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Key points

  • Bitcoin was the original cryptocurrency that launched in January 2009.
  • Countless coins are traded on the crypto market.
  • Most cryptocurrencies hold small market capitalizations.

The cryptocurrency market is known for its volatility and unpredictability. But it has also generated incredible gains for long-term investors. Crypto bulls believe the sky’s the limit for crypto prices.

Though thousands of cryptocurrencies are available today, bitcoin and ethereum still dominate the crypto world. Their market capitalizations comprise about 71% of the $2.42 trillion global crypto market.

Here’s a list of the 10 largest cryptocurrencies by market cap, excluding stablecoins.

1. Bitcoin (BTC)

Price: $66,444.49

Market cap: $1.3 trillion

Year-over-year return: 128%

Launched in 2009, bitcoin remains the most popular and valuable cryptocurrency. It was developed by an individual or a group under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Its decentralized, blockchain-based system to verify transactions has transformed how people view digital security and currency.

But critics have raised several concerns about bitcoin. Its energy-intensive proof-of-work consensus mechanism may need help scaling the network. Several large-scale crypto projects also now have higher transaction speeds than bitcoin. Meanwhile, other projects have created blockchains with special designs to improve bitcoin’s functionality.

2. Ethereum (ETH)

Price: $3,463.71

Market cap: $416.4 billion

Year-over-year return: 87%

Ethereum was one of the first altcoins. An altcoin is an alternative to bitcoin. The leading altcoin debuted in 2015 and ranks second to bitcoin in market capitalization.

What sets the ethereum blockchain apart is its introduction of smart contracts. These contracts are pieces of code that run decentralized applications. The ethereum blockchain now supports over 4,400 dApps and developer tools.

The native cryptocurrency of the ethereum network is ether. In 2023, ethereum transitioned from a proof-of-work consensus mechanism to a less energy-intensive, proof-of-stake transaction system. Ethereum is now a greener investment than bitcoin.

3. BNB (BNB)

Price: $583.60

Market cap: $85.2 billion

Year-over-year return: 145%

Binance is one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges. BNB is its native crypto. BNB was initially created as a utility token built on the ethereum network. Its original purpose was to give users access to discounted trading fees on the Binance exchange.

The token has since transitioned to Binance’s blockchain and has evolved to serve several purposes. BNB can now be used for various applications, transactions and other purposes. Unfortunately, like other cryptos, Binance has run afoul of the 91Ӱ Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC sued the company in 2023 on charges of violating securities laws.

4. Solana (SOL)

Price: $177.78

Market cap: $82.6 billion

Year-over-year return: 667%

Solana launched in March 2020. Like ethereum, its network supports dApps, smart contracts and nonfungible tokens. But solana’s unique, hybrid proof-of-stake and proof-of-history verification system makes it faster and cheaper than ethereum.

Unfortunately, outages have plagued the network since it launched, undermining solana’s credibility. In fact, it has suffered several major and partial outages since early 2022. Solana supporters see the crypto as a potential long-term threat to the ethereum network. But solana’s stability must improve if it wants to live up to its hype as an “ethereum killer.”

5. XRP (XRP)

Price: $0.63

Market cap: $35.2 billion

Year-over-year return: -8%

Ripple is a global payments network designed for institutional use. Its native cryptocurrency is XRP. The Ripple network offers an alternative to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. SWIFT is the traditional system used by banks and other financial institutions for international money transfers.

Ripple claims its network is superior to SWIFT because it facilitates faster, cheaper and more secure transactions. The crypto scored a partial court win over the SEC in 2023 when a judge ruled that XRP is “not necessarily a security.” But Ripple is still battling the SEC over a nearly $2 billion fine concerning alleged XRP sales to institutional clients.

6. Dogecoin (DOGE)

Price: $0.13

Market cap: $19.4 billion

Year-over-year return: 71%

Dogecoin was created in 2013 as a parody of bitcoin. But the cryptocurrency has become a legitimate investment for many crypto traders because of its simplicity. It also has high-profile supporters and a popular dog mascot.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, a dogecoin investor, has repeatedly triggered volatility in the share price by mentioning the crypto. A group of dogecoin investors sued Musk for allegedly illegally manipulating its price. Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban is also a dogecoin supporter and has praised the crypto for its potential as a medium of exchange.

7. Toncoin (TON)

Price: $6.96

Market cap: $17.5 billion

Year-over-year return: 395%

Toncoin is a “layer 1” token developed in 2018 by encrypted messaging company Telegram. The toncoin network is known for its smart contract capability. It also has an advantage over ethereum with its impressive blockchain transaction speed of five seconds.

Toncoin’s speed makes it extremely useful. But its long-term success hinges on the network attracting more developers and growing its user base. Toncoin’s price and visibility got a boost from reports of Telegram considering an initial public offering. A successful Telegram IPO likely wouldn’t impact TON demand. But it could draw media attention to the crypto.

8. Cardano (ADA)

Price: $0.42

Market cap: $15.0 billion

Year-over-year return: 38%

Cardano is a decentralized proof-of-stake blockchain that debuted in September 2017. The crypto is designed to be more energy-efficient than bitcoin and other proof-of-work blockchains. From the start, cardano’s founder, Charles Hoskinson, co-founder of ethereum, boosted its credibility.

Like ethereum, cardano is focused on functionality, appealing to developers building dApps and verifiable smart contracts. ADA is the primary cryptocurrency used on the network to run dApps and facilitate transactions. By staking cardano, users can help verify the network’s transactions. They then earn additional tokens as a reward for participating in the proof-of-stake system.

9. Avalanche (AVAX)

Price: $30.20

Market cap: $11.9 billion

Year-over-year return: 127%

Avalanche is a 2020-launched ethereum network competitor. Its goal is to create the fastest, most secure network that supports smart contracts, dApps and autonomous blockchains.

AVAX is the native token of the avalanche network. Avalanche users can vote on platform governance and pay transaction fees using the token. Coin creation is limited to 720 million tokens. Avalanche users can vote to alter the rate that AVAX is created. This gives them control over the crypto’s inflation rate. AVAX also has a unique consensus mechanism for verifying transactions. The process involves a sufficient majority of validators approving a transaction.

10. TRON (TRX)

Price: $0.13

Market cap: $11.7 billion

Year-over-year return: 66%

Tron is a cryptocurrency platform that aims to decentralize the internet using blockchain technology and dApps. Launched in August 2017, the network has over 228 million accounts as of May 2024. The tron network uses a delegated proof-of-stake verification system. Its native cryptocurrency is TRX.

TRX was originally an ethereum-based token but transitioned to its own blockchain in 2018. Tron specializes in decentralized entertainment, such as gaming and gambling applications. The network allows content creators to sell their work directly to consumers. In March 2023, the SEC charged tron founder Justin Sun with fraud and other securities law violations.

*Market caps and pricing are sourced from CoinMarketCap.com, current as of 8:07 a.m. ET on July 24, 2024.

What is cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is digital money that can be held as an investment or used to purchase goods or services.

Banks or other financial institutions aren’t needed to verify or complete transactions. Cryptocurrency transactions are verified via a consensus mechanism and recorded on a blockchain. These are permanent ledgers that track and record trades and assets.

Cryptocurrencies are essentially self-contained, digital payment platforms. They are typically not issued or controlled by central governments or other authorities. Instead, they’re controlled by a transparent software protocol that leverages the power of peer-to-peer networks of computers. The primary goal of cryptocurrencies is to give individuals complete control over their assets.

What is crypto trading?

Crypto trading involves buying and selling cryptocurrencies to generate profits. Crypto traders use different strategies based on risk tolerance, time commitment and financial goals:

  • Long-term traders choose high-quality cryptocurrencies to buy and hold for years or decades. They ignore the day-to-day or month-to-month fluctuations in the crypto market. Instead, these traders focus on the gradual growth of crypto use and investment over time.
  • Crypto swing traders seek to capitalize on trends in the market by buying and selling within days or weeks.
  • Crypto day traders buy and sell within the same trading day.
  • Crypto scalp traders buy and sell several times throughout the day. They look to make a net profit from many small gains.

Pros and cons of crypto trading

The volatility of the cryptocurrency market creates opportunities for traders to make big profits relatively quickly. But volatility makes crypto trading extremely risky and challenging, even for experienced traders.

Brian Evans is CEO and founder of BDE Ventures, a private investment company that backs crypto projects. He said inexperienced traders should tread carefully in the crypto market.

“Because crypto is open to all, it’s easier for newcomers to trading to both take a shot at it but also blow up in terms of losing all their capital,” Evans said. “With this in mind, it’s best to learn as much as possible about trading and all the related nuances before diving headlong into it.”

Here are several pros and cons of crypto trading:

Pros

  • Crypto has a track record of extremely strong performance over long periods.
  • Many cryptos have a capped supply.
  • If global cryptocurrency usage continues to rise, crypto demand should support prices.

Cons

  • Extreme volatility makes the crypto market one of the most challenging markets to trade.
  • Crypto has faced regulatory crackdowns.
  • Unlike stocks and bonds, for example, cryptocurrencies are not backed by revenue-generating companies or other assets.

How to buy cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrencies trade on exchanges like stocks and exchange-traded funds. But not all online brokerages allow cryptocurrency trading, particularly in cryptos other than bitcoin and ethereum.

The first step in buying cryptocurrency is identifying a broker or exchange offering crypto trading. Popular crypto brokers include Robinhood and SoFi. Leading cryptocurrency exchanges include Coinbase and Binance.

Steps to opening a cryptocurrency exchange account

Once you find a cryptocurrency exchange, you can create and verify a trading account. The process may vary from platform to platform. But it will generally include the following steps:

  1. Create an account. You may need to choose the appropriate account type and submit personal information.
  2. Verify your identity. This process may involve submitting a copy of a bank statement, photo ID or other documents.
  3. Read and agree to a user agreement. User agreements typically spell out the terms of service associated with your account. These include any penalties or fees you may need to understand.
  4. Link a payment method. Choose a bank account or other account type to link to your crypto trading account. This will allow you to transfer money in and out of the account.
  5. Fund your account. Consider how much money you want to start with in your crypto trading account. Then, initiate a transfer from your linked account.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Given so many unknowns, it’s tough to predict how cryptocurrency will perform in the future. Factors include the global regulatory environment, 91Ӱ dollar stability and crypto integration into the existing financial system.

Bitcoin and other leading cryptos have performed extremely well up to this point. Their capped or restricted supplies create significant potential for a boom under the right circumstances.

Bitcoin and ethereum dominate the global cryptocurrency market cap in the top two spots. Beyond them, BNB, solana and XRP jostle for position among the top 10 cryptos.

Cryptocurrencies run on blockchain technology and are open source. This means the code behind them is public and visible to all. Creating a cryptocurrency can be as simple as copying and pasting an existing blockchain or changing its name.

Yes. The ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF (BITO), which invests in bitcoin futures, launched in 2021. The first crypto spot ETFs that hold cryptocurrency launched directly in early 2024. Examples include the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust ETF (GBTC) and iShares Bitcoin Trust (IBIT).

Blueprint is an independent publisher and comparison service, not an investment advisor. The information provided is for educational purposes only and we encourage you to seek personalized advice from qualified professionals regarding specific financial decisions. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Blueprint has an advertiser disclosure policy. The opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Blueprint editorial staff alone. Blueprint adheres to strict editorial integrity standards. The information is accurate as of the publish date, but always check the provider’s website for the most current information.

Wayne Duggan

BLUEPRINT

Wayne Duggan is a regular contributor for Forbes Advisor and 91Ӱ News and World Report and has been a staff writer for Benzinga since 2014. He is an expert in the psychological challenges of investing and frequently reports on breaking market news and analyst commentary related to popular stocks. Some of his prior work includes contributing news and analysis to Seeking Alpha, InvestorPlace.com, Motley Fool, and the Lightspeed Active Trading blog. He’s the author of the book "Beating Wall Street With Common Sense," which focuses on practical investing strategies to outperform the stock market. He resides in Biloxi, Mississippi

Farran Powell

BLUEPRINT

Farran Powell is the lead editor of investing at 91Ӱ Blueprint. She was previously the assistant managing editor of investing at 91Ӱ News and World Report. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including TheStreet, Mansion Global, CNN, CNN Money, DNAInfo, Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and the New York Daily News. She holds a BSc from the London School of Economics and an MA from the University of Texas at Austin. You can follow her on Twitter at @farranpowell.