I’m not a big fan of sensationalist finance outlets like CNBC, the most visible member of the financial entertainment complex. With lots of straight news (often just wire reports) and powerful research tools, CNBC’s website, in particular, does offer real value for serious investors. But its TV arm is not helpful for anyone interested in developing healthy, sustainable money management strategies.
Luckily, there are plenty of resources like Morningstar — but few with Morningstar’s reputation or reach.
Unlike CNBC and investing blogs with more limited or narrow focuses, Morningstar is a reliable resource for sober, insightful analysis touching pretty much every cranny of the traditional investing world. (You won’t find much about cryptocurrencies and other alternative investments here, but that’s fine for most retail investors and a positive thing for less-experienced folks without the capacity to sort hype from reason.)
Morningstar reserves its best content and research tools for members, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay. The free Basic plan is plenty beneficial, and it may be all you need to stay on top of your investments. The pricey Premium plan has some added bells and whistles for higher-asset investors for whom it’s worth the cost.
Either way, Morningstar is a great resource for retail investors. Read on to learn more about what it offers.
Plans & Features
Morningstar has two consumer-facing plans: Basic and Premium. Premium, a paid plan, adds exclusive features and content to Basic’s impressive-enough menu.
Basic is Morningstar’s free plan. All you need to sign up is an email address and password — no credit card or personal details required.
Basic comes with a slew of Morningstar- and partner-generated content, including the following.
Morningstar offers a ton of real-time and historical market data:
- Market Indexes. This is a snapshot of the daily and historical performance of major and lesser-known global market indexes
- Market Barometers. This block chart helps investors visualize the relative performance of various market sectors and equity classes. It covers small-, mid-, and large-cap equities in multiple segments. For example it might show that, on any given day, small-cap value stocks outperformed their large- and mid-cap peers.
- Morningstar Sectors. This chart shows the relative performance of equities in Morningstar-curated sectors, such as Basic Materials, Consumer Cyclicals, and Real Estate.
- Movers. This set highlights securities with the greatest percentage moves on a given day.
- Performance. This section contains a seemingly endless array of data for various market indexes and sectors, from the S&P 500 and Dow 30 to closed-end funds and ETFs tracked by Morningstar.
Morningstar curates market news from around the Web. Most of the content appears to come via Dow Jones, a major financial wire service, and covers both U.S. and international markets. At a glance, it’s a great place for investors looking to scan headlines before drilling down into a few stories of interest at the start of the day.
Morningstar’s original quarter-end reports cover trends in specific sectors and the general market. This section appears thinner than Market News, but its content is far more detailed — reading that’s probably best left for a quiet evening or weekend, rather than a quick morning scan.
Morningstar broadcasts key upcoming market events via third-party calendars from Briefing.com, Zacks, and others. Here, you can peek ahead at pending economic reports, company earnings reports, stock splits, initial public offerings, and more.
After importing a preconstructed portfolio from another financial site (supported partners include Yahoo! Finance and Quicken) or entering your portfolio securities manually, use the Watchlist tool to track the day-to-day and historical performance of your portfolio’s contents. To see how your actual holdings have performed since day one, enter transaction data for each security in the Portfolio tab.
Morningstar’s lineup of market research tools features:
- Screeners. Morningstar’s basic screeners help investors sort ho-hum funds and equities from rare opportunities. Use them to find appropriate stock and fund investments. The Fund Compare tool is a screener-like product that’s listed separately but achieves similar results.
- Research Reports. Notable reports include the Target-Date Series Reports, which evaluate various funds in this increasingly popular category, and the Rekenthaler Report, a roundup of financial and political commentary from Morningstar expert John Rekenthaler.
- Ratings and Picks. This is the place to find Morningstar experts’ takes on the best funds, segmented by sector, fund quality, or both. The Fund Quickrank tool is a separately listed, DIY-friendly product that quickly sorts funds by category and quality.
Morningstar’s planning vertical covers five broad topics: tax planning, college planning, saving for retirement, investing in retirement, and personal finance. Each topic includes articles, detailed guides, worksheets, and other resources. For instance, personal finance resources include budgeting and net worth worksheets.
Morningstar has a rich education vertical (“Learn”) geared toward beginner and intermediate investors. The beginner-centric “Start Investing” modules are available only to Premium subscribers, but Basic members have access to dozens of courses in the Investing Classroom. Investing Classroom courses cover five topics: stocks, bonds, funds, ETFs, and portfolio (detailing portfolio-building and -management strategies).
Morningstar serves old-fashioned display and banner ads throughout the site, especially on the homepage. Actual “sponsors,” mostly brokerages such as TD Ameritrade and E*Trade, get their own real estate in the Sponsor Center, lower down on Morningstar’s homepage. It’s unlikely that the sorts of savvy investors Morningstar caters to aren’t already aware of the company’s high-name-ID sponsors, but they are on the site regardless.
Morningstar curates a number of regular email digests — basically, themed newsletters with exclusive news and analysis.
- Advisor Digest. This is a weekly roundup of market analysis from top Morningstar analysts.
- Stock Analyst Notes. This is a weekly, company-specific analysis digest with forward- and backward-looking components.
- Fund Spy. This newsletter features deep dives into the mutual fund industry from Morningstar fund experts.
- SmartInvestor. This is a weekly roundup of the top financial content and market analysis, sent on Friday afternoons.
- Personal Finance Tips. This is a compilation of beginner- to advanced-level portfolio and cash management tips for retail investors.
For $29.95 per month, $199 per year, $349 for two years, or $449 for three years, you’ll enjoy these Premium-exclusive benefits. When you sign up for Premium, you must provide a credit card, but you won’t be charged until your 14-day free trial ends.
Premium Email Digests
Premium members get two Premium-exclusive email digests at no additional charge:
- Morningstar Digest. This is a rundown of the latest insights and analysis from Morningstar experts. Premium members get a first look at this content before it’s disseminated publicly.
- 5-Star Stock Update. Every time Morningstar identifies a new 5-star stock, Premium members get an exclusive heads-up.
Premium articles offer additional insight into the same topics and themes as Morningstar’s free articles. The difference between Basic and Premium articles is one of quantity, not scope.
Morningstar appears to offer exclusive video content for Premium members, though it’s difficult for Premium members to tell which videos (if any) are for their eyes only and which appear to Basic members too. Topics range from topical (“What Happens If Everyone Indexes?”) to perennial (“3 Stock Ideas From the Ultimate Stock Pickers”).
Premium stock and fund screeners provide more granular detail and allow for more customization, helping sophisticated investors sort the wheat from the chaff with minimal effort.
Morningstar’s “Learn” modules, geared toward inexperienced investors seeking actionable advice for their DIY portfolios, are exclusively for Premium members.
Morningstar regularly publishes subscription-only newsletters for paying subscribers. This content isn’t available for free to any Morningstar members, so you’ll want to make sure you find the topic valuable enough before signing up. Each comes with a free trial issue.
- FundInvestor. Drawing on Morningstar’s industry-leading mutual fund database, this newsletter delivers fund-related insights and analysis you can’t find anywhere else.
- ETFInvestor. This regular newsletter draws on Morningstar’s vast ETF database, with exclusive insights from Morningstar experts.
- StockInvestor. This newsletter is built around two Morningstar-managed portfolios, The Tortoise and The Hare. Issues highlight over- and underperformers from each portfolio.
Here’s why Morningstar might be a good addition to your investing rotation.
- Lots of Original Content in Both Plans. Morningstar’s value-to-content ratio is off the charts. Basic and Premium members enjoy exclusive access to a wealth of content generated by Morningstar experts and trusted third parties, without the conflicts of interest inherent in contributor-driven financial media outlets like Seeking Alpha.
- No Obligation to Sign Up for Email Newsletters. Morningstar members are under no obligation to receive the platform’s email newsletters. When you first open your account, you’ll be invited to sign up for as many as your plan level permits, but you won’t be penalized for passing. That’s great news for members who disdain inbox clutter.
- 14-Day Free Trial With Premium. New Premium members get 14 days free before they’re required to pay for the service. That should be more than enough time to get a feel for whether Premium is worth the expense for you.
- Easy to Cancel Premium. Before or after the end of the free trial, Premium is easy to cancel. Just visit your account dashboard and click the “Cancel Membership” button under the “Plan” tab. You’ll then need to call the number on the following page and let the associate on the other end know you’d like to cancel — a two-minute task if you’re not placed on hold.
- Less Commercial Than Financial Entertainment Alternatives. As market resources go, Morningstar is pretty straitlaced, with none of the sensationalism or manufactured drama of financial entertainment outlets like CNBC. Sure, “Mad Money” and “Shark Tank” are fun to watch every now and then, but an hour on Morningstar’s website is apt to be far better for your investing IQ.
Consider these drawbacks carefully before opening a Morningstar account — and especially before paying for Morningstar Premium.
- Lots of Ads, Even in Premium. Morningstar has what I’d charitably call an ad-rich interface. Old-school display ads appear on page margins and occasionally between homepage sections, hawking products and services from Morningstar and its partners. That’s rare for a pricey premium product. It would be nice for users paying for something of value not to endure more marketing from its publisher.
- Premium Is Pricey. Morningstar’s Premium plan is pretty pricey — annualized, it costs more than the monthly payment on a new economy car. For high-dollar investors who actually incorporate Morningstar’s insights into their market-making strategies, that may be a small price to pay. But for low-asset hobbyists and those who prefer passive investing, it’s overkill.
- Premium Sign-Up Requires a Credit Card. Despite the free trial, you’ll need to enter your credit card information to sign up for Premium. If you don’t want to pay for the first month (or year, depending on your chosen payment frequency) after your trial ends, you’ll need to remember to cancel within 14 days.
- Cluttered Interface. Morningstar’s interface doesn’t look terrible, but it’s a bit cluttered, especially on a small screen. That’s an impediment for on-the-go investors who prefer to access information on their smartphones.
Investors have countless legitimate sources of market data, news, and analysis at their fingertips. What makes Morningstar so special? And is Premium worth the hefty price tag?
Morningstar has two real differentiators: a well-founded reputation for impeccable and unbiased insight and analysis and a deep well of valuable content. In other words, Morningstar delivers a ton of excellent content for investors, without the irrelevant fluff common to CNBC or the esoteric and often biased niche dives common to Seeking Alpha.
If you’re a no-nonsense investor looking to get smarter about the securities in your portfolio — or learn how to build a portfolio for the first time from experts who aren’t trying to sell you anything — then Morningstar Premium is for you. If you don’t have the disposable cash or investable assets to make Premium cost-effective, there’s always Basic.