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Over the last few years, there’s been a rise of the “mobile trader” as more investing apps become commission-free. And for anyone wanting a beginner-friendly trading experience, investing apps are the perfect tool.
Public and Robinhood are two of the most popular brokers in the mobile trading space. However, while both offer commission-free stock and ETF trading, there are some significant differences in both business practices and features.
Our Public vs. Robinhood comparison is highlighting these differences to help you decide which trading platform is right for you.
Public vs. Robinhood at a Glance
|Commission-Free Trading||Stocks & ETFs||Stocks, ETFs, & Options|
|Subscriptions||Public Premium is coming soon||Robinhood Gold for $5 per month|
|Margin Rates||Not available||5% to 9%|
|Commission||$0 for stocks and ETFs; 1-2% spread for crypto||$0 for stocks, ETFs, and options; Robinhood doesn’t disclose crypto spread fees|
|Payment for Order Flow (PFOF)||No||Yes|
|Customer Service||Phone support Monday through Friday||24/7 phone support|
|Sign Up Bonus||Yes||Yes|
|Best For||A social investing platform that doesn’t use PFOF||Commission-free options trading and margin trading|
Public is an investing app that launched in 2017. It’s known for its beginner-friendly interface and for the social elements it adds to investing.
With Public, you can follow profiles of your friends and top investors on the app, helping you learn from other people’s trades. The company also runs events like Public Town Halls where founders and executives from various companies answer questions from users.
Like its competitor, Public lets you trade stocks and ETFs without paying commissions. And, unlike Robinhood, Public doesn’t rely on payment for order flow (PFOF) to make money. Instead, it has an optional tipping feature, and this is one of several differences between the two brokers.
Founded in 2013, Robinhood is another popular investment app that has boomed in popularity in recent years as more retail investors have turned to mobile trading. It’s best known for its commission-free options trading and low margin rates. But like Public, Robinhood also supports commission-free stock and ETF trading.
Ease-of-use is really the name of the game at Robinhood, and this is largely why the app became so popular. Anyone can open an account and begin investing without any experience. However, the company is starting to cater to more experienced traders by rolling out features like advanced charts and its Robinhood Gold subscription.
Public vs Robinhood – Fees & Pricing
Like many other online brokers, both Robinhood and Public offer commission-free stock and ETF trades. However, Robinhood also offers commission-free options trading which is one of its main selling points.
In terms of crypto, Public charges a 1-2% spread fee since orders are routed through Apex Crypto. Robinhood doesn’t disclose its crypto spread fees and somewhat misleadingly says it’s “fee-free.” While this is technically true, trading crypto on Robinhood is fairly similar to Public.
Both brokers can also charge miscellaneous fees, like wire transfers or returned check fees. One difference is that Public charges an inactivity fee of $5 every six months for accounts with less than $20 and no activity for the last 90 days. In contrast, Robinhood doesn’t charge inactivity fees. But overall, both brokers have similar trading and account fees.
Public vs Robinhood – Investment Options
Both investment apps are very similar in terms of the assets you can invest in. For starters, Public and Robinhood both offer commission-free stock and ETF trading. Neither broker supports mutual funds, bonds, or CDs either.
However, one of the largest differences between Robinhood and Public is that Robinhood offers commission-free options trading. You can also trade on margin at a fairly low rate. This makes Robinhood much more versatile than Public, although you shouldn’t trade options on margin without understanding the risks and with money you can’t afford to lose.
Public vs Robinhood – Account Types
Both Robinhood and Public offer individual taxable accounts and don’t support tax-advantaged retirement accounts like a Traditional or Roth IRA. This is one downside for both investing apps, although Robinhood has plans to support retirement accounts in the future.
Public vs Robinhood – Cryptocurrency Support
Recently, both Public and Robinhood have expanded into cryptocurrency investing. This makes them similar to platforms like eToro and FTX that both offer securities investing and crypto, while some more old-school brokers are still playing catch up.
Currently, Public supports 29 cryptos which is almost double the amount Robinhood supports. Both apps lets you invest in major cryptos like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and some popular altcoins. But Public is the clear winner in terms of selection.
As mentioned, Robinhood doesn’t disclose the spread fees for crypto while Public’s partner Apex Crypto charges about 1-2% per trade. It’s difficult to compare both brokers head-to-head on crypto, but we don’t think either option is great for digital currencies anyways.
You get way more selection and features by sticking with a crypto exchange. For example, crypto exchanges like Crypto.com support 200+ cryptos, have staking and lending, and offer more advanced trading tools. You can use apps like Public or Robinhood for simplicity, but know that you’re missing out on more trading pairs and potentially lower fees.
Public vs Robinhood – Customer Service
Currently, both Public and Robinhood offer email support. Public also offers live chat support, Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm ET. In contrast, Robinhood offers 24/7 phone customer support, making its customer service department far more available than Public.
You still have to log in to Robinhood’s app and go through a few steps to get in touch with customer support. But the fact support is available 24/7 is one advantage over Public.
Public’s Unique Features
- Social Investing: The entire reason Public has its name is because it’s a social investing platform. You can view other Public user’s profiles and follow top investors on the platform to learn more about their investing strategies.
- Investing Themes: The app organizes stocks into different themes to help you invest in sectors that interest you. Examples of popular themes include AI, ESG-friendly companies, the plant-based movement, and the metaverse.
- No Payment For Order Flow: To make money, Public uses optional tipping. In contrast, Robinhood and many other brokers use payment for order flow, which means various market-makers are paying Robinhood to route orders through them. This is a potential conflict of interest, and it’s one of the main reasons some investors look for Robinhood alternatives and end up using Public.
- Free Stock Sign-Up Bonus: New Public users can get a free stock worth anywhere between $3 and $300.
- Public Premium: While this feature is using a waitlist, Public’s Premium plan will provide advanced data, more market and stock metrics, and professional Morningstar research for $10 per month. This is Public’s answer to Robinhood Gold, and you also get analyst ratings on various stocks and VIP customer support.
The lack of PFOF is really the main highlight here, and it’s what sets Public apart from many investing apps. The fact you can get a helping hand with various stock themes or studying other people’s profiles are also unique selling points.
Robinhood’s Unique Features
- Commission-Free Options Trading: One of Robinhood’s main selling points is that it offers commission-free options trading, whereas many brokers charge $0.65 per contract.
- Robinhood Gold: For $5 per month, you upgrade to Robinhood Gold and get Level II Nasdaq data, larger instant deposits, a lower margin rate, and free research from Morningstar.
- Robinhood Cash Card: This fee-free debit card lets you earn free stock in the form of cash back, get paid up to two days early, and avoid ATM fees.
- Advanced Charts: In 2022, Robinhood announced it’s rolling out advanced charting to all users. This means beginner and more experienced traders alike can leverage the data and charting tools they need. This is one of Robinhood’s new advantages over Public which caters more to beginners.
- Free Stock Sign-Up Bonus: New Robinhood customers get a free stock worth anywhere from $5 to $200.
Advanced charts are one new, massive improvement for Robinhood. And it’s one of the best options trading platforms due to its lack of fees.
Public Pros & Cons
- Follow top investors and your friends for a more social investing experience
- Use pre-built stock themes to invest in sectors and causes you care about
- Public doesn’t rely on payment for order flow unlike Robinhood
- The app is very beginner-friendly
- Supports more cryptocurrencies than Robinhood
- Public doesn’t let you trade options or on margin
- More simplistic charts than Robinhood is starting to offer
- No cash card like Robinhood offers
Robinhood Pros & Cons
- Commission-free stock, ETF, and options trading
- Advanced charts are coming to the app
- You can trade on margin and get lower rates through Robinhood Gold
- Robinhood Gold also offers more research and data for a low monthly price
- Robinhood supports fewer cryptocurrencies than Public
- Robinhood uses payment for order flow unlike Public
- The company has a troublesome history with regulators and even paused trading during the GameStop rally, angering many customers
Public vs. Robinhood – Which Broker Should You Choose?
If you plan on trading options or on margin, Robinhood is the obvious winner over Public. And since it’s rolling out advanced charting, the app is also becoming more useful for experienced investors who want to conduct a bit of technical analysis. The fact Robinhood also has a cash card might be a unique selling point over Public for some investors.
In contrast, Public is better than Robinhood if you want to follow your friends and other investors for a social investing experience. Its themes are also great for beginners because they can point you in the right direction if there’s a certain sector you want to invest in. And one of Public’s main advantages over Robinhood is that it has a cleaner history; the lack of PFOF and regulatory scrutiny being prime examples.
Personally, I’d pick Public over Robinhood just on the grounds that Robinhood halted trading during GameStop’s rally, which isn’t cool. But then again, I invest with TD and prefer full-service brokers over investing apps, but that’s just me.
Ultimately, you need to pick the investing app that has the asset classes you’re looking for and the tools you need. Hopefully, our Robinhood vs. Public breakdown makes the decision a little easier.
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