Vanguard versus M1 Finance: IRA, compare commissions, investing fees, trading tools, account pros and cons. Which online broker is better?

Two Rivals: M1 and Vanguard

Are you looking for a brokerage firm that specializes in fund trading? Both Vanguard and M1 Finance create baskets of investments for their customers. Their approaches are a little different, however. Let’s see how these two companies compare in vital categories.


Broker Fees Stock/ETF
Mutual Fund
Annual IRA
Vanguard $0 $20 $1.00 per contract $20* $20*
M1 Finance $0 na na $0 $0


Broker Review Cost Investment Products Trading Tools Customer Service Research Overall Rating
M1 Finance


M1 Finance: Make a deposit and get up to $500 cash bonus.

Vanguard: no promotions offered.

Range of Products

Vanguard traders can buy and sell equities, mutual funds, closed-end funds, ETF’s, options, and fixed-income securities. Using the broker’s equity screener, we also found penny stocks and over-the-counter investments.

At M1 Finance, there are far fewer investment choices. The company specializes is something called Pie investing. This is trading baskets of stocks and ETF’s. Technically, they’re not funds because they don’t trade on exchanges. The great advantage of Pies is that fractional shares can be traded, which means it’s possible to trade less than one share of a stock or ETF. (It’s possible to trade fractional shares of ETF’s at Vanguard.)

The downside with M1 in this category is that the brokerage firm doesn’t offer any mutual funds, options, or bonds.

While trading fractional shares of stocks may be appealing to some investors, we think Vanguard has the upper hand in this category due to its larger selection of investment products.

Trading Technology

Now we’re going to take a look at the software that is available at the two rivals. Vanguard provides a website for all trading. The brokerage firm does not have a browser platform or a desktop system. There is also no trade bar on its website, so the site itself is the only trading tool.

Vanguard versus M1

Vanguard’s order ticket offers market, limit, and stop orders. Duration options include GTC and day. There is no direct-access routing, and the order ticket is rather difficult to find. There are no buy and sell buttons on a stock’s profile page, for example.

Charting on the Vanguard website comes with company events, a few technical studies, and four display choices. A chart cannot be displayed the width of the monitor.

Although Vanguard is rather elementary in this category, M1 Finance is at an even lower level. Charting on its website, for example, offers no technical studies, no display choices (line is the only available style), and no company events.

M1 vs Vanguard

Because M1 Finance submits all its customers’ orders at the same time each market day, there is no order ticket to speak of.

Vanguard is definitely the better choice here.

Mobile Platforms

Their websites weren’t overly impressive, and their mobile platforms aren’t going to be, either. M1’s mobile app has the same interface as its website cousin. Furthermore, charting and order placement have the same tools. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a check deposit feature, and there’s no streaming financial news.

M1 vs Vanguard

Vanguard offers mobile check deposit, but fails to deliver anything in the category of video news. There is also zero charting, which means M1 Finance is actually a little better for this task. For some odd reason, Vanguard does not permit the trading of non-Vanguard mutual funds on its app.

Vanguard mobile

The order ticket on Vanguard’s app offers a nice calculator that can convert a whole-dollar amount into number of shares. Order types include market, limit, and stop (same as the website), and duration choices are the same as well. The order ticket provides real-time stock prices.

Overall, we like Vanguard better here.

Banking Features

Vanguard customers can open a VanguardAdvantage account, but only if they have at least half a million dollars in assets. It is a hybrid investment-bank account. It also carries a $30 yearly fee (waived for accounts above a million dollars). ATM charges incurred at PNC Bank locations are waived.

M1 Finance offers something called M1 Spend. It comes with FDIC insurance and a Visa debit card. The brokerage firm reimburses just one ATM charge each month. M1 Plus carries an annual fee of $125, but offers an interest rate of 1.5% on uninvested cash.

M1 has an edge here.

Customer Support

Vanguard has agents on the phone during the week from 7:00 am until 9:00 pm, CST. Regrettably, the brokerage house does not provide any service hours on Saturday or Sunday. There is no chat service on the broker’s website, although there is an internal messaging system. Vanguard’s website offers several self-help features, such as address update, adding beneficiaries, setting up direct deposit, applying for margin, and so forth. On the downside, Vanguard operates no brick-and-mortar locations.

Like Vanguard, M1 Finance only offers customer service during the week (9:00 to 5:00, CST). There is no chat service on its website, although it does provide a service e-mail address. The broker’s self-service section is much smaller than Vanguard’s and has far fewer services.

Vanguard wins this category.

Investment Education and Security Research

Vanguard’s site hosts quite a few articles on a variety of financial topics. We found materials covering retirement preparation, saving for college, charitable giving, the basics of fixed-income investing, and much more. At times, the site can be difficult to navigate. A search box in the top-right of the screen makes things a little easier.

Stock and ETF profile pages offer financial statements, earnings history (in both numerical and bar-chart format), performance data, and analyst sentiments.

M1 Finance has very little on its website for education and research. The broker does not offer analyst ratings, earnings history, or other vital information on securities. Moreover, there are no articles devoted to financial education.

M1 Finance loses again.


M1 Finance: Make a deposit and get up to $500 cash bonus.

Vanguard: no promotions offered.

Retirement and IRA’s

A wide variety of IRA’s can be found at Vanguard, including Traditional, Roth, SIMPLE, and SEP accounts. There’s also a solo 401(k) available. M1 Finance offers Roth Traditional, and SEP plans, but not the other two.

Both brokers offer target-date products (mutual funds at Vanguard, and Pies at M1). Vanguard also offers retirement planning with a licensed investment advisor, but M1 does not.

Vanguard wins the last category.

M1 vs Vanguard Summary

There was one tie, M1 won two categories, including the most important - Cost. Vanguard won all other categories. The winner of our contest is Vanguard. Notwithstanding the outcome, we do recommend M1 Finance for investors looking for best price or to trade fractional shares of equities.

Since both brokers charge nothing to open, maintain, and close an account (non-IRA) it makes sense to open an account at both firms and see which one you like better.

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