What is cryptocurrency, and what is a crypto exchange?
Cryptocurrencies, often shortened to crypto, are digital or virtual currencies often in the form of tokens used to engage in secure online transactions such as payments. A crypto exchange is a digital transaction mechanism – essentially an online market – which allows you to buy and sell cryptocurrency.
The most well-known cryptocurrency is probably Bitcoin, currently valued at a whopping $29K as of May 2022, and entire industries have sprung up to help facilitate the use and exchange of crypto.
SEE: Cryptocurrency glossary: From Bitcoin and Dogecoin to hot wallets and whales (TechRepublic Premium)
One term also worth noting is stablecoin, which refers to crypto with values tied to real-world assets such as a country’s unit of currency. Stablecoin help to ensure stable and accurate values of cryptocurrency.
The crypto exchange process is similar to any other financial transaction involving a buyer and a seller. The current market prices of the cryptocurrencies involved are factored into the transactions, and you can exchange similar or diverse types of cryptocurrency depending on your desires.
Cryptocurrency can be converted to and from typical currencies such as the U.S. dollar or Euro, and money can be moved to and from crypto accounts to typical financial accounts such as checking accounts.
Crypto wallets enable the storage of digital currencies and tokens and are highly recommended for security and ease of use.
Best cryptocurrency exchanges
The term “best” can be subject to individual interpretation, but for the purposes of this article I’ll designate the most well known, reliable, easy to use and secure options I’ve researched to designate the top crypto exchanges.
Kraken is one of the older crypto exchanges, having been in operation since 2011. It offers exchange features for over 160 types of cryptocurrency and a handy buy/sell guide for each to help you assess current market prices, recent changes in price and the market cap. Kraken’s strengths entail the capability to conduct margin and futures trading as well as limiting orders.
Pricing: Kraken’s full free schedule can be found here. The basic structure entails a 0.9% fee for stablecoin transactions, 1.5% fee for non-stablecoin transactions, a 3.75% plus $0.25 US dollars/Euros payment card or digital wallet processing fee, and a 0.5% online banking/ACH processing fee. Overall, this represents a lower-than-average crypto exchange set of fees. Kraken provides 24/7 live chat support.
eToro claims to be the largest social investing platform, with 25 million users, and its longevity surpasses Kraken as it was founded in 2007. While it offers fewer cryptocurrencies than Kraken (showing 68 options as of May 2022), its buy/sell guide is updated in real-time for up-to-the-second pricing information, and it also offers the option to invest in stocks and exchange-traded funds.
One limitation to eToro: It’s only available in 45 U.S. states at present. Residents of Hawaii, Minnesota, Nevada, New York and Tennessee do not currently have access to this crypto exchange, so it’s important to take that into consideration.
eToro’s guide for installing their mobile apps for either Apple or Android can be found here. A demo account to try out the product can also be found here, and eToro provides $100,000 in fake “play money” to practice trading with.
Pricing: eToro has a simple fee structure, charging 1% for buying and selling cryptocurrency. A $10 account minimum is required.
Crypto.com is a newer offering, founded in 2016, and yet supports the most cryptocurrencies of almost any crypto exchange in this review, with support for more than 180 cryptocurrencies, though not all of them appear on their buy/sell guide. Non-fungible tokens are a strong offering via this exchange.
One limitation to Crypto.com is the lack of crypto-to-crypto trading whereby users cannot directly exchange one type of cryptocurrency for another. In this scenario you would need to sell one via a dedicated transaction then engage in a second transaction to buy the second. Another potential pitfall entails reviews indicating poor customer service.
The Crypto.com mobile app for Apple can be found here; the Android version can be found here. It is worth noting that Investopedia named Crypto.com as the best mobile app in the industry. Unfortunately, I was not able to locate any available demo accounts to try it out.
Pricing: Fees are between 0% and 2.99% and vary based on transaction and payment method. There are no fees if you buy with money transferred from a bank account via ACH, but credit/debit card purchases clock in at the full 2.99%.
Binance features over 60 cryptocurrencies listed on their buy/sell guide. Founded in 2017, the company temporarily shut down access for U.S. users in 2019 based on regulatory concerns. That was how the Binance.US offshoot came about.
One caveat is that there is a sluggish identity verification process, but the trade-off to is that Binance.US offers some of the lowest trading fees around.
Like eToro, Binance.US is not available in every U.S. state: Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, New York, Texas and Vermont are off the list.
The Binance mobile app for Apple can be found here; the Android version can be found here. A Binance demo account page can be accessed here and includes $10,000 in fake “play money.” Binance also outlines how you can experiment with test transactions in the Demo Exchange mode to evaluate the results without actually committing the transaction.
Pricing: Binance fees are quite affordable, charging 0.1% for spot trading and 0.5% to buy/sell cryptocurrency, though their site also points out that “trading fees are determined based on your trading volume over a 30-day period (in USD) and your daily BNB [BNB Coin] balance.” BNB users will get a 25% discount on trading fees.
Coinbase is a well-regulated and popular crypto exchange with support for over 150 cryptocurrencies. Featuring 98 million users, Coinbase was founded in 2012 and operates in more than 100 countries, making it a robust and diverse platform that touts its ease of use.
In fact, it is worth noting that Investopedia named Coinbase the best crypto exchange for beginners as well as the best overall in the industry.
The Coinbase mobile app for Apple can be found here; the Android version can be found here. I was not able to verify the existence of any demo accounts, but this YouTube video walks you through the sign-up process and Coinbase offers comprehensive tutorials on how to get up to speed using the product. In addition, the mobile app offers some useful news and videos about the crypto tokens it supports.
Pricing: Coinbase’s own pricing page is not particularly helpful, which is one of the few detriments to the product, but reviewers have established that their rates are between 0.5% and 4.5% depending on the transaction and noting that other fees may apply. An alternative pricing option in beta testing mode called Coinbase One offers no-fee trades and other elements for a monthly fee of $30.
BitMart was founded in 2017 and is ranked as one of the top 20 exchanges in the world. Providing access to a good selection of coins and futures trading with up to 50x leverage, their buy/sell page features nearly 60 common cryptocurrencies. Several hundred in total are available for transactional usage, which is the most of any offering in this review.
BitMart was hacked in December 2021, which entailed the theft of nearly $200 million in assets and which the company then pledged to return.
The BitMart mobile app for Apple can be found here; the Android version can be found here. Details for setting up a BitMart demo account are here. You can also install the right mobile app by visiting their main site and clicking Download before scanning the display code with your camera.
Pricing: The fixed price is 0.25% per trade, but as with Crypto.com, using a credit or debit card can involve higher rates, such as 4.5%. Their pricing page outlines the full fee-related details.
Gemini was founded in 2014 and its buy/sell page lists approximately 100 cryptocurrencies available for trading in over 60 countries. The operational interface is simple and easy to use, and support is extensive.
Investopedia named Gemini as offering the best in security in the industry, and it recently became the first SOC 2-certified crypto exchange and offers FDIC insurance for U.S. currency deposits of up to $250,000.
You can download the correct mobile app directly from the Gemini site by scanning the code they provide. While I was not able to locate a demo, a video covering how to use the product can be found here.
Pricing: Trading fees are broken down into several categories, including mobile and desktop, and can be found here. They’re comprehensive, but mobile transactions between $10 and $200 in value can range in tiers from $0.99 to $2.99, and anything over $200 entails a 1.49% standard fee.
Cash App was founded in 2013 and is a unique entry in our roundup because it not only focuses on crypto exchange and stock trading, but also on regular financial transactions as well. This puts it in a similar vein to PayPal and Venmo, making it a powerhouse of capability.
Even though it has multiple capabilities, Investopedia rated Cash App as offering the best crypto exchange for Bitcoin. That being said, I wasn’t able to find a buy/send page on their site, though the mobile app features the current rates.
Pricing: Cryptocurrency transaction fees range from about 1.5% to 2.3%. If you plan to use the app for regular financial transactions, standard deposits are free whereby instant deposits entail a 0.5% to 1.75% fee.
Bakkt’s seamless and secure platform, developed in 2018 and accessed via the Bakkt app, gives users a low barrier to entry on crypto through an easy-to-use interface and no-fee approach. Users can buy, sell and send bitcoin and Ethereum cryptocurrencies.
In addition, app users can link supported rewards and loyalty programs, and convert select points to cash, then use that money to engage in further cryptocurrency transactions, send payments to people, buy gift cards or make real-world purchases using the virtual Bakkt Visa Debit Card. Bakkt App users can see loyalty points, rewards programs, gift cards and cryptocurrency side by side in a single view.
Pricing: Bakkt does not charge a per-transaction fee like most other platforms.
Bisq is a decentralized bitcoin exchange platform providing access to trade over 1000 cryptocurrencies in more than 180 countries. Launched in 2014, Bisq is a unique in that it entails a downloadable application available on all major operating systems. The only mobile app offerings for Apple and Android are really just notification services to provide you with status updates regarding your trades.
Being decentralized, Bisq does not hold any actual assets but puts sellers in touch with buyers and vice versa. The advantage to this type of operation is you don’t have to connect a bank account or crypto wallet to engage in transactions. This gives users an additional advantage in the form of personal information protection.
Pricing: Fees range from 0.10% to 0.70% depending on the type of transaction.
How to pick the cryptocurrency exchange that’s right for you
All of the products reviewed here have something to offer everyone. The process of exchanging cryptocurrency in a safe and reliable fashion is founded upon the platform involved, and each entry listed here has a proven track record for getting the job done. Your choice should be based upon the desired functionality and cryptocurrencies or transactions you intend to work with.
eToro is best for social investing, BitMart has the widest range of cryptocurrencies available, Cash App offers financial peer-to-peer transactions on top of excellent Bitcoin trading capabilities, Crypto.com has the strongest mobile app contender, Gemini provides the best security aspects and Coinbase is well-thought of as the easiest crypto exchange to learn. Bisq is not thought of as an active trading platform due to it being limited to a desktop application, so making quick exchanges and trades on the go is not an option with this crypto exchange.
I would go with Kraken, as it seems in my view to have the most established platform out there.