Are Cryptocurrency Investments Right for You?

August 19, 2021
Cryptocurrencies are drawing a lot of attention from investors—but are they right for you?

Cryptocurrencies have been getting a lot of attention lately. One could get whiplash from the tales of overnight millionaires who lost fortunes as quickly as they gained them. And no wonder: a single bitcoin ranged in price from $1,000 in early 2017 to more than $63,000 in April 2021—before plunging to $34,000 in late May.
While Bitcoin is perhaps the best-known cryptocurrency, it has competition in Dogecoin, Ethereum, XRP, and many others (see "Crypto king," below). Understandably, investors have questions about this emerging asset class. Here are answers to five of the most common.

Crypto king

Bitcoin's market capitalization equals that of nearly all other top cryptocurrencies combined.

Bitcoin’s market capitalization equals that of nearly all other top cryptocurrencies combined.

Source:, as 06/24/2021.

How do cryptocurrencies work?

Cryptocurrencies let users store money and make and receive secure payments outside the traditional financial system while remaining anonymous. Cryptocurrencies run on a decentralized public ledger called a blockchain—a database of every transaction maintained by all of that currency's users.

How are cryptocurrencies managed?

Unlike so-called fiat currencies such as the U.S. dollar and the euro, which are managed and backed by central banks, cryptocurrencies are decentralized, meaning no single entity has control over how they're governed. Instead, they're driven by consensus and the peculiarities of the cryptocurrency itself. For example, bitcoins are "mined" using high-powered computers that solve exceedingly complex math problems. However, by design only 21 million bitcoins can ever be mined, making them a finite resource more akin to certain commodities than a printed currency.

Are cryptocurrencies a legitimate asset class?

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are highly speculative investments, since supply and demand drive their volatility—not intrinsic value. That said, the cryptocurrency market has matured from its experimental phase into a unique and sizable asset class with a global market capitalization of some $1.5 trillion1 (see "Crypto roller coaster," below). As a result, several established corporations and institutional investors have begun investing in Bitcoin.

Crypto roller coaster

The crypto market climbed from $370 billion in August 2020 to $2.2 trillion in April 2021—before losing $700 billion in value by June.

The crypto market climbed from $370 billion in August 2020 to $2.2 trillion in April 2021—before losing $700 billion in value by June.

Source:, as of 06/07/2021.

What are the risks and drawbacks?

As you might expect with a highly speculative investment, cryptocurrencies carry notable risks, including:

  • Volatility: Cryptocurrency prices historically have been highly volatile, and fluctuations could result in significant financial losses.
  • Fraud: According to the Federal Trade Commission, "Many people have reported being lured to websites that look like opportunities for investing in or mining cryptocurrencies, but are bogus." And while login credentials are typically required to access a cryptocurrency exchange, these can be stolen or lost.
  • Lack of recoverability: With conventional financial accounts, there's normally a recovery process if you forget or misplace your login credentials. If you lose your cryptocurrency "key," however, you cannot retrieve your cryptocurrency. Similarly if you lose access to the place where you store your key, you will effectively lose possession of your cryptocurrency.

Should I invest in cryptocurrencies?

Whether cryptocurrencies are right for you depends on your goals and risk tolerance. While some traders have made money on the dramatic swings in the price of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, others have found out the hard way that what goes up can most definitely come down. Thus, investors in this speculative asset should never venture more than they can afford to lose., as of 06/07/2021.

Cryptocurrencies at Schwab

There are several ways to access cryptocurrency markets through Schwab:

  • "Over-the-counter" cryptocurrency trusts—such as Grayscale® Bitcoin Trusts (GBTC and BCHG) and Grayscale Ethereum Trusts (ETHE and ETCG)—allow investors to trade shares in trusts holding large pools of a cryptocurrency, although these can involve high volatility, hefty fees, and other risks.
  • Clients with a futures account can also trade Bitcoin futures (BTC).
    • Schwab clients can log in to learn more about Bitcoin futures trading at Schwab.

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The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market or economic conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed. Supporting documentation for any claims or statistical information is available upon request.

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

Digital currencies, such as Bitcoin, are highly volatile and not backed by any central bank or government. Digital currencies lack many of the regulations and consumer protections that legal-tender currencies and regulated securities have. Due to the high level of risk, investors should view Bitcoin as a purely speculative instrument.

Futures trading involves a high level of risk and is not suitable for all investors. Please read the Risk Disclosure for Futures and Options prior to trading futures products. Futures accounts are not protected by SIPC.

Currencies are speculative, very volatile, and not suitable for all investors.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results and the opinions presented cannot be viewed as an indicator of future performance.

Investing involves risk, including risk of loss.

Virtual Currency Derivatives trading involves unique and potentially significant risks. Please read NFA Investor Advisory – Futures on Virtual Currencies Including Bitcoin ( and CFTC Customer Advisory: Understand the Risk of Virtual Currency Trading (

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