If you’re thinking about investing in Bitcoin or one of the many, many other cryptocurrencies out there, you’re not alone. Long-term, the returns have been huge — far better than you can get from most traditional investments — even though the market is known to be very volatile. That has emboldened everyone from first-time investors to Wall Street titans to buy cryptocurrency.
But once you get past Bitcoin, the first and far and away the largest of the cryptocurrencies, the market is very complex. That’s because aside from Bitcoin and a handful of other digital assets intended to be coins — the industry name for pure replacements for the dollar, euro and yuan — all of the thousands of other cryptocurrencies have a separate purpose.
So-called utility tokens are required to use a specific product or service. Security tokens are just securities — stocks, bonds and such — that represent a share or voting right in an enterprise or property. NFTs are one-off tokens that hold something specific and unique — a work of art, a video, a gaming item, or even ownership of real estate.
There are other categories. Many are niche, but Bitcoin is growing into a category of its own: a “store of value” intended to insulate assets from inflation and economic downturns, just like gold. Indeed, big Wall Street and banking industry investors have taken to calling Bitcoin “digital gold.”
Bitcoin is the first and the simplest. It was intended to be a digital currency that would replace government-issued bills and coins. That hasn’t really worked out, in part because it became a store of value — an investment — and in part because it simply cannot handle the number of transactions per second required to be a method of payment on a large scale.
That need for understanding becomes even more true when you get to the other thousands of cryptocurrencies, beginning with Ether, the No. 2 crypto by market capitalization. ETH took Bitcoin and evolved it by adding what are called smart contracts, which are self-executing contracts built on the Ethereum blockchain. There are a number of long-term strategies for building crypto holdings without large investments, among them buying a set dollar amount on the same day every month, regardless of live cryptocurrency prices.
ETH can be stored in the contract, which will automatically send the Ether when the terms are fulfilled, removing trust from the equation — neither side can tell Visa or a bank to reverse the transaction. There are many other cryptocurrency projects that claim to do this more efficiently than Ethereum in a variety of ways — some of which make a pretty good case.
There are other issues to consider when you are deciding on what is the best cryptocurrency to invest in. Some use the technology to offer decentralized financial services — DeFi lending and borrowing sites, for example — that are governed by users. These DeFi tokens can often be used to make passive income, and should grow in value if the projects take off. Utility tokens are used to buy products and services of all kinds, ranging from on-blockchain file storage space to rides on private jets. NFTs are about investing in the media stored on that token.
The other answer is to look for the best cryptocurrency to buy right now, meaning active day trading. This means making your buying and selling decisions based on technical analysis of a variety of factors ranging from underlying value to past price movements. That requires expertise in the tools and well as research on the crypto assets themselves.