Altcoins: What They Are and How They Work – NerdWallet

Altcoins are, by definition, any cryptocurrency that isn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate bitcoin, which means there are a draw of them : more than 10,000, according to CoinGecko. And considering bitcoin presently makes up about 40 % of the sum crypto market cap, more than half of the crypto grocery store ’ sulfur value is floating about in altcoins. But all altcoins aren ’ metric ton created equal. Some cost pennies, while others are hundreds of dollars per coin. Some have promising long-run applications, others are a dart in the pan. many drive to build on bitcoin ’ mho successes, others claim to solve its problems. All this adds up to an altcoin population that ’ s huge and wax of risk. here ’ s how to make sense of it.

How are altcoins different from bitcoin?

To understand altcoins, it helps to first have a firm appreciation on bitcoin ( read up on bitcoin for beginners ). It ’ second besides helpful to know the basics of blockchain engineering, on which all cryptocurrencies operate. Altcoins have the same precede as bitcoin : to use the blockchain as an incorruptible, circulate populace daybook, which allows and records a transaction lone if there ’ s consensus that the transaction is legitimate. But many altcoins have taken this premise and either used it to achieve unlike goals or sought to improve a perceived defect in bitcoin. Litecoin, for case, started out as a ringer of the Bitcoin blockchain ‘s informant code, but included changes to speed up transaction times and improve storage efficiency. Litecoin ’ sulfur determination is the same as bitcoin ’ s — to be a peer-to-peer internet currency — but its founder sought to improve the way bitcoin went about it. Ethereum, on the other hand, saw an opportunity in bitcoin ’ mho blockchain engineering beyond just recording fiscal transactions ; the Ethereum blockchain besides records agreements in the shape of “ smart contracts. ” Ethereum advocates say these smart contracts — calculator programs that mechanically execute an agreement if certain conditions are met — could upend industries that presently rely on costly middlemen, like insurance, bank and copyright management. early altcoins have emerged that promise to be even faster, more decentralize, more scalable, more guarantee or a combination of all these core cryptocurrency tenets. The leave is a dizzy ecosystem of altcoins that ’ second hard to categorize, but can be approximately broken down into these four buckets :

  • native cryptocurrencies .
  • Tokens .
  • Stablecoins .
  • Forks .

Native cryptocurrencies

native cryptocurrencies are the coins that were originally created to run on a specific blockchain net. Bitcoin is a native mint ( you ’ ll see native coin, currency, cryptocurrency and token used interchangeably ; it ’ s the “ native ” character that ’ s authoritative here ) because it is the currentness that ’ s used on the Bitcoin blockchain. ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market cap, is the native coin of the Ethereum net. To run applications like bright contracts on the Ethereum network, you ’ ll need to pay a transaction fee in ether. Binance coin ( BNB ), presently the fourth-largest cryptocurrency by market capital, is yet another native mint, as it ’ s the currency used on the Binance Chain. Binance is presently the largest cryptocurrency change in the universe, and its users can greatly benefit from owning BNB. For example, deal fees are reduced by 25 % when paid with BNB, and small amounts of cryptocurrencies that would otherwise be untradable can be gathered and converted into BNB.


A keepsake is a unit of respect that operates on an existing blockchain and can be used for specific purposes within that environment. Using tokens is alike to going to an old-school arcade : You exchange your U.S. dollars for tokens that are entirely accepted by those video games. Chainlink, for case, is built on top of the Ethereum blockchain, and developers can use it to convert real-world data into a blockchain-friendly format that can be read by bright contracts and frailty versa. LINK is the token that ’ s used to pay for Chainlink ’ randomness services. so, if an investor believes need for smart contract-based services is going to rise, they might buy LINK ; the more Chainlink engineering is used, the think goes, the higher the demand for LINK, which could send its value higher. Another case is the Uniswap platform, a decentralize substitution built on lead of the Ethereum organization. Centralized exchanges ( such as the stock market or Binance.US ) require deposits into an account or wallet that ’ mho connected to the exchange. however, a decentralize exchange enables direct peer-to-peer trade from one personal wallet to another. UNI is the token of the Uniswap exchange, and it ’ s what ’ s known as a “ government ” token — holders of UNI can vote on proposals that determine how Uniswap will operate, exchangeable to the way traditional shareholders have a pronounce in corporate administration.


Stablecoins were developed to offer the advantages of cryptocurrencies and tokens without the price volatility. They accomplish this by tying their value to an existing currency, one for one. Tether, the largest stablecoin by market hood, is tied to the U.S. dollar ; one leash will constantly equal one U.S. dollar. You won ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate earn any profit through price appreciation with stablecoins, but there are batch of applications for a coin whose value doesn ’ triiodothyronine originate and fall by the infinitesimal. For some, stablecoins offer a way to hold funds in a crypto exchange and easily convert them into another cryptocurrency, quite than converting from U.S. dollars. Others may use stablecoins to easily send and receive funds globally. But possibly the most democratic function for them today is in decentralized finance, or DeFi. basically, DeFi platforms let users lend stablecoins to others and earn matter to in tax return, all without the indigence for an mediator like a bank. What ’ s more, some platforms incentivize users by offering tokens, such as the administration tokens outlined above, on lead of the interest they receive. many exchanges have greatly simplified this action. On Coinbase, for case, it ’ s presently free to convert U.S. dollars into the stablecoin USD coin ( USDC ), after which it will start earning 0.15 % APY. ( note that this rate is topic to change. )


In a cryptocurrency blockchain, groups of commemorate transactions ( the public ledger ) are organized into blocks, and each obstruct is connected to the adjacent via complex cryptanalysis. For a new block to be appended to the existing chain, all the previous transactions in all the previous blocks must besides be verified, and there must be a consensus that all is properly with the chain. This consensus is required for the list of transactions adenine well as the rules that govern the blockchain net. And when a group decides it wants to change the rules, it can validate a disconnected in the chain ; this is a crotch. A new chain emerges, ready to start logging transactions under the new rules agreed upon by those who chose to validate the branching. meanwhile, the early prong of the branching keeps going on as normal. Forks can happen over and over again, creating new protocols and cryptocurrencies all the while. Bitcoin cash is a fork of the original Bitcoin blockchain, while Ethereum Classic is a fork of the Ethereum system. Dogecoin is a fork of Luckycoin, which was a crotch of Litecoin, which was a branch of Bitcoin. sol, as an investor, if you like the ideas, rules and changes found in a branching of an existing blockchain, you could buy that branch ’ south currency in the hope that it rises in value.

What to consider before buying altcoins

Before diving into any altcoin, take the clock time to read through what the administration behind it is trying to accomplish. Ask yourself :

  • Does the altcoin seem like a plausible way to improve upon bitcoin ?
  • If it ’ s a token, does it have real-world application ?
  • If it ’ s a stablecoin, how are you going to use it ?
  • If it ’ s a fork, why was it created and do you agree with that decision ?

Be warned that this is a nascent commercialize where shakeout is inevitable. Some of these projects will fail — there ’ s already a crowd cemetery of dead altcoins — and some will succeed. That ’ sulfur why fiscal pros much put altcoins hard in the “ alternative investments ” column : something you might dabble in if you ’ ve already got a healthy, diversify investment portfolio. ad

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NerdWallet rating  NerdWallet ‘s ratings are determined by our editorial team. The scoring formula for on-line brokers and robo-advisors takes into bill over 15 factors, including history fees and minimums, investment choices, customer support and mobile app capabilities .

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