No commission fees and no account minimums mean Public’s investing app is a great option for beginner investors. Find out how you can buy stock in your favorite company with just $5. We’ll tell you how it works and go through the pros and cons in our review.
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Building an investment portfolio you’re proud of–one that includes companies that align with your personal passions and the causes you care about–can be an incredibly empowering feeling. But, getting into investing can be intimidating and inaccessible for investors who might not have the ability to buy full shares of their favorite companies. Some popular stocks, like Google and Amazon for example, are currently trading at well above $1,000 per share.
The lack of accessibility to certain stocks presents a fundamental design flaw to the entire notion of the public markets, which promised to give people the ability to own the companies they believe in. In the past, you’d simply be left out in the cold until you had enough money saved to purchase full shares. Fortunately, the investing app Public.com has changed all that by making it possible for you to own any stock for any amount of money. They do this by slicing shares into tiny bits, so you can invest $5, $10, $50 or whatever amount of money you like. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Public?
Public was founded in 2017 and is backed by some of the same people who invested in Venmo, in addition to other leading venture capitalists. It came to market as the first and only social investing app, and since then has continued to build and evolve an intuitive product around the notion that the public markets should be accessible to more people.
From the beginning, Public has focused on making it easier for anyone to invest in individual stocks, regardless of their current wealth or investing experience. In the following section, we’ll take a look at how they’re able to do that.
How Public Works
Public’s premier feature is the ability for investors to buy slices of stocks. With this feature, you can buy a fractional share of more than 2,800 stocks, no matter the share price. So, if you have $200 to invest and want to buy $100 worth of both Amazon and Google, now you can.
Public doesn’t charge any trade commissions and there are no account minimums, either. Once you’ve downloaded the app and opened your account, you can search for any stock that you like. Any U.S. resident over the age of 18 can apply for a free Public.com account.
Once you’ve found a stock that you’d like to purchase, you can choose the exact amount that you’d like to invest. Or you can choose to buy full shares.
Another feature that sets Public apart from other trading platforms is the fact that they have built a transparent community of investors. Traditionally, the financial services industry has been somewhat closed off and secretive. Public flips this notion on its head by making it possible to share your trades, and see what other like-minded investors and domain experts are investing in themselves. The exact amount of your positions won’t be shown, but creating a feed of activity facilitates conversations between members which can facilitate the exchange of ideas within an open forum. Members who opt to be “public” in the platform get their own profile in which other members can see your portfolio (without dollar amounts).
As an added bonus, your Public profile contains a unique referral link. If anyone signs up to the app through that link, both you and the new investor will receive a slice of free stock valued up to $50.
Public understands that not all members may want to make their investments public to the community, and so they provide an option to trade in private. That said, many Public members enjoy the transparency of the community feed and actively engage with other members’ activity as a means for learning about and discovering new companies and sectors.
Public Features and Benefits
While the ability to buy slices of stocks commission-free and join a trading community help to set Public apart, it’s not all that they have to offer. Here are a few more features and benefits worth mentioning.
Stocks aren’t the only type of investment product that you can buy on the Public platform. You can purchase public ETF index funds from leading fund managers like Vanguard and BlackRock.
And just as with stocks, you can buy slices of ETFs and there are no trade commissions.
Wondering if your money will be safe with Public? You’ll be happy to hear that Public accounts are SIPC insured up to $500,000.
If you’ve never heard of SIPC insurance, it insures brokerage accounts in a similar way to how the FDIC insures bank accounts. It should be noted that while SIPC insurance can cover up to $500,000 in combined cash and securities, there’s a lower $250,000 limit on cash. Learn more about SIPC insurance.
Do you have a family member who’s obsessed with Tesla? Or perhaps you have several friends that are long-time Apple enthusiasts. Instead of buying them gift cards to their favorite companies, why not actually give them a piece of the company itself?
Public recently launched a tool, called Stock.Gifts, that allows anyone to gift a slice of a company for free. The value of the slices are selected at random and are worth up to $50. You don’t even need to be a member yet to gift stock. Simply visit the microsite, pick a stock, tell them where to send it (via text, email, or tweet), and your friend can redeem their free stock in the app once their account as been approved.
You also have the option to search for a specific stock or select from curated themes like “The Future is Female” (S&P 500 companies with female CEOs); “Cannabis,” and “Self-Driving Cars.”
Once you’ve selected your stock, you can attach a note and send the gift by text, email, or tweet.
Free Stock for Referring Friends
Want to earn free stock yourself? You can do that with Public too. By referring friends to the platform, you and the person that you referred can both earn up to $50 in free stock.
You’ll both get the opportunity to pick 1 of 9 eligible stocks. And once the new user’s account has been fully approved, you’ll receive a portion of the stock that you chose, up to $50.
Direct Routing To Exchanges
The Gamestop trading frenzy brought intense scrutiny on the business model of many commission-free stock brokers. The unprecedented events also caused the Public leadership to take a hard look at themselves and to announce a major change to better align their interests with their clients.
Public will no longer participate in payment for order flow (PFOF) to generate revenue. PFOF refers to the payments that brokers receive for directing their trade orders to market makers instead of directly to the exchanges. For some free trading apps, a significant portion of their income is derived from PFOF.
But the SEC has alleged that PFOF often leads to lower execution quality (inferior trade prices) which can cost traders a lot of money over time. For these reasons, Public has chosen to direct its trades directly to the exchanges moving forward to remove any potential conflict of interest.
This was a bold decision for Public as it will mean giving up revenue while increasing costs. The Public team is hoping to offset the difference by introducing a new Tipping feature. Members can now add an optional tip of $1 or more to their trades in support of ending PFOF revenue generation. Importantly, Public will remain a commission-free platform for standard trades.
As has already been mentioned several times, Public does not charge trade commissions. And they don’t charge any annual advisory fees either.
That means the average user won’t ever pay a penny to use Public’s platform, which is great. There are only a few rare situations where you may incur a fee:
- Broker-assisted phone trades: $30
- Domestic overnight check delivery: $35
- Returned check fee: $30
- Domestic overnight mail: $35
- International overnight mail: $50
Finally, it should be pointed out that if you decide to transfer money from Public to another broker, you’ll be charged a one-time $75 fee.
How to Sign Up for Public
To sign up for Public, you can search for their mobile app on the Apple Store or the Google Play Store. Or you can visit their website and have Public text you a link to their app.
Once you’ve downloaded the app, here is the information that Public will ask for:
- Social Security Number (all brokerages require this information by law)
- Phone number
- Email address
- Employment status
- Marital status and dependents
In my experience, it took less than 5 minutes to open my Public account. Next, Public will ask you to connect your bank so that you fund your account. Once you’ve funded your account, you’re all set to start using Public’s platform.
What Public Doesn’t Currently Offer
Public is a pretty straight-forward platform. If you want to buy pieces of individual stocks and ETFs, they’ve got you covered.
But they don’t have as many bells and whistles as other brokerages. Here are three of the most glaring omissions that you’ll want to be aware of.
No Web Platform
Public is clearly gearing their service towards tech-savvy, mobile-first investors. Currently, their platform is only accessible via their iOS or Android apps. So if you want to check your account or make a trade on your computer, you simply can’t do that as of now.
It’s fine to be mobile-first, but it seems strange to not offer any web platform whatsoever, especially when competitors like Robinhood do. Hopefully, the Public team will work to add desktop account access down the road.
No Day Trading
If you’re looking to day trade, Public isn’t the app for you. They have a strict no day trading policy.
It’s fine to day trade a stock every once in a while. But if the Public team notices that you’ve started day trading excessively, they’ll restrict your account. Day trading can be a risky trading strategy anyway, so it may not be a bad thing that Public discourages it on their platform.
But if day trading is something that you’re set on trying, you may want to check out other brokers like Webull or TD Ameritrade. Both have full-featured trading platforms with access to charting indicators and other tools. And they both offer commission-free trading as well.
No Robo or Human Advice
Currently, Public is not involved in the “advice” space whatsoever. You can’t pay a fee to talk to a CFP and they don’t offer any robo-advice either. That’s not all bad because it also means you won’t need to pay Public an annual advisory fee.
However, if you’re unfamiliar with investing, it can be scary going it alone. You may be able to get some ideas and inspiration from following the public portfolios of other Public users. But that’s a far cry from getting professional advice and portfolio management.
If you’d like for your broker to be a little more hands-on, a robo-advisor may be a better fit. Robo-advisors use algorithms to create custom portfolios for their customers that match their risk profiles. And most offer other perks like automatic rebalancing and tax loss harvesting as well.
The annual advisory fee for robo-advisors typically starts at around 0.25%. And for a slightly higher fee, you may be able to access human CFPs as well. Check out our list of the best robo-advisors available today.
Robinhood was one of the first companies to do away with commission on stock trades. But, today, if you’re looking to trade commission-free stocks, you have a lot more options. Here are a few popular brokers that now offer free trades on stocks and/or ETFs:
Finally, if you’re looking for a more passive investing approach, you may want to consider a robo-advisor.
Learn More: Best Fractional Share Investing Brokerages
Public Pros and Cons
Great for small investors — Buy slices and bits of individual stock.
Affordable — No commissions on trades.
ETF investing available — Buy slices of ETFs with no trade commissions.
Public profiles — Share and learn from others with public portfolios.
Generous referral program — Your Public profile contains a unique referral link. If anyone signs up to the app through that link, both you and the new investor will receive a slice of free stock valued up to $50.
Mobile only access — No desktop platform.
No option to seek advice — No advisory service available.
Not for day traders — Day trading not allowed.
Should You Sign Up for Public?
Public could be a good fit for someone who wants to invest in individual stocks, but doesn’t have a large amount of money to invest. If that’s you, Public could help you get in the investing game with as little as a $5.
But if you’re an established investor, Public’s fractional share options may be less valuable to you. And, in that case, Public’s additional benefits may not be enough to pull you away from your current broker, especially since they lack a desktop platform.
Finally, you may want to sign up for Public if you like the idea of being able to join a community of traders and share your stock picks on a public profile. If Public’s social aspect would motivate you to get started with investing, then it may be the right pick.