In this Public Investing app review, we’ll look at:
- Why the app is known for its ability to simplify investing for beginners.
- How it compares to other investing apps, like Robinhood, Webull and M1 Finance.
- The app’s pros and cons.
- And much more…
Throughout this review, I’ll draw from my own experience with Public and offer insights from the perspective of a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ to help you determine if the app is right for you.
Public is a beginner-friendly investing app that offers commission-free stock and ETF trades, with the ability to purchase fractional shares. In 2022, the app also added the ability to purchase more than 30 cryptocurrencies. 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.
- 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 $70 in free stock.
- 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
The popularity of Robinhood has spawned a multitude of free trading apps, with Public (formally called Matador) being one of them.
While most no-commission trading apps focus on professional traders and offer features like options and leverage trading, Public targets more casual investors who just want a simple way to trade individual stocks, ETFs and cryptocurrencies.
And while Public is not nearly the size of Robinhood, it has built up a user base of more than 1 million people across its iOS and Android apps, with very positive ratings.
Along with a user-friendly design, Public has won over customers thanks to its customer support; while Robinhood has received a lot of criticism over the past couple years, Public has garnered high marks from users thanks in large part to the availability of phone, live chat and email support.
Public Investing App Key Facts
|Fees:||No account or trading fees.|
|Account types:||Taxable and savings.|
|Investment types:||Stocks, ETFs and cryptocurrencies.|
|Advisor access:||Not available.|
|Socially responsible investing options:||Only available through ETFs.|
|Promotions:||Up to $70 in free stock after making an initial deposit.|
Public Investing App Pros and Cons Explained
Public Investing App Pros
- Free trades on stocks and ETFs. Public offers all users the ability to trade with no commissions.
- Instant deposits with a debit card. You can fund your account instantly with a debit card, which also means you immediately qualify for the sign-up bonus (there’s no need to sync your banking details or wait for a transfer).
- No minimum deposit or withdrawal amount. Start investing with any amount you’d like.
- Invest in fractional shares. You aren’t required to buy a full share to make a trade, which means you can invest in companies like Tesla and Amazon — which have shares priced in the thousands — even if you only have a few dollars.
- Community aspect. See the trades friends and thought leaders are making and engage with them about their investment choices.
- Cryptocurrencies are available. Invest in many of the larger cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
- No ability to leverage. Public doesn’t offer margin accounts that allow you to borrow money to make trades. For an app aimed at newer investors, this is a positive factor, in my opinion.
- Does not use payment for order flow (PFOF). Most commission-free stock apps generate revenue through what’s known as payment for order flow. In short, this is when market makers pay brokers to route their trades through them, regardless of whether they can execute the best possible trade price. Public executes its trades directly to Nasdaq and the NYSE through Apex, without the use of a market maker.
Public Investing App Cons
- Limited account types, including no IRAs. Public doesn’t offer the ability to invest in individual retirement accounts, something many new investors would benefit from. View our guide on Roth and Traditional IRAs to learn more.
- No mutual funds or done-for-you portfolios. There are no pre-made portfolios or mutual funds offered by Public, such as target-date retirement funds. While the app 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.
- Crypto is held by a third party and can’t be transferred to a private wallet. You don’t hold the crypto purchased through Public, which means it can’t be transferred to your own private wallet (where you could earn interest or participate in decentralized finance).
- Small markup on Crypto purchases. There is a small fee — around 1% to 2%, — to purchase cryptocurrencies through Public. This is standard and similar to what platforms like Coinbase charge.
Alternatives to Public (Robinhood and M1 Finance)
Public’s most prominent competitors are Robinhood, M1 Finance and Webull. Beyond the information shown above, here’s a more in-depth look at each alternative.
Public vs. M1 Finance
M1 Finance is one of our favorite overall investment apps.
While Public serves small investors who are interested in picking a few individual stocks, M1 Finance is geared towards more long-term investors.
You can open an IRA with M1 Finance to invest in for retirement, and choose from pre-made portfolios that resemble target-retirement funds (with no management fees).
Learn more in our M1 Finance review.
Public vs. Robinhood
With now over 20 million users and a market cap of more than $30 billion, Robinhood has long been the most popular trading app for individual stock and ETF trades.
The primary difference between the two platforms is the additional features Robinhood offers for larger and more sophisticated investors. (For example, Robinhood allows for the trading of options, in addition to trading on margin accounts.)
While Public doesn’t have these capabilities, it’s our view that features like these should only be used by the most sophisticated investors. Public simply aims to be the app that makes investing in stocks as simple as possible and without unnecessary risk.
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.
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.
Learn more in our Webull review.
About our Public Review Score
Public doesn’t have the largest number of investment options, and there’s no access to mutual funds or done-for-you portfolios. But then again, they’re not trying to mimic a large brokerage like Vanguard, which offers an assortment of low-cost mutual funds.
Public recently made available the ability to invest in cryptocurrencies, which can offer newer investors very limited exposure to these risky assets without signing up for an institution like Coinbase.
No IRA options is a significant downside.
Public understands its user base and their goals. So, while they don’t offer the ability to invest in options and use margin (as is the case with Robinhood and Webull) their user base of new investors is not the target market for these products.
No trading fees, account fees, or even a premium subscription is needed with Public.
The app is very user-friendly and without a lot of clutter, while still incorporating a lot of social feeds. It’s light on research and information that many advanced investors may want.
This data was last updated on March 18, 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 48,000 reviews.
On the Google Play store, the Public app has a 4.4/5 rating with over 36,000 reviews.
Our Review Methodology
Our review methodology is an independent assessment by The Ways To Wealth team, overseen by CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and site founder R.J. Weiss. Our end goal is to publish fair, honest and unbiased assessments of financial products and services, offering our readers the same analysis we provide to friends and family. You can read more about our review methodology here.
Public App Review FAQs
Public was designed for beginner investors, and over 90% of its users are investing for the first time. As such, it lacks day trading capabilities 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 platforms are more suitable for active traders.
Public provides its users up to $500,000 in SPIC Insurance. 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.
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.
Public App Review: Is This Social Investing Platform 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. No, you won’t find margin accounts or options trading here, but it’s our stance that these features are only appropriate for the most sophisticated investors.
While it’s nice to be able to trade crypto on the platform, the lack of ability to transfer to a private wallet means there are better alternatives available. See our article on the best crypto micro-investing apps to learn more.
The question then becomes where an app like Public fits within your overall financial plan.
Trading stocks here and there with a few dollars is by no means a way to save for retirement. In addition, Public doesn’t offer the ability to invest in an IRA, which allows you to pay less in taxes over time.
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. For most people, this means having a plan for retirement outside of your Public account that’s not relying on you beating the market to achieve your long-term goals.