it can be extremely useful to have that personal guidance to help you build confidence that you are on the right track. However, more experienced investors may prefer the flexibility of choosing their investments on their own.

Robo-Advisors Free Training

We put together a free 30 minute video training that walks you through the entire process, step by step. This training will help you get up and running in no time at all.

GET THE GUIDE

Tax Coordinated Portfolio

Betterment offers several features that help you cut down on your tax bill at the end of the year.

One of these features is the tax coordinated portfolio. Through this feature, Betterment looks at all of the assets held within your different accounts and organizes them in the most tax-efficient way possible.

For example, an investment that would incur maximum capital gains tax might be placed in a tax-sheltered retirement account.

By following this strategy, investors can save thousands of dollars in taxes over the long run, more than paying for the cost of the service.

Tax Loss Harvesting

This is Betterment's automatic tool to help you minimize capital gains tax. The idea is simply to realize, or "harvest," a loss to offset your gains. This feature is completely free to take advantage of.

With Betterment's automatic algorithm, it routinely checks for opportunities to minimize your capital gains tax. Read more about Betterment's Tax Loss Harvesting.

Cash Reserve

With low-interest rates being a characteristic of the economy over the last 10 years, it can be difficult to earn a yield on your cash. Betterment offers a solution to this issue by offering a high yield savings account called Betterment Cash Reserve. This is a great option for your emergency fund.

Having a way to continue to earn on your uninvested cash is a must, and so Betterment Cash Reserve will be a great feature for many investors.

Cash Back Offers

Recently, Betterment partnered with Dosh to offer cash back rewards to Betterment users. When using your Betterment debit card to shop at participating merchants, you'll be earning cash back.

Examples of partner merchants include:

  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Adidas
  • Walmart
  • Sam's Club
  • and many others!

Cash back will be deposited directly into your Betterment checking account in as little as 24 hours after you make a purchase with a participating store. You won't have to activate any offers and all cash back earning is 100% automatic. This feature makes the Betterment checking account and debit card much more attractive.

Betterment Advice Packages

Betterment offers advice packages for the specific one-on-one advice you are looking for. Advisors on the Betterment platform will then guide you through your financial goals and your current financial situation.

All you need to do is select your package, schedule your call, and talk to an expert about your specific situation. Betterment offers 5 different advice packages ranging from $199 to $299. This ranges from a getting started package to a marriage planning package and even college planning!

Most investors would do well to check in with a financial advisor on a periodic basis, and so having the ability to do that on Betterment without signing up for a long-term commitment is a big plus.

You can learn more about Betterment Advice Packages here!

Betterment Account Minimums and Fees

Betterment charges 0.25% to 0.40% per year. The minimum for Digital is $0. The minimum for Premium is $100,000.

This is more expensive than M1, which charges nothing. However, it is significantly less than the 1% that most money managers charge. So, if you open an account with Betterment, then you will still be accessing high-quality investment options for a very reasonable and cheap fee.

Betterment also offers several features that go above and beyond what M1 is offering.

Betterment does not have any account minimums to get started. So, you do not have to start with a large amount of capital when you open an account with Betterment. Many younger investors find this ideal as it makes the platform much more accessible to them.

Betterment Pros

  • Portfolios are tailored to your specific needs
  • You can get personalized advice from a financial planner
  • No account minimums for Digital
  • Extremely low fees relative to the level of service
  • Betterment Advice Packages help you plan for major life events
  • Has excellent retirement planning options
  • Offering custom investment portfolios based on risk tolerance and end goals

Betterment Cons

  • No individual stock or ETF selection
  • Managed portfolios only
  • Only able to invest in stocks and bonds
  • Fees charged

The Verdict: Betterment vs M1 Finance

M1 Finance and Betterment are both inexpensive, extremely easy to use, and convenient. They are both exactly the kind of investing platform that many millennials are seeking out. You really can’t go wrong with either of these platforms, but the subtle differences set them apart.

Neither is going to cost you a fortune in fees, each has a solid reputation for its investments and each has many outstanding features which add value to the platform.

In terms of which is better, M1 Finance or Betterment, it comes down to what your priorities are. If your priority is to find the absolute cheapest robo-advisor/brokerage that you can invest your money with, then M1 Finance is better. This is because there are zero fees to use M1.

However, if you are looking to have a more personalized experience, then Betterment is the better option.

Regardless of which platform you decide to go with, you should be able to grow your net worth and avoid paying the exorbitant fees that many other investing platforms and money managers charge. So, it is really a win/win.

m1 finance vs betterment
Article written by Ed Canty, CFP®
Ed is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. At his day job, Ed helps clients plan for retirement, manage their investments, and navigate their tax situation. In his free time, Ed enjoys golfing, traveling, fishing, and wrenching on his old car.

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