Investing in Bitcoin can seem complicated, but it is much easier when you break it down into steps. Buying Bitcoin is getting easier by the day and the legitimacy of the exchanges and wallets is growing as well.
- The value of Bitcoin is derived from its adoption as a store of value and payment system, as well as its finite supply and decreasing inflation.
- While it is nearly impossible for Bitcoin itself to be hacked, it is possible for your wallet or exchange account to be compromised. This is why practicing proper storage and security measures is imperative.
- Investing or trading Bitcoin only requires an account on an exchange, though further safe storage practices are recommended.
Before You Begin
There are several things that every aspiring Bitcoin investor needs. A cryptocurrency exchange account, personal identification documents if you are using a Know Your Customer (KYC) platform, a secure connection to the Internet, and a method of payment. It is also recommended that you have your own personal wallet outside of the exchange account. Valid methods of payment using this path include bank accounts, debit cards, and credit cards. It is also possible to get Bitcoin at specialized ATMs and via P2P exchanges. However, be aware that Bitcoin ATMs were increasingly requiring government-issued IDs as of early 2020.
Privacy and security are important issues for Bitcoin investors. Even though there are no physical Bitcoins, it is usually a bad idea to brag about large holdings. Anyone who gains the private key to a public address on the Bitcoin blockchain can authorize transactions. While it is obvious that the private key should be kept secret, criminals may attempt to steal private keys if they learn of large holdings. Be aware that anyone can see the balance of a public address that you use. That makes it a good idea to keep significant investments at public addresses that are not directly connected to ones that are used for transactions.
Anyone can view a history of transactions made on the blockchain, even you. But while transactions are publicly recorded on the blockchain, identifying user information is not. On the Bitcoin blockchain, only a user’s public key appears next to a transaction—making transactions confidential but not anonymous. In a sense, Bitcoin transactions are more transparent and traceable than cash, but Bitcoin can be used anonymously.
That is an important distinction. International researchers and the FBI have claimed that they can track transactions made on the Bitcoin blockchain to users’ other online accounts, including their digital wallets. For example, if someone creates an account on Coinbase they must provide their identification. Now, when that person purchases Bitcoin it is tied to their name. If they send it to another wallet it can still be traced back to the Coinbase purchase which was connected to the account holder’s identity. This should not concern most investors because Bitcoin is legal in the U.S. and most other developed countries.
Step One: Choose an Exchange
Signing up for a cryptocurrency exchange will allow you to buy, sell, and hold cryptocurrency. It is generally best practice to use an exchange that allows its users to also withdrawal their crypto to their own personal wallet for safer keeping. There are many exchanges and brokerage platforms that do not allow this. For those looking to consistently trade Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, this feature may not matter.
There are many types of cryptocurrency exchanges that exist. With the ethos of Bitcoin being decentralization and individual sovereignty, some exchanges allow users to remain anonymous and do not require users to enter personal information. Exchanges that allow this operate autonomously and are typically decentralized which means there is no central point of control. In other words, there is no CEO and no person or group for any regulatory body to pursue should it have concerns over illegal activity taking place.
While these types of systems do have the potential to be used for nefarious activities, they also provide services to the unbanked world. People like this may include refugees or those living in countries where there is little to no government or banking infrastructure to provide a state identification required for a bank or investment account. Some believe the good in these services outweigh the potential for illegal use as unbanked people now have a means of storing wealth and can use it to climb out of poverty.
Right now, the most commonly used type of exchanges are not decentralized and do require KYC. In the United States, these exchanges include Coinbase, Kraken, Gemini, and Binance U.S., to name a few. Each of these exchanges has grown significantly in the number of features they offer. Coinbase, Kraken, and Gemini offer Bitcoin and a growing number of altcoins. These three are probably the easiest on-ramp to crypto in the entire industry. Binance caters to a more advanced trader, offering more serious trading functionality and numerous altcoins to choose from.
An important thing to note when creating a cryptocurrency exchange account is to use safe internet practices. This includes using two-factor authentication and using a password that is unique and long, including a variety of lowercase letters, capitalized letters, special characters, and numbers.
Step Two: Connect Your Exchange to a Payment Option
Once you have chosen an exchange, you now need to gather your personal documents. Depending on the exchange, these may include pictures of a driver’s license, social security number, as well as information about your employer and source of funds. The information you may need can depend on the region you live in and the laws within it. The process is largely the same as setting up a typical brokerage account.
After the exchange has ensured your identity and legitimacy you may now connect a payment option. With the exchanges listed above, you can connect your bank account directly or you can connect a debit or credit card. While you can use a credit card to purchase cryptocurrency, it is generally something that should be avoided due to the volatility that cryptocurrencies can experience.
While Bitcoin is legal in the United States, some banks do not take too kindly to the idea and may question or even stop deposits to crypto-related sites or exchanges. While most banks do allow these deposits, it is a good idea to check to make sure that your bank allows deposits at your chosen exchange.
There are varying fees for deposits via a bank account, debit, or credit card. Coinbase, for example, which is a solid exchange for beginners, has a 1.49% fee for bank accounts and a 3.99% fee for debit and credit cards. It is important to research the fees associated with each payment option to help choose an exchange or to choose which payment option works best for you.
Step Three: Place an Order
Once you have chosen an exchange and connected a payment option you can now buy Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Over recent years cryptocurrency and their exchanges have slowly become more mainstream. Exchanges have grown significantly in terms of liquidity and their breadth of features. What was once thought of as a scam or questionable has developed into something that could be considered trustworthy and legitimate.
Now, cryptocurrency exchanges have gotten to a point where they have nearly the same level of features as their stock brokerage counterparts. Once you have found an exchange and connected a payment method you are ready to go.
Crypto exchanges today offer a number of order types and ways to invest. Almost all crypto exchanges offer both market and limit orders and some also offer stop-loss orders. Of the exchanges mentioned above, Kraken offers the most order types. Kraken allows for market, limit, stop-loss, stop-limit, and take-profit limit orders.
Aside from a variety of order types, exchanges also offer ways to set up recurring investments allowing clients to dollar cost average into their investments of choice. Coinbase, for example, lets users set recurring purchases for every day, week, or month. Getting an account on an exchange is really all you need to do to be able to buy Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, but there are some other steps to consider for more safety and security.
Step Four: Safe Storage
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency wallets are a place to store digital assets more securely. Having your crypto outside of the exchange and in your personal wallet ensures that only you have control over the private key to your funds. It also gives you the ability to store funds away from an exchange and avoid the risk of your exchange getting hacked and losing your funds.
While most exchanges offer wallets for their users, security is not their primary business. We generally do not recommend using an exchange wallet for large or long-term cryptocurrency holdings.
Some wallets have more features than others. Some are Bitcoin only and some offer the ability to store numerous types of altcoins. Some wallets also offer the ability to swap one token for another.
When it comes to choosing a Bitcoin wallet, you have a number of options. The first thing that you will need to understand about crypto wallets is the concept of hot wallets (online wallets) and cold wallets (paper or hardware wallets).
Online wallets are also known as “hot” wallets. Hot wallets are wallets that run on internet-connected devices like computers, phones, or tablets. This can create vulnerability because these wallets generate the private keys to your coins on these internet-connected devices. While a hot wallet can be very convenient in the way you are able to access and make transactions with your assets quickly, storing your private key on an internet-connected device makes it more susceptible to a hack.
This may sound far-fetched, but people who are not using enough security when using these hot wallets can have their funds stolen. This is not an infrequent occurrence and it can happen in a number of ways. As an example, boasting on a public forum like Reddit about how much Bitcoin you hold while you are using little to no security and storing it in a hot wallet would not be wise. That said, these wallets can be made to be secure so long as precautions are taken. Strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and safe internet browsing should be considered minimum requirements.
These wallets are best used for small amounts of cryptocurrency or cryptocurrency that you are actively trading on an exchange. You could liken a hot wallet to a checking account. Conventional financial wisdom would say to hold only spending money in a checking account while the bulk of your money is in savings accounts or other investment accounts. The same could be said for hot wallets. Hot wallets encompass mobile, desktop, web, and exchange account custody wallets.
As mentioned previously, exchange wallets are custodial accounts provided by the exchange. The user of this wallet type is not the holder of the private key to the cryptocurrency that is held in this wallet. If an event were to occur where the exchange is hacked or your account becomes compromised, your funds would be lost. The phrase “not your key, not your coin” is a heavily repeated concept within cryptocurrency forums and communities.
The simplest description of a cold wallet is a wallet that is not connected to the internet and therefore stands at a far lesser risk of being compromised. These wallets can also be referred to as offline wallets or hardware wallets.
These wallets store a user’s private key on something that is not connected to the internet and can come with software that works in parallel so that the user can view their portfolio without putting their private key at risk.
Perhaps the most secure way to store cryptocurrency offline is via a paper wallet. A paper wallet is a wallet that you can generate off of certain websites. It then produces both public and private keys that you print out on a piece of paper. The ability to access cryptocurrency in these addresses is only possible if you have that piece of paper with the private key. Many people laminate these paper wallets and store them in safety deposit boxes at their bank or even in a safe in their home. These wallets are meant for high security and long-term investments because you cannot quickly sell or trade Bitcoin stored this way.
A more commonly used type of cold wallet is a hardware wallet. A hardware wallet is typically a USB drive device that stores a user’s private keys securely offline. This has serious advantages over hot wallets as it is unaffected by viruses that could be on one’s computer. With hardware wallets, private keys never come in contact with your network-connected computer or potentially vulnerable software. These devices are also typically open source, allowing the community to determine its safety through code audits rather than a company declaring that it is safe to use.
Cold wallets are the most secure way to store your Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. For the most part, however, they require a bit more knowledge to set up.
A good way to set up your wallets is to have three things: an exchange account to buy and sell, a hot wallet to hold small to medium amounts of crypto you wish to trade or sell, and a cold hardware wallet to store larger holdings for long-term durations.
Alternate Ways of Buying Bitcoin
While exchanges like Coinbase or Binance remain some of the most popular ways of purchasing Bitcoin, it is not the only method. Below are some additional processes Bitcoin owners utilize.
Bitcoin ATMs act like in-person Bitcoin exchanges. Individuals can insert cash into the machine and use it to purchase Bitcoin that is then transferred to a secure digital wallet. Bitcoin ATMs have become increasingly popular in recent years; Coin ATM Radar can help to track down the closest machines.
Unlike decentralized exchanges, which match up buyers and sellers anonymously and facilitate all aspects of the transaction, there are some peer-to-peer (P2P) exchange services that provide a more direct connection between users. Local Bitcoins is an example of such an exchange. After creating an account, users can post requests to buy or sell Bitcoin, including information about payment methods and price. Users then browse through listings of buy and sell offers, choosing those trade partners with whom they wish to transact.
Local Bitcoins facilitates some of the aspects of the trade. While P2P exchanges do not offer the same anonymity as decentralized exchanges, they allow users the opportunity to shop around for the best deal. Many of these exchanges also provide rating systems so that users have a way to evaluate potential trade partners before transacting.