How (and Where) to Buy, Store, and Spend Crypto

Published on: Jul 8, 2021fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
Shopping SpreeDesign: ML Howell, Credit: iStock

The Story

Everyone’s talking about crypto. If you're ready to do more than talk (and you understand the risks), the best way to get in on the action depends on what you want to do with your cryptocurrency.

If you want to trade crypto...

Check out a crypto exchange. That's where you'll find digital currencies being bought and sold. While some don't require you to enter personal info (because crypto is all about decentralization and anonymity), most of the popular US exchanges – think: Coinbase, Gemini, and Binance – want to verify your identity. So be prepared to share your name, address, SSN, and ID to open an account.

Then you'll need to connect it to a bank account, debit card or credit card so you can convert fiat currency (another name for gov-issued money) into cryptocurrencies. FYI: some banks aren’t fans of Bitcoin and other crypto, so check that yours allows deposits to crypto sites. Once you’re all set, enable two-factor authentication to keep your account secure.

Are crypto exchanges free to use?

Nope. You'll likely pay a transfer fee of anywhere from 0.5%–5% (usually more if you're using a credit card), plus transaction fees. So compare costs when signing up.

I'd like it better if it were free.

Then look into peer-to-peer exchanges. Platforms like Local Bitcoins and Paxful let users set their own prices and handle transactions on their own (think: Craigslist for crypto). They tend to charge lower (or no) fees. And if you keep your transactions under a certain max, you often don’t have to give up any personal info.

Keep in mind that P2P exchanges tend to move slower than major exchanges and have less liquidity. Meaning you might not be able to make big trades.

Any other ways to invest?

Yep. There are a few options to buy crypto through more traditional accounts. For example, the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust is an investment product that’s offered on a periodic basis. It roughly tracks the price of Bitcoin and trades directly on the US stock market, allowing qualified investors to buy and sell it within their regular investment accounts. Also, some brokerages, like TD Ameritrade, let approved investors purchase Bitcoin futures (hint: that's a way to bet on an investment's future price).

Oh, and a Bitcoin ETF could be making its debut in 2022 or 2023.

If you want to hang onto your crypto for a while...

Get a "wallet" to safely store it. You can go with a hot wallet (aka connected to the web) or a cold one (as in, it exists offline). Here’s theSkimm on common types of crypto wallets:

  • Online wallets: Like online bank accounts for your digital currency. Offered by many exchanges, these hot wallets are convenient and can let you manage several types of crypto all in one place. But they’re also less secure because you have to give a third party full control of your coins, including the private keys you need to access them. 

  • Desktop wallets: Another type of hot wallet, these use software that you download and store locally on a computer. They allow you to maintain full access over your keys and are less vulnerable to hacking. Remember: it’s crucial to back up your desktop wallet regularly and store your password somewhere safe offline.

  • Hardware wallets: Best for long-term crypto investors or anyone with a large amount of crypto, these are physical, portable devices that plug directly into your computer. They use a random number generator to produce keys, which are stored in the device. And being "cold," they’re the safest option. But if you lose the wallet, you could lose access to your crypto forever.  

If you want to spend your crypto...

Sign up for a crypto debit card, which makes it easy to spend digital currency just like you would money in a checking account. They link to your crypto wallet and convert digital coins to fiat currency when you swipe. Most of these cards use global payment networks like Visa, so you can use them anywhere these issuers are accepted. (And coming soon: crypto rewards cards.)

If you have a PayPal account, you can use it to buy, hold, and sell Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, and other crypto. You can also pay with your PayPal crypto balance when checking out at retailers that accept it. That includes Overstock, Expedia, and Newegg.

theSkimm

You have a lot of options when it comes to buying, selling, and spending cryptocurrencies. But it’s important to compare things like fees, risks, and perks before signing up. Remember: the more convenient the tool, generally the less control you have.

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Skimm'd by: Casey Bond, Ivana Pino, Stacy Rapacon, and Elyse Steinhaus