Updated May 19, 2022

Public Review

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Public is a commission-free trading app which combines investing with social media. Is it a good broker? Read on to find out.

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

Do you ever wish you knew what other investors were thinking?

On Public, you can actually find out. You can trade commission-free and talk strategy with other investors.

But is it any good?

In this review, learn more about Public, how they make money, 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 is a commission-free brokerage app, founded in 2018 by finance professionals Jannick Malling and Matt Kennedy. It was originally called "Matador."

In 2019, Matador was re-branded and re-launched as Public, with a focus on social and transparent investing.

The goal of Public is to create a platform where like-minded investors could easily connect and collaborate on the investments and industries they follow.

Is the Public stock trading app legit?
Yes, 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's Features

There's no shortage of investing apps, but Public stands out for combining the features of an online brokerage app with social media. But it's much more than that. Here's the breakdown of Public's main features:

Social Features
With Public, you can see what other investors hold in their portfolios and learn from their strategies. The app will also recommend other users for you to follow based on your interests.

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. Then, you'll have a social feed of investors to talk to, learn from, and collaborate with.

And this isn't just for stocks, either. You can find likeminded investors over in Public's crypto section, as well.

Investing Themes
Public is all about "thematic" investing. 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.

Note: Public's offerings are limited to U.S.-listed stocks and ETFs.[1] So, it's not ideal for someone who trades foreign or OTC stocks, bonds, options, or any of those more exotic security types.

Fractional Shares
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!

Invest in Crypto
Recently, public added cryptocurrency to their selection of investments. They currently offer over 30 cryptos, including popular picks like Bitcoin, Ether, Cardano, Litecoin, and many more.[2]

Reinvest Dividends
If your stocks earn dividends, Public lets you set up automatic dividend reinvestment so you can purchase more stock with your earnings.

Buy Stocks with a Debit Card
One of the most convenient features of Public is that you can fund your account up to $5,000 total with a debit card.[3] This is especially helpful when you don't want to wait the 2-3 days it usually takes for an ACH transfer to clear.

Who is Public best for?

As a trading platform, Public has a lot going for it. Here's which investors Public is best for:

  • People who want to invest but don't have a ton of money to get started
  • Beginners who want guidance and insight on investing
  • People who enjoy collaborating with others
  • Beginners who want an easy-to-use, user-friendly platform
  • Anyone who wants to make trades without commissions
  • Investors who want to buy stocks and crypto on one platform

Who shouldn't use Public?

Public is a solid platform, but it's not right for everyone. If any of the following apply to you, you may want to look elsewhere.

  • Investors who want access to financial advisors
  • People who want portfolio-building or automation tools
  • Investors outside the United States
  • People who regularly day trade

Is Public not right for your investing needs? Check out our guide to the best investment apps to find the best alternative for you.

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. The investments and cash in your Public account are protected (up to $500,000, which includes a $250,000 limit for cash) in the off chance Public goes under.[4] As of March 2022, it has 2.84 out of 5-star rating after 45 reviews on the Better Business Bureau.[5]

Note: SIPC does not protect against the decline in value of your securities.[6]

How does Public Work?

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

  1. First, you'll create your account and investor profile. This involves filling out some brief personal info and answering a few questions.

  2. Then, link your debit card or other bank account. Click "Banking and Payment Methods" and choose your payment method of choice.

  3. After that, choose your investments. You can explore Public's investment offerings, categorized by theme, industry, and other factors.

    Each investment also has its own page, which you can check out to see how other people are investing in it. This can include when they buy or sell, how long they held, and what the result of their investment was.

  4. Finally, track your investments. Log in regularly to see how your investments are performing or catch up on what your fellow investors are doing. You can even sign up to have your dividends reinvested.

    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.

App Download: App Store, Google Play

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.

What are Public's Fees?

Investing on Public is commission-free.

However, they do have the following fees (which they say most Public users never incur):[7]

  • 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.

Public has also hinted that they may add subscription-based premium features in the future.[8]

How does Public make money?

Public is commission-free, so they generate revenue in other ways:3

First, Public earns interest on uninvested cash balances, currently 0.2% as set by the Federal Reserve.

Second, Public earns from a securities lending program by their clearing firm, Apex. Apex lends shares out to investors and institutions, who pay Apex a market-driven interest rate. Apex then gives Public a portion of that interest.

Finally, Public earns from a markup on cryptocurrency transactions. When you buy or sell crypto on Public, it's held with Apex Crypto, who charge 1-2% for their service. Public receives some of the revenue generated from these markups.

Does Public use PFOF?
Unlike most commission-free apps, Public does not engage in Payment For Order Flow (PFOF).

PFOF is a common, but controversial 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 an optional "tipping" feature that members can use when making a trade.[9]

How does Public compare?

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.

Stock TradingOptions TradingCryptocurrencies Supported
Public.com$0NoBitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, Dogecoin, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Shiba Inu Coin, Stellar, Ethereum Classic, Dash, ZcashLearn More
Robinhood$0$0ETC, ETH, BSV, BCH, BTC, DOGE, LTC, COMP, MATIC, SOL, SHIBLearn More
Webull$0$0Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, Dogecoin, Zcash, Stellar Lumens, Ethereum Classic, Cardano, DashLearn More
CoinbaseNoNo170Learn More

Public vs Robinhood

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

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

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

  1. ^ Public. Why is This Stock Unavailable?, Retrieved 3/4/2022
  2. ^ "Crypto": Public, 2022.
  3. ^ Public. How Do I Connect My Debit Card?, Retrieved 3/4/2022
  4. ^ Public. How Am I Protected?, Retrieved 3/4/2022
  5. ^ Better Business Bureau. Public.com Customer Reviews, Retrieved 3/4/2022
  6. ^ SIPC. What SIPC Protects, Retrieved 3/4/2022
  7. ^ Public. Fee Schedule, Retrieved 3/4/2022
  8. ^ "How does Public make money?": Public, 2021.
  9. ^ Public. How Does Tipping Work?, Retrieved 3/4/2022
Public.com

Get a Free Slice of Stock

  • Invest in stocks, ETFs, and crypto - all in one place.
  • 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/
Webull

Get Two Free Stocks, Each Valued Between $3 - $300

Expires 8/31/2022

Open a Webull brokerage account and get two free stocks, each valued between $3-$300

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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