This article contains:
1. Choose a Broker or Crypto Exchange
2. Create and Verify Your Account
4. Place Your Cryptocurrency Order
Cryptocurrencies are digital assets that trade on a 24/7 global market. If you’re thinking about adding cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, ether, or dogecoin to your investment portfolio, you have several options for doing so.
Here’s how to buy cryptocurrency — along with an outline of where you can buy it and the different types of investment vehicles you can use for exposure to it.
If you’re new to the world of crypto, figuring out how to buy Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies can be confusing at first. Thankfully, it’s pretty simple to learn the ropes. You can start investing in cryptocurrency by following these five easy steps.
1. Choose a Broker or Crypto Exchange
To buy cryptocurrency, first you need to pick a broker or a crypto exchange. While either lets you buy crypto, there are a few key differences between them to keep in mind.
What Is a Cryptocurrency Exchange?
A cryptocurrency exchange is a platform where buyers and sellers meet to trade cryptocurrencies. Exchanges often have relatively low fees, but they tend to have more complex interfaces with multiple trade types and advanced performance charts, all of which can make them intimidating for new crypto investors.
Some of the most well-known cryptocurrency exchanges are Coinbase, Gemini and Binance.US. While these companies’ standard trading interfaces may overwhelm beginners, particularly those without a background trading stocks, they also offer user-friendly easy purchase options.
The convenience comes at a cost, however, as the beginner-friendly options charge substantially more than it would cost to buy the same crypto via each platform’s standard trading interface. To save on costs, you might aim to learn enough to utilize the standard trading platforms before you make your fist crypto purchase—or not long after.
An important note: As someone new to crypto, you’ll want to make sure your exchange or brokerage of choice allows fiat currency transfers and purchases made with U.S. dollars. Some exchanges only allow you to buy crypto using another crypto, meaning you’d have to find another exchange to buy the tokens your preferred exchange accepts before you could begin trading crypto on that platform.
What Is a Cryptocurrency Broker?
Cryptocurrency brokers take the complexity out of purchasing crypto, offering easy-to-use interfaces that interact with exchanges for you. Some charge higher fees than exchanges. Others claim to be “free” while making money by selling information about what you and other traders are buying and selling to large brokerages or funds or not executing your trade at the best possible market price. Robinhood and SoFi are two of the most well-known crypto brokers.
While they’re undeniably convenient, you have to be careful with brokers because you may face restrictions on moving your cryptocurrency holdings off the platform. At Robinhood and SoFi, for instance, you cannot transfer your crypto holdings out of your account. This may not seem like a huge deal, but advanced crypto investors prefer to hold their coins in crypto wallets for extra security. Some even choose hardware crypto wallets that are not connected to the internet for even more security.
2. Create and Verify Your Account
Once you decide on a cryptocurrency broker or exchange, you can sign up to open an account. Depending on the platform and the amount you plan to buy, you may have to verify your identity. This is an essential step to prevent fraud and meet federal regulatory requirements.
You may not be able to buy or sell cryptocurrency until you complete the verification process. The platform may ask you to submit a copy of your driver’s license or passport, and you may even be asked to upload a selfie to prove your appearance matches the documents you submit.
3. Deposit Cash to Invest
To buy crypto, you’ll need to make sure you have funds in your account. You might deposit money into your crypto account by linking your bank account, authorizing a wire transfer or even making a payment with a debit or credit card. Depending on the exchange or broker and your funding method, you may have to wait a few days before you can use the money you deposit to buy cryptocurrency.
Here’s one big buyer beware: While some exchanges or brokers allow you to deposit money from a credit card, doing so is extremely risky—and expensive. Credit card companies process cryptocurrency purchases with credit cards as cash advances. This means they’re subject to higher interest rates than regular purchases, and you’ll also have to pay additional cash advance fees. For example, you may have to pay 5% of the transaction amount when you make a cash advance. This is on top of any fees that your crypto exchange or brokerage may charge; these can run up to 5% themselves, meaning you might lose 10% of your crypto purchase to fees.
4. Place Your Cryptocurrency Order
Once there is money in your account, you’re ready to place your first cryptocurrency order. There are hundreds of cryptocurrencies to choose from, ranging from well-known names like Bitcoin and Ethereum to more obscure cryptos like Theta Fuel or Holo.
When you decide on which cryptocurrency to purchase, you can enter its ticker symbol—Bitcoin, for instance is BTC—and how many coins you’d like to purchase. With most exchanges and brokers, you can purchase fractional shares of cryptocurrency, allowing you to buy a sliver of high-priced tokens like Bitcoin or Ethereum that otherwise take thousands to own.
The symbols for the 10 biggest cryptocurrencies based on market capitalization* are as follows:
- Bitcoin (BTC)
- Ethereum (ETH)
- Tether (USDT)
- Binance Coin (BNB)
- Cardana (ADA)
- Dogecoin (DOGE)
- XRP (XRP)
- USD Coin (USDC)
- Polkadot (DOT)
- Uniswap (UNI)
*Based on market capitalization as of June 28, 2021
5. Select a Storage Method
Cryptocurrency exchanges are not backed by protections like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), and they’re at risk of theft or hacking. You could even lose your investment if you forget or lose the codes to access your account, as millions of dollars of Bitcoin already has been. That’s why it’s so important to have a secure storage place for your cryptocurrencies.
As noted above, if you’re buying cryptocurrency via a broker, you may have little to no choice in how your cryptocurrency is stored. If you purchase cryptocurrency through an exchange, you have more options:
- Leave the crypto on the exchange. When you buy cryptocurrency, it’s typically stored in a so-called crypto wallet attached to the exchange. If you don’t like the provider your exchange partners with or you want to move it to a more secure location, you might transfer it off of the exchange to a separate hot or cold wallet. Depending on the exchange and the size of your transfer, you may have to pay a small fee to do this.
- Hot wallets. These are crypto wallets that are stored online and run on internet-connected devices, such as tablets, computers or phones. Hot wallets are convenient, but there’s a higher risk of theft since they’re still connected to the internet.
- Cold wallets. Cold crypto wallets aren’t connected to the internet, making them your most secure option for holding cryptocurrency. They take the form of external devices, like a USB drive or a hard drive. You have to be careful with cold wallets, though—if you lose the keycode associated with them or the device breaks or fails, you may never be able to get your cryptocurrency back. While the same could happen with certain hot wallets, some are run by custodians who can help you get back into your account if you get locked out.
What to Know Before Investing in Cryptocurrency
Investing in cryptocurrency is considered risky. The prices of cryptocurrencies, even the most established ones, are much more volatile than the prices of other assets like stocks. The prices of cryptocurrencies in the future could also be affected by regulatory changes, with the worst-case possibility that cryptocurrency becomes illegal and therefore worthless.
Many investors are nonetheless attracted to the potential upside of investing in crypto. If you decide to invest, it’s important to carefully research any digital coin before buying it. Pay attention to transaction fees when making crypto purchases because these fees can vary widely among currencies.
The cryptocurrency space is evolving rapidly, so it’s also important to pay attention to new developments that may affect your crypto holdings. Cryptocurrency investors need to understand the tax consequences of using crypto, especially if they purchase something or sell their crypto investments.2
Given the riskiness of cryptocurrency as an asset class, it’s especially important not to invest more money in crypto than you can afford to lose.
Decide where to buy it
Centralized exchange: Better for beginners
Centralized exchanges act as a third party overseeing transactions to give customers confidence that they are getting what they pay for. These exchanges typically sell crypto at market rates, and they make money on fees for various aspects of their services. Though centralized exchanges are relatively easy to use, they also can be an attractive target for hackers given the volume of crypto that flows through them.
If you’re looking for an exchange that operates solely within the cryptocurrency world, look for pure-play crypto exchanges. These platforms, such as Coinbase, Gemini and Kraken, won’t give you access to core assets like stocks and bonds, but they typically have a much better selection of cryptocurrencies, and more on-platform crypto storage options.
All-in-one exchanges: Trade more than crypto
If you’re an investor who’s more accustomed to traditional brokerage accounts, there are a few online brokers that offer access to cryptocurrencies as well as stocks. Of the online brokers reviewed by NerdWallet, these include Robinhood, Webull, SoFi Active Investing and TradeStation.
Decentralized exchanges: Competitive prices, maybe too complex for beginners
For more advanced investors, there are decentralized exchanges whose fees can be lower than those charged by centralized platforms. Those can be more difficult to use and demand more technical know-how, but they may also offer some security benefits because there is no single target for a cyberattack. Cryptocurrencies can also be traded through peer-to-peer transactions.
Choose how you’ll pay
Pay cash. While there are thousands of cryptocurrencies being traded around the world, you’ll find that the most popular options are widely available for purchase in fiat currencies such as the U.S. dollar. If you’re a first-time buyer, you’ll very likely have to use regular money to buy cryptocurrency. Depending on how you choose to pay, you may have to fund your account before purchasing any crypto.
Pay with other crypto. If you already own cryptocurrency, you can use it to trade for other cryptocurrencies. Just be sure to verify that your crypto exchange allows trading between the assets you’re looking at. Not all cryptocurrencies can be directly traded for one another, and some platforms have more trading pairs than others.
Costs and fees to keep in mind
Most exchanges allow debit and bank transfers. Some also allow you to fund a purchase with your credit card, though this can be a risky move with a volatile asset like cryptocurrency because interest costs can deepen your losses if your investments decline in value.
Whenever you sell crypto for fiat money or trade it for other crypto, you’ll need to report it on your taxes.
Exchanges’ fees vary depending on what you’re buying and how you’re buying it, so review these details carefully.
Is crypto a good investment?Cryptocurrencies have many advantages. For one, you can buy them 24/7, so you won’t be limited to trading during set hours like regular stock exchanges that open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET. Prices also regularly fluctuate by large percentages, opening the door for big returns if that price swing falls in your favor.
But this volatility is also what makes cryptocurrencies a speculative investment. In fact, even more passive crypto tactics like staking aren’t completely immune to loss, nor are virtual assets absolutely invulnerable to cybersecurity threats.
Finally, many exchanges have geographic restrictions, meaning they don’t serve residents in certain states because of regulatory reasons. Before you get