Public App Review 2021 – What To Know About This Free Trading App
The Public app is a commission free investment app with no fees for signing up and no minimum account requirement. Investors can use Public to purchase fractional shares of over 9,000 stocks and ETFs. But Public stands out for it’s transparent social sharing feature that displays like a live social media feed.
At a Glance
What we like
- Supports fractional share
- Dividend reinvestment program
- Free to use
- Transparent investing community
What Needs Work
- Limited account types
- Limited investment offerings
- No web access
- New investors who have been overwhelmed by advanced trading apps
- People with little funds to invest
- Investors who want to save money on fees
Ease of use
What if you paired social media with investing? You’d get the Public app, one of the first-ever free trading apps that includes a social feed showing what industry leaders and other Public investors are doing with their money.
I was immediately intrigued when I learned about Public’s approach, so I decided to check the app out for myself and see what it has to offer. My review is going to cover its features, fees, alternatives to Public, and more.
Public App Review 2021 - What To Know About This Free Trading App
What is Public investing?
The Public app is a free investing app that describes itself as the "investing social network," which means you can follow friends and creators and see how they're investing their money. Yes, that means you can see what's in your friends' portfolios, and they can see yours - more on this below.
Public offers investors fractional, or micro, shares of ETFs and stocks, meaning you don't need to purchase an entire stock. As a result, it can be much more affordable to investors who have previously felt locked out of the stock market, and that's part of Public's overall goal of creating a more accessible and inclusive space for investors.
Public's goal of accessibility is at the core of their investment app. That's also why they offer commission-free trades and require no minimum starting deposits. In addition, the Public investment app has recently gotten rid of payment for order flow, which is a somewhat controversial way that many free trading apps make money.
How does the Public app work?
You need to download the app and create an account before you can start trading on Public. It’s available for free for Apple and Android devices.
The sign-up process involves creating a username tied to your public profile, and you can also share a picture. The Public app gives you a free stock slice when you sign up — you can choose a $5 share of Apple, Tesla, Amazon, Disney, Zoom, and more.
The Public app only offers individual, taxable investment accounts right now — no IRAs, joint accounts, custodial accounts, etc.
After you create your account, you can start browsing their list of over 5,000 stocks and ETFs. Stocks and ETFs are organized by theme or category. The purpose is to make it easier for you to find companies that match your interests. For example, you can look up companies focused on space exploration, genetic engineering, or cannabis. You can also look for stocks and funds that match your values, like diverse leadership or green energy.
When you find a stock or fund you’re interested in, you can click on it, and Public gives you information about the company and relevant data. There are easy-to-read charts showing earnings, analyst ratings, dividend yield, trading volume, etc.
You can also see a live social feed of who’s recently purchased or sold shares for that company. This is interesting to see, but it shouldn’t be used as investment advice.
Public keeps track of everything in the app for you, and you can set up notifications for securities you add to your watchlist, major market events, and important account updates.
You can start trading immediately after opening an account and connecting your bank account, which is a pretty exciting feature. Your trades are executed immediately as long as the market is open.
Public investment app features
Overall, the Public app is fairly straightforward and geared towards new investors and those who aren’t interested in advanced trading strategies, like options trading. Their biggest draws are offering fractional shares and the social aspect, and I want to dig into those features in my review and share what else this investment app offers.
Not that long ago if you wanted to buy a stock or ETF, you had to purchase an entire share. So to start investing in a company like Tesla, you would need to have $650.06 (price at time of writing) on hand. Not only is that a lot of money for many people, having to purchase single shares means it’s even more expensive to build a diverse portfolio.
Enter fractional shares. Investors can buy micro-shares of stocks instead of the whole thing, making it much more affordable to start investing. Public lets you purchase fractional shares of ETFs and stocks for as little as $1 per slice.
Public’s social feed is incredibly unique, and it looks a lot like a Twitter feed. Every user has a unique @ handle, and they can share updates and followers can comment.
Depending on your settings, you can also share when you purchase or sell shares. Your settings can also hide or display your portfolio when someone clicks on your icon in their feed. The Public app does not display dollar amounts or display how many shares you own.
You can follow industry experts and friends, and there are also community forums where you can get to know other investors. This can increase financial literacy, transparency, and investor confidence.
Make sure you research your trades and not only following the advice of strangers online.
Wonder how industry leaders are investing their money?
The Public app’s live social feed keeps you up-to-date on what’s going on with the market, including what stocks your friends and leaders are trading.Check out Public
Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP)
Public will automatically reinvest the dividends you earn back into more shares of that stock for dividend-paying stocks.
At first, your dividends may be as little as pennies, but it’s the same idea as compound interest. This is one of the perks of offering fractional shares, and there’s the potential for exponential portfolio growth.
You can enable this feature in your settings, and you can turn it off whenever you want.
Another major hurdle facing new investors is how to decide where to invest their money. There are around 2,800 publicly-traded companies on the NYSE and over 7,600 exchange-traded funds. That’s a lot and can be incredibly overwhelming.
Public sorts their stocks and ETFs by theme, so you can browse topics and find specific companies to invest in. There are themes for Sports, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Health and Wellness, SaaS Companies, and Tech Giants to name a few.
The Tech Giants theme lists 33 stocks and 3 ETFs, including:
- Vanguard Information Technology ETF
In total, Public lists over 9,000 stocks and ETFs.
Public does not charge trading fees or commissions for trades made through the app. Like every other brokerage, you will still have to pay some small SEC and TAF fees, but these are minimal.
If you ever need to make a broker-assisted trade — and most investors will never need to — Public will charge you $30 per trade, which is fairly standard.
Live Town Halls
The Public app hosts live Town Hall style forums to ask company CEOs and founders questions. Questions may be submitted in advance or asked live via the app. Town Halls are scheduled a couple of months in advance, and you can go back and read the feed if you miss it.
Past Town Halls have been with Dan Preston the CEO of Metromile, Jason Robins of DraftKings, and Whitney Wolfe Herd of Bumble.
How much does Public cost?
There is no fee to download and sign-up for Public. In-app trades have $0 commissions or trading fees besides small regulatory fees that brokerages are legally obligated to charge investors. There are also no minimum account balance requirements.
Because Public doesn’t charge for trades, you can tip whenever you make a trade. It’s entirely optional and helps Public stay free. You can tip up to 5% of your order amount.
Public isn’t entirely free — there are still a handful of fees you might be charged, including:
- Domestic wire transfers $30
- Domestic overnight check delivery $35
- Returned checks, ACH, or stopped payments $30
- Outgoing ACAT transfer $75
- Paper confirms $2
- Paper statements $5
- Domestic overnight mail $35
- International overnight mail $50
Most investors won’t encounter any of those fees aside from the outgoing ACAT transfer fee if they want to move their shares from Public to another brokerage. An alternative is cashing out, but you may pay capital gain taxes.
The mandatory regulatory fees I mentioned are minimal. The SEC trading fee is $21.80 per $1,000,000 of principal sells. The TAF fee is $0.000119 per share of equity sells.
Who is the Public app best for?
Public is a free stock trading app that’s easy to use, and that makes it a solid choice for:
- Newbie investors who have felt overwhelmed with other investment apps
- People who don’t have a lot of money to start investing
- Investors who want to save money on trading fees and commissions
- People interested in the social aspect Public offers
Who shouldn’t use Public?
Public lacks a number of the features you can find with larger and more established brokerages. Public doesn’t offer retirement accounts; they don’t trade bonds, mutual funds, cryptocurrency, etc., and they don’t have a robo-advisor service. That makes Public not the best option for:
- Investors interested in advanced trades
- Retirement investors
Alternatives to the Public app
Technology has opened the door for more investment apps with similar features you’ll find with Public. I’m talking about $0 commissions, fractional shares, and intuitive apps. If Public doesn’t seem like the right fit for you, here are several other investment apps worth checking out.
Pro and cons of the Public app
- Supports fractional shares: You can purchase micro-shares of stocks and ETFs for as little as $1.
- Dividend reinvestment program: Public will automatically reinvest dividends through DRIP.
- Investing community: Public’s most interesting feature means you can follow other investors, including industry leaders and friends. This kind of transparency is incredibly unique.
- Free to use: There are no monthly fees, $0 commissions, and most investors won’t pay any Public fees.
- Limited account types: Public only has individual taxable accounts, no IRAs, joint accounts, trusts, solo 401ks, or custodial accounts.
- Limited investment offerings: Public only offers stocks and ETFs, no cryptocurrency, bonds, or mutual funds.
- No web access: There is no Public web platform — everything must be done through the Public app.
Public app review: The final word
I love that there are so many options for new investors. Online brokerages are competing for our business, and it’s led to lower costs and user-friendly apps. Public has both of those things going for it, but the Public app is standing out by adding in the social sharing aspect. This has the potential to teach you more about the overall stock market as you learn the terminology, what to watch for, and what other inventors are thinking.
Public doesn’t display advanced charting and analytics or offer a variety of account or trade types, but they are breaking down the barriers to investing. This means investors of all types can start building long-term wealth.
Ever since the wider public learned how Robinhood makes money, investors have been asking this questions about other so-called “free investment apps.” The reality is that to stay “free” Public and other apps have to make money somewhere.
Public is transparent about the issue, and they recently eliminated the practice of Payment for Order Flow (PFOF). Here’s how Public makes money:
- Securities lending: Public earns interest from lending shares to investors and institutions through their clearing firm, Apex.
- Interest on cash balances: Public earns interest on uninvested cash balances — currently 0.2% as set by the Federal Reserve.
- Tipping: This new feature is meant to replace some of the income Public made when they still used PFOF. Tipping is entirely optional, and you can tip up to 5% of your order to Public.
- Miscellaneous fees: There are minor fees Public charges for outgoing transfers, paper statements and confirms, broker assisted trades, etc. Public makes a small amount of money from these fees
Yes, the Public app is a legit and safe app to invest through. It really is free to sign up for and use, they are transparent with their fees and how they make money. Public is SPIC-insured, meaning your invesments are protected up to $500,000. Cash balances are insured up to $250,000 by the FDIC.
Public also takes security seriously, and they use 128-bit encryption and two-factor authentication via SMS message. Android users can also set up Biometric Authentication, and Apple users can enable Security Lock.
Public and Robinhood are both considered free stock trading apps. Overall, they’re really similar — both offer fractional shares and neither has a robo-advisor or retirement account. Still, there are a few key differences that might make one a better choice for you.
What makes Robinhood stand out is that they support margin lending, cryptocurrency, and options trading. That makes Robinhood better for advanced traders, but Public may be a winner for you since they don’t do Payment for Order Flow like Robinhood.
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About Millennial Money Man
Bobby Hoyt is a former band director who paid off $40,000 of student loan debt in 18 months on his teaching salary and then left his job to run Millennial Money Man full-time. He helps other Millennials earn more through side hustles, save more through budgeting tools and apps, and pay off debt. He is a personal finance expert who has been seen on Forbes, Reuters, MarketWatch, CNBC, International Business Times, Business Insider, US News, Yahoo Finance, and many other personal finance and entrepreneurship media outlets.