Public review

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

Public.com is a mobile investing app that offers commission-free access to stocks and ETFs. But its research tools are limited and it’s only available via mobile app.

  • 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 or forex trading.

Details

Option trade feeN/A
Asset typesStocks, ETFs, Cryptocurrency
Account typesBrokerage
Account transfer fee$75

What I think of Public

As far as beginner-friendly platforms are concerned, Public has a lot going for it, including commission-free trades, fractional shares and a well-rated mobile app. But for me, it stands apart from its competition for the following three reasons:

      • Social networking features.
      • Educational support for newbies.
      • Optional tipping in lieu of payment for order flow.

Public is designed with the beginner in mind. Key terms and definitions are built right into the app for easy learning as you trade. And Public’s social investing is one of the platform’s defining features: New investors can follow more experienced Public traders, observe their strategies and join group message threads.

And can we take a minute to talk about payment for order flow? This controversial practice involves sending customer orders to intermediaries for potentially less-than-optimal order execution. In a bid for greater transparency, Public has ditched this profit model in favor of optional tips from its traders.

Now, despite the pros, Public’s straightforward simplicity is something of a double-edged blade:

      • It lacks sophisticated research tools.
      • It has a limited lineup of tradable securities.
      • It doesn’t offer access to retirement accounts.

The bottom line? Active traders will need to look elsewhere.

Overview

Fees

★★★★★4/5

Commission-free trades on stocks and ETFs.
Available securities

★★★★★ 3/5

It offers stocks, ETFs and crypto.
Customer support

★★★★★ 3/5

Contact Public.com by live chat or email.
Mobile app

★★★★★ 4.6/5

Both Android and iOS users give it high marks, where most users love the fractional shares and the social network elements.
Research and tools

★★★★★ 3/5

Social network feature where users can share their trades.
Reliability

★★★★★ 5/5

No major outages have been reported.

To learn how our star ratings are calculated, read the methodology at the bottom of the page.

What investments does Public offer?

Public’s beginner-friendly platform is suitable for new investors, but its securities lineup is limited to stock, ETFs and crypto. Its lack of access to other securities, like bonds, mutual funds, options and forex, may be limiting for investors looking to branch out across multiple asset tiers.

Cryptocurrency trading on Public

As of October 2021, Public users can access the following 10 cryptocurrencies through the Public app:

  • Bitcoin (BTC)
  • Ether (ETH)
  • Cardano (ADA)
  • Dogecoin (DOGE)
  • Litecoin (LTC)
  • Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
  • Stellar (XLM)
  • Ethereum Classic (ETC)
  • Dash (DASH)
  • Zcash (ZEC)

Investors can buy into crypto with as little as $1, thanks to Public’s partnership with Apex Crypto, which provides execution and custodial services for Public traders. Public does not provide crypto wallets.

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 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.

But the tipping feature 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, 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 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. And as far as crypto trades are concerned, a 1% to 2% markup applies to all crypto trades — though it’s worth noting that this isn’t a commission fee: it’s a markup used by Apex Crypto that’s automatically embedded in the cryptocurrency price quotes traders see on the app.

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
Crypto trade fee1%-2%
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 select Get Started.
  2. Enter your US phone number and choose Next.
  3. Receive an SMS code via text and enter it in the space provided. Hit Next.
  4. Add your name and select a username. Select 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. Hit 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 provide 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

        When considering Public as a platform, keep these benefits and drawbacks in mind.

        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, ETFs and crypto, 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 if 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 August 2021, it has an A- rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), has 13 complaints and maintains a 3.75 out of 5-star rating after 22 reviews. It doesn’t have a Trustpilot page, but its mobile app feedback is quite positive. It scores 4.5 out of 5 with Google Play users with 13,782 reviews and 4.7 out of 5 with Apple users with 18,897 reviews.

        BBB ratingA-
        BBB accreditedYes
        BBB customer rating3.75/5 based on 22 customer reviews
        Trustpilot scoreN/A
        Google Play app4.5/5 stars based on 13,782 reviews
        Apple app store4.7/5 stars based on 18,897 reviews
        Customer reviews verified as ofAugust 2021

        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.

        Compare other stock trading platforms

        Review your options by comparing fees, asset types and signup bonuses. For more information on a particular platform, choose the Go to site button.

        Name Product Asset types Option trade fee Annual fee Signup bonus
        M1 Finance
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        Stocks, ETFs, Cryptocurrency
        N/A
        0%
        Get one free stock worth up to $1,000
        Open an account
        A free way to invest in most equities.
        TradeStation
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        $0 per month
        $10 of crypto
        Open an account with access to crypto
        A platform built for all kinds of traders and all styles of trading
        Robinhood
        Stocks, Options, ETFs, Cryptocurrency
        $0
        0%
        Free stock (chosen randomly with a value anywhere between $2.50 and $200)
        Sign up using the "go to site" link
        Make unlimited commission-free trades in stocks, funds, and options with Robinhood Financial.
        Stash Invest
        Stocks, ETFs
        $0
        $1 per month
        $5
        Add at least $5 to your Invest account
        Stash is more than an investment app. You’ll have access to tools that can help you become a confident investor.
        Public
        Stocks, ETFs, Cryptocurrency
        N/A
        $0 per month
        Download and sign up with Public.com; approved accounts receive a free stock slice worth up to $300, selected from 9 popular stocks.
        Open an account
        Commission-free trading in stocks and ETFs with a social networking twist.
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        Compare up to 4 providers

        *Signup bonus information updated weekly.

        How we rate trading platforms

        ★★★★★ 5/5 — Excellent

        ★★★★★ 4/5 — Good

        ★★★★★ 3/5 — Average

        ★★★★★ 2/5 — Subpar

        ★★★★★ 1/5 — Poor

        We analyze top online trading platforms and rate them one to five stars based on factors that are most important to you. These factors include fees, securities available for trade, customer support, customer feedback, platform resources and overall reliability.

        For a complete breakdown of how we score each category, read the full methodology of how we rate trading platforms.

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