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Buying Bitcoin is often the first step that investors take into the world of cryptocurrency. And it can be an unfamiliar landscape for someone used to traditional financial products.
The value of Bitcoin — the world’s first and most popular cryptocurrency — has risen from about 6 cents in August after its launch to an all-time high of over $68,000 in November 2021. Since then, its value has dropped to about $17,000 in December 2022 amid the widespread crypto crash. Like all cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin is speculative and subject to much more volatility than many tried-and-true investments, such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
» Learn more: What is cryptocurrency?
How to buy Bitcoin in 4 steps
Decide where to buy Bitcoin. Cryptocurrency exchanges like Coinbase and a few traditional brokers such as Robinhood can get you started investing in Bitcoin.
Think about how to store your cryptocurrency. Are you going to keep your Bitcoin in a hot wallet or a cold wallet?
Make your purchase. Figure out how much you want to invest in Bitcoin.
Manage your investment. Determine your long-term plan for this asset.
1. Decide where to buy Bitcoin
There are a few different ways to buy Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, including exchanges and traditional brokers.
You can purchase bitcoin from cryptocurrency exchanges. Many offer dozens of cryptocurrency choices, while others simply have Bitcoin and a few alternatives. They carry a variety of different fees and consumer protections, so do your diligence before choosing. Here are a few cryptocurrency exchanges where you can purchase Bitcoin:
The choices among traditional brokers that give customers a way to buy and sell Bitcoin are few right now — Robinhood was the first mainstream investment broker to offer Bitcoin (Robinhood Crypto is available in most, but not all, U.S. states). Like its stock-trading platform, Robinhood charges no fees for Bitcoin trades. Other online brokers that offer access to Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies include:
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Other ways to buy or invest in Bitcoin
Bitcoin ATMs. These work like normal ATMs, only you can use them to buy and sell bitcoin.
Trusts or exchange-traded funds. The financial firm ProShares launched the first Bitcoin-linked ETF in October of 2021. The fund (ticker: BITO) doesn't invest directly in Bitcoin, however — instead, it invests in futures contracts for Bitcoin. The digital currency assets manager Grayscale Investments also offers Bitcoin trust funds. Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) and Grayscale Ethereum Classic Trust (ETCG) are publicly traded, which means you can buy them through many discount brokers. There are fees, and GBTC often trades at a premium — that means GBTC shares often cost more than Bitcoin, even though Bitcoin is its only holding. Some investors are willing to pay extra to buy Bitcoin through a traditional exchange, without needing to worry about wallets and storage.
Peer-to-peer money transfer apps. Cash transfer services like PayPal, Venmo, or Cash App allow their users to purchase Bitcoin using the app. You can purchase, store and sell Bitcoin directly on the application. PayPal and Cash App will even let you send and receive payments using Bitcoin, but Venmo has not implemented this functionality on their app yet.
2. Decide how to store Bitcoin
Bitcoin can be stored in two kinds of digital wallets: a hot wallet or a cold wallet. With a hot wallet, transactions generally are faster, while a cold wallet often incorporates extra security steps that help to keep your assets safe but also make transactions take longer.
With a hot wallet, Bitcoin is stored by a trusted exchange or provider in the cloud and accessed through an app or computer browser on the internet. Any trading exchange you join will offer a free Bitcoin hot wallet where your purchases will automatically be stored. But many users prefer to transfer and store their Bitcoin with a third-party hot wallet provider, also typically free to download and use.
Why choose a wallet from a provider other than an exchange? While advocates say the blockchain technology behind Bitcoin is even more secure than traditional electronic money transfers, Bitcoin hot wallets are an attractive target for hackers. As Bitcoin.org warns: “Many exchanges and online wallets suffered from security breaches in the past and such services generally still do not provide enough insurance and security to be used to store money like a bank.”
» Compare: Best exchanges to store your cryptocurrency
A cold wallet is a small, encrypted portable device that allows you to download and carry your Bitcoin. Cold wallets can cost less than $100 and are considered much more secure than hot wallets.
When creating accounts for your digital wallets and currency exchange, use a strong password and two-factor authentication.
» Get started: Compare the best crypto wallets
3. Make your purchase
After linking your Bitcoin wallet to the Bitcoin exchange of your choice, the last step is the easiest — deciding how much Bitcoin you want to buy. While a single Bitcoin costs thousands of dollars, the cryptocurrency (trading symbol BTC or XBT) can be bought and sold as fractional shares, so your initial investment could be as low as, say, $25.
4. Manage your investment
Investors who day trade — a risky investment strategy that involves frequent buying and selling — try to buy Bitcoin low and sell it if and when its value moves higher. But if you see a future for Bitcoin as a digital currency, perhaps your investment plan is to buy and hold for the long haul. Whatever your plan, know that owning Bitcoin creates a complex tax situation.