Public review

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Beginner-friendly and commission-free trading with a social networking twist.

Public.com is an investing mobile app that offers commission-free access to stocks and ETFs. With its social networking feature, you can see what other investors buy or sell and you can choose to follow them. Unlike similar apps, like SoFi and Robinhood, that sell clients’ orders in bulk to market makers, Public.com sends them directly to exchanges. This can get you better order execution at more appropriate prices.

  • Consider Public if you’re new to trading and want a simple and free way to access the markets.
  • Look elsewhere if you’re an experienced trader seeking bonds, mutual funds, futures, forex or crypto trading.

$0

Stock trade fee

$0

Minimum deposit to open

Details

Stock trade fee$0
Option trade feeN/A
Asset typesStocks, ETFs
Account typesBrokerage
Minimum deposit to open$0
Account transfer fee$75

What investments does Public offer?

Public’s beginner-friendly platform is suitable for new investors, but its security lineup is limited to stocks and ETFs. While it’s possible to build a diversified portfolio of stocks and ETFs, the lack of access to other securities, like bonds, mutual funds, options, forex and crypto, may be a deal-breaker for investors looking to branch out across multiple asset tiers.

How does Public make money?

As of February 16, 2021, Public no longer profits from Payment for Order Flow (PFOF). Instead, it has instituted an optional tipping feature for its investors. There’s no obligation to tip, and Public continues to offer commission-free trades.

In addition to tips, Public also makes money from interest on uninvested cash balances. The rate is 0.2% and is set by the Federal Reserve. Public also receives interest payments from its clearing firm, Apex, for investors and institutions that pay interest to borrow shares.

Is tipping better than PFOF?

Payment for Order Flow (PFOF) is a practice commonly used by online brokerage firms, such as SoFi and Robinhood, to earn money while offering commission-free trades. Instead of charging investors for trade execution, brokerages route customer orders to market makers for execution. These market markers act as middlemen: they’re responsible for facilitating and executing the trade with the appropriate exchange.

Market makers fill the order at a slightly better price for them than the retail investor was willing to pay and pocket the profit between the spread. As compensation, online brokerages receive a payment from the market marker in exchange for the order — payment for order flow.

The tipping feature, however, offers a more transparent approach. Instead of sending clients’ orders in bulk to market makers, Public sends them directly to the exchanges like Nasdaq or NYSE. Because this isn’t free for the brokerage, you can choose to tip Public every time you make an order. This isn’t obligatory, but if you decide to leave a tip you can choose any amount you wish as long as it’s not 5% or more of the transaction amount.

Who is Public best for?

Public’s intuitive interface and fractional investing make it a platform that caters to:

  • Beginner investors. Public’s user-friendly platform makes it a practical choice for those new to investing.
  • Small quantity investors. Not many platforms offer access to fractional shares, but with Public, you can invest in fractional slices of stock for as little as $5.

Public receives high praise from investors for providing an easy-to-navigate, beginner-friendly platform. Stock trades are commission-free, easy to find and organized by investing theme, making it convenient for newbies to explore securities based on their interests. The platform also doesn’t impose any account minimums or ongoing fees, so traders can focus on building their portfolio.

Another beginner-oriented perk of Public’s platform is its social investing feature: traders have the opportunity to follow and learn from more experienced investors by exploring their portfolio holdings and participating in group message threads with other Public traders.

However, Public won’t be a practical fit for everyone. It may work for those new to investing, but advanced traders may be frustrated by the platform’s lack of securities, account options and research tools.

Fees and costs

Public’s stocks and ETFs are available commission-free, and it doesn’t impose any account minimums. This plants it squarely in the neighborhood of other beginner-friendly commission-free trading platforms, like Robinhood and SoFi. The platform’s security lineup is limited, but what it does offer — stocks and ETFs — can be bought and sold free from commissions.

As far as account fees go, Public’s pricing model is on par with competitors. It charges $30 for broker-assisted trades and outgoing account transfers cost $75 — the same as Robinhood. SoFi offers free account transfers, but this is a rarity in the industry, as most platforms charge between $50 to $75 for the service.

Minimum deposit to open$0
Annual fee$0
Stock trade fee$0
ETF trade fee$0
Broker-assisted trades $30
Account transfer fee$75

How do I sign up?

Begin the signup process by downloading Public’s mobile app from Google Play or the Apple App Store. Then follow these steps:

  1. Open the app and choose Get Started.
  2. Enter your US phone number and choose Next.
  3. Receive a SMS code via text and enter it in the space provided. Choose Next.
  4. Add your name and select a username. Choose Next.
  5. Enter your email address and create a password. Choose Next.
  6. Claim your free slice of stock by picking a company to invest in from the limited selection displayed on the screen. Choose Next.
  7. Pick your interests in various categories and industries to personalize your feed.

Eligibility

  • At least 18 years old
  • Valid residential address
  • Valid government-issued ID
  • Existing bank or brokerage account for account transfers

    Required Information

    • Valid Social Security number or tax identification number
    • Foreign tax ID, passport or visa number if you are not a US citizen or permanent resident
    • Valid address
    • Employer’s name, address and phone number

        Research tools

        As far as research tools are concerned, Public doesn’t have much to offer, at least when compared to more robust platforms like Interactive Brokers and TD Ameritrade. Public does offer some basic company info to help you decide on whether to invest, including price history, analyst ratings, recent news and fundamentals. But if you rely on stock screeners, charting tools or price alerts, you may want to look elsewhere.

        Pros and cons

        Pros

        • Commission-free. Buy and sell commission-free stocks and ETFs.
        • No minimum deposit. Open an account with any amount.
        • Fractional investing. Purchase slices of stock for as little as $5.
        • Social investing. Follow investors, discuss trends, swap strategies and more with Public’s group messaging feature.

        Cons

        • No desktop platform. Public’s trading platform is only available as a mobile app.
        • Limited account lineup. You won’t find joint, retirement, custodial or 401(k) accounts on Public.
        • Fewer securities. Public only offers access to stocks and ETFs, so those seeking mutual funds, bonds or derivatives will need to look elsewhere.
        • Limited research tools. You’ll get fundamentals, like company history and analyst ratings, but no stock screener or charting tools.

        Is Public legit?

        Public was founded in 2003 and is headquartered in New York City. It’s an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), from which it receives an A+ rating. It has no complaints to its name on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

        Public is a registered member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). Cash balances are SPIC-insured for up to $500,000 in the event that Public goes under.

        Public also uses AES 128-bit encryption and TLS 1.2 to secure sensitive banking data in transit.

        Public reviews and complaints

        Overall, Public seems to be well-liked by investors. As of March 2021, it has an A+ rating from the BBB, has three complaints and maintains a 4.14 out of 5-star rating after 14 reviews. It doesn’t have a Trustpilot page, but its mobile app feedback is also quite positive. It scores 4.4 out of 5 with Google Play users with 6,271 reviews and 4.7 out of 5 with Apple users with 8,914 reviews.

        Investors praise the platform’s beginner-friendly interface, supportive learning environment and courteous, attentive customer service reps. Negative reviews were few and far between, but a few complaints surfaced about app crashes as well as errors causing delays when depositing and withdrawing funds.

        How do I contact Public support?

        Reach out to Public by:

        • Email. Send an email to support@public.com for a reply from the team within one to two business days.
        • Live chat. Speak to a Public rep through the in-app live chat feature weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET.

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        Bottom line

        Public’s beginner-friendly platform is a solid starting point for those looking to learn the trading ropes. But its lack of research tools and limited number of available securities may restrict more advanced traders.

        To invest in stocks, you need a brokerage account. Compare your options across multiple platforms to find the service that fits your budget and investment goals.

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