Public Review 2024: Pros, Cons and How It Compares

Public will appeal to traders looking for low-cost options brokers and access to many types of assets. But customer support is limited, and the broker nickel-and-dimes non-Premium members for certain types of trades.
Sam Taube
Chris Davis
By Chris Davis and  Sam Taube 
Edited by Chris Davis

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Our Take

4.6

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line:

Public provides free stock and ETF trades, pays you to trade options, and gives traders access to crypto, alternative assets and bonds, as well as a high-yield savings account. It doesn't offer mutual funds, margin accounts, IRAs or custodial accounts.

Public
Public
Fees
$0
Account minimum
$0
Promotion
None
no promotion available at this time

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Rebates for trading options.
  • Impressive selection of alternative assets.
  • Easy-to-use sign-up and trading interface.

Cons

  • No mutual funds.
  • No margin trading or futures trading.
  • Lack of tools (e.g., customizable screeners) and account types (e.g., IRAs).

Compare to Similar Brokers

NerdWallet rating 

4.9

/5
NerdWallet rating 

5.0

/5
NerdWallet rating 

4.1

/5

Fees 

$0

per online equity trade

Fees 

$0

per trade

Fees 

$0

per trade

Account minimum 

$0

Account minimum 

$0

Account minimum 

$0

Promotion 

None

no promotion available at this time

Promotion 

None

no promotion available at this time

Promotion 

Get up to $700

when you open and fund a J.P. Morgan Self-Directed Investing account with qualifying new money.

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Full Review

Where Public shines

Get paid to trade options: Public offers free options trading (besides regulatory fees), which isn't totally unique among online brokers — but they're almost certainly the only broker who will pay you to trade options. Until March 31, Public is paying all options traders $0.18 per trade, which is about half of the company's payment-for-order-flow (PFOF) revenue per trade. After March 31, Public intends to continue the options rebates as a tiered rewards program.

Investment plans: Public allows investors to create their own customized baskets of stocks, ETFs or other assets, set up recurring purchases of those baskets of investments, and buy or sell multiple investments at a time. The company calls these multi-asset trades "investment plans," and they could be handy for investors who are looking to use dollar-cost averaging to build a diversified portfolio over time. Investment plan trades incur fees for non-Premium users, though.

IPOs, fractional shares and alternative assets: Public has made a point to offer investors access to a wide variety of asset classes — in addition to stocks, bonds, ETFs and crypto, they offer fractional shares, IPO access, and ways of investing in alternative assets such as shares of artworks.

Where Public falls short

No mutual funds: The lack of mutual funds may be a difficult adjustment for some investors, although Public offers plenty of ETFs.

Limited customer support: Public offers weekday chat and email support during extended business hours, plus an AI assistant. It could be worse, but it comes up short of many other brokers who offer phone support and night or weekend hours.

No margin accounts, international accounts, retirement accounts or custodial accounts: Public is a relative newcomer to the brokerage industry and doesn't quite have the same diversity of account types as some of its competitors. Public doesn't offer retirement accounts, isn't open to non-U.S. investors or kids, and doesn't offer margin accounts — which means no margin trading.


Public is best for:

  • Options traders.

  • Alternative asset investors.

  • Investors looking for easy diversification.

Public at a glance

Account minimum

$0. ($20 minimum deposit once account is opened.)

Stock trading costs

$0 beyond standard regulatory fees. ($2.99 per trade for after-hours trades or OTC stocks, for non-Premium members.)

Options trades

$0 beyond standard regulatory fees. Until March 31, Public is paying options traders $0.18 per trade (as a share of their payment-for-order-flow revenue).

Account fees (annual, transfer, closing, inactivity)

No ACH transfer fees. $75 ACAT outgoing transfer fee. No annual fee for non-Premium members (Public Premium costs $10 a month or $96 a year). $3.99 monthly inactivity fee for accounts with no activity for six months and balances below $70.

Interest rate on uninvested cash

New users can opt into a high-yield savings account with a 5.1% yield by checking a box at sign-up.

Tradable securities

• Stocks. • ETFs. • Options. • Cryptocurrency. • American Depositary Receipts. • Fractional shares. • Bonds. • Alternative assets (e.g., art).

Number of no-transaction-fee mutual funds

Not rated.

Trading platform

Public's mobile and web platforms offer a smooth sign-up, funding and trading experience, but are fairly basic when it comes to tools like charts and screeners.

Mobile app

Public's iOS and Android apps are both fairly well-liked by users and offer virtually the same features as the web trading platform.

Research and data

Data from TradingView, S&P Global and Morningstar. Public offers earnings call playback, as well as bespoke company metrics like subscriber numbers.

Customer support options (includes how easy it is to find key details on the website)

Email and chat support available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Responses prioritized for Premium members.

» Looking to switch brokers? View the best broker promotions right now

More details about Public's ratings

Account minimum: 5 out of 5 stars

Public doesn't have an account minimum. The minimum deposit size is $20, but that's fairly common among online brokers.

Stock trading costs: 5 out of 5 stars

U.S. stocks listed on major exchanges are commission-free for all Public users, as are exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The broker only charges standard regulatory fees, which are negligible and found at all brokerages.

For non-Premium users, Public charges a fee of between $0.49 and $1.99 for investment plan (multi-stock) trades, depending on the number of tickers involved, and a $2.99 fee for after-hours trades and OTC trades.

Options trades: 5 out of 5 stars

Public really stands out for the cost of its options trades. For a limited time, the cost of options trades at Public isn't just standard regulatory fees, or even zero — it's negative.

Through March 31, Public is paying options traders a rebate of $0.18 per contract per trade (a 50% share of the company's PFOF revenue per trade). After March 31, the rebates will continue as a tiered system, in which users earn between $0.06 and $0.18 depending on how many friends they refer to Public.

Account fees: 4 out of 5 stars

One of the biggest fees Public charges is the $75 outgoing ACAT transfer fee — but that cost is pretty average within the industry. (An ACAT transfer is when you want to transfer your investments to another broker; there's no fee for selling your investments and having the money transferred via ACH to your bank.)

There's no account maintenance fee for free users, although accounts with six months or more of inactivity and balances below $70 may incur a $3.99 per month inactivity fee. Public Premium costs $10 monthly or $96 yearly. It eliminates many of the fees non-Premium users incur for nonstandard trades, such as OTC stocks, after-hours trades and investment plans.

Interest rate on uninvested cash: 4 out of 5 stars

Public lets users opt in to a high-yield savings account with a 5.1% APY for uninvested cash when they sign up. We cannot give them full marks for this feature because it's technically not a default interest rate for all investors — but the opt-in process consists of checking a single box upon sign-up; not exactly a high hurdle.

Number of no-transaction-fee mutual funds: Not rated.

Public does not offer any mutual funds.

Tradable securities: 4 out of 5 stars

Public offers a fairly impressive array of investment choices for traders — stocks (including fractional shares), corporate and government bonds, options, ETFs, major cryptocurrencies, select American Depositary Receipts (ADRs), and even some alternative assets like art shares and music royalties. But Public doesn't offer futures or commodities — and its lack of margin accounts puts it at a disadvantage relative to many other trading-oriented brokers.

Public also does not offer mutual funds, which may limit its appeal for buy-and-hold investors who want to stick with a particular set of funds.

Trading platform: 4 out of 5 stars

Public has clearly put a lot of thought into creating a smooth sign-up and trading experience, particularly for new investors. The broker guides new users through an easy account creation process that collects your personal information, contact details, Social Security number and means of funding your account in just a few minutes.

How we nerd out testing trading platforms

Our reviewers — who are writers and editors on NerdWallet’s content team — hands-on test every online broker platform in our analysis. That way, we’re able to report on every aspect of the user experience, from funding a new account to actually placing trades.

We score each broker against a set of criteria that factors in both the capabilities offered and the actual user experience of trading with those capabilities. This includes how easy it was to sign up for and fund a new account. Note that a broker may score very highly for the platforms it offers, but low for the experience of actually using that platform. These are scored separately in our analysis, and they are weighted evenly when factored into the broker’s overall score. This means a broker can offer an advanced trading platform, but if it is clunky to use or the process of opening an account is unnecessarily arduous, that will be reflected in their score.

Once your account has been approved and funded (which may take a day or so), you'll be able to buy stocks through Public's streamlined trading interface, which resembles that of other upstart brokers such as Robinhood.

A trading screenshot as part of NerdWallet's Public review.

We only found two significant drawbacks to Public's trading platform. First, the broker doesn't send confirmation emails for initial deposits upon sign-up, which can make it a bit confusing to figure out whether you've actually funded your account.

Second, advanced traders may find Public's charting and screening tools to be somewhat entry-level and lacking in customizability, compared to the tools from some other brokers.

Public doesn't accept PFOF revenue for stock trades. It does accept PFOF for options trades, but it's currently sharing 50% of its PFOF revenue per trade with its options-trading customers.

Some regulators believe that the PFOF business model is a conflict of interest because it involves market-making firms paying brokers to route customer orders through them

Congressional Research Service. Payment for Order Flow: The SEC Proposes Reforms. Accessed Oct 12, 2023.
. PFOF's effects are negligible for most investors, but it's possible that PFOF brokers could execute orders slightly slower or at slightly worse prices than non-PFOF brokers. Public says its order execution quality is 94%, which is middle-of-the-road for brokers of its type.

🤓Nerdy Tip

The average execution quality of all brokers we review was 97.4% as of Aug. 31, 2023. That means 97.4% of orders were executed at a price that was at or better than the National Best Bid and Offer. Executing at or above the NBBO means you may receive price improvement, or a better share price than you were originally quoted.

Mobile app: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Public's iOS app gets high marks from users, with an average rating of 4.7 stars, and it's easy to see why: it offers all the features of the web platform in a slick, swiping-oriented interface that's light on push notifications. The Android app is slightly less-well-reviewed, though it still averages a respectable 4.2 stars.

Research and data: 2 out of 5 stars

The research selection at Public is not quite as robust as at some of its competitors. Users get access to data from TradingView and S&P Global, plus earnings call playback and a set of company metrics from Public itself, such as subscriber numbers. Premium users get access to Morningstar research as well.

Customer support options: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Public offers email and chat support on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. Premium users get priority over non-Premium users in the support queue. Public's AI educational assistant may also be able to answer some basic questions. This is better than nothing, but it pales in comparison to the customer support offerings from many other brokers, which frequently offer phone support and night and weekend hours.

Cryptocurrency investing with Public

Public's crypto offering

Through a partnership with Bakkt Crypto Solutions, Public allows users to purchase cryptocurrencies right in their brokerage account. It offers access to seven popular coins — Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Ethereum Classic (ETC), Dogecoin (DOGE), Shiba Inu (SHIB) and Litecoin (LTC).

Much like its stock trading experience, Public's crypto trading experience is smooth and easy-to-use, especially for crypto beginners — but it lacks a number of features advanced crypto traders might want, like crypto-crypto trading pairs, deposit insurance or the ability to stake coins and use your own crypto wallet.

Investors who are used to pure-play crypto brokerages might get a shock from another aspect of Public's crypto offering — Public charges fees on crypto trades, and fairly hefty ones at that. They start at $0.49 for orders less than $10, gradually rise to $6.49 for orders between $250 and $500, and then equal 1.25% of the order amount for orders over $500. These fees still apply for Premium members.

Other Public details you should know

High-yield savings account

Public's high-yield savings account currently pays a 5.1% APY and comes with up to $5 million in FDIC insurance via agreements with a network of partner banks ($250,000 in insurance per partner bank).

If a user initiates a withdrawal before 8:00 p.m. Eastern time on a day the market is open, it will be available the same day — otherwise, it'll be available on the next business day.

Treasury account

Public is unique among brokers for offering two different types of high-yield accounts. In addition to a conventional savings account, Public allows users to open a Treasury account through a partnership with Jiko Securities. The Treasury account advertises a higher yield than a savings account; it allows users to buy six-month Treasury bills for as little as $100.

Public Premium

For $10 per month or $96 per year, Public Premium members get prioritized customer service responses, Morningstar research, and Premium-only market news and analysis content from Public's team. Premium members are also exempted from fees on OTC trades, after-hours trades and investment plan trades, although they still pay fees for crypto trades.

Unlike the premium offerings at some other brokers, Public Premium does not come with a higher level of FDIC insurance than unpaid accounts, nor special margin rates (as a reminder, Public does not offer margin trading at all).

One thing to note — like other brokers with premium account types, Public tries in various ways to get non-Premium members to sign up for Premium, such as with email and in-app offers of free trials.

The reason we mention this is because we accidentally enrolled in a Premium trial while testing the platform out, as a result of a misclick.

Due to a system bug that has since been addressed, we did not receive any notification emails about the free trial, and only found out about it when the trial ended (and our test bank account was unexpectedly charged $96 for a year of Premium). Public's support team sorted out the issue promptly and refunded the charge, but those Premium offers are something to watch out for, if you aren't interested.

Is Public right for you?

Public earns high marks for ease-of-use, and for its investment selection — and options traders will likely get excited about their PFOF rebate program. However, Public is not quite as well-established as some of the other brokers we review, and it still lacks certain features, like phone support and margin trading, offered by its competitors. It also lacks IRAs and custodial accounts, and the fees can be annoying for non-Premium users. But on the whole, Public offers an impressive brokerage experience for new investors or traders who are looking to up their options game.

How do we review brokers?

NerdWallet’s comprehensive review process evaluates and ranks the largest U.S. brokers by assets under management, along with emerging industry players. Our aim is to provide an independent assessment of providers to help arm you with information to make sound, informed judgments on which ones will best meet your needs. We adhere to strict guidelines for editorial integrity.

We collect data directly from providers through detailed questionnaires, and conduct first-hand testing and observation through provider demonstrations. The questionnaire answers, combined with demonstrations, interviews of personnel at the providers and our specialists’ hands-on research, fuel our proprietary assessment process that scores each provider’s performance across more than 20 factors. The final output produces star ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars).

For more details about the categories considered when rating brokers and our process, read our full methodology.