A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency designed to work as a medium of exchange. It uses cryptography to secure and verify transactions as well as to control the creation of new units of a particular cryptocurrency. Essentially, cryptocurrencies are limited entries in a database that no one can change unless specific conditions are fulfilled.
What can you do with cryptocurrency
In the past, trying to find a merchant that accepts cryptocurrency was extremely difficult, if not impossible. These days, however, the situation is completely different.
There are a lot of merchants – both online and offline – that accept Bitcoin as the form of payment. They range from massive online retailers like Overstock and Newegg to small local shops, bars and restaurants. Bitcoins can be used to pay for hotels, flights, jewelery, apps, computer parts and even a college degree.
Other digital currencies like Litecoin, Ripple, Ethereum and so on aren’t accepted as widely just yet. Things are changing for the better though, with Apple having authorized at least 10 different cryptocurrencies as a viable form of payment on App Store.
Of course, users of cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin can always exchange their coins for BTCs. Moreover, there are Gift Card selling websites like Gift Off, which accepts around 20 different cryptocurrencies. Through gift cards, you can essentially buy anything with a cryptocurrency.
Many people believe that cryptocurrencies are the hottest investment opportunity currently available. Indeed, there are many stories of people becoming millionaires through their Bitcoin investments. Bitcoin is the most recognizable digital currency to date, and just last year one BTC was valued at $800. In November 2017, the price of one Bitcoin exceeded $7,000.
Ethereum, perhaps the second most valued cryptocurrency, has recorded the fastest rise a digital currency ever demonstrated. Since May 2016, its value increased by at least 2,700 percent. When it comes to all cryptocurrencies combined, their market cap soared by more than 10,000 percent since mid-2013.
However, it is worth noting that cryptocurrencies are high-risk investments. Their market value fluctuates like no other asset’s. Moreover, it is partly unregulated, there is always a risk of them getting outlawed in certain jurisdictions and any cryptocurrency exchange can potentially get hacked.
If you decide to invest in cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin is obviously still the dominant one. However, in 2017 its share in the crypto-market has quite dramatically fallen from 90 percent to just 40 percent. There are many options currently available, with some coins being privacy-focused, others being less open and decentralized than Bitcoin and some just outright copying it.
While it’s very easy to buy Bitcoins – there are numerous exchanges in existence that trade in BTC – other cryptocurrencies aren’t as easy to acquire. Although, this situation is slowly improving with major exchanges like Kraken, BitFinex, BitStamp and many others starting to sell Litecoin, Ethereum, Monero, Ripple and so on. There are also a few other different ways of being coin, for instance, you can trade face-to-face with a seller or use a Bitcoin ATM.
Once you bought your cryptocurrency, you need a way to store it. All major exchanges offer wallet services. But, while it might seem convenient, it’s best if you store your assets in an offline wallet on your hard drive, or even invest in a hardware wallet. This is the most secure way of storing your coins and it gives you full control over your assets.
As with any other investment, you need to pay close attention to the cryptocurrencies’ market value and to any news related to them. Coinmarketcap is a one-stop solution for tracking the price, volume, circulation supply and market cap of most existing cryptocurrencies.
Depending on a jurisdiction you live in, once you’ve made a profit or a loss investing in cryptocurrencies, you might need to include it in your tax report. In terms of taxation, cryptocurrencies are treated very differently from country to country. In the US, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that Bitcoins and other digital currencies are to be taxed as property, not currency. For investors, this means that accrued long-term gains and losses from cryptocurrency trading are taxed at each investor’s applicable capital gains rate, which stands at a maximum of 15 percent.
Miners are the single most important part of any cryptocurrency network, and much like trading, mining is an investment. Essentially, miners are providing a bookkeeping service for their respective communities. They contribute their computing power to solving complicated cryptographic puzzles, which is necessary to confirm a transaction and record it in a distributed public ledger called the Blockchain.
One of the interesting things about mining is that the difficulty of the puzzles is constantly increasing, correlating with the number of people trying to solve it. So, the more popular a certain cryptocurrency becomes, the more people try to mine it, the more difficult the process becomes.
A lot of people have made fortunes by mining Bitcoins. Back in the days, you could make substantial profits from mining using just your computer, or even a powerful enough laptop. These days, Bitcoin mining can only become profitable if you’re willing to invest in an industrial-grade mining hardware. This, of course, incurs huge electricity bills on top of the price of all the necessary equipment.
Currently, Litecoins, Dogecoins and Feathercoins are said to be the best cryptocurrencies in terms of being cost-effective for beginners. For instance, at the current value of Litecoins, you might earn anything from 50 cents to 10 dollars a day using only consumer-grade hardware.
But how do miners make profits? The more computing power they manage to accumulate, the more chances they have of solving the cryptographic puzzles. Once a miner manages to solve the puzzle, they receive a reward as well as a transaction fee.
As a cryptocurrency attracts more interest, mining becomes harder and the amount of coins received as a reward decreases. For example, when Bitcoin was first created, the reward for successful mining was 50 BTC. Now, the reward stands at 12.5 Bitcoins. This happened because the Bitcoin network is designed so that there can only be a total of 21 mln coins in circulation.
As of November 2017, almost 17 mln Bitcoins have been mined and distributed. However, as rewards are going to become smaller and smaller, every single Bitcoin mined will become exponentially more and more valuable.
All of those factors make mining cryptocurrencies an extremely competitive arms race that rewards early adopters. However, depending on where you live, profits made from mining can be subject to taxation and Money Transmitting regulations. In the US, the FinCEN has issued a guidance, according to which mining of cryptocurrencies and exchanging them for flat currencies may be considered money transmitting. This means that miners might need to comply with special laws and regulations dealing with this type of activities.
Most common cryptocurrencies
Bitcoin — The first ever cryptocurrency that started it all.
Ethereum — A Turing-complete programmable currency that lets developers build different distributed apps and technologies that wouldn’t work with Bitcoin.
Ripple — Unlike most cryptocurrencies, it doesn’t use a Blockchain in order to reach a network-wide consensus for transactions. Instead, an iterative consensus process is implemented, which makes it faster than Bitcoin but also makes it vulnerable to hacker attacks.
Bitcoin Cash — A fork of Bitcoin that is supported by the biggest Bitcoin mining company and a manufacturer of ASICs Bitcoin mining chips. It has only existed for a couple of months but has already soared to the top five cryptocurrencies in terms of market cap.
NEM — Unlike most other cryptocurrencies that utilize a Proof of Work algorithm, it uses Proof of Importance, which requires users to already possess certain amounts of coins in order to be able to get new ones. It encourages users to spend their funds and tracks the transactions to determine how important a particular user is to the overall NEM network.
Litecoin — A cryptocurrency that was created with an intention to be the ‘digital silver’ compared to Bitcoin’s ‘digital gold.’ It is also a fork of Bitcoin, but unlike its predecessor, it can generate blocks four times faster and have four times the maximum number of coins at 84 mln.
IOTA — This cryptocurrency’s breakthrough ledger technology is called ‘Tangle’ and it requires the sender in a transaction to do a Proof of Work that approves two transactions. Thus, IOTA has removed dedicated miners from the process.
NEO — It’s a smart contract network that allows for all kinds of financial contracts and third-party distributed apps to be developed on top of it. It has many of the same goals as Ethereum, but it’s developed in China, which can potentially give it some advantages due to improved relationship with Chinese regulators and local businesses.
Dash — It’s a two-tier network. The first tier is miners that secure the network and record transactions, while the second one consists of ‘masternodes’ that relay transactions and enable InstantSend and PrivateSend type of transaction. The former is significantly faster than Bitcoin, whereas the latter is completely anonymous.
Qtum — It’s a merger of Bitcoin’s and Ethereum’s technologies targeting business applications. The network boasts Bitcoin’s reliability, while allowing for the use of smart contracts and distributed applications, much how it works within the Ethereum network.
Monero — A cryptocurrency with private transactions capabilities and one of the most active communities, which is due to its open and privacy-focused ideals.
Ethereum Classic — An original version of Ethereum. The split happened after a decentralized autonomous organization built on top of the original Ethereum was hacked.
How to store
Unlike most traditional currencies, cryptocurrencies are digital, which entails a completely different approach, particularly when it comes to storing it. Technically, you don’t store your units of cryptocurrency; instead it’s the private key that you use to sign for transactions that need to be securely stored.
There are several different types of cryptocurrency wallets that cater for different needs. If your priority is privacy, you might want to opt for a paper or a hardware wallet. Those are the most secure ways of storing your crypto funds. There are also ‘cold’ (offline) wallets that are stored on your hard drive and online wallets, which can either be affiliated with exchanges or with independent platforms.
How to buy
There are a lot of different options when it comes to buying Bitcoins. For example, there are currently almost 1,800 Bitcoin ATMs in 58 countries. Moreover, you can buy BTC using gift cards, cryptocurrency exchanges, investment trusts and you can even trade face-to-face.
When it comes to other, less popular cryptocurrencies, the buying options aren’t as diverse. However, there are still numerous exchanges where you can acquire various crypto-coins for flat currencies or Bitcoins. Face-to-face trading is also a popular way of acquiring coins. Buying options depend on particular cryptocurrencies, their popularity as well as your location.