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You don’t have to own cryptocurrencies to generate wealth, but it’s good for investors to at least have an understanding of some of the top coins out there.
The cryptocurrency market has exploded over the past few years as the popularity of digital coins has expanded beyond early adopters to average investors. Currently worth about $2 trillion, the crypto market continues to evolve into a more legitimate form of investing.
As an investor, it’s important for you to keep cryptocurrency on your radar—even if you’re not ready to invest in it.
Some banks and financial institutions, including Morgan Stanley, have begun to allow some of their wealth management clients to buy crypto products in a limited way. Other banks are dabbling in bitcoin futures.
As financial institutions move closer to cryptocurrencies, it continues to help bring the crypto market out of the shadows and give it more legitimacy.
It’s important to mention that trading cryptocurrency is still highly speculative. Cryptocurrencies can experience large price swings on a daily basis, sometimes for no concrete reason.
So while we’ll mention some innovative digital tokens below, you may want to take this information and use it as an introduction to these coins, rather than a recommendation to buy them.
Five Cryptocurrencies to Keep On Your Radar
Bitcoin (CRYPTO: BTC)
- Bitcoin (CRYPTO:BTC)
- Price: $43527.71 (as of close Dec 31, 1969)
It seems fitting to kick off this list of cryptos with bitcoin. After all, out of the more than 8,000 digital coins out there, bitcoin was the absolute first—created back in 2009—and is the most valuable with a market cap of over $750 billion (as of February 2022).
There are a few things that make bitcoin unique in a growing sea of cryptos, and one of the most important is that bitcoin has become a barometer for the price of other cryptos.
What this means is that if you see the price of bitcoin jump (or drop) on any given day, it’s likely that many other cryptocurrencies will follow suit. One key reason for this is that most cryptocurrencies prices are measured in bitcoin.
Additionally, bitcoin is often viewed as a store of value, like gold, by some bitcoin investors. There’s still a lot of debate about this, mainly because bitcoin doesn’t have the same utility as gold, isn’t as liquid, is far more volatile, and is more loosely regulated.
But that hasn’t stopped some investors from considering bitcoin as a new version of gold for the digital age.
Another reason why you should keep a very close eye on bitcoin is the fact that this crypto is slowly gaining more acceptance among financial institutions. Morgan Stanley already allows some of its wealthy clients access to bitcoin funds and Goldman Sachs and others have been adding ways to offer bitcoin trading as well.
Ethereum (CRYPTO: ETH)
- Ethereum (CRYPTO:ETH)
- Price: $3074.62 (as of close Dec 31, 1969)
The Ethereum blockchain, and its Ether coin, deserve a spot on this list because Ether is the second-most valuable cryptocurrency on the market. But what really makes this token stand out is why its value has skyrocketed over the past few years.
The Ethereum blockchain is the standard for creating decentralized applications (called dApps). Decentralized finance (DeFi) is the broad term used to describe blockchain technology that facilitates verified and secure financial transactions, without the need for traditional financial institutions like banks.
The DeFi space is still in its infancy, but it’s already worth $100 billion and some of the most extreme estimates say that it could grow by tenfold by the end of 2022!
Already, fast-growing markets like non-fungible tokens (NFTs)—which provide verified ownership of digital goods like music and art—rely on the Ethereum blockchain. And as these new digital markets increase in popularity, it should make Ethereum’s blockchain—and its coin—even more valuable.
More than 4,000 developers are active on Ethereum every month, which is one of the most active blockchain developer communities.
If you’re looking for a cryptocurrency that’s already foundational to the emerging crypto space and could prove to be one of its most important protocols, Ether and its Ethereum blockchain are worth your consideration.
Polkadot (CRYPTO: DOT)
- Polkadot (CRYPTO:DOT)
- Price: $20.51 (as of close Dec 31, 1969)
It’s fitting to talk next about Polkadot because this blockchain—with its DOT coin—is one of a handful of blockchains that have been called “Ethereum killers.” While Ethereum is the go-to protocol for building decentralized apps, Polkadot wants to be the blockchain that connects all other blockchains together.
Right now, different blockchains don’t do a fantastic job of working together. But Polkadot is changing that, allowing blockchains to communicate with each other. This could eventually make blockchains even more useful and interoperable.
But Polkadot isn’t only focused on communication between blockchains, it also aims to be one of the fastest blockchains out there. Right now, this crypto protocol can process up to 1,000 transactions per second (compared to about 30 for Ethereum). And in the future, some estimates put the amount of Polkadot transactions at one million per second.
If it seems like Polkadot is in a bit of friendly competition with Ethereum, that may be because its creator, Gavin Wood, was the co-founder of Ethereum.
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Litecoin (CRYPTO: LTC)
- Litecoin (CRYPTO:LTC)
- Price: $134.59 (as of close Dec 31, 1969)
Litecoin was created all the way back in 2011, making it one of the earliest alternative coins (altcoins) to bitcoin. In fact, Litecoin was forked from bitcoin, which means that it was essentially a clone of the leading cryptocurrency, but with a few changes.
The fact that Litecoin has been around for longer than many other cryptocurrencies has helped it gain in popularity. It’s also better than bitcoin in one important aspect: speed.
Litecoin’s blockchain can process its transactions nearly four times faster than bitcoin, giving it an edge over its predecessor for real-world use.
Perhaps that’s why Litecoin has amassed significant adoption among merchants, with more than 3,000 of them now accepting Litecoin as payment.
Like bitcoin, Litecoin is also built on the idea of scarcity. The max number of Litecoins that can be produced is 84 million—compared to bitcoin’s 21 million max—which is why some people refer to Litecoin as the silver to bitcoin’s gold.
Cardano (CRYPTO: ADA)
- Cardano (CRYPTO:ADA)
- Price: $1.1515 (as of close Dec 31, 1969)
And finally, you may want to keep a close eye on the Cardano blockchain and its ADA token. Cardano is currently the sixth-largest cryptocurrency by market cap right now and in the coming years, its blockchain system could be integral to the expanding DeFi space.
Cardano was started by a co-founder of Ethereum (notice a pattern here?) back in 2017. It has a five-stage plan to create a truly decentralized network: foundation, decentralization, smart contracts, scaling, and governance. It’s currently in the third stage, smart contracts, which launched towards the end of 2021.
It’s important to point out that the slow and steady rollout of these phases is part of what sets Cardano apart from its blockchain competitors. This planned, methodical approach aims to strengthen Cardano’s entire system from others by implementing extensive peer-reviewed updates and changes.
And like other blockchains, the speed of transactions is central to Cardano’s opportunity. Cardano can process 250 transactions per second right now, but as it continues to develop and as it moves into its next phase, Cardano could reach a speed of one million transactions per second.
Cryptocurrencies Are Highly Volatile
While investing in stocks comes with its share of risks, it’s important to know that buying and selling cryptocurrencies adds many more layers of potential volatility. One reason for this is that the usefulness of cryptocurrencies and their blockchains are just getting started.
While blockchain technology has many practical uses, it’s not clear which of these blockchain protocols will dominate in the future and which ones could fade away.
Additionally, there isn’t a lot of regulation for cryptocurrencies. That can make buying and selling cryptos much riskier than owning traditional investments like stocks. It also means that whenever there’s major news about the government potentially adding new crypto regulations, the prices of these coins typically drop. The beginner’s guide to cryptocurrency can help you decide if cryptocurrency is a smart investment choice for you.