Public is a fee-free investment platform with a clean interface that makes it easy to trade stocks and other assets, including a select number of cryptocurrencies.
This Public review will cover key details about how the platform works, including:
- Why the app is known as one of the best investment platforms for beginners.
- The most important pros and cons to think about before signing up.
- Whether the optional Public Premium subscription is worth the monthly fee.
- How Public compares to other fee-free investing apps, like Robinhood, Webull and M1 Finance.
- How to decide if Public is the right investment platform for you.
My Take: Public offers a user-friendly platform that's particularly appealing for beginners interested in diversifying into individual stocks and alternative (albeit riskier) assets like NFTs and collectibles. However, the platform's lack of IRA options significantly limits its usefulness in comprehensive long-term financial planning, where tax-advantaged accounts play a critical role. Essentially, Public works best as an additional investment channel for those looking to venture outside their core financial plan. While the platform may spark your interest in various asset types and offer some educational value, it shouldn't be the cornerstone of a well-rounded financial strategy.
- Free trades on stocks and ETFs.
- Offers investment plans for broad diversification.
- Can invest in fractional shares.
- No minimum investment.
- Promotional bonus of up to $300 in free stock.
- Limited account types, including no IRAs.
- No access to mutual funds.
- Crypto is held by a third party and can’t be transferred to a private wallet.
Public Investing App at a Glance
Public offers free trading of most U.S. listed stocks and ETFs, and allows you to buy and sell fractional shares (with a $1 minimum investment). It also offers access to more than two dozen of the most popular cryptocurrencies, as well as a selection of alternative assets.
All of your assets are combined into a single portfolio, making it easy to track your total gains and losses.
While many no-commission trading platforms focus on professional traders and offer features like options access and leverage trading (margin), Public is designed with the beginning investor in mind. The interface is built around simplicity, making it easy to find and trade assets without having to sift through the mountain of settings, charts and data that many new investors find intimidating and difficult to navigate.
While Public is not nearly the size of its most popular competitor Robinhood, it has built up a user base of millions of people across its web platform and mobile app, with positive ratings (4.2 on the Google Play Store and 4.7 on the iOS App Store). This is thanks in large part to its ease of use and social features.
Public Key Facts
|Fees:||No account or trading fees.|
|Account minimum:||No account minimum.|
|Account types:||Taxable accounts only.|
|Available assets:||Stocks, exchange-traded funds, cryptocurrencies, high-yield treasuries, and “alts” like fine art and collectibles.|
|Financial advisor access:||Not available.|
|Promotions:||Up to $300 in free stock after making an initial deposit, plus a transfer bonus of up to $10,000. Get details about the current offer on our Public free stock promo page.|
Public Pros and Cons Explained
In the summary box above, we highlighted a few key benefits and downsides to using Public. Here’s a more in-depth look at the platform’s pros and cons.
- Provides access to fractional shares. A major benefit for the beginner investor with limited funds, fractional share trading allows you to buy stocks based on dollar amounts. Instead of buying a whole share, you can invest any amount (with a $1 minimum) and get a slice of a share. This gives you access to companies that would otherwise be out of your reach, and allows you to better diversify a small portfolio. For example, you can invest $50 per week in many different companies, rather than being forced to save up and invest in a single share of one company.
- Offers investment plans for broad diversification. In June 2023, Public introduced Core Investment Plans. Prior to this, they only offered baskets of theme-related stocks, such as companies that invest in specific sectors (e.g., artificial intelligence or cyber security). These Core Investment Plans are well-diversified and low-cost index-based portfolios that you could use for short, medium and long-term goals.
- There’s no account minimum, minimum deposit, or minimum withdrawal. Start investing with any amount you’d like.
- No accreditation status is required to invest in alts. You’re able to invest in assets like collectibles and art without having to meet the income and investing experience benchmarks often mandated by other platforms.
- There are limited account types available. Public does not currently offer access to retirement accounts, such as a traditional or Roth IRA. That’s unfortunate because investing in one of these tax-advantaged accounts is one of the best long-term decisions a new investor can make.
- No tax-loss harvesting. While Core Investment Plans are a great feature for the long-term index investor, Public doesn’t offer tax-loss harvesting on these accounts. Seeing that Public has no retirement options, these accounts are taxable and limit their usefulness in a well-constructed portfolio.
- You can’t withdraw your crypto to a private wallet. You could therefore face tax implications for moving your crypto outside of Public, as you’d first have to sell to cash.
- Alts on Public come with high risk. While a lot of alt platforms focus on asset-backed investments like real estate, the alternative investments available on Public are more culture-type investments, such as sports cards, NFTs and artwork. These are high-risk alternatives that, because of their risk level, don’t necessarily provide the portfolio diversification investors should look for when investing in alternatives.
- There is no access to financial advisors if you need investment advice.
Public Premium is an optional add-on service currently priced at $10 per month. A Premium subscription is not required to use the app, but it may be beneficial to some users, including active traders and those with larger portfolios.
Here’s what’s included with a Public Premium subscription:
- Unique performance indicators. These are business metrics specific to each company, such as subscriber growth and revenue segments broken down by product line. This data can help you keep track of a company’s performance and trends in order to make more informed investment decisions.
- Streamlined ETF insights. You’ll get quick in-app access to data related to the holdings of exchange-traded funds. While this information is available publicly elsewhere, being able to review it within the app is extremely convenient.
- Analyst ratings. Review the current state of a stock’s buy, hold and sell ratings and read reports from Morningstar (a leading investment research firm).
- VIP customer support. Public calls this “white-glove support,” though it’s not clear how it differs from the customer service offered to members without a Premium subscription.
For the sake of comparison, Robinhood’s premium subscription (called Robinhood Gold) costs $5 per month and includes access to analyst ratings and Morningstar investment research reports, as well as $2,000 in interest-free margin leverage (if your account qualifies for margin).
Is Public Premium worth it?
The information included with a Premium subscription is valuable and it can help you make better investment decisions. At the same time, $10 per month is a relatively high price.
For example, let’s say you were to invest $83 per month in your Public account for a full year, resulting in a portfolio worth $1,000 (not accounting for any gains or losses). At that savings rate, A $10 per month subscription fee would cost you $120, or 1.2% of your investment.
That’s significantly more than you would pay to invest in a professionally managed mutual fund. And it means that in order to justify the cost, you would need to have confidence that the data you’re unlocking will produce more than an additional 1.2% gain.
Therefore, we think Public Premium offers more value to those with larger portfolios, where the $10 monthly fee represents a lower cost on a percentage basis.
Breakdown of our Public Review Score
Public doesn’t have the largest number of investment options, and there’s no access to mutual funds. In contrast, full-service brokerages (like Vanguard) offer a wide assortment of low-cost mutual funds. This is something to consider, as most investors garner the best returns by utilizing a diversified, passive strategy (rather than by picking individual stocks).
Also, the lack of retirement accounts like an IRA is a significant downside as the app is aimed at beginner investors who should be taking advantage of such accounts before investing into a taxable account.
Public provides access to more than two dozen cryptocurrencies, which can offer exposure to these assets without the need to sign up for a dedicated crypto-trading app like Coinbase. This can simplify the process of buying and selling crypto while making it easy to track all of your investments from within a single dashboard.
However, unlike Coinbase, Public doesn’t provide users with individual cryptocurrency wallets. As such, you can’t transfer cryptocurrency holdings in and out of Public without selling to cash first.
In 2022, Public acquired a company called Otis that allows investors to buy fractional shares of alternative assets, such as fine art, collectibles and NFTs. The “Alts” section is now fully integrated into the Public platform. While this makes it easy to invest in things like Michael Jordan’s game-worn sneakers and first-edition Charizard cards, understand that the value of these types of assets is subject to market demand and may fluctuate wildly based on factors that are difficult to predict.
There’s also significant liquidity risk, as you must list the asset on Public’s site and then wait for it to sell.
As such, they should be viewed as especially risky when compared to more traditional investment options.
Public has both in-app chat and web chat support, as well as email agents. Unfortunately, no phone support is available.
There are no fees for trading stocks and no account fees. There are technically no fees for crypto purchases, but you will pay a markup (usually around 1-2%) on those transactions.
Before you make an investment, you can tip Public, but this is optional and not required. It’s also not the only way the company makes money, as they generate revenue from interest on cash balances, transaction fee rebates on crypto transactions, and alternative asset fees.
Public Premium is an optional subscription that provides access to market research data aimed at helping you become a better investor. Learn more about it in the Public Premium section above.
Both the Public.com web interface and the Public app are user-friendly and free of clutter, although the platform does display a significant amount of social media information, such as recent trades made by people in your network. While many users find this aspect of Public helpful, there’s no way to turn it off if you’d prefer a more streamlined and distraction-free experience.
Note: This data was last updated on September 12, 2023. We update the ratings and review counts below periodically throughout the year.
On the iOS app store, the Public app has a 4.7/5 rating with over 65,300 reviews. There has been no positive or negative change in the rating since our last update.
On the Google Play store, the Public app has a 4.2/5 rating with over 46,400 reviews. There has been no positive or negative change in the rating since our last update.
Public’s most prominent competitors are Robinhood, M1 Finance and Webull. Here’s a quick look at how Public stacks up against each.
Public vs. Robinhood
With over 20 million users and a market cap of more than $30 billion, Robinhood is the most popular trading app for individual stock and ETF trades.
The primary difference between the platforms is that Robinhood offers access to both options trading and margin trading — two features that are important for active investors and day traders, but which introduce complexity and risk to your investing strategy.
It’s our view that features like these should only be used by the most sophisticated investors. Public aims to be the app that makes investing in stocks as simple as possible and without unnecessary risk.
Public vs. M1 Finance
M1 Finance is one of our favorite overall investment apps.
While Public serves small investors who are interested in picking individual stocks, M1 Finance is geared towards long-term investors looking for a more balanced set of investment options.
For example, M1 offers access to retirement accounts (i.e., traditional and Roth IRAs) and pre-constructed portfolios that resemble target-retirement funds (with no management fees).
M1 does have higher minimums (starting at $100) and lacks any social component.
Learn more in our M1 Finance review.
Public vs. Webull
Webull is similar to Robinhood in that it offers commission-free stock and ETF trades, along with many additional features like options and margin trading.
One advantage Webull has over Public is that it offers the ability to contribute to an IRA.
If you’re an intermediate to advanced investor who is looking for something above and beyond the simplicity of Public, Webull is a solid choice. Webull also has one of the best free stock offers available.
On the other hand, if you’re a beginner just looking to invest in a few stocks and participate in a community, Public would be our recommendation. Webull is specifically aimed at active traders and features a wealth of research and analytical tools that new investors may find overwhelming.
Learn more in our Webull review.
Public.com Review FAQs
Public was designed for beginner investors, and over 90% of its users are investing for the first time. As such, it lacks key features that are necessary for day trading, such as advanced charting, trend monitoring, and the ability to trade options. If you’re looking to get into day trading, see our TradeStation review and our Moomoo review, as these two stock trading platforms are more suitable for active investors.
All new Public users are subject to identity verification and are required to provide a government-issued ID, as well as other pertinent personal details that may be required to prove their identity. This is standard practice and similar to the process required by any other investment app or trading platform operating within the United States.
Public provides its users with up to $500,000 in SPIC Insurance. Any cash held in your brokerage account is insured for up to $250,000.
Public does not sell, rent or trade your personal information.
Financial account linking is through Plaid, which uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES 256) and Transport Layer Security (TLS), which is considered best in class. Plaid is the best-known and most trusted account linking platform within the financial services industry, and we’re comfortable using it with our own accounts.
No, the Public investment app is only available within the United States.
No. Public offers fee-free instant account funding via debit card, but you cannot fund your account via credit card. This is not a negative thing, however, because such transactions are usually billed as cash advances by your credit card issuer, and thus may have fees or higher interest rates.
Yes, if your investing methodology is sound and your goals are realistic. While doubling a portfolio in a matter of weeks gets a lot of attention on social media, the truth is that doing so is very rare. The research is overwhelmingly in favor of individual investors buying index funds and holding them long-term. For more, read our guide on how to start investing.
Yes, Public allows you to place recurring buy orders for both stock and crypto offerings.
Public.com Review: How to Determine If This Social Investing Platform Is Right For You
If you’re a beginner investor looking to trade individual stocks and ETFs via a user-friendly app, Public is a solid choice. You won’t find margin accounts or options trading on the platform, but those features are only appropriate for the most sophisticated investors anyway.
Public’s simple user interface — paired with its lack of fees and minimums — make it easy to sign up and get started quickly. And that makes it ideal if you’re the kind of person who has thought about opening an investment account but just never got around to it.
However, it is worth thinking about where an app like Public fits within your overall financial plan. Public doesn’t offer the ability to invest in an IRA, which allows you to pay significantly less in taxes during retirement.
For most people — and especially those who are saving for their future a little bit at a time — investing in market-tracking assets within a tax-advantaged account like an IRA is the best possible long-term choice. Therefore, Public should not be the lynchpin of your retirement savings plan; it serves better as a supplementary avenue for riskier, explorative investments beyond your core financial portfolio.
Additionally, while it’s nice to be able to trade crypto on the platform, the lack of a way to transfer your crypto to a private wallet means there are better alternatives available. See our article on the best crypto micro-investing apps to learn more.
So, while Public is a solid choice for beginners looking to invest in stocks, it’s important to make sure you’re in a financial position to trade individual stocks. Generally, that means having a plan for retirement other than your Public account and investing in that plan up to the annual maximum contribution. Then, you have more freedom to invest a portion of your savings in individual stocks of your own choosing.