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Digital currencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin seem to be plastered anywhere you look these days. From news reports to celebrities like Kim Kardashian pitching cryptocurrency on Instagram, it’s clear everyone—from old school banks to millennials—wants in on the action.
But to break into the crypto-verse, you’ll need to visit a crypto exchange, or a digital network where you can turn your dollars into DOGE (or any other cryptocurrency).
To help you pick the right place to do that, we poured over heaps of quantitative and qualitative data to determine the best crypto exchange for beginners, traders and users overall.
But, of course, all of this comes with an important buyer beware: For all the publicity, investing in cryptocurrency is still a very bumpy ride. Close to a trillion dollars in market value was wiped out in one day recently, underscoring the importance of looking before you leap. We may be in the middle of a digital gold rush, but you don’t want to stake all of your investing dollars on what turns out to be virtual pyrite. That’s why most financial experts recommend you don’t put anything into crypto you can’t afford to lose.
Best Overall Cryptocurrency Exchange — Binance.US
The domestic outpost of global crypto superstar Binance, Binance.US offers most of its parent company’s perks, including very low trading fees and a slew of tradable digital currencies.
Why We Chose Binance.US
Whether you’re here to trade a lot (or a little), Binance.US charges industry-low fees. It also has casual and even most diehard investors more than covered with over 50 digital coins in its crypto arsenal. New investors should stick to its app or “Buy Crypto Currency” tab on its website for a more intuitive investing experience. But seasoned pros will love the multiple order types, advanced charting and real-time data in its two trading interfaces.
Just as important, Binance.US has a high cybersecurity rating (because you can never be too careful these days).
While 50+ coins may satisfy most, some may yearn for the approximately 300 cryptos Binance.US lacks compared to its parent company. In addition, disappointing news for those who live in Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, New York, Texas and Vermont—they cannot currently have Binance.US accounts.
Best Crypto Exchange For Beginners — Coinbase
If you’ve even been vaguely paying attention to crypto news, you’re probably aware of IPO powerhouse Coinbase. But even outside of its eye-popping valuation, Coinbase has a much deserved reputation as one of the best ways to invest in digital currencies.
Why We Chose Coinbase
Leaving aside its strong name recognition, Coinbase offers one of the largest and safest platforms to trade digital assets. It is free (and quick) to join and offers a roster of about 60 tradable cryptocurrencies that will soon include Dogecoin.
The platform’s standout feature is its intuitive interface that makes it simple to get started and execute one-time or recurring crypto investments. In addition to a strong cybersecurity rating, Coinbase also has a robust education section with tutorials for beginners covering all aspects of crypto investing. In fact, Coinbase will even pay you in crypto when you progress through lessons.
The level of convenience Coinbase offers comes at a steep price, however.
Its convoluted fee structure ends up costing more than it would to make the same transaction on the company’s Coinbase Pro platform, which is intended for more experienced investors but is also free to join. (And even Coinbase Pro’s fees are higher than many leading competitors until you’re trading a sizable amount of crypto each month.)
Best Crypto Exchange for Crypto Enthusiasts — Binance.US
While it’s a solid choice for investors of all kinds, Binance.US stands out in particular for the benefits it offers to frequent crypto traders.
Why We Chose Binance.US
Similar to most exchanges, Binance.US incentivizes high-volume crypto traders by steadily reducing its already-low fees. In addition, by conducting transactions in BNB, the platform’s proprietary digital coin, you can slash trading costs by an additional 25%. Large-volume traders may also opt for Binance.US’ over-the-counter (OTC) trading option to further avoid fees by only having to pay the spread between the buy and sell price.
In addition to its limited coin offerings compared to some other major exchanges, Binance.US does not currently support margin trading—a high-risk, potentially high-reward strategy that exposed many GameStop investors to significant losses earlier this year.
Margin trading with crypto, however, is somewhat uncommon in U.S. markets currently as the federal government determines how it’s going to manage cryptos. Once a ruling is established, margin trading and even futures-based strategies will likely become more common on all crypto exchanges.
Tips When Buying Cryptocurrency
If you’re new to buying crypto, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Security is key. Many major exchanges have been the victim of multimillion dollar hacks. While exchanges historically have reimbursed customers for any crypto they lost, you don’t want to put yourself in this position. That’s why it’s important to pick a secure (and reputable) exchange. To minimize your risk even more, you may consider spreading your money out at many exchanges or even storing your crypto in a “cold” wallet that is not connected to the internet.
- Look at trading volume. Take a peek at the number of transactions that take place on a given exchange (and even a particular currency on that exchange) each day. You ideally want to see a lot so you know you’ll be able to get a fair price when you buy and sell your crypto.
- Keep fees in mind. You’ve probably heard that fees are important when it comes to investing, especially if you plan on being a frequent flyer in this market. Anytime you pay a higher price acquiring your crypto, you have less left to grow over time. That’s why you’ll also probably want to avoid buying crypto with a debit or credit card: Fees may go as high as 5% of your transaction when you buy crypto with a card instead of cash or another coin.
- Don’t forget about taxes. No one wants to think about the tax man when they’re trying to strike it rich with crypto. But remember you will owe the IRS capital gains taxes on any profits you make when you sell crypto. This is even the case if you use your cryptocurrency to buy something and its value has increased since you first bought it.
We determined our rankings by looking at the top 10 centralized cryptocurrency exchanges on CoinMarketCap.com based on traffic, trading volume and availability for U.S.-based customers. We looked at more than 20 data points for each crypto exchange and weighted each in terms of their importance to different categories of cryptocurrency investors.
Brai Odion-Esene is the founder of SW4 Insights, a public policy advisory firm based in Washington D.C. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist and consultant covering finance and economic policy, with a particular focus on distilling complex topics to inform readers’ decision-making.