Reviews

Public.com Review: A Simple, Fee-Free Investing App

Public Investing Tony Hawk
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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 Public app 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.
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Public differentiates itself from other commission-free stock trading apps through the integration of social networking features. For example, most investors enable public sharing of their portfolio (excluding dollar amounts), which allows you to see the trades that friends and thought leaders are making (and to join discussions around these trades). Overall, it's a good app for smaller investors looking to trade individual stocks and ETFs. However, it lacks key crypto features, such as being able to transfer to a private wallet.

Pros:
  • Free trades on stocks and ETFs.
  • Instant deposits with a debit card.
  • Can invest in fractional shares.
  • Cryptocurrencies are available.
  • No minimum investment.
  • Promotional bonus of up to $300 in free stock.
Cons:
  • Limited account types, including no IRAs.
  • No mutual funds or done-for-you portfolios.
  • 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.

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 (margin) trading, 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 more than 1 million people across its web platform and mobile apps, with very positive ratings. 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 and cryptocurrencies.
Financial advisor access:Not available.
Promotions:Up to $300 in free stock after making an initial deposit.

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.

Public Pros

  • 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.
  • Allows for instant deposits via debit card. This means you can get started as soon as your account is approved, without the need to sync your banking details or wait for a transfer to complete. It also makes it super easy to add funds to your account in the future.
  • There’s no account minimum, minimum deposit, or minimum withdrawal. Start investing with any amount you’d like.
  • Has built-in social/community features. You can connect with friends, other investors and thought leaders, which allows you to see their trades and engage with them about their investment choices.

Public Cons

  • 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.
  • Does not offer mutual funds or “done-for-you” portfolios. There are no pre-made portfolios or mutual funds offered by Public. While the platform does offer theme-related baskets of stocks based on specific sectors and trends, these are not meant to replace a more traditional mutual fund that invests in a wide variety of stocks.
  • You can’t withdraw your crypto to a private wallet. You could therefore face tax implications for moving your crypto to your own wallet. 
  • There is no access to financial advisors if you need investment advice. 

Public Premium

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 data noted above 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, if you were to invest $83 per month in your Public account for a full year, you would have a portfolio worth $1,000 (not accounting for any gains or losses). 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.

Breakdown of our Public Review Score

Investment options:4
Support:4.2
Fees:5
Usability:4.6
Reputation:4.5

Investment Options

Public doesn’t have the largest number of investment options, and there’s no access to mutual funds or pre-constructed portfolios. 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 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.

Customer Support

Public has both in-app chat and web chat support, as well as email agents. Unfortunately, no phone support is available.

Fees

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. 

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.

Usability

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.

Reputation

Note: This data was last updated on September 20, 2022. 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 59,128 reviews. There has been no positive or negative change in rating since our last update.

On the Google Play store, the Public app has a 4.4/5 rating with over 43,962 reviews. There has been no positive or negative change in rating since our last update.

Public.com Alternatives

Public’s most prominent competitors are Robinhood, M1 Finance and Webull. Here’s a quick look at how Public stack 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 Robinhood and 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.

See also: Titan is an investing platform that helps you leverage the strategies of top hedge funds. Learn more in our Titan Invest review.

Public.com Review FAQs

Is Public good for day trading?

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.

Can you invest in alternative assets on Public?

Public recently acquired a company called Otis that allows investors to buy a fractional share of alternative assets (and more specifically, rare pop culture and collectible items). Otis has not yet been integrated into Public, but we’ll update this review with more information when that happens.

In the meantime, you can learn more in our guide to alternative asset classes.

Is identity verification required when signing up for Public?

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.

Is the Public app safe?

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.

Is the Public app available worldwide?

No, the Public investment app is only available within the United States.

Can you fund your Public account with a credit card?

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.

Can you make money with the Public app?

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.

Does Public have a recurring/automated deposit feature?

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.

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.

R.J. Weiss
R.J. Weiss is the founder and editor of The Ways To Wealth, a Certified Financial Planner™, husband and father of three. He's spent the last 10+ years writing about personal finance and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, MSN Money, and other publications.

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