Public.com Review: A Social Investing App for Stocks, ETFs and Crypto

Public is a free investing app and social network built to democratize access to the stock market. Public also makes finding thematic stocks and funds very easy. Learn how you can start investing with just $1.

SustainFi   Updated December 15th, 2021

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Public Summary

  • Minimum balance: $0
  • Trading commissions and fees: none (tips optional)
  • Account types: taxable investment accounts

Pros

  • Easy to use for beginners
  • Several thematic options (like “Green Power”) let you easily find environmental, social, and governance (ESG) stocks and funds
  • You can follow other investors and see who else invested in the stocks or funds you like
  • Fractional investing lets you buy “slices” of stocks or funds
  • No trading fees or commissions (but you can tip)
  • No minimum balance
  • Free stock when you sign up

Cons

  • No human advisor or robo-advisor option
  • No retirement accounts
  • No options trading
  • No margin loans

What is the Public.com App?

Public is a free social trading app and an investing social network. Formerly known as Matador, the app launched in 2019 to make investing easily accessible to everyone. With Public, you can:

  • Invest in fractional shares (“slices”) of stocks and ETFs
  • Follow your friends or popular influencers and share your ideas
  • Invest in thematic stocks and funds, for example, in green energy stocks
  • Invest in crypto and hold it in the same app as your stock portfolio

Historically, many groups of investors missed out on the market’s returns, and Public’s goal is to correct that by making investing easy. The app has a user-friendly interface and has already surpassed 1 million users despite being launched only two years ago. Public is also inclusive: according to CEO Jannick Malling, 40% of investors are women, and 45% are minorities.

Public’s backers include Will Smith, Professor Scott Galloway, Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso, and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. You can follow various celebrities on the app and see how they invest.

All users on the platform are verified, and the overall vibe is supportive. By verifying all the users, Public avoids the less savory aspects and the anonymity of some popular Reddit boards.

Public is committed to helping you invest rather than day trade or speculate in the short term. 90% of users say that they are mostly long-term investors. As a result, Public doesn’t offer options trading or margin loans. (If you are looking for margin loans, consider M1 Finance.)

Tellingly, when you look up a stock, the button next to it says “Invest” and not “Buy.” Public also highlights stocks deemed to be particularly risky by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), for example, the stocks of tiny companies.

How does Public.com work?

Account minimum

None. You can start investing with $1.

How to sign up

  • You sign up by downloading the app on your phone and filling out basic information
  • Public is a social network, so you need to add a profile photo and create a username
  • New users get a free slice of stock. The value of the slice of stock you receive varies from $3 to $300 and the amount you get is random
  • Upload a photo of your ID and answer a few legal questions
  • Link your debit card or bank account and make your first deposit
  • Pick your interests. Public lets you pick investing themes such as “Green Power,” which are used to personalize your feed. You can also follow individual investors
  • Start investing. Public lets you invest straight away, even before your bank transfer has cleared

Fractional shares (“slices”) 

Public lets you buy pieces of stocks or funds. Individual shares can be quite expensive. For example, at the time of this writing, a share of Tesla (TSLA) cost over $1,000. Public lets you buy a fraction of that share for a much smaller amount.

Does Public allow investing in crypto?

Yes, Public currently supports 25 cryptos including:

  • Bitcoin (BTC)
  • Ether (ETH)
  • Cardano (ADA)
  • Dogecoin (DOGE)
  • Litecoin (LTC)
  • Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
  • Shiba Inu (SHIB)
  • Stellar (XLM)
  • Ethereum Classic (ETC)
  • Dash (DASH)
  • Zcash (ZEC)
  • Solana (SOL)
  • Luna (LUNA)
  • Uniswap (UNI)
  • Avalanche (AVAX)
  • Chainlink (LINK)
  • Polygon (MATIC)
  • Algorand (ALGO)
  • Sushi Swap (SUSHI)
  • Basic Attention Token (BAT)
  • Ren (REN)
  • Cosmos (ATOM)
  • Decentraland (MANA)
  • Fantom (FTM)
  • The Graph (GRT)

🔔 Learn how to buy eco-friendly crypto.

Order types

Public supports all the usual order types:

  • Market orders
  • Limit orders
  • Stop orders

Dividend Reinvestment

Public gives you the option to automatically reinvest your dividends into the same company.

How does Public make money (when trades are free)?

Unlike Robinhood, Public doesn’t take Payment for Order Flow (PFOF), a controversial practice whereby the broker who makes trades for you gets paid for selling your orders to hedge funds to execute (instead of routing the orders directly to exchanges). Some investors feel that if their data is being sold, they are “the product.” 

To avoid this much-debated way of making money and possible conflicts of interest, Public stopped taking PFOF in February 2021. Instead, Public makes money in several other ways:

  • Optional tipping: you can tip when you make a trade to support Public’s commitment to not taking PFOF
  • Share lending: Public’s clearing firm, Apex, can lend your shares to investors or institutions that want to borrow them. These parties pay interest for borrowing the shares, which is split between Public and its clearing firm. (Share lending doesn’t impact your stock ownership)
  • Interest on cash balances: Public earns interest on uninvested cash in your account, currently 0.2%
  • Markups on crypto transactions: When you buy or sell crypto using the app, your order is sent to Apex Crypto for execution. Apex Crypto charges a 1% to 2% markup to pay for their service, and Public keeps some of that amount

Green Investing with Public

Public helps you find green energy or environmental, social, and governance (ESG) stocks or funds easily by grouping them into themes. As of December 2021, they featured the following themes:

  • Green Power: these energy companies produce power through sustainable and renewable means
  • Plant-Based Movement: companies innovating & investing in plant-based food for a better-tasting and greener future
  • Reuse and Reduce: companies converting waste materials into new materials and objects
  • Combat Carbon: companies actively working towards reducing their carbon footprint
  • Immigrant Founders: U.S.-based companies that were founded by immigrants
  • Water Works: companies responsible for supplying and purifying drinking water
  • Self-Driving Cars: invest in autonomous vehicles

For example, if you select the “Green Power” theme, the app will suggest a list of stocks like Tesla (TSLA) and NextEra Energy (NEE) and ETFs, such as the Guggenheim Solar ETF (TAN). This makes ESG stocks and funds easy to find.


Is the Public app safe?

Public is SIPC-insured against brokerage failure, so if somehow Public fails, your account is protected for up to $500,000 (including $250,000 in cash.) SIPC insurance doesn’t protect you against the decline in value of the stocks you buy, though.

💰 Takeaway

  • Public is a good option for beginners to get into investing. The app is very user-friendly, and the sign-up process is seamless
  • The social component lets you follow your friends and influencers
  • Several themes are pre-selected for you

🔔 Want to compare more options? Check out the top 10 investing apps.

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NOT INVESTMENT ADVICE. The content is for informational purposes only; you should not construe any such information as investment advice.

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