Over the last decade, cryptocurrencies have become extremely popular. These digital currencies are now an integral part of global economics.
Whether you use them for day-to-day transactions or investing, there are thousands of potential cryptocurrencies available.
But what are the most popular cryptocurrencies? This list breaks down the top options.
In This Article
What Are Cryptocurrencies?
Cryptocurrencies are digital currencies. You can use some of them to buy services and goods.
It’s also possible to use cryptocurrencies as a method of investing. As an investor, trader or market analyst, you cannot ignore these decentralized currencies.
One of the biggest draws of cryptocurrencies is that they use cryptography, or codes, making them extremely secure.
The Most Popular Cryptocurrencies
Since there are thousands of cryptocurrencies, choosing the best one for your needs can be difficult. It’s important to find an option that fits your trading strategy, investment plans or budget.
Evaluating the most popular options can be a great place to start as you search for the right cryptocurrency for you.
Based on values, primary uses, acceptance rates and more, here are 13 of the most popular cryptocurrencies.
Bitcoin (BTC) is the world’s first cryptocurrency. Currently, it is the most popular cryptocurrency in terms of market cap and trading volume.
Over the years, Bitcoin has become almost synonymous with cryptocurrency. By using blockchain technology, Bitcoin enables secure, peer-to-peer transactions over the internet. It also keeps a universal ledger for advanced security.
Following the 2020-2021 crypto boom, many bullish investors have hailed Bitcoin as ‘digital gold,’ viewing it as a great asset to fight inflation. However, Bitcoin is decentralized and highly volatile.
Despite its widespread acceptance, the Bitcoin network has faced criticism for its slower transaction speeds and unpredictable fees.
You can start trading Bitcoin on popular exchanges like Coinbase.
Primary Uses: Value transfer
Pros: Secure, well-known
Cons: Slower transaction speeds, unpredictable fees
|December 31, 2020||$29,001.72|
|December 31, 2019||$7,193.60|
|December 31, 2018||$3,742.70|
|December 31, 2017||$14,156.40|
|December 31, 2016||$963.74|
However, Ethereum is not as widely accepted since it is not a simple network made for transactions.
Instead, Ethereum was designed as an environment for decentralized software development. Users can create a variety of financial products and services using the Ethereum blockchain environment.
Smart contracts are one area where Ethereum differentiates itself.
Using a custom development language, customers can create blockchain-based applications that use smart contracts. These contracts can replace many transactions that usually need brokers or banks.
Ethereum also supports staking, which allows Ether owners to improve their investments with minimal risk.
Primary Uses: Decentralized software development
Pros: Smart contracts, supports staking
Cons: Not made for transactions
|December 31, 2020||$737.80|
|December 31, 2019||$129.61|
|December 31, 2018||$133.37|
|December 31, 2017||$756.73|
|December 31, 2016||$7.97|
Cardano (ADA) is a cryptocurrency network that brings together two aspects of decentralized finance (DeFi) needs. These include quick transactions and smart contracts.
It is worth noting that Cardano is the platform, while the coin is called Ada. You need Ada to carry out transactions through the Cardano network.
This two-layer cryptocurrency offers a hybrid financial experience to customers and is comparatively more scalable. As a result, it is growing in acceptance.
The computational layer of the Cardano network allows users to create smart contracts without needing advanced development skills. In addition, decentralized applications can also run on the Cardano platform.
Customers can use the platform for staking their Ada coins as well. Thanks to the lower value of the coin, it is easy for people to purchase Ada.
While Cardano has many positives, critics have cited subpar security and lower accountability as two downsides to this cryptocurrency network. Keep these things in mind as you evaluate Cardano.
Primary Uses: Value transfer, Software Platform
Pros: Quick transactions, affordable
Cons: Subpar security, lower accountability
|December 31, 2020||$0.1814|
|December 31, 2019||$.0328|
|December 31, 2018||$0.0411|
|December 31, 2017||$0.7197|
Polkadot (DOT) is a protocol that lets multiple blockchains connect and interact with each other. This next-generation blockchain protocol wants to create a web that is scalable, secure and supportive of collaboration.
One of the core ideas behind Polkadot is that two specialized blockchains can interact with each other and provide a brand-new experience for the user.
Polkadot has similarities with the Ethereum blockchain network in many ways. In addition to the apparent focus on custom development, both are powered by staking and not mining.
There are even some attempts that would allow the use of Ethereum code on Polkadot. The DOT token used by the system would be used for governance, bonding, staking and paying fees.
It’s important to note that one of the downsides of Polkadot includes increased switching costs. DOT also competes in a saturated market.
Primary uses: Inter-blockchain transactions
Pros: Supports staking, focused on custom development
Cons: Competes in a saturated market, increased switching costs
|December 31, 2020||$9.29|
|August 19, 2020||$2.90|
Unlike other cryptocurrencies on this list, Chainlink is basically an application token.
You can use the token to access services from the Chainlink platform. This provides real-world data from trusted sources and smart contracts that are powered by different blockchains.
Chainlink avoids situations that force smart contracts to rely on third-party sources for data. The platform uses a few steps to streamline this process.
First, it has to select a source to provide the right set of real-world data and set up an agreement. Then, the source will collect the real-world data and process it into a form smart contracts find useful.
Finally, the aggregation process makes the data accessible to smart contracts on Ethereum or other blockchain networks.
One of the downsides of Chainlink is that it has lower speeds of development.
Primary uses: Application token
Pros: Smart contracts, uses real-world data that is trustworthy
Cons: Lower speed of development
|December 31, 2020||$11.27|
|December 31, 2019||$1.77|
|December 31, 2018||$0.29|
|December 31, 2017||$0.60|
Ripple (XRP) is powered by blockchain and is a real-time gross settlement system. Though it may share a few characteristics with Bitcoin, it is different in many ways.
Ripple works as a currency exchange and remittance network, where transactions are verified using independent servers. More importantly, unlike with Bitcoin, transfers using Ripple are instant.
As a payment system, Ripple rivals conventional options like SWIFT. However, unlike SWIFT, Ripple ensures the best speeds and minimal transaction fees.
XRP has allocated the cryptocurrency coins through pre-mining. There are 100 billion in circulation.
Ripple also works with centralized institutions like banks, allowing these institutions to enable faster payments. However, this reliance on centralized platforms can also be a downside.
Primary uses: Value transfer
Pros: Instant transfers, minimal transaction fees
Cons: Dependent on centralized platforms
|December 31, 2020||$0.2198|
|December 31, 2019||$0.1929|
|December 31, 2018||$0.3527|
|December 31, 2017||$2.3006|
|December 31, 2016||$0.0064|
Tether (USDT) is a popular cryptocurrency with its value attached to the United States Dollar.
Unlike many other cryptocurrencies, the value of Tether does not change according to the demand. In this case, one USDT is equivalent to one USD.
Tether creates an opportunity to store stable cash on the digital infrastructure. Users get to enjoy all the other benefits of cryptocurrency transactions without worrying about value loss.
The Tether platform does not compromise security and privacy.
Tether Limited, the company behind the coin, has been part of some controversies. While the company says it has USD reserves, that has not been verified. Tether claims to have sorted out this problem.
The company has also been accused of manipulating BTC prices in the past.
Primary uses: Value transfer
Pros: Value storage, secure and private
Cons: Unverified USD reserves
Monero (XMR) is a cryptocurrency that offers better privacy protection than other crypto coins on this list.
It uses a blockchain that hides all the important information about a transaction on the ledger. Additionally, Monero uses Ring Confidential Transactions to enhance user-privacy.
Fungibility is another unique feature of Monero. This means that any given pair of the currency can be used interchangeably. This is not the case with Bitcoins or other crypto tokens.
More importantly, Monero is powered by a philosophy of equal access and egalitarianism.
Unlike the other cryptocurrency projects, the developers behind Monero haven’t received any extra stake in the project.
However, it’s important to note that Monero currently doesn’t have sufficient processes in place to identify genuine transactions.
Primary uses: Value transfer
Pros: Exceptional privacy, prioritizes equal access
Cons: Lacks an effective process to identify genuine transactions
|December 31, 2020||$156.57|
|December 31, 2019||$44.57|
|December 31, 2018||$46.23|
|December 31, 2017||$349.03|
|December 31, 2016||$13.73|
Litecoin (LTC) is a cryptocurrency that fixes some of the problems reported with the Bitcoin platform.
Most importantly, Litecoin has reduced transaction processing speeds and offers four times the total supply of Bitcoin. Litecoin is forked on the original Bitcoin project, which means both Bitcoin and Litecoin have a similar basic code.
While Bitcoin takes 10 minutes to create new blocks, Litecoin only takes 2.5 minutes. This change can reduce the time spent on individual transactions, which means users have to wait for less time for confirmations.
The LTC coin has not become as expensive as Bitcoin, so people can still afford it. It is also more appropriate for smaller transactions.
The downsides of Litecoin include the lack of a unique design and security concerns.
Primary uses: Value transfer
Pros: Faster transaction processing feeds, more supply
Cons: Security concerns, lack of unique design
|December 31, 2020||$124.69|
|December 31, 2019||$41.34|
|December 31, 2018||$30.47|
|December 31, 2017||$232.10|
|December 31, 2016||$4.33|
10. USD Coin
USD Coin (USDC) is another cryptocurrency pegged to the United States Dollar. This means the coin will always be equal to $1 while offering the standard benefits of a cryptocurrency.
This stablecoin is managed by CENTRE, a consortium that consists of the companies Circle and Coinbase.
Compared to non-stablecoins on this list, customers can use USD Coin for long-term storage of value in digital form. Unlike Bitcoin or Litecoin, USDC will not lose its value overnight.
The consortium behind the coin maintains a reserve corresponding to the coins in circulation. USDC is now widely used for transactions and trading, thanks to its low transaction fees.
Where USDC struggles is that it competes in a saturated market.
Primary uses: Value transfer
Pros: Long-term value storage
Cons: Competes in a saturated market
11. Bitcoin Cash
Bitcoin Cash (BCH) is another cryptocurrency created to overcome the limitations posed by the original Bitcoin project.
The developers of BCH wanted to create a coin that could handle a higher number of transactions per minute. They also wanted to offer an alternative to people who cannot afford Bitcoin.
Scalability is another reason behind the launch of Bitcoin Cash. The developers wanted something that customers can rely on as their transactions become more versatile.
One criticism faced by Bitcoin Cash is that the developers had to compromise security while improving speed and scalability. Still, Bitcoin Cash is the largest cryptocurrency forked on Bitcoin.
Primary use: Value transfer
Pros: Speed and scalability
Cons: Compromised security
|December 31, 2020||$343.05|
|December 31, 2019||$204.62|
|December 31, 2018||$151.05|
|December 31, 2017||$2,533.01|
IOTA is a cryptocurrency that works as the application token for the IOTA platform. This platform enables data transfer between Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
It also works towards selling collected data to manufacturers so that they can improve their products and services. One of the companies the platform works with is Jaguar.
This cryptocurrency does not use blockchain. Since IOTA needs to handle many transactions per second, traditional blockchain designs are not suitable.
Instead, IOTA uses Tangle. This is an innovative cryptographic verification system that is allegedly more effective than blockchain in terms of speed and capacity.
Therefore, the problem with IOTA is that its unusual design has caused many phishing and scamming attacks. That said, IOTA is one of the more innovative technologies that can connect DeFi and IoT.
Primary use: Application token, value transfer
Pros: Effective speed and capacity
Cons: Prone to phishing and scams
|December 31, 2020||$0.2969|
|December 31, 2019||$0.1601|
|December 31, 2018||$0.3566|
|December 31, 2017||$3.55|
Dogecoin (DOGE) was created to ridicule the increasing number of altcoins.
However, Dogecoin has become popular and widely used. People have praised Dogecoin for its fast transactions and supply options.
Recently, following a couple of tweets from Elon Musk, DOGE coin has seen a rise in value.
Dogecoin is used to handle low-value transactions and micro-tipping. It also remains one of the very few truly decentralized cryptocurrency projects.
Before using Dogecoin, it’s important to understand that its value is based on a cult following. This can be a point of concern.
You can invest in Dogecoin using a site like Robinhood or other cryptocurrency investing apps.
Primary use: Value transfer
Pros: Fast transactions and supply options
Cons: Value is based on a cult following
|December 31, 2020||$0.0047|
|December 31, 2019||$0.0020|
|December 31, 2018||$0.0023|
|December 31, 2017||$0.0090|
|December 31, 2016||$0.0002|
There are many different cryptocurrencies available that fit a variety of needs. The most popular ones include traditional payment-focused currencies and innovative options.
You can invest with a lot or invest with a little money. With any investment, make sure you understand the risks along with the gains.
If you want to research the crypto ecosystem before using cryptocurrency, this list can be a good launching point.