The growing interest, adoption, and investment in cryptocurrency, also called crypto for short, has many investors curious about getting into the game. This beginner’s guide will define cryptocurrency as an asset class and take you through the basics of investing in it. Learn what crypto is, the different types, what to consider before investing, and details to help you determine if it has a place in your portfolio. And if you decide you’re ready to start investing in crypto, you’ll find a step-by-step guide to getting started.
What is cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency is a virtual currency that, like cash, is a source of purchasing power. It’s also an avenue for investment and, like other investment assets, can be bought with the objective of financial return. That being said, cryptocurrency is one of the most volatile (meaning it has large price swings) asset classes.
Unlike most forms of currency, cryptocurrencies are decentralized, meaning they are not issued, backed, or regulated by a central authority like the U.S. government. Units of cryptocurrency, known as coins or tokens, are created digitally through a validation process that relies on blockchain, a powerful technology that can be used in a vast array of processes, not just for crypto. Also known as distributed ledger technology, blockchain produces a secure encrypted record of the value of each virtual coin and its associated transactions. Those records are distributed and linked across the network of parties, or computers, accessing the blockchain; in theory, the blockchain can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. This system was designed with security, transparency, speed, and accuracy in mind.
Types of cryptocurrenciesUp arrow
While the word cryptocurrency itself is a generic term for virtual currencies using blockchain technology, there are many different types: over 26,000 as of July 2023, according to CoinMarketCap.com. Bitcoin was one of the earliest cryptocurrencies created and remains the best known. Collectively, all other coin-based cryptocurrencies are called “altcoin,” or alternative to bitcoin.
Several cryptocurrencies have gained high profiles, amassed large market value, and developed broad bases of users and investors in recent years.
Top 10 cryptocurrencies by USD market cap
As of November 2023:
USDC (US Dollar Coin)
It’s difficult to say which coins will be the most successful as the crypto ecosystem is new and many cryptocurrencies are young. Even though these coins are among the largest ones, they still have risk. The possibility of investment loss is real and substantial. For example, following strong gains in 2021, the value of most cryptocurrencies fell dramatically in 2022. That’s why it is critically important to learn about each crypto before investing and determine if the investment makes sense to you.
What to consider before investing in cryptocurrencyUp arrow
Cryptocurrency can be volatile, with large swings in value over short periods of time, which may give you pause if you’re risk averse. Keep in mind that anyone can launch a cryptocurrency, and how it’s regulated is in flux, so it’s vital to thoroughly vet any possible investments to avoid scams.
You may also find it helpful to consider why you want to invest in crypto. Are you looking to follow and cash in on a trend, or do you have a thought-out strategy in mind? Remember, there is no such thing as an easy way to make a lot of money without risk so it’s important to never invest in anything with the belief that you can’t lose. Use caution and be clear about your intentions and expectations beforehand. You should only consider cryptocurrency as an investment if you believe in its long-term prospects and are willing to ride out large price swings.
When you invest, it’s critically important to take a long-term perspective. This is especially true for things like cryptocurrencies, which can quickly go up or down in value. When investing in highly volatile assets, it’s easy to make the mistake of letting emotions drive your decisions, such as buying when the price is rising in fear of missing out or selling out when prices go down. These emotional decisions usually aren’t good for your investments.