Offtopic: How to start with cryptocurrency (75 minutes reading) Part 3
Part III: How to Buy and Store Your Cryptocurrency
The shortest section by far. If you made it this far, you deserve to just be able to buy your crypto and be done with it all. I’ll try to make that as easy as possible. There are still quite a few bases to cover, however.
Note: The following bit about exchanges to use holds true for those in the United States. For those based elsewhere, you’ll need to do your own research on the best exchanges to use in your country. The rest of this post should hold the same for everyone in the world, however.
The easiest way to invest is to sign up at Coinbase.com. If you sign up with a referral code, you get $10 when you purchase $100 in bitcoin or ether. I’ve linked my mom’s referral code here if anyone is interested. Straight to her retirement fund! (In the interest of having zero monetary gain from my fiduciary advice, however, just email me if you use this link and buy over $100 of bitcoin, and I’ll send you the whole $10 my mom receives on her end as a referrer — so you get $20 for investing $100. Not bad!)
However, this is not the cheapest way to invest. That’s GDAX.com (no referral bonus with this, though). Thankfully, GDAX.com is the same company as Coinbase, and utilizes the same login. Once you make your Coinbase account, you can just login with it to GDAX.com.
At GDAX.com, which is Coinbase’s exchange, you’re able to get trades in for either 0% as a market maker (meaning you limit buy or sell and set your own price and ‘make’ the market), or 0.25% as a market taker (meaning you just buy or sell at whatever price the market is currently at with a market buy).
You can trade immediately as much as you want by sending a wire (only applicable for US customers) to your account following their deposit instructions. There’s a $10 fee for this that GDAX charges, on top of whatever your bank charges to send wire transactions. This is the fastest method to deposit any amount of money you want and trade immediately with no limits, but not the cheapest.
You can alternatively conduct ACH withdrawals from your bank as well by going to the Coinbase accounts page, clicking on your “USD Wallet”, and clicking the Deposit button in the top right hand corner. These are completely free, but take anywhere from four business days to a week to complete.
You can even use a credit card to buy straight from Coinbase.com, but fees here are very hefty. Use as a last resort.
Keep in mind that while you can put however much money you want into GDAX at any point in time, you are generally limited to withdrawing $10,000 per 24 hour period. Thus, if you are buying a large amount of say, Ethereum to send to a token sale address, keep in mind that if you want to send over $10,000, you’ll need to purchase that amount and withdraw it well in advance of the token sale.
For instance, if you wanted to send $100,000 of ethereum somewhere, you’d need to buy all that ethereum and withdraw over the course of 10 days (assuming you withdrew perfectly each day every 24 hours — realistically more like 11–14 days) back to Coinbase or your personal ethereum wallet before you could then send that ethereum on to somewhere else all at one time, like you would need to do in a token sale.
On GDAX, you can buy bitcoin, ethereum, or litecoin.
From there, if you’d like to buy any alternative currencies, you can use your bitcoin or ethereum on Shapeshift.io without any account to instantly transfer your bitcoin or ethereum to any other cryptocurrency under the sun, essentially.
To buy/sell on Coinbase or GDAX, you need no wallet, as Coinbase/GDAX will keep your coins for you. You’ll want to enable Google Authenticator for two factor authentication and keep your passwords and your phone incredibly secure, however, as if someone hacks your account, all your money is gone for good with no recourse. This happens a lot. Use a super strong password that you have not used elsewhere and that no one knows and that you won’t forget.
Ideally, you’ll keep the coins yourself on your own hardware device, which is ultra secure. I recommend Trezor.io (as of this writing, they’ve just run out of stock, but are only backordered a few days if you’re willing to pay a premium) for this purpose. Ledger Nano S is also good and cheaper to boot, but I personally haven’t used it and it’s very backordered in sales. I can recommend Trezor 100% wholeheartedly, however.
Trezor will keep your coins safe because the device itself is immune to hacking by design, and never exposes your private keys (the passwords to your accounts, essentially), even if your computer is infected by malware and is logging all your typing/passwords, or is specifically scanning for private keys, or is engaging in any other form of sneaky bad behavior.
It does this by signing all transactions on the device itself using your private key, and only transmitting the signature to your computer, and never your private key. As a general rule, this is very good, because a good rule of thumb is to never expose your private keys to the internet, under the assumption that the internet is inherently insecure, and if you ever have your private keys interact in any direct way with a computer that has been connected to the internet, you should consider the addresses those private keys correspond to to be compromised and vulnerable to being hacked.
A Trezor also allows you to set multiple passwords that open secret vaults to different wallets on your device, such that even if in some crazy scenario someone just kidnaps you and threatens to beat you with a wrench until you give them your coins (not too crazy actually — I’ve been abducted before and had to ransom myself for thousands of dollars in Africa), you can just give them a second password to another wallet that holds say $500 in cryptocurrency instead of $10 million, and there’s no way for them to know that that’s not all the money you had on your Trezor.
If someone steals your Trezor, they won’t be able to find your coins either, as they’re protected by a PIN that only you know (plus a password if you want to use that feature I mentioned above). You can also recover the coins yourself with the recovery seed the Trezor will give you the first time you use it, which you should store in a super safe location like a safe deposit box somewhere. If you don’t use utilize the password feature, however, keep in mind that anyone who discovers this recovery seed instantly has access to all your coins, and all your other forms of security are for naught. If you enable the password feature, however, they will need your password as well as the recovery seed in able to access your cryptocurrency, which makes it significantly more secure.
A Trezor will give you your own personal wallets for bitcoin, ethereum, dash, zcash, and litecoin, as well as any ERC20 token built on top of ethereum.
Another benefit of holding coins yourself, in a hardware wallet or elsewhere, is that you know that you 100% own all of your money. Exchanges are just like banks, in the sense that you trust them to hold your money for you. If they end up losing that money to hackers or stealing it themselves, you’re out of luck. This isn’t just a scary bedtime story — countless cryptocurrency exchanges have been embezzled or hacked (an enormous percentage, actually), and hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost.
Moreover, in the event of a hard fork, whereby two blockchains are created, and consequently, two sets of coins that you technically should own, only some exchanges will actually give you access to both sets of coins. Most notably, Coinbase has explicitly stated that they will only give you access to the dominant blockchain that emerges from a hard fork, no matter how much value the market assigns the non-dominant chain. They may or may not give you access to the other coins in the future, but there is no guarantee either way. In any event, with any exchange you are fundamentally agreeing to trust them to give you access to both sets of your coins, even if they say they will. If you own your coins yourself in your own wallet, however, you need to trust no one. You will automatically own both sets of coins by default in the event of any fork.
This, too, is not merely a theoretical matter. Ethereum did indeed hard fork after the DAO hack, and split off into ETH (the current dominant blockchain for ethereum) and ETC (the ‘classic’, or original blockchain for ethereum). As of this time, ETC is worth over $20 a coin — more, in fact, than all of ethereum was worth before the hack. Had I kept my ethereum on Coinbase or another exchange like it at the time of the hard fork, I personally would have lost 5 figures in ETC (at present values) merely because the exchanges wouldn’t give me access to these coins that I rightfully owned.
Finally, my personal preference is to avoid keeping all my eggs in one basket. Despite the fact that a hardware wallet like Trezor is technically one of the most secure options for keeping your coins safe with a fair amount of redundancy in recovery options, the fact remains that one day I might somehow lose access to my coins held within Trezor. I might suffer a concussion, for instance, that causes me to forget the password or the PIN required to access the Trezor, or perhaps I lose my Trezor and am unable to locate or decipher my recovery seed.
Because of this, I actually personally keep my cryptocurrency distributed in several reasonably safe baskets. For instance, despite Coinbase being an exchange that fundamentally requires some trust, they are more trustworthy than almost any other exchange on a technical level (their customer service, however, leaves something to be desired), and it is virtually impossible for their coins to be hacked to any significant degree, and all those at risk of being hacked are fully insured. As a consequence, I leave some of my coins with them, merely because in many ways, I trust their technical security measures more than I trust my own. Before GBTC started trading at such an absurd premium, I also kept some of my funds with them, both in part to diversify across multiple platforms to reduce the risk of losing all my coins with one bad black swan event, and also because it was the only immediately easy way to put some of my retirement funds into bitcoin, short of creating a self directed IRA.
Okay — so that’s about it for investing in the dominant cryptocurrencies available today. If you want to invest in other more speculative altcoins, you’ll have to create your own wallets for them, and investigate the best and most secure solution for doing so yourself. This should generally be a good exercise in any case to determine if you meet the bare minimum requirements for responsible investment in a given altcoin.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end. That’s it. Good luck!