While some cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, are available for purchase with U.S. dollars, others require that you pay with bitcoins or another cryptocurrency.
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To buy cryptocurrencies, you’ll need a “wallet,” an online app that can hold your currency. Generally, you create an account on an exchange, and then you can transfer real money to buy cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum.
Coinbase is one popular cryptocurrency trading exchange where you can create both a wallet and buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Also, a growing number of online brokers offer cryptocurrencies, such as eToro, Tradestation and Sofi Active Investing. Robinhood offers free cryptocurrency trades.
The best cryptocurrency exchanges are secure, cost-effective, quick to set up, easy to use, and accept a variety of funding sources. Here are our picks for the best places to buy bitcoin.
Best Places to Buy Bitcoin in 2021
- Best Overall: Coinbase
- Best for Beginners: eToro
- Best for No Cost: Robinhood
- Best Instant: CoinMama
- Best for Interest and Borrowing: BlockFi
- Best for Privacy: Bisq
Are cryptocurrencies a good investment?
Cryptocurrencies may go up in value, but many investors see them as mere speculations, not real investments. The reason? Just like real currencies, cryptocurrencies generate no cash flow, so for you to profit, someone has to pay more for the currency than you did.
That’s what’s called “the greater fool” theory of investment. Contrast that to a well-managed business, which increases its value over time by growing the profitability and cash flow of the operation.
“For those who see cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin as the currency of the future, it should be noted that a currency needs stability.”
As NerdWallet writers have noted, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin may not be that safe, and some notable voices in the investment community have advised would-be investors to steer clear of them. Of particular note, legendary investor Warren Buffett compared Bitcoin to paper checks: “It’s a very effective way of transmitting money and you can do it anonymously and all that. A check is a way of transmitting money too. Are checks worth a whole lot of money? Just because they can transmit money?”
For those who see cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin as the currency of the future, it should be noted that a currency needs stability so that merchants and consumers can determine what a fair price is for goods. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been anything but stable through much of their history. For example, while Bitcoin traded at close to $20,000 in December 2017, its value then dropped to as low as about $3,200 a year later. By December 2020, it was trading at record levels again.
This price volatility creates a conundrum. If bitcoins might be worth a lot more in the future, people are less likely to spend and circulate them today, making them less viable as a currency. Why spend a bitcoin when it could be worth three times the value next year?
Are cryptocurrencies legal?
There’s no question that they’re legal in the United States, though China has essentially banned their use, and ultimately whether they’re legal depends on each individual country. Also be sure to consider how to protect yourself from fraudsters who see cryptocurrencies as an opportunity to bilk investors. As always, buyer beware. Back to top
How do I protect myself?
If you’re looking to buy a cryptocurrency in an ICO, read the fine print in the company’s prospectus for this information:
- Who owns the company? An identifiable and well-known owner is a positive sign.
- Are there other major investors who are investing in it? It’s a good sign if other well-known investors want a piece of the currency.
- Will you own a stake in the company or just currency or tokens? This distinction is important. Owning a stake means you get to participate in its earnings (you’re an owner), while buying tokens simply means you’re entitled to use them, like chips in a casino.
- Is the currency already developed, or is the company looking to raise money to develop it? The further along the product, the less risky it is.
It can take a lot of work to comb through a prospectus; the more detail it has, the better your chances it’s legitimate. But even legitimacy doesn’t mean the currency will succeed. That’s an entirely separate question, and that requires a lot of market savvy.
But beyond those concerns, just having cryptocurrency exposes you to the risk of theft, as hackers try to penetrate the computer networks that maintain your assets. One high-profile exchange declared bankruptcy in 2014 after hackers stole hundreds of millions of dollars in bitcoins. Those aren’t typical risks for investing in stocks and funds on major U.S. exchanges.
Should you buy cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency is an incredibly speculative and volatile buy. Stock trading of established companies is generally less risky than investing in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.