May 25, 2021 12:00 PM PT

Public Review

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Do you wish you knew what other investors were thinking? Public can help with that, by putting community and education first.

Public Promotion
Get a Free Slice of Stock

Overall Score

3.5

Stock Trading

3.5

Commissions and Fees

4.5

Online Community

5.0

Research

1.0
5-point scale (the higher, the better)

Pros and Cons

  • Commission-free social trading
  • Offers fractional shares
  • Limited investment options
  • No access to financial advisors

Bottom Line

Good social stock trading app

Public is a trading app with a social twist.

Trade fractional stocks and crypto commission-free, and learn from your peers while you do it.

In this review, find out which features are their best and if they're safe. Plus, see what fees they charge and how Public compares to platforms like Robinhood and M1 Finance.

What is Public?

Public was originally founded as "Matador" in 2018 by finance professionals Jannick Malling and Matt Kennedy.

In 2019, the investing app was re-branded and re-launched as Public, with a focus on social and transparent investing. Their goal is to have a platform where like-minded investors could easily connect and collaborate on the investments and industries they follow.

There are a number of ways that Public creates this collaborative learning environment.

Social & App Features
You can do limited research on the app (e.g., company and brand history), see what other Public investors are saying about each company or cryptocurrency, and then make your investment.

The social aspect of Public allows you to easily follow other investors and see what they hold in their portfolio, and the app will also recommend other users for you to follow based on the themes you are interested in.

Themes
Public is all about thematic investing. They offer a few dozen different investment themes, from global concerns like recycling and reducing carbon to the latest technological frontiers, like self-driving cars and virtual reality.

Once you've selected the themes you're interested in, you can easily browse the list of companies and ETFs that are working on these initiatives.

Is the Public stock trading app legit?
Public is 100% legit. They are one of the most transparent investing apps we've researched. They even tell you exactly how they do (and how they don't) make money.

Public.com

Get a Free Slice of Stock

  • Invest in Stocks and ETFs, Commission-Free and No Account Minimums
  • Follow other investors, share insights, and build your financial literacy within a transparent community
  • Offer valid for U.S. residents 18+ and subject to account approval. There may be other fees associated with trading. See Public.com/disclosures/

Pros and Cons

Want the basic takeaway? Review these pros and cons before signing up with Public.

Pros

  • Invest in your passion with themes
  • Highly collaborative community
  • Commission-free trading
  • Offers fractional shares
  • Offers cryptocurrency
  • Fund your account faster with a debit card
  • Commitment to transparency
  • Does not engage in PFOF

Cons

  • Limited investments (~5,000 U.S.-listed stocks and ETFs)
  • No portfolio building tools
  • Does not offer access to financial advisors
  • Non-margin accounts are subject to good faith violation restrictions

Is Public safe to use?
Yes, Public is a member of SIPC and so your investments and cash in your Public account are protected in the off chance Public goes under. They also have a 4 out of 5-star rating on the Better Business Bureau.

How it Works

Looking to personalize your investing approach and collaborate with other traders? Here's how Public works, and what sets it apart from the pack:

Social Trading
Each stock has its own page. Once you have an idea of what companies you're interested in, you can check their pages to see what other people are doing.

The public wall features long comment threads where investors can talk strategy, as well as notifications of when people buy or sell, how long they held, and what the result of their investment was.

Traders can use the page to keep up on the latest company news, track important stats, and even stay up to date on relevant events like the release of quarterly earnings data.

And this isn't just for stocks, either. There are lots of people on Public talking about Shiba Inu Coin, for example, over in the crypto section.

Cryptocurrencies are a whole lot more volatile than stocks, and that means everybody has an opinion about what they're going to do. Hold. Take profits. Sell.

It's best to seek out people who seem to know what they're talking about if you're going to take advice, but just having the opportunity for conversation with other investors can make the process feel a lot less overwhelming.

If you find a trader whose reasoning you like, you can go over to their page and see what they've been buying and selling, message, and even follow them. Remember, Public is meant to be a social media platform for investors.

Thematic Investments
To make diversification of your portfolio easy, but also meaningful, they offer dozens of different investment themes, such as:

  • "Combat Carbon" - companies reducing carbon footprints
  • "Women in Charge" - public companies led by female CEOs
  • "Space Exploration" - companies poised to benefit from space exploration

Each theme includes a dozen or so stocks and ETFs that reflect the topic. It also serves as a mini collaborative investment community where you can follow and chat with other investors in that theme.

Like most commission-free investing platforms, Public's offerings are limited to U.S.-listed stocks and ETFs. So, it's not ideal for someone who trades foreign or OTC stocks, bonds, options, or any of those more exotic security types.

It is, however, ideal for thematic investors and those looking for more transparency than you would find with the Robinhoods of the investing world (more on that later).

App Download: App Store, Google Play

Fun Fact:There are even some celebrities who invest on Public, if that sort of thing interests you.

Investing Features
Public allows you to invest in fractional shares, called "Stock Slices". This is especially useful if you want some Amazon exposure for instance, but not a full $3,000 worth!

They even let you set up automatic dividend reinvestment so you can purchase more stock with your earnings.

They also let you fund your account using a debit card (up to $1,000/day), which is helpful when you don't want to wait the 2-3 days it usually takes for an ACH transfer to clear.

Can you day trade on Public?
While you can day trade on Public, it's probably better to open a margin account with another broker if you are a day trader.

This is because frequent traders are more likely to make a "Good Faith Violation," which is when you buy a stock and sell it before the trade settles (in 2-3 days) and then use those unsettled funds to buy another stock. If you do this three times in a year, your account will be suspended for 90 days.

Fees

Investing on Public is commission-free.

However, they do have the following fees (which they say most Public users never incur):[1]

  • Broker-assisted phone trades: $30/trade
  • Domestic wire transfer: $30
  • Domestic overnight check delivery: $35
  • Returned check, ACH, wire & recall/stop payments: $30
  • Choosing paper statements: $5

Their full fee schedule can be found here.

While they have hinted at rolling out an optional subscription service in the future, nothing like this is currently offered.

So, how does Public make money?
Public makes money from securities lending and interest on your un-invested cash. Unlike most commission-free apps, Public claims to not engage in Payment For Order Flow (PFOF).

PFOF is a common practice where the broker receives a rebate/cash incentive from a market maker in exchange for letting them execute your trade.

PFOF creates a conflict of interest since the broker's duty is to get you the best execution. Because Public does not do this, they have a purely optional feature where you can give them a "tip" when making a trade.

Public Alternatives

There are many other players competing with Public in the commission-free investing space, and each one tries to craft its platform in a somewhat unique format to try to appeal more to certain investors or traders over others.

Some apps, like Robinhood, offer derivatives and crypto, while others, like M1 Finance, offer thematic investing similar to Public. We'll take a look at some of their leading competitors below and how they measure up to Public.

Public vs Robinhood

 Public.comRobinhood
 Visit SiteVisit Site
 

Public.com

Robinhood

SPECIAL OFFER
Get a Free Slice of Stock - Learn More

OFFER
Get a Free Stock (worth between $2.50 and $225) - Learn More

 

Benefits and Features

Stock Trading
$0
$0
Options Trading
No
$0
Annual Fee
None
All trades are commission-free. No platform fees.
Minimum Deposit
$0
$0
Mutual Fund Trading
No
No
Cryptocurrencies SupportedBitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, Dogecoin, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Shiba Inu Coin, Stellar, Ethereum Classic, Dash, ZcashETC, ETH, BSV, BCH, BTC, DOGE, LTC
Fiat Currencies Supported
USD
USD
Digital Wallet
No
No
Transaction Fee
No
No
Copy Trading
Social Trading
No
Limit Orders
Yes
Yes
Crypto Loans
No
No
Bank Account Purchase Fee
No
No
Debit Card Purchase Fee
No
No
Banking
N/A
No service fees for Robinhood Cash Management account. Free debit card with no in-network ATM fees or foreign transaction fees
Mobile App
Yes
Yes
ACH Transfer Fee
No
No
Wire Transfer Fee
$30
No
Crypto Conversion Fee
No
No
Anonymity
No
No
Biometric Login
No
TouchID or FaceID
Cold Storage
Yes
Yes
Maximum Trading Amount
No
No
Two-Factor Authentication
SMS
Yes
Withdrawal Limit
No
$50,000 per business day
 Visit SiteVisit Site

Robinhood: Pricing information from published websites as of 04/18/2020.

Robinhood also offers commission-free trading and shines for the variety of security types supported on their platform.

Robinhood investors can trade U.S.-listed stocks, ETFs, ADRS, options, futures, and many crypto currencies. They also offer margin accounts through their "Robinhood Gold" subscription for $5/month. These features help position Robinhood as an ideal app for day traders.

Robinhood is well-known to make most of their money from PFOF, which is an inherent conflict of interest. They also saw a strong backlash from their decision to restrict trading in GameStop and other highly shorted stocks in early 2021. Many saw that move as unfair and preferential to hedge funds.

Public puts their investors first, and for this reason, we'd generally recommend them to long-term investors over Robinhood.

Public vs M1 Finance

 Public.comM1 Finance
 Visit SiteVisit Site
 

Public.com

M1 Finance

SPECIAL OFFER
Get a Free Slice of Stock - Learn More

SPECIAL OFFER
New Customers: Deposit $1,000 and Get $30 - Learn More

 

Benefits and Features

Stock Trading
$0
$0
Options Trading
No
No
Annual Fee
None
None
Minimum Deposit
$0
$100
Mutual Fund Trading
No
No
Banking
N/A
All users can open a M1 Spend account with free debit card. No monthly service fees and no balance requirements.
Mobile App
Yes
Check
Two-Factor Authentication
SMS
Yes
 Visit SiteVisit Site

M1 Finance: Pricing information from published website as of 02/28/2020

M1 Finance is probably the closest competitor to Public because they also offer their own version of thematic investing - called "pie investing."

M1 Finance offers 80 prebuilt "pies"; each represents a unique collection of individual stocks and ETFs that reflect a specific theme or sector, like dividend stocks or green energy companies. And besides these prebuilt pies, investors can also "bake" their own, combining a custom mix of stocks that they like.

But M1 Finance doesn't offer the collaborative, social environment that Public does. They also don't offer real-time trading, which is a big drawback as the M1 investor can't time their trades to certain times of the day in response to price changes.

Overall, we think Public is the better option for thematic investing given their collaborative and transparent platform.

Public vs Acorns

 Public.comAcorns
 Visit SiteVisit Site
 

Public.com

Acorns

SPECIAL OFFER
Get a Free Slice of Stock - Learn More

SPECIAL OFFER
$10 Sign-Up Bonus - Learn More

 

Benefits and Features

Stock Trading
$0
Part of service fee. No add-on trading fees.
Options Trading
No
No
Annual Fee
None
  • $3/mo for Acorns Personal (includes personal taxable account, IRA, and checking account)
  • $5/mo for Acorns Family (includes everything in Personal plus investment accounts for kids)
Minimum Deposit
$0
$0
Mutual Fund Trading
No
No
Banking
N/A
Included in Acorns Personal ($3/mo). Free metal debit card, no minimum balance, no overdraft fees, and 55,000+ fee-free ATMs nationwide.
Mobile App
Yes
Yes
Two-Factor Authentication
SMS
Yes
 Visit SiteVisit Site

Acorns: Pricing information from published website as of 09/28/2020.

Acorns is an investing app based on the unique concept of investing your spare change, which in theory should give more Americans access to the stock market.

Every time you use your credit or debit card, the app will automatically round up your purchase to the nearest dollar and invest the change for you. You can choose between a few basic, diversified portfolios of ETFs with varying risk levels.

While it's a novel idea, Acorn's fees make their platform too expensive compared to other brokers. Their monthly fee varies from $3 to $5 depending on how many accounts you have.

While this doesn't seem like much, it's actually a big percentage of your balance. Most accounts on Acorns will be fairly small, as they consist of accumulated pocket change.

For this reason alone, we would recommend Public over Acorns.

Bottom Line: Is Public Worth It?

Public offers a collaborative approach to investing.

For most of our lives, unless you were wealthy enough to pay a financial advisor or lucky enough to know someone who knew the ins and outs of the stock market, investing mostly meant going it alone.

As investing becomes more accessible and young people look to try their hand, often with little or no experience, it's important for them to have paths to knowledge. With apps like Public, learning from your peers--for free--becomes a real possibility.

Today's investors also want to make investments that reflect the issues they care about, and the emerging technologies addressing them. They want to do it in a cost-efficient manner, with a transparent broker that puts them first.

If that sounds at all like you, we highly recommend giving Public a try.

References

Public.com

Get a Free Slice of Stock

  • Invest in Stocks and ETFs, Commission-Free and No Account Minimums
  • Follow other investors, share insights, and build your financial literacy within a transparent community
  • Offer valid for U.S. residents 18+ and subject to account approval. There may be other fees associated with trading. See Public.com/disclosures/
Coinbase

Earn $5 in bitcoin for getting started on Coinbase

Personalized $5 reward offer is displayed after account creation. Limited time offer and while supplies last. Offer available to new users who have not previously verified their identification. Offer not available to new users who were referred to Coinbase through the Referral Program or who have previously opened an account using different contact information. Coinbase may update the conditions for eligibility at any time, in its sole discretion. See Terms and Conditions.

Stash

Sign Up and Get $5

  • Sign up, add at least $5 to your account and get a $5 bonus.
  • Invest with fractional shares
  • Get portfolio recommendations
Crypto.com

USD $10 Sign Up Bonus

You will need to stake in $1000 CRO to earn USD $10 worth of CRO. Only the first amount of CRO you stake is used to calculate the sign-up bonus.

Write to Andrew Fitzgerald at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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