A cryptocurrency is a digital currency, which is an alternative form of payment created using encryption algorithms. The use of encryption technologies means that cryptocurrencies function both as a currency and as a virtual accounting system. To use cryptocurrencies, you need a cryptocurrency wallet.
Cryptography is the method that secures data from unauthorized access by the use of encryption techniques. Most of the claims that blockchain makes, like privacy and immutability, are enabled through cryptography.
Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency, and in the years since its introduction, the number of coins available to purchase has grown to more than 19,000. Bitcoin was designed for digital payments, though investors have come to see it more as a store of value than a practical digital currency. It is often described as a form of “digital gold.” Bitcoin’s all-time high price was about $69,000 in November 2021, though a steep drop in 2022 has taken it down to around $20,000.
How it Works?
Cryptocurrencies are not controlled by the government or central regulatory authorities. As a concept, cryptocurrency works outside of the banking system using different brands or types of coins – Bitcoin being the major player.
Cryptocurrencies (which are completely digital) are generated through a process called “mining”. This is a complex process. Basically, miners are required to solve certain mathematical puzzles over specially equipped computer systems to be rewarded with bitcoins in exchange.
In an ideal world, it would take a person just 10 minutes to mine one bitcoin, but in reality, the process takes an estimated 30 days.
2. Buying, selling, and storing
Users today can buy cryptocurrencies from central exchanges, brokers, and individual currency owners or sell it to them. Exchanges or platforms like Coinbase are the easiest ways to buy or sell cryptocurrencies.
Once bought, cryptocurrencies can be stored in digital wallets. Digital wallets can be “hot” or “cold”. Hot means the wallet is connected to the internet, which makes it easy to transact, but vulnerable to thefts and frauds. Cold storage, on the other hand, is safer but makes it harder to transact.
3. Transacting or investing
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoins can be easily transferred from one digital wallet to another, using only a smartphone. Once you own them, your choices are to:
use them to buy goods or services
trade in them
exchange them for cash
If you are using Bitcoin for purchases, the easiest way to do that is through debit-card-type transactions. You can also use these debit cards to withdraw cash, just like at an ATM. Converting cryptocurrency to cash is also possible using banking accounts or peer-to-peer transactions.
How to buy cryptocurrency
You may be wondering how to buy cryptocurrency safely. There are typically three steps involved. These are:
Step 1: Choosing a platform
The first step is deciding which platform to use. Generally, you can choose between a traditional broker or dedicated cryptocurrency exchange:
Traditional brokers. These are online brokers who offer ways to buy and sell cryptocurrency, as well as other financial assets like stocks, bonds, and ETFs. These platforms tend to offer lower trading costs but fewer crypto features.
Cryptocurrency exchanges. There are many cryptocurrency exchanges to choose from, each offering different cryptocurrencies, wallet storage, interest-bearing account options, and more. Many exchanges charge asset-based fees.
When comparing different platforms, consider which cryptocurrencies are on offer, what fees they charge, their security features, storage and withdrawal options, and any educational resources.
Step 2: Funding your account
Once you have chosen your platform, the next step is to fund your account so you can begin trading. Most crypto exchanges allow users to purchase crypto using fiat (i.e., government-issued) currencies such as the US Dollar, the British Pound, or the Euro using their debit or credit cards – although this varies by platform.
Crypto purchases with credit cards are considered risky, and some exchanges don't support them. Some credit card companies don't allow crypto transactions either. This is because cryptocurrencies are highly volatile, and it is not advisable to risk going into debt — or potentially paying high credit card transaction fees — for certain assets.
Some platforms will also accept ACH transfers and wire transfers. The accepted payment methods and time taken for deposits or withdrawals differ per platform. Equally, the time taken for deposits to clear varies by payment method.
An important factor to consider is fees. These include potential deposit and withdrawal transaction fees plus trading fees. Fees will vary by payment method and platform, which is something to research at the outset.
Step 3: Placing an order
You can place an order via your broker's or exchange's web or mobile platform. If you are planning to buy cryptocurrencies, you can do so by selecting "buy," choosing the order type, entering the amount of cryptocurrencies you want to purchase, and confirming the order. The same process applies to "sell" orders.
There are also other ways to invest in crypto. These include payment services like PayPal, Cash App, and Venmo, which allow users to buy, sell, or hold cryptocurrencies. In addition, there are the following investment vehicles:
Bitcoin trusts: You can buy shares of Bitcoin trusts with a regular brokerage account. These vehicles give retail investors exposure to crypto through the stock market.
Bitcoin mutual funds: There are Bitcoin ETFs and Bitcoin mutual funds to choose from.
Blockchain stocks or ETFs: You can also indirectly invest in crypto through blockchain companies that specialize in the technology behind crypto and crypto transactions. Alternatively, you can buy stocks or ETFs of companies that use blockchain technology.
How Is Cryptocurrency Stored?
There are various ways to store your cryptocurrency. Many crypto exchanges allow you to store your coins on the exchange. However, if your coins are on an exchange, they can be vulnerable to a hack. While some exchanges maintain insurance to help mitigate losses, it’s important to note that crypto investments don’t have the same federal protections and guarantees as your conventional stock portfolio.
The most secure way to store cryptocurrency is with a crypto wallet. There are two main types of wallets:
Hot wallets are connected to the internet and can be accessed via your browser or your phone. They are easy to access and you can connect them to various online marketplaces. You can quickly send your cryptocurrency from an exchange to a hot wallet, storing them separately. Hot wallets are sometimes called software wallets.
Cold wallets aren’t connected to the internet. These are hardware wallets that look similar to USB drive. Cold wallets are often more expensive than hot wallets, but they are considered more secure. Since they aren’t connected to the internet, they aren’t as vulnerable to hackers. But that also means if you lose your cold wallet, you may lose your crypto forever.
A hot wallet often has a way for you to retrieve lost keys. You can usually use them like another account with a password. As long as you have the right pass phrases, you can often get back in. However, you have to be willing to take on the security risks.
With a cold wallet, you’re less vulnerable to hacks, but you might not have the ease of recovery. If you forget the keys needed to access your wallet, you might not be able to get to your crypto assets. Additionally, if the hard wallet is destroyed with no backup, you could also lose your assets.
When storing your crypto, it’s important to figure out a system that works for you. For trading, it can make sense to keep coins on an exchange. However, you might also want a hot wallet for online transactions and moving your cryptocurrencies around. For long-term storage, a cold wallet could be your best bet, as experts recommend cold wallets for top security. You can use a combination of storage options to get the result you want.
Types of Cryptocurrencies
There are thousands of cryptocurrencies. Some of the best known include:
Founded in 2009, Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency and is still the most commonly traded. The currency was developed by Satoshi Nakamoto – widely believed to be a pseudonym for an individual or group of people whose precise identity remains unknown.
Developed in 2015, Ethereum is a blockchain platform with its own cryptocurrency, called Ether (ETH) or Ethereum. It is the most popular cryptocurrency after Bitcoin.
This currency is most similar to bitcoin but has moved more quickly to develop new innovations, including faster payments and processes to allow more transactions.
Ripple is a distributed ledger system that was founded in 2012. Ripple can be used to track different kinds of transactions, not just cryptocurrency. The company behind it has worked with various banks and financial institutions. Non-Bitcoin cryptocurrencies are collectively known as “altcoins” to distinguish them from the original.
Tips to invest in cryptocurrency safely
According to Consumer Reports, all investments carry risk, but some experts consider cryptocurrency to be one of the riskier investment choices out there. If you are planning to invest in cryptocurrencies, these tips can help you make educated choices.
Before you invest, learn about cryptocurrency exchanges. It’s estimated that there are over 500 exchanges to choose from. Do your research, read reviews, and talk with more experienced investors before moving forward.
Know how to store your digital currency:
If you buy cryptocurrency, you have to store it. You can keep it on an exchange or in a digital wallet. While there are different kinds of wallets, each has its benefits, technical requirements, and security. As with exchanges, you should investigate your storage choices before investing.
Diversify your investments:
Diversification is key to any good investment strategy, and this holds true when you are investing in cryptocurrency. Don't put all your money in Bitcoin, for example, just because that's the name you know. There are thousands of options, and it's better to spread your investment across several currencies.
Prepare for volatility:
The cryptocurrency market is highly volatile, so be prepared for ups and downs. You will see dramatic swings in prices. If your investment portfolio or mental wellbeing can't handle that, cryptocurrency might not be a wise choice for you.
Advantages of Cryptocurrency:
1. Cryptocurrencies represent a new, decentralized paradigm for money. In this system, centralized intermediaries, such as banks and monetary institutions, are not necessary to enforce trust and police transactions between two parties. Thus, a system with cryptocurrencies eliminates the possibility of a single point of failure, such as a large bank, setting off a cascade of crises around the world, such as the one that was triggered in 2008 by the failure of institutions in the United States.
2. Cryptocurrencies promise to make it easier to transfer funds directly between two parties, without the need for a trusted third party like a bank or a credit card company. Such decentralized transfers are secured by the use of public keys and private keys and different forms of incentive systems, such as proof of work or proof of stake.
3. Because they do not use third-party intermediaries, cryptocurrency transfers between two transacting parties are faster as compared to standard money transfers. Flash loans in decentralized finance are a good example of such decentralized transfers. These loans, which are processed without backing collateral, can be executed within seconds and are used in trading.
4. Cryptocurrency investments can generate profits. Cryptocurrency markets have skyrocketed in value over the past decade, at one point reaching almost $2 trillion. As of May 2022, Bitcoin was valued at more than $550 billion in crypto markets.
5. The remittance economy is testing one of cryptocurrency's most prominent use cases. Currently, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin serve as intermediate currencies to streamline money transfers across borders. Thus, a fiat currency is converted to Bitcoin (or another cryptocurrency), transferred across borders and, subsequently, converted to the destination fiat currency. This method streamlines the money transfer process and makes it cheaper.
Disadvantages of Cryptocurrency:
1. Though they claim to be an anonymous form of transaction, cryptocurrencies are actually pseudonymous. They leave a digital trail that agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can decipher. This opens up possibilities of governments or federal authorities tracking the financial transactions of ordinary citizens.
2. Cryptocurrencies have become a popular tool with criminals for nefarious activities such as money laundering and illicit purchases. The case of Dread Pirate Roberts, who ran a marketplace to sell drugs on the dark web, is already well known. Cryptocurrencies have also become a favorite of hackers who use them for ransomware activities.
3. In theory, cryptocurrencies are meant to be decentralized, their wealth distributed between many parties on a blockchain. In reality, ownership is highly concentrated. For example, an MIT study found that just 11,000 investors held roughly 45% of Bitcoin's surging value.
4. One of the conceits of cryptocurrencies is that anyone can mine them using a computer with an Internet connection. However, mining popular cryptocurrencies requires considerable energy, sometimes as much energy as entire countries consume. The expensive energy costs coupled with the unpredictability of mining have concentrated mining among large firms whose revenues running into the billions of dollars. According to an MIT study, 10% of miners account for 90% of its mining capacity.
5. Though cryptocurrency blockchains are highly secure, other crypto repositories, such as exchanges and wallets, can be hacked. Many cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets have been hacked over the years, sometimes resulting in millions of dollars worth of "coins" stolen.
6. Cryptocurrencies traded in public markets suffer from price volatility. Bitcoin has experienced rapid surges and crashes in its value, climbing to as high as $17,738 in December 2017 before dropping to $7,575 in the following months.3 Some economists thus consider cryptocurrencies to be a short-lived fad or speculative bubble.
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