Three things are certain in life. You already know about “Death and Taxes.” Many will simply state that “Change is inevitable.” I think we can add one more to the list: “Crypto is here to stay.”
You may not understand it. You may not like it. You may not understand it (yes, this one bears repeating!). But in one what or another – it WILL be a part of your life. You can choose to stick your head in the sand; you can choose to fully embrace it; or you can try to learn enough to at least see the currents taking place in the world around you.
You’re probably wondering, “Is it legit?” Well, did you know the IRS allows you to invest in cryptocurrencies just like real estate? It’s considered a property (like real estate or stocks/mutual funds), and it comes with all the bells and whistles, to include short-term and/or long-term capital gains.
The cryptocurrecny scene is much like the wild wild west right now. Like the internet in the 90’s. It has a lot going on, it’s yet to be regulated, and each person need to be aware and conduct due diligence. Awareness is the goal at this point. I’ll cover exactly what cryptocurrencty (and blockchain technology) is in a different post. The purpose of this post is to simply help you get started? There are a few steps to take. At a minimum, you’re going to need:
- A way to purchase cryptocurrency. We start with an exchange.
- A place to store your crypto. We call this a wallet.
Crypto Exchanges are a lot like stock market exchanges in that you can exchange your fiat (USD) to Bitcoin or one of many other types of cryptocurrency. There are hundreds, but for now, let’s just focus on Bitcoin, often simply referred to as BTC. This is the first cryptocurrency and is often referred to as “the gold standard” of crypto. So how do you “get Bitcoin?” You can either mine it (a different post) or simply buy it. Let’s do the latter!
Coinbase is the first/oldest Bitcoin exchange. While its fees can be quite high, there are ways to minimize (or completely eliminate) most of them. You can sign up for a Coinbase account by clicking on this link. If you use this link, Coinbase rewards both of us with $10 worth of Bitcoin. They don’t really advertise, so this is how they grow. But if you don’t feel comfortable making ten bucks, then just go directly to their site.
Coinbase has some distinct advantages, but its drawbacks are fees (again, avoidance will come in a later post) and the fact that it only trades in four of the major cryptocurrencies (out of hundreds). You might be following the news and find yourself wanting to purchase a different crypto like Ethereum (ETH), Ripple (XRP), or Monero (XMR). For those, you’ll need a different exchange. Advantage: Convenient purchase of BTC via credit card or bank transfer.
It’s a good idea to register an account with several exchanges, even if you don’t plan on using them right now. Why? Two reasons. First, with the onslaught of millions of folks registering each month (e.g., December 2018), exchanges sometimes have to pause new user registration. Better to get an account while they are available. You can always just let it sit there unused. The second (and perhaps bigger) reason is that some of the newer coins are often debuted on only one or two exchanges, so if you want to maximize availability and access to different coins, you’ll want multiple options.
For now, I recommend the following two accounts. That way, they will be available to you when you want to use them. (Note: some exchanges have extensive verification processes that can take a few days; this is to maintain IRS compliance. Some exchanges allow you to be responsible for submitting your own information to the IRS. If you’re simply purchasing and holding, they all work acceptably. We’ll cover the Tax Man in a separate post!).
GDAX is actually owned by the same company that owns Coinbase. You’ll want to head over to there and create an account with them because GDAX allows you to move your Coinbase funds around (e.g., to your offline wallet) with zero fees. I’ll cover how to do that in another post. If you’ve verified your account with Coinbase, you won’t have to do it a second time with GDAX.
Advantage: Move/send funds from Coinbase with zero fees.
Binance is often ranked as the number one exchange in the cryptocurrency world, especially for trading in altcoins (alternate coins (to BTC)). It has experienced exponential growth and it carries a great many cryptocurrencies. Sign up here.
Advantage: A great place to exchange your BTC for other cryptocurrencies.
PAXFUL – Don’t want to use your credit card? Wondering what to do with all those pre-paid gift cards you received for your birthday? Paxful acts as an escrow service and allows you to use prepaid gift cards to purchase bitcoin. You also have the option of Paypal, Western UnionAmazon, Apple, etc. that you can get at CVS or Costco). From what I see, Amazon gift cards are the most effecient with .85 on the dollar ($100 gift card will get you $85 worth of BTC).
Advantage: Purchase BTC anonymously or without bank/credit card.
And whatever exchange (or account) you use – I recommend two-factor authentication (2FA), if available, via an app like Google Authenticator (available for both Android and iOS)
A wallet is where you “store” your cryptocurrency. Think of it as a safe deposit box. The bank manager has a key (your public address people send funds to) and you have a key (that is required to open it). Crypto-wallets simply store both of these keys. Each crypto currency has its own designate wallet, so you can’t put Bitcoin in your Ethereum wallet or vice versa (that tech is coming, though!).
WARNING: If you lose your private keys (and forget your backup passwords), you WILL NOT be able to gain access to your cryptocurrency. It’s like chucking cash into a fireplace. It’s gone. Thankfully, there ARE back-ups, but you need to take them seriously.
There are a few places to store your cryptocurrency, often simply categorized as Hot (connected to the internet) and Cold (not connected to the internet).
Exchanges – You can leave your money sitting on the exchanges. The risk here is that the exchange servers, themselves, might be hacked. It happens to banks, department stores, etc. For trading and small amounts, it’s probably not a big deal, but this isn’t a preferred long-term solution. That said, it’s one more reason to have accounts at multiple exchanges since you can diversify your risk. Imagine you had millions of dollars – most millionaires don’t use only one bank.
Advantage: You money is available for fast trading.
Software – You can install wallets on your phone or computer. This is a LOT safer than exchanges, but if your computer is compromised … well, it’s like banking on your PC. The difference is that, unlike banking, you have to think of cryptocurrency like cash. If someone breaks in and steals your cash, it doesn’t matter how good your bank is – they won’t be any help. It’s gone. If you keep your computer updated, secure, etc., then this option is decent. I wouldn’t trust all of my life’s savings and retirement to it, but you get the idea.
While there are many software wallets to choose from, I personally recommend Exodus. It is It’s considered secure and its interface is very intuitive, which is helpful for beginners. It also displays assets in a pie chart on launch, which is convenient to see at a glance – especially since it gives you a fiat estimate based on current prices. Exodus currently supports nearly 20 different currencies (it maintains a wallet for each behind the scenes), with more on the way. It encrypts locally, for your eyes only, and it has a great development team behind it. Oh, and Exodus has Shapeshift technology, which allows you to exchange different cryptocurrencies without actually having to to to an exchange to trade them (be cautious of fees, however). You can download it here.
Advantage: Secure, intuitive, and multi-currency support. Shapeshift built-in.
Hardware Wallet – These are USB devices that support several cryptocurrencies and store your private and public keys on the device. They feature a 2FA (2-factor authentication) with a small LCD screen on the device, itself, which means you could actually use them on a compromised machine without the risk of someone learning your private keys. There are backup procedures, as well, so you’ll want to follow the set-up steps carefully in case something happens to your USB device. The two most reputable hardware wallets on the market right now are the Ledger Nano S and the Trezor.
Advantage: Secure, offline. Built in 2FA.
Paper wallet – You can actually create a “paper wallet” that stores your public and private keys, referred to as “cold storage,” and which acts much like a bearer bond. While you can make multiple copies (store one in your safe, one at your parents, and bury the third), when you “sweep” the paper wallet to withdraw from it, the other copies immediately become obsolete. Imagine having $100 bill in three spot simultaneously. You have the safety of redundancy, but you can only spend it once. You could use paper wallets as a one-way piggy bank, or for long-term investment storage.
Advantage: The ultimate, non-hackable storage option. Think “Bearer Bonds” (with an ability to add more money to them even while they are in a secure location).
Looking for a last minute gift? Make a paper wallet and gift someone .001 BTC (currently worth $12). Who knows … by the time they cash it, it might be worth $10,000 … or maybe $2. While we will cover creating and using a paper wallet in a later post, one of the more popular sites to create them is https://www.bitaddress.org.
Like we said – this is the Wild Wild West of the 21st Century. I’m not a financial advisor – but I AM interested in helping education people in this new sphere of activity!
If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with those you know. If there are any corrections you see that need to be made, I’m interested! And, as always, general comments are welcome!