A cryptocurrency (or “crypto”) is a digital asset that can circulate without the need for a central monetary authority such as a government or bank. Instead, cryptocurrencies are created using cryptographic techniques that enable people to buy, sell or trade them securely.
Bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies are supported by a technology known as blockchain, which maintains a tamper-resistant record of transactions and keeps track of who owns what. The creation of blockchains addressed a problem faced by previous efforts to create purely digital currencies: preventing people from making copies of their holdings and attempting to spend them twice.
Individual units of cryptocurrencies can be referred to as coins or tokens, depending on how they are used. Some are intended to be units of exchange for goods and services, others are stores of value, and some are mostly designed to help run computer networks that carry out more complex financial transactions.
One common way cryptocurrencies are created is through a process known as mining, which is used by Bitcoin. Mining can be an energy-intensive process in which computers solve complex puzzles in order to verify the authenticity of transactions on the network. As a reward, the owners of those computers can receive newly created cryptocurrency. Other cryptocurrencies use different methods to create and distribute tokens, and many have a significantly lighter environmental impact.
For most people, the easiest way to get cryptocurrency is to buy it, either from an exchange or another user.
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There are many ways to buy cryptocurrency safely, though the most accessible method for beginners is likely to be a centralized exchange. Centralized exchanges act as a third party overseeing transactions to give customers confidence that they are getting what they pay for. These exchanges typically sell crypto at market rates, and they make money on fees for various aspects of their services.
Just like with buying cryptocurrencies, there are several options for converting your crypto holdings into cash. While decentralized exchanges and peer-to-peer transactions may be right for some investors, many choose to use centralized services to offload their holdings.
With a centralized exchange, the process is basically the reverse of buying. But one advantage if you own crypto is that you probably already have everything set up. Here are the steps:
Connect the wallet that holds the cryptocurrencies that you want to sell, and make sure the exchange you’ve chosen supports both that wallet and the asset in question.
Move your cryptocurrency onto the exchange.
Sell your cryptocurrency.
Transfer the proceeds back to your bank account.
Every exchange will handle such transactions differently, so you’ll want to look up the fees and processes for your specific provider. Also, remember that you may be creating crypto tax liability when you sell your digital assets.