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Kraken, CoinEgg, Gemini, Binance — we’re not talking about mythical creatures or the Internet’s latest buzzword. These are all cryptocurrency exchanges — digital marketplaces where you can buy and trade crypto.
You can’t just buy crypto from your bank or investing firm. Once you’ve decided you want to buy some Bitcoin, Ethereum, or another cryptocurrency, you’ll need to create an account on a crypto trading platform to exchange your U.S. dollars (or other currency) for digital assets.
Some, like Coinbase, have been around since the early days of Bitcoin, when there was far less oversight into how crypto was bought, sold, and traded. Others, like Robinhood and PayPal, are better-known for other services, and have only recently allowed customers to trade crypto within their existing accounts.
Here’s what you need to know about why choosing the right crypto exchange is important, and the details experts recommend evaluating before making your choice.
What is a Crypto Exchange?
A crypto exchange is a platform on which you can buy and sell cryptocurrency. You can use exchanges to trade one crypto for another — converting Bitcoin to Litecoin, for example — or to buy crypto using regular currency, like the U.S. Dollar. Exchanges reflect current market prices of the cryptocurrencies they offer. You can also convert cryptocurrencies back into the U.S. Dollar or another currency on an exchange, to leave as cash within your account (if you want to trade back into crypto later) or withdraw to your regular bank account.
There’s no one crypto exchange that’s best for every user, says Tyrone Ross, a financial advisor and CEO of Onramp Invest, a crypto investment platform for financial advisors. Instead, he says it helps to evaluate your own interests when it comes to crypto, and find an exchange that aligns with your goals. For example, maybe you’re looking for a specific coin, or you want to continue learning more as you get into crypto investing.
“Am I looking for something like Casa, because Casa does a lot of work for me and I don’t have to worry about a public and private key? Am I going to Gemini, because Gemini has this weird coin that I want and they’ll allow me to buy it? Or am I going to Coinbase because Coinbase has these really cool tools that allow me to learn and earn crypto?”
What to Look for in an Exchange
Your location may prevent you from buying and selling crypto on certain exchanges due to state or national regulations. Some countries, like China, have banned citizens from accessing crypto exchanges at all.
In the United States, there’s a lot of regulatory uncertainty around cryptocurrency, and some states have instituted their own regulations. For example, New York requires exchanges to obtain a BitLicense before they can operate within the state and only allows licensed companies to offer certain approved coins. Most other states don’t have regulations as strict as New York, but many do regulate in some way, or are taking steps to do so. Thirty-one total states have pending legislation regarding digital currencies in their 2021 legislative sessions, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
You can often find information about the geographic limitations of an exchange — as well as related accessibility factors, like national currencies accepted — on its website or within the terms of service.
Cryptocurrency isn’t backed by any central institution, and your cryptocurrency holdings aren’t protected the same way as money in the bank or traditional investments. Some exchanges, like Coinbase and Gemini, keep any balances in U.S. Dollars you hold with them in FDIC-insured bank accounts….