We review all of the best robo-advisors. Each one has unique benefits that make choosing the best one a challenge.
In this review, we’re comparing M1 Finance vs. Wealthfront – two robo advisors with low management fees and minimum investments. These two robo advisors focus on the power of algorithms and the Modern Portfolio Theory to provide advanced automated investing for any investor. Wealthfront and M1 Finance both offer low account minimums, low (or no) fees, and plenty of unique features to help you reach your financial goals.
Let’s dive in and find out which robo advisor is best for you.
|Features & Highlights||M1 Finance||Wealthfront|
|Management Fees||$0 ($125/Year for M1 Plus)||0.25% APY|
|Free Option||Yes||Yes (under $5,000)|
|Socially-Responsible Portfolios||Yes||Yes (over $100,000)|
|Assets Under Management||$1 Billion||$23 Billion|
|Visit Website||M1 Finance||Wealthfront|
M1 Finance vs. Wealthfront: Features
While they are both robo advisors, M1 Finance and Wealthfront offer features that look quite different when compared side-by-side.
|Buy Individual Stocks||Yes||No|
|Buy Fractional Shares||Yes||No|
|Cash Account||Yes (with M1 Plus)||Yes|
|Loan / Line of Credit||Yes||Yes|
|Financial Planning Tools||No||Yes|
M1 Finance Features
M1 Finance offers a unique and free way for you to set up and customize your portfolio. When you open an account, you will decide how you’d like to invest your money by choosing a pie-shaped portfolio.
M1 Finance offers 80 expert-build portfolios, or you can choose from thousands of stocks and ETFs to build your portfolio.
M1 Invest is limited to one trading window per day (two for M1 Plus), so even though you can buy individual stocks, M1 isn’t suited for day trading or swing trading.
To take advantage of M1 Finance as a robo advisor, your contributions can be automatically invested, and your portfolio will automatically rebalance to stay on track. While you can make manual trades, it’s not necessary.
M1 Borrow provides investors with an opportunity to take out a low-cost loan for up to 35% of their balance. You will need a minimum balance of $10,000 to use M1 Borrow. The base rate for a free M1 account is 3.5% APY and drops to 2.0% for M1 Plus users.
M1 Plus costs $125 per year and offers premium features. The premium account offers a lower borrowing rate, 1% cashback on purchases, and 1% APY on cash balances. Depending on how you use M1 Finance, the cost per year could be covered by your savings account or cashback from spending.
M1 Spend is a cash account with a debit card and direct deposit. M1 Spend allows you to consolidate your finances and instantly move money between your investments, loans, and spending account.
Unique M1 Finance Features
One of the best features that M1 Invest offers is how you invest by choosing or building an investment pie.
This is a unique way to invest, and it combines the ease of a robo-advisor with the options of a stock trading platform. Investors can choose from over 6,000 stocks and also purchase fractional shares to avoid uninvested cash. That means when an Apple stock is $350 per share, you can invest $50 and buy 1/7th of a share.
Custom pies and fractional shares give investors more control over where their money is invested. M1 Finance also allows for easy socially-responsible investing, where Wealthfront only offers it on accounts worth over $100,000.
M1 Finance Mobile App
Nowadays it’s always convenient to keep track of your finances on the go. Their mobile app has an average rating of 4.5/5 on the Apple Store and Google Play Store.
Many reviews say that the app is easy to use and well-organized. The critics report difficulties signing up and creating a portfolio, so we suggest doing that on your computer and download the app once you’re set up.
Wealthfront is a “hands-off” robo advisor. They take advantage of a software-only approach that makes managing your investment portfolio easy while keeping your fees low.
The downside of a software-only approach is the lack of flexibility. Wealthfront should be considered more of a set-it-and-forget-it investment platform. When opening your account, you will decide on your investment goals and risk tolerance. Once you deposit your money, they will invest it into 11 low-cost index funds.
Wealthfront offers tax-loss harvesting for every user, and for portfolios over $100,000, stock-level tax-loss harvesting, which saves you even more money on taxes.
With Wealthfront, you can open a Cash Account that earns 0.35% APY, 5x the national average per FDIC.gov. Your Cash Account will also come with a debit card, zero fees, and unlimited transfers. Wealthfront’s Cash Account is insured by the FDIC up to $1M.
If your balance is $25,000 or more, you can access a low-cost line of credit through a Portfolio Line of Credit. You can borrow up to 30% of your balance at a low 2.40 – 3.65% APY.
Unique Wealthfront Features
What makes Wealthfront stand out in the crowd of robo-advisors?
The main features that make Wealthfront unique compared to M1 Finance are the tax-loss harvesting and the Path financial planning tool.
Path is a free resource available to everyone, even if they don’t manage your portfolio. Path helps you plan for future life events and gives you insight into your financial future.
By looking at your finances, cash flow, and spending, Path provides an estimate of homeownership costs, how much you can spend during retirement, and help plan for time off work. Path also gathers relevant third-party data to give insights into the cost of various scenarios.
Wealthfront offers the 529 college savings plan, but M1 Finance does not. If you’re looking for a place to begin saving for your children’s college tuition, this is one of the best ways to do so.
Wealthfront Mobile App
The Wealthfront mobile app is available in the Apple Store and Google Play Store. The Wealthfront app has an average rating of 4.8/5.
Reviewers say that the app is simple and easy to navigate. The mobile app is a great way to view all of your finances in one place by linking your accounts to Wealthfront and using Path.
The Wealthfront critics report some lagging and troubles when trying to link different accounts.
M1 Finance vs. Wealthfront: Account Types
M1 Invest offers all of the standard accounts. Keep in mind that you will need to invest $500 to open a retirement account, and $100 for non-retirement accounts.
- Taxable (Individual and Joint)
- Roth IRA
- Traditional IRA
- Rollover IRA
Wealthfront also offers all of the accounts you’re likely to want. They also offer a 529 college savings plan, a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to help pay for education.
- Taxable (Individual, Joint, Trust)
- Roth IRA
- Traditional IRA
- Rollover IRA
- 529 college savings plan
Fees and Pricing
M1 Finance and Wealthfront both offer low balance minimums and fees. Meeting with a financial advisor will typically cost you between 0.5–2% of your assets under management. The basic M1 account is free, and Wealthfront charges a flat fee of 0.25%. If you use our invitation link, you can manage up to $5,000 with Wealthfront for free, forever.
|Minimum Balance||$100 to trade, $500 for IRAs||$500|
|Management Fees||0%||First $5,000 free, then 0.25% APY|
|Premium Account||M1 Plus – $125/Year||N/A|
|Line of Credit Account Minimum||$10,000||$25,000|
|Line of Credit APY||2.0 – 3.5%||2.4 – 3.65%|
The low fees and minimums make both of them great choices for beginner investors and those unable to make a large upfront deposit.
One of the drawbacks of M1 Finance is that it doesn’t offer any tax-loss harvesting strategy for taxable accounts. But because they don’t charge a management fee, you can save a comparable amount of money.
Wealthfront offers a tax-loss strategy for every account, at no extra charge, as part of their PassivePlus features. When your portfolio reaches over $100,000, Wealthfront implements a more in-depth tax strategy using Risk Parity and stock-level tax-loss harvesting. This strategy looks for movements in individual stocks within the US stock index to harvest more losses and further lower your tax bill.
For accounts over $500,000, Wealthfront offers a feature called Smart Beta, which weighs stocks more intelligently. This relatively small tweak can have big impacts on larger account balances.
Because M1 Finance and Wealthfront autonomously manage your portfolio, the customer service is limited.
M1 Finance doesn’t employ any financial advisors. Instead, they are relying on you to do your own research and make wise financial decisions. With that said, if you happen to experience difficulties, their website has a helpful support section with articles and videos. These articles and videos will help you get started, transfer funds from another institution, and more.
Most customer support questions are answered by phone or email.
Wealthfront is also an autonomous service and doesn’t offer person to person support. They do have an in-depth how-to section that can help you get started and answer most of your questions. If you need additional help, you can fill out their contact form.
Safety and Security
Keeping your money safe is a top priority. Both M1 Finance and Wealthfront offer excellent security, and your money is insured should they go out of business. The mobile apps for M1 Finance and Wealthfront are available for Apple and Android and have two-factor authorization.
With M1 Finance, your securities are protected by the SIPC up to $500,000, and cash in your savings account is insured up to $250,000 with the FDIC. All of your information is protected with 4096-bit encryption.
Wealthfront also covers up to $500,000 under SIPC insurance, and FDIC covers up to $1 million in your cash account. Wealthfront doesn’t store your information and works with third-party providers with bank-grade security and follow data protection best practices.
|Investment Insurance||$500,000 (SIPC)||$500,000 (SIPC)|
|Cash Insurance||$250,000 (FDIC)||$1 million (FDIC)|
|Security (self-described)||“4096-bit encryption”||“Bank-grade security”|
Wealthfront vs. M1 Finance: What’s the Verdict?
We don’t like to be indecisive, but the M1 Finance and Wealthfront robo advisors will appeal to investors for different reasons. We know that everyone has different priorities and preferences, and there is never a one size fits all approach to finances.
We did rate M1 Finance half a point higher than Wealthfront for a few reasons. M1 Finance is free and offers more personalization. If you invest in an expert-made pie, M1 will be more hands-off, but having the ability to invest in specific stocks and buy fractional shares is a big plus.
We also like that M1 Finance offers socially-responsible impact investing portfolios for all investors. Wealthfront only offers these options on accounts worth over $100,000.
Who is M1 Finance Best for?
M1 Finance is ideal for investors who want more control over their portfolios. You can choose an expert pie and invest more passively, but the level of customization is what makes M1 stand out.
Having the ability to choose your own investments to build a custom investment pie is beneficial if you have investment knowledge. Then you can set it and forget it as your contributions are continuously invested and rebalanced.
Investors who want a more hands-off approach can choose from a selection of expert pies and let the experts make the hard decisions for them.
You should also choose M1 Finance if socially-responsible investing is important to you.
If you don’t have the $500 minimum to invest with Wealthfront, you can start with M1 Finance with only $100. M1 Finance is also on our list of the best free robo-advisors.
Who is Wealthfront Best for?
Wealthfront is designed for setting and reaching long-term financial goals. If you want to build up your retirement account with ease, need some personalized financial advice, or save for your children’s college fund, Wealthfront is a great choice. And if you want to get better at maintaining a long-term budget, Path is an excellent free add-on to your Wealthfront account.
While Wealthfront’s robo advisor has higher fees than M1 Finance, their 0.25% annual fee is still very responsible and among the lowest of the other robo advisors on the market, especially for long term investors and those who want easy financial planning tools included.
Wealthfront is also on our list of the best robo-advisors for high net-worth investors because of the low management fee and premium features for balances over $100,000.