Cryptocurrencies are a highly volatile asset class, are still unregulated in Australia and, too often, are an arena for hackers and scammers. Nevertheless, Australians are crypto-curious. According to consumer group CHOICE, almost one in five Aussies are either involved in some form of cryptocurrency trading or are interested in getting involved. Those who steer clear from crypto often do so because of the risk of crypto scams.
From Bitcoin and Ethereum to Dogecoin and Tether, there are thousands of different cryptocurrencies, making it overwhelming when you’re first getting started.
To help you get your bearings, these are the top 10 cryptocurrencies based on their market capitalisation or the total value of all the coins currently in circulation. This is not a recommendation of what you should or should not buy, merely a list of the most valuable so you can get a sense of the playing field before you decide whether to roll the dice and invest in crypto.
What Are Cryptocurrencies?
A cryptocurrency is a digital asset that can circulate without the centralized authority of a bank or government. To date, there are more than 20,000 cryptocurrency projects out there that represent the entire $952 billion crypto market.
1. Bitcoin (BTC)
- Market cap: $US367 billion
Created in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin (BTC) is the original cryptocurrency. As with most cryptocurrencies, BTC runs on a blockchain, or a ledger logging transactions distributed across a network of thousands of computers. Because additions to the distributed ledgers must be verified by solving a cryptographic puzzle, a process called proof of work, Bitcoin is kept secure and safe from fraudsters.
Bitcoin’s price has skyrocketed as it’s become a household name. In May 2016, you could buy one Bitcoin for about $500. As of Sept. 30, 2022, a single Bitcoin’s price was around $19,531. That’s a growth of more than 3,800%.
Related: How To Buy Bitcoin
2. Ethereum (ETH)
- Market cap: $US159 billion
Both a cryptocurrency and a blockchain platform, Ethereum is a favorite of program developers because of its potential applications, like so-called smart contracts that automatically execute when conditions are met and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Ethereum has also experienced tremendous growth. From April 2016 to the end of September 2022, its price went from about $11 to around $1,388, increasing around 12,518%.
Related: How To Buy Ethereum
3. Tether (USDT)
- Market cap: $US68 billion
Unlike some other forms of cryptocurrency, Tether (USDT) is a stablecoin, meaning it’s backed by fiat currencies like US dollars and the Euro and hypothetically keeps a value equal to one of those denominations. In theory, this means Tether’s value is supposed to be more consistent than other cryptocurrencies, and it’s favoured by investors who are wary of the extreme volatility of other coins.
4. U.S. Dollar Coin (USDC)
- Market cap: $US45 billion
Like Tether, USD Coin (USDC) is a stablecoin, meaning it’s backed by U.S. dollars and aims for a 1 USD to 1 USDC ratio. USDC is powered by Ethereum, and you can use USD Coin to complete global transactions.
5. Binance Coin (BNB)
- Market cap: $US43 billion
Binance Coin (BNB) is a form of cryptocurrency that you can use to trade and pay fees on Binance, one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world. Since its launch in 2017, Binance Coin has expanded past merely facilitating trades on Binance’s exchange platform. Now, it can be used for trading, payment processing or even booking travel arrangements. It can also be traded or exchanged for other forms of cryptocurrency, such as Ethereum or Bitcoin.
BNB’s price in 2017 was just $0.10. By late September 2022, its price had risen to around $283, a gain of approximately 282,900%.
Related: Cryptocurrency Glossary Of Terms
6. XRP (XRP)
- Market cap: $US24 billion
Created by some of the same founders as Ripple, a digital technology and payment processing company, XRP can be used on that network to facilitate exchanges of different currency types, including fiat currencies and other major cryptocurrencies.
At the beginning of 2017, the price of XRP was $0.006. As of October 13, 2022, its price reached $0.48, equal to a rise of 7900%.
7. Binance USD (BUSD)
- Market cap: $US21 billion
Binance USD (BUSD) is a stablecoin that Paxos and Binance founded to create a cryptocurrency backed by the US dollar. To maintain this value, Paxos holds an amount of US dollars equal to the total supply of BUSD. As with other stablecoins, BUSD gives traders and crypto users the ability to engage in transactions with other crypto assets while minimizing the risk of volatility.
8. Cardano (ADA)
- Market cap: $US13 billion
Somewhat later to the crypto scene, Cardano (ADA) is notable for its early embrace of proof-of-stake validation. This method expedites transaction time and decreases energy usage and environmental impact by removing the competitive, problem-solving aspect of transaction verification in platforms like Bitcoin. Cardano also works like Ethereum to enable smart contracts and decentralized applications, which ADA, its native coin, powers.
Cardano’s ADA token has had relatively modest growth compared to other major crypto coins. In 2017, ADA’s price was $0.02. As of October 13, 2022, its price was at $0.38. This is an increase of 1800%.
9. Solana (SOL)
- Market cap: $US11 billion
Developed to help power decentralized finance (DeFi) uses, decentralized apps (DApps) and smart contracts, Solana runs on a unique hybrid proof-of-stake and proof-of-history mechanisms to process transactions quickly and securely. SOL, Solana’s native token, powers the platform.
When it launched in 2020, SOL’s price started at $0.77. By mid October 2022, its price was around $31.17, a gain of 3948%.
10. Dogecoin (DOGE)
Dogecoin was famously started as a joke in 2013 but rapidly evolved into a prominent cryptocurrency thanks to a dedicated community and creative memes. Unlike many other cryptos, there is no limit on the number of Dogecoins that can be created, which leaves the currency susceptible to devaluation as supply increases.
Dogecoin’s price in 2017 was $0.0002. By mid October, 2022, its price was at $0.05, up 24900%.
*Market caps and pricing sourced from coinmarketcap.com, current as of October 13, 2022. This article is not an endorsement of any particular cryptocurrency, broker or exchange nor does it constitute a recommendation of cryptocurrency as an investment class.
What are cryptocurrencies?
Cryptocurrency is a form of currency that exists solely in digital form. Cryptocurrency can be used to pay for purchases online without going through an intermediary, such as a bank, or it can be held as an investment.
How does trading cryptocurrencies differ from trading stocks?
While you can invest in cryptocurrencies, they differ a great deal from traditional investments, like stocks. When you buy stock, you are buying a share of ownership of a company, which means you’re entitled to do things like vote on the direction of the company. If that company goes bankrupt, you also may receive some compensation once its creditors have been paid from its liquidated assets. In Australia, you are also paid regular dividends by the company, when it makes a profit.
Buying cryptocurrency doesn’t grant you ownership over anything except the token itself; it’s more like exchanging one form of currency for another. If the crypto loses its value, you won’t receive anything after the fact.
There are several other key differences to keep in mind:
- Trading hours: Stocks are only traded during stock exchange hours, typically 9 am to 4 pm AEST, Monday through Friday. Cryptocurrency markets never close, so you can trade 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Regulation: Stocks are regulated financial products, meaning a governing body verifies their credentials and their finances are matters of public record. By contrast, cryptocurrencies are not regulated investment vehicles, so you may not be aware of the inner dynamics of your crypto or the developers working on it. Furthermore, you have very little protection when things go wrong.
- Volatility: Both stocks and cryptocurrency involve risk; the money you invest can lose value. However, stocks are directly linked to companies and generally rise and fall based on those companies’ performance. Cryptocurrency prices are more speculative—no one is quite sure of their value yet. That makes them much more volatile and affected by something as small as a celebrity’s tweet.
Do you have to pay taxes on cryptocurrency?
If you buy and sell coins, it’s important to pay attention to cryptocurrency tax rules. Cryptocurrency is treated as a capital asset, like stocks, rather than cash, which means that you need to pay your marginal tax rates on the crypto when you register your return with the ATO. It also means that if you sell cryptocurrency at a profit, you’ll have to pay capital gains tax.
Are there cryptocurrency exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in Australia?
Given the thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence (and the high volatility associated with most of them), it’s understandable you might want to take a diversified approach to investing in crypto to minimize the risk you lose money. The first crypto ETF launched in Australia in 2022, and there are now six crypto-backed ETFs to choose from.
How do you buy crypto?
You can buy cryptocurrencies through Australian-based crypto exchanges, such as CoinSpot and Swyftx or platforms such as eToro Australia.
Why are there so many cryptocurrencies?
Cryptocurrency is an emerging area with more than 19,000 crypto projects in existence, with very few barriers to entry. Last year, in particular, witnessed a crypto market boom, with thousands of new crypto projects added.
While some crypto function as currencies, others are used to develop infrastructure. For instance, in the case of Ethereum or Solana, developers are building other cryptos on top of these platform currencies, and that creates even more possibilities (and cryptos).
What are altcoins?
When we first think of crypto, we usually think of Bitcoin first. That’s because Bitcoin represents more than 45% of the total cryptocurrency market. So when we talk about any cryptos outside of Bitcoin, all of those cryptos are considered altcoins.
Ethereum, for instance, is regarded as the most popular altcoin.
Why is bitcoin valuable?
Part of what makes Bitcoin so valuable is its scarcity. Bitcoin’s maximum supply is limited to 21 million coins. Currently, there are 19 million coins in circulation.
To create supply, Bitcoin rewards crypto miners with a set Bitcoin amount. (To be exact, 6.25 BTC is issued when a miner has successfully mined a single block.). To keep the process in check, the rewards given for mining Bitcoin are cut in half almost every four years.
Why are cryptocurrencies important?
Cryptocurrencies are rising in importance and not going away anytime soon. While the initial premise of cryptocurrency was to fix the problems with traditional currencies, there are now a whole host of utility cryptocurrencies that have sprung up, thanks to the creation of the blockchain. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you should invest in them: they are highly volatile and you could lose all of your money.