BEST OVERALLCoinbase and Coinbase Pro
- No. Currencies Available for Trade: 123
- Transaction Fees: 0.04% to 0.50% (taker orders); 0% to 0.50% (makers orders)
- Wallet Included: Yes
We picked Coinbase because it makes buying and selling cryptocurrencies very easy with strong security. Additionally, Coinbase offers Coinbase Pro with the same fee structure but significantly more features in terms of charts and indicators.
Solid variety of altcoin choices
Extremely simple user interface
Very high liquidity
User does not control wallet keys
Get $10 of BTC by signing up with promo code: INVESTO10
While the cryptocurrency industry has been fraught with fraudulent coins and shady exchanges, Coinbase has largely avoided any controversy. Coinbase offers an extremely easy-to-use exchange, greatly lowering the barrier to entry for cryptocurrency investment, which is typically seen as confusing and convoluted.
Coinbase also offers insured custodial wallets for investors and traders to store their investments. They carry insurance against data breaches and hacking, and your cash is stored in Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured bank accounts, which is important since users have reported accounts being hacked and funds being drained. The Coinbase custodial accounts are very convenient for newer users just getting their feet wet, but Coinbase owns the private keys to the coins, not the investor.
Additionally, Coinbase also offers the Coinbase Pro version with the same fee structure but significantly more options in terms of charts and indicators. Coinbase Pro is a perfect next step for those who have learned the ropes using Coinbase, and it helps round out the overall offering by adding features that the more advanced user would want.
Read the full Coinbase review.
BEST FOR BEGINNERSCash App
We like Cash App because it is very easy to use and gives you flexible options to withdraw to other cryptocurrency wallets.
Peer-to-peer money transfer like Venmo or Zelle
Ability to withdraw Bitcoin
Extremely simple user interface
Only supports Bitcoin and no other cryptocurrencies
Charge when sending money via credit card
Daily and weekly withdrawal limits apply
Cash App is a peer-to-peer money transfer system much like Venmo. This service allows users to split food, pay rent to a roommate, or even shop online at a retailer that supports Cash App. Cash App can essentially act as a bank account, and users can have their own Cash App debit cards.
Cash App also allows its users to invest in stocks, exchange traded funds (ETFs), and Bitcoin. The mobile-first interface that this exchange uses is very easy to figure out and use, making it ideal for a first-time investor.
While its main feature is money transfers, it also has a basic cryptocurrency investment feature. Cash App allows users to withdraw cryptocurrency investments to their own wallets, which is the main reason we chose Square’s Cash App over Robinhood as the best option for beginners looking to buy Bitcoin.
The ability to withdraw cryptocurrency from an exchange is extremely important in the cryptocurrency community. With Robinhood, you can invest and trade cryptocurrency, but you cannot withdraw and spend it how you wish.
One drawback is that you still don’t control the private keys, similar to Coinbase. Many cryptocurrency communities refer to this concept as “not your keys, not your coin.” This means that if you do not hold the private keys to the wallet the coins are stored in, they are effectively not owned by you.
BEST DECENTRALIZED EXCHANGEBisq
- No. Currencies Available for Trade: 45 (18 cryptocurrencies + fiat)
- Transaction Fees: 0.05% to 0.70%
- Wallet Included: Yes
We picked Bisq because it is a decentralized, open-source exchange with no Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements.
Decentralized, non-KYC platform
More than 15 different payment options
Mobile app for both Android and iOS
Transaction speed can be slow
Trading volumes can be low
Not designed for active trading
Bisq is a downloadable software and peer-to-peer decentralized Bitcoin and cryptocurrency exchange, so it has no central point of failure and cannot be taken down, much like Bitcoin itself. Bisq is non-custodial, meaning no one other than the user touches or controls the user’s funds.
It differs from centralized exchanges, like Coinbase, as Coinbase controls the user’s funds in a custodial account to which the user does not have the private keys. In that scenario, Coinbase holds the right to freeze your account if it deems your account activity suspicious, whether or not the activity is actually illegal in your location.
Bisq is instantly accessible to anyone with a computer or smartphone as there is no registration process or KYC rule. This makes it ideal for those looking for privacy, dissidents living within an oppressive regime, or anyone with no government-issued identification.
Bisq offers trading of several different fiat currencies, including USD, Bitcoin, and several other cryptocurrencies. Its decentralized and peer-to-peer characteristics can mean low trading volumes and slower transactions, but this is well worth it for some.
BEST FOR ALTCOINSBinance.US
We chose Binance.US because it offers a very long list of currencies beyond the most popular digital coins.
Lower fees than other commonly used exchanges
Large variety of cryptocurrencies and trading pairs
More advanced charting
Geared for more advanced users
Binance.US has fewer trading pairs than international version
Not all states supported
The Binance exchange is an exchange founded in 2017 with a strong focus on altcoin trading.1 Binance was banned in the U.S. in 2019, but the company spun off Binance.US. As of November 2021, Binance dominates the global exchange space, making up a significant portion of cryptocurrency trading volume daily.2
The exchange only allows for U.S. dollar deposits by global users via Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), but it does allow you to directly purchase a select number of cryptocurrencies with a credit or debit card. Deposits using 12 other fiat currencies are allowed, including the Euro.
Binance is suited to people who want to trade or invest in lesser-known altcoins. Binance offers more than 50 different cryptocurrencies to trade and is a good option for anyone who wants more advanced charting than most other exchanges. The features, charting abilities, and data that come with your account are truly impressive, especially when you consider their reasonable fees.
If you’re looking to get started with cryptocurrency trading or investing, choosing the best exchange for your goals is important. Whether you want the most currencies, the lowest fees, or the easiest experience, there is a good option for you. Whether that’s our all-around winner Coinbase or a competitor like Binance, all you need is a funded account, and you can buy your first cryptocurrency.
Compare the Best Cryptocurrency Exchanges
|Company||Fees||Currencies||Security||Transactions Supported||Trade & Transfer Limits|
|0.04% to 0.50% (taker fee) or 0% to 0.50% (maker fee)||123||Integrated Online Cryptocurrency Wallet||Market, Limit, Stop||No max|
Best for Beginners
|Vary||1||Integrated Storage||Market||Weekly send/receive limit $7,500|
Best for Altcoins
|0.015% to 0.1%||50+||Integrated Online Cryptocurrency Wallet||Market, Limit, Stop Limit||Varies by currency|
Best Decentralized Exchange
|0.05% to 0.70%||45 (18 cryptocurrencies + fiat)||Open Source and Decentralized Exchange||Market||Varies|
Understanding the Types of Cryptocurrency Exchanges
To choose the best exchange for your needs, it is important to fully understand the types of exchanges.
The first and most common type of exchange is the centralized exchange. Popular exchanges that fall into this category are Coinbase, Binance, Kraken, and Gemini. These exchanges are private companies that offer platforms to trade cryptocurrency. These exchanges require registration and identification, known as the Know Your Customer (or Know Your Client) rule.
The exchanges listed above all have active trading, high volumes, and liquidity. That said, centralized exchanges are not in line with the philosophy of Bitcoin. They run on their own private servers, which creates a vector of attack.3 If the company’s servers were to be compromised, the whole system could be shut down for some time. Worse, sensitive data about its users could be released.
The larger, more popular centralized exchanges are by far the easiest on-ramp for new users, and they even provide some level of insurance should their systems fail. While this is true, when cryptocurrency is purchased on these exchanges, it is stored within their custodial wallets and not in your own wallet that you own the keys to.
The provided insurance is only applicable if the exchange is at fault. Should your computer and Coinbase account, for example, become compromised, you would lose your funds, and you would not likely have the ability to claim insurance. This is why it is important to withdraw any large sums and practice safe storage.
Decentralized exchanges work in the same manner that Bitcoin does. A decentralized exchange has no central point of control. Instead, think of it as a server, except each computer within the server is spread out worldwide, and an individual controls each computer that makes up one part of that server. If one of these computers turns off, it does not affect the network because plenty of other computers will continue running the network.
This is drastically different from one company controlling a server in a single location. Attacking something that is spread out and decentralized in this manner is significantly more difficult, making any such attacks unrealistic and likely unsuccessful.
Due to this decentralization, these types of exchanges cannot be subject to the rules of any regulatory body, as no specific person or group is running the system. The individuals who participate come and go, so there is no one individual or group that a government or regulatory body can realistically pursue. This means that those trading on the platform do not have to declare their identification and are free to use the platform in any manner they choose, whether legal or not.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Cryptocurrency Exchange? How Does It Work?
A cryptocurrency exchange is an online marketplace where users buy, sell, and trade cryptocurrency. A cryptocurrency exchange works similar to an online brokerage, as users can deposit fiat currency (such as U.S. dollars), and use those funds to purchase cryptocurrency. Users can also trade their cryptocurrency for other cryptocurrency, and some exchanges allow users to earn interest on cryptocurrency held within the exchange account.
What Should You Look at When Choosing a Cryptocurrency Exchange?
When looking for a cryptocurrency exchange to use, there are several things to look for, including security, fees, and cryptocurrencies offered. It is also important to understand how your cryptocurrency is stored and whether you can take custody of that cryptocurrency by transferring it to your own digital wallet.
Cryptocurrency exchanges also come in centralized and decentralized formats. Centralized exchanges closely align with financial regulations from governmental authorities (such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission), and many will insure your cash deposits, as well as require proof of identity to use the platform. Decentralized exchanges are unregulated online exchanges hosted on distributed nodes that are user-owned, and there is no centralized governing authority. While this may sound scary, decentralized exchanges offer transparent transactions and fees and a direct peer-to-peer exchange of cryptocurrency.
How Do You Buy Cryptocurrency?
To purchase cryptocurrency, most centralized exchanges allow you to deposit funds via your bank account, credit card, or debit card. You can then exchange those funds for the cryptocurrency of your choosing. While some offer a simple “Buy Now” type transaction that only offers a market order, some exchanges will allow you to set more advanced order types, including limit and stop orders.
Once you purchase that cryptocurrency, the exchange typically takes custody of it, and most store cryptocurrency in offline “cold storage” for safekeeping. If you want to take custody of the cryptocurrency yourself, most exchanges allow you to transfer it to your “hot” or “cold” wallet, along with the private keys for that cryptocurrency.
How Do You Open a Cryptocurrency Exchange Account?
To open a cryptocurrency exchange account, most exchanges require that you create an online account and provide proof of identity (to follow KYC standards). This may include answering personal questions, verifying your identity with a third-party application, or providing a picture of your driver’s license.
Once your account is approved, you can then deposit funds and start purchasing cryptocurrency.
Investopedia is dedicated to helping those interested in cryptocurrency investment make informed and safe decisions. We are committed to providing our readers with unbiased reviews of the top Bitcoin exchanges for investors of all levels. The landscape of cryptocurrency can be quite intimidating. We have chosen exchanges that we believe are trustworthy, secure, easy to use, and have had a long-standing and proven level of quality.
Investing in cryptocurrencies and other Initial Coin Offerings (“ICOs”) is highly risky and speculative, and this article is not a recommendation by Investopedia or the writer to invest in cryptocurrencies or other ICOs. Since each individual’s situation is unique, a qualified professional should always be consulted before making any financial decisions. Investopedia makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy or timeliness of the information contained herein.