Even though everyone is talking about digital currencies, ICOs and blockchain, most people have yet to invest in any of them — and I think I know why. It’s kinda scary. In just the last 30 days, for example, according to BNC’s BLX index, the average price of Bitcoin has been as high as US$5000 and as low as US$3050.
And for those who do want to invest, the process could certainly be easier. It’s often said that the toughest part of any journey is the first step and in the case of buying and selling cryptocurrency that usually means finding a reputable bitcoin exchange.
For those who are completely new to digital currencies, a bitcoin exchange is a digital marketplace — a bit like eBay — where users buy and sell different cryptocurrencies. All exchanges are slightly different, however, and the question of ‘what is the best bitcoin exchange?’ is tough to answer because the best exchange for one person, might not be the best exchange for another. The good news is that by asking yourself three simple questions you can quickly narrow down your options.
1. Where are you located?
Location, location, location. More often than not, the best bitcoin exchange comes down to where you’re located. Because bitcoin exchanges are very new in most countries, the regulations surrounding their use are also in their infancy. For example, I live in the United States and as a result, cannot use several of the major cryptocurrency exchanges based in other countries simply because of where I live. Most exchanges will let you know during the signup process if for some reason you can’t use their service.
Pro Tip: If you’re based in the US I’d recommend:
GDAX — Owned by Coinbase, any US dollars in your GDAX account are segregated into custodial bank accounts and FDIC insured up to $250,000. Remember, however, that insurance protection does not extend to losses of the crypto balance of individual accounts.
CEX.IO — Based in London, CEX.IO offers great customer support, good site reliability, and even allows debit/credit card account funding.
Kraken — One of the few exchanges available to US customers that supports a wide variety of currencies.
2. What method of payment will you use?
Like any good decision in life, it’s best not to rush into buying or selling cryptocurrency. Taking some time to plan out exactly what method of payment you’ll use will save you from fees and headaches down the road. Typically, the easier it is for you to pay, the more fees you’re going to incur. For example, few services allow you to pay with a credit or debit card, and the ones that do will make you pay for the convenience.
Fees vary greatly across different exchanges in different regions, but you can usually expect to encounter three types of fees:
Network / Miner Fees - 0.00001 BTC
What are they? These fees ensure your transactions are quickly processed by miners. Many exchanges will set this rate automatically.
How are they calculated? In many cases this rate will be calculated for you when you buy or sell bitcoin, but it typically costs 0.00001 BTC or four cents (USD).
Conversion Fees - 0.5% to 5%
What are they? These fees are how exchanges make money on your transaction and vary greatly depending on your method of payment. For example, if you were to purchase bitcoin through CEX.IO, using a debit card it would cost you 3.5%, while purchasing directly using your bank account would be free.
How are they calculated? Conversion fees are calculated as a percentage of your total purchase, sell, or trade.
Maker / Taker Fees - 0.1% to 0.5%
What are they? The Maker / Taker Fee is another way that exchanges make a profit. Usually the higher fees (around 0.25%) are associated with takers, or users who place orders (either to buy or sell) that are immediately matched by another user because they are taking liquidity from the market. On the other hand, makers, whose orders are not immediately matched by another user, add liquidity to the market and pay lower fees as a result.
How are they calculated? The fee is calculated as a percentage of your buy or sell, and that percentage is based on your trading volume over the last 30 days.
3. What currency would you like to buy or sell?
For many investors new to crypto, it’s an easy decision to purchase Bitcoin because it’s the most well-known currency. Today, Bitcoin represents almost 47% of the entire cryptocurrency market cap. But before you part with your money, it’s a good idea to research other currencies.
There are thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence and more are being announced every day. Since cryptocurrency exchanges need liquidity, or a certain volume of each currency before they can offer it, deciding on which currencies you’d like to buy, sell or trade will help narrow down your options. For example, if you plan to trade actively, then you’ll need to find a coin with an acceptable 24-hour trade volume. If you plan to buy and hold, assets should not be kept on an exchange.
Also, most exchanges only offer a dozen or so different currencies and it can be tough to find a reliable bitcoin exchange that offers a wider variety. Due to the volatile nature of the industry, exchanges want to be sure that a currency is not only going to be around for awhile, but also that it will generate enough demand to provide a meaningful market of buyers and sellers.
A few well established exchanges that offer a variety of currencies include:
Bittrex - Operated by former Amazon security engineers, Bittrex offers hundreds of currencies to trade and is the second largest exchange by volume.
Bitfinex - No longer supporting US traders but the largest exchange by volume.
Poloniex - A US-based exchange that only accepts crpyto. FIAT currencies such as USD or EUR are not accepted.
Before you go all in on bitcoin, it’s a good idea to do your homework. Try to research the fees, nuances, and opportunities associated with each exchange. After all, the best strategy is always a well informed one.