Public App Review 2023 | Bankrate

Public is an investing platform that offers a solid trading experience and will likely appeal to investors who are new to financial markets. You’ll get access to lots of educational content that can help beginning investors get up to speed on various topics and with fractional shares you can start trading with as little as $1.

You also won’t have to worry about commissions on stocks or ETFs. Public does offer cryptocurrency trading, though there is a markup fee, as well as the opportunity to invest in non-traditional assets such as luxury goods and contemporary art. A social feed is available to connect with other investors about trade ideas and company executives are sometimes available for investor questions through its “town hall” meetings.

While Public offers much of what will interest a typical investor, you won’t find bonds, options or mutual funds on the app and individual taxable accounts are the only account type offered. Investors looking for a broader brokerage offering should consider traditional brokers such as Fidelity Investments or Charles Schwab.

Best for

  • Beginning investors
  • Buy-and-hold investors
  • Fractional shares

Public at a glance

Category Public
Minimum balance $0
Securities tradable Stocks, ETFs, cryptocurrency
Cost per trade $0
Customer service Email, chat Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. ET
Account fees $75 for transfers out; $5 inactivity fee every 6 months for accounts with less than $20
Mobile app The Public mobile app is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Promotion Get a free slice of stock when you fund your account, worth up to $300.

Pros: Where Public stands out

Low trade minimum and no commissions

Public makes it astoundingly easy to buy into the market. You’ll need just $1 to get into the game. And you’ll have access to literally thousands of stocks and funds, so you’re likely to find that hot stock you want to buy. Public literally can’t lower the bar any further to stock ownership.

As part of its value proposition, Public doesn’t charge any commission. Zero-commission trading is not quite the hook that it was a few years ago when Robinhood started pulling this little trick. Still, it’s good to see that Public meets the standard industry commission structure.

Fractional shares

Public allows fractional shares on its platform, and that’s a great feature for beginners. With fractional shares, you can buy a slice of even the highest-priced stocks or ETFs. And with the low trade minimum of just $1, you can own a piece – albeit a tiny one – of anything. This feature gets every last dollar of your money working for you, regardless of the stock price.

Not only does Public support buying partial shares, but it allows you to reinvest in them, too. So when you receive a dividend, you can set the app to reinvest it into the stock that paid it.

Both features are good for beginners, and not many brokers offer both. In fact, Fidelity, Charles Schwab and Robinhood are major online brokers that offer both features.

Extensive education and news

Public does a good job of providing a plethora of educational content for beginning investors, including tons of “101” type information on the investing basics. So you’ll be able to read clear articles that explain the basics (“What is a short squeeze?” or “What causes market volatility?”).

You’ll also get an extensive news feed from any stock that you want to follow as well as vital financial information, upcoming earnings reports and message boards for each stock.

Social feeds

One of the more unusual – and interesting – features of Public is the social feed that allows you to follow other investors, scan through featured profiles and engage in some stock chat with them on the platform. So it’s not only stocks you can follow, but people, too. You can see why another investor likes a certain stock and when they might want to buy or sell it.

You can also search through thematically linked stocks (“Home & Garden” or “Women in Charge,” for example) to pull ideas and then see what other investors think. And of course, you can look for the day’s big movers and other similar sorts of pre-screened stocks.

Another cool feature is what Public calls “town halls,” which is a kind of question-and-answer session with CEOs of publicly traded companies, perhaps even one of your holdings. You submit written questions and leaders respond to them in a live forum.

Public Premium subscription

If you’re looking for more news, guidance and analysis than what’s available on a stock’s page, Public also offers Public Premium, a subscription service that costs $10 per month. That dough gets you more financial metrics to analyze the company as well as analysis from Morningstar, a well-regarded research shop that can provide solid insights and perspective on the businesses it covers. You’ll also get an upgraded level of customer support from the Public team.

Customers do have a way to skip the $10 fee, though. Simply have an account with $20,000 and Public will give you access to Premium gratis.

Access to cryptocurrency

In addition to stocks and ETFs, cryptocurrency is also available on Public. The app offers Bitcoin, Ethereum, Solana, Shiba Inu and others – more than 25 in total. Plus, you can invest with as little as $1 and with no commission expense. And you’ll also be able to use the app’s social feeds to chat with others about it all.

Cons: Where Public could improve

Limited investment selection

If you want to invest in stocks and ETFs, like many investors, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. This selection will suffice for many and maybe most. These securities have enough risk and potential return — you can earn satisfactory profits without other types of investments.

But investors looking for much else – even relatively common choices such as bonds, options or mutual funds – will have to set up an account elsewhere. That’s the nature of an app that pitches itself to educate beginners on how to invest.

That said, Public does offer cryptocurrency trading and access to non-traditional assets such as luxury goods and contemporary art. It also plans to offer Treasurys, which would give it a foot in the fixed-income world, as well as investments in music royalties. A robust offering in these categories would make Public basically unlike any traditional online discount broker.

Limited account types

You’ll already have created your account before you realize that you weren’t even asked for the account type. That’s because Public offers only the most straightforward option here: an individual taxable account. That’s probably not a dealbreaker for the kind of people Public is looking to attract, but many others won’t find it to their liking and may eventually go elsewhere. Investors looking to save for retirement through tax-advantaged accounts such as traditional and Roth IRAs will have to open an account with another broker.

No margin loans

Public doesn’t do margin loans, at least not yet.  A margin loan allows investors to borrow money to buy stock so that they can purchase more than they have the money for today. A margin loan magnifies your returns on the upside as well as the downside.

On balance, the fact that Public doesn’t offer this service is probably a good thing for beginners. It can be easy to get in over your head when you’re just starting out and have much to learn. And margin loans usually only steepen the learning curve while increasing your risk.

While Public touts its no-margin policy like it’s a good thing, it will absolutely turn off many investors who, rightly or wrongly, believe that they can safely handle the temptation of a loan. That said, beginners should not see this as a deterrent and may well view it as Public’s demonstrated commitment to helping them learn how to invest safely.

Bottom line

With its focus on education in an easy-to-use app, Public offers a solid package to beginners in the investing game:

  • The educational and social elements will help newer investors engage with investing and offer them a reason to come back to the app even if they aren’t trading.
  • Beginning investors should appreciate no account minimum, fractional shares and more.
  • However, investors needing anything beyond the basic account types or stocks, ETFs or cryptocurrency won’t find what they’re looking for here, at least not yet.

Investors looking for brokers with strong educational offerings should check out Fidelity, Charles Schwab and Merrill Edge. Those needing more types of accounts could choose almost any other broker, though some of the larger players such as E-Trade will provide a wider selection.

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