Crypto 101 - How to get started when you know nothing

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This article was written in response to @Casey Jones 's post in the crypto market discussion thread. I figured that my response might serve as a decent reference for folks and should not get buried in a many paged discussion.

First, a couple of basic concepts:
  • What is crypto? - When you buy crypto, you don't actually take possession of a physical (or digital/abstract for that matter) object. Crypto tokens are unique mathematical objects that exist on a blockchain. To own crypto is to own a wallet (address) that the blockchain has recorded as the owner of a collection of crypto tokens. You own the wallet (address). The wallet (address) owns the crypto. Securing the password to your wallet is how you safeguard your crypto.
  • What is a wallet? - A wallet is not a physical object. It is a software program than can create and manage addresses and interface with a crypto blockchain. Wallets can be custodial (owned and managed by a 3rd party like an exchange) or self custody (you own and manage it directly). Self custody wallets can be further divided into "soft wallets" (password protected web browser extensions) and "hard wallets" (offline "cold storage" solutions). I'll discuss this more down below.

There are three important considerations for dabbling with crypto:
  • On ramp - How will you acquire your crypto?
  • Custody - How will you store your crypto?
  • Off ramp - How will you convert your crypto back into fiat (assuming you are acquiring crypto as an investment asset)
Because crypto can be moved around from one wallet to another, each consideration can be managed separately (ie. on a different platform) if you are willing to pay a (hopefuly) small gas/transfer fee. Let's explore...

On Ramps

There are a number of ways you can acquire crypto. Most of them will require you to comply with Know Your Customer (KYC) processes to open an account and do business with them. Most all of them will accept payment via ACH (electronic check), credit card or wire transfer. Popular on ramps include:
  • Crypto Exchanges - The sophistication of trading options on exchanges will vary, but all of them will allow you to open an account and buy crypto. I have personally used CoinBase (that's a referral link - if you use it, open an account and buy $100 worth of any crypto, you will get $10 worth of Bitcoin from CoinBase) and Kraken in the past. Kraken appears to be (currently as of the time of this writing) in the crosshairs of America's War on Crypto, so beware regulatory risk if you choose to use them. Some other exchanges out there include and eToro.
  • Brokerage houses - Wall street is starting to embrace crypto. Brokerage companies including RobinHood and Fidelity currently offer crypto trading for customers. Many more are developing such services for their clients.
  • web3 portals - There are some web and app based options that work with self custody wallets (more on that below) allowing you to buy crypto and have it deposited in a wallet/address of your choice. You can buy crypto for yourself or someone else (or someone else can buy crypto for your wallet too). Examples include Moonpay and others. If you own a self custody wallet, most likely your wallet will have integrations with several on ramps in this category for you to choose from.
  • Private sale / gift - Once you have a wallet, you can receive crypto from anyone that is willing to send you some (whether you buy it from them in a private sale or provide them with some goods or service in return). This is done by sending crypto from one address to another.

You should be aware that the price for a given crypto at a given point in time is not universally the same across all on ramps. Prices (as well as exchange/brokerage fees) can vary a little bit from one platform to another. The market is maturing though so arbitrage plays tend to keep the prices in a relatively close band. Even so, it can be worthwhile to check a couple of on ramps before pulling the trigger on a buy.


If you opened an account with an exchange or brokerage house, they will manage a custodial wallet for you. You will have access to the address(es) for the various crypto that you acquire and be able to send, receive, buy and sell (and maybe to stake but that's an intermediate level topic you can explore here if you like). But the exchange/brokerage owns the wallet and also has access to the addresses, so there is counter party risk.

If you prefer to avoid the counter party risk, you can take self custody of your crypto assets by using a soft or hard wallet:
  • Soft wallet - Soft wallets are web (browser) or phone app based solutions. Not all soft wallets work with all crypto platforms. MetaMask is a popular soft wallet that works with Ethereum and ERC20 (Ethereum derivative) tokens. has a page designed to help people find an appropriate Bitcoin web wallet. You have do a bit of research on these web wallets to understand their strengths and risks.
  • Hard wallet - Hard wallets are actually comprised of two components - a purpose built flash drive with special security features and software to interface with it. I know of two options here that have good reputations - Ledger and Trezor. I own and use a Ledger Nano X and am very pleased with it. The Trezor seems to be well engineered, but isn't as robust as the Ledger Nano last I checked.
It is important to understand that all self custody options put the onus on you to remember and securely manage your passwords (or seed phrases depending upon the wallet). If you lose your passwords, you lose access to your crypto. If you leak/disclose your passwords, a bad actor can easily take your crypto (by sending it to another address). I use the CryptoTag Zeus (from Ledger) to maintain an encoded record of my Ledger seed phrase. YMMV.

Off Ramps

Converting crypto back into fiat can be a bit trickier than acquiring it in the first place. Exchanges and brokerages work fine for this purpose. However, most of the web3 portals that allow you to buy crypto directly into a self custody wallet are one way portals. They don't buy crypto from you - they only sell to you. If you are holding crypto in self custody like I do, it's still a good idea to have an exchange or brokerage account for selling crypto back into fiat. Of course, you can always arrange private sales person to person if you trust the other party or just use the crypto directly to buy things if you find a vendor that accepts it.

To Infinity and Beyond

Once you own some crypto, there is a whole world of web3 apps you can explore to do more advanced things like becoming a banker (lending your crypto and earning interest on your loan(s)), staking (committing your crypto to pools that incentivize network operators to be good actors and promote stability and operation of the network while earning a return for your investment) and more. The truly advanced can even program smart contracts to automatically commit crypto trades across trading platforms to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities just like Wall Street insiders! But that's a bit beyond my sphere of experience and expertise at the moment.

If you are at all curious about crypto, I encourage you to dip your toes into the water with a small investment (whatever you consider "play" money or a fair price for an education in this realm). You can start with an account at an exchange/brokerage and move on to self custody storage with further options for staking, DeFi, et al as you go.

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I forgot to mention an important point about hardware wallets - always buy new from the manufacturer. Don't try to cheap out with a deal from a 3rd party (whether new via a vendor on amazon or a used one via ebay or similar). You want a wallet that has never been used or tampered with. Buy direct from the manufacturer.
This is all I need to know: "When you buy crypto, you don't actually take possession of a physical (or digital/abstract for that matter) object. "

Yeah, it's a bit of a mind bender. Blockchains are public ledgers that record ownership. You can think of it like a public bulletin board. The bulletin board lists every address that owns the underlying crypto tokens (and which tokens it owns). When you buy crypto, the owner of the tokens you are buying agrees to let the bulletin board change the record of ownership from his address to your address. It's very much like a real property deed at your county courthouse recording ownership of a house.
All I know about crypto is there are so many 'coins' I can't keep track of any of it.

It's too damn confusing.

So much easier to hold fiat Federal Reserve notes!
All I know is that I'm not buying in until I see people like Tom Brady, Gisele Bunchen, Kevin O' Leary, Trevor Lawrence, Shaquille O'Neal, Larry David, David Ortiz, Steph Curry, Naomi Osaka and Udonis Haslem endorse one of them.

That way, I know it's a good one and I'm safe!
Follow up article has been posted:

... Earlier today I opened a crypto account with Fidelity. ...

i don't have an account with Fidelity - I've only read about their offering in news reports. I am curious though if you don't mind sharing:
  • Does Fidelity give you any access to your crypto? Can you send and receive crypto with your Fidelity account to and from other addresses?
  • What crypto tokens does Fidelity let you buy? I assume it's a fairly limited list compared to what is available at exchanges.
New at this, so bear with me

Tradable coins:

Used Fidelity because I have other accounts with them & never had a problem. This is going to be a learning experience for me.
Your second link states :
At the time of this writing, Fidelity doesn’t allow you to send or receive crypto transfers. However, it’s probably a safe bet to say that Fidelity will eventually allow crypto transfers in the future to compete with other brokers that currently offer both crypto trading and crypto transfers. ...

Unfortunately, I don't see a date stamp on the page, so I don't know how old that info is.

Once you have your account and your crypto, look at your crypto account in the Fidelity portal and see if you have any options for sending/withdrawing or receiving/depositing crypto.
Ok.........brought twice, early morning and about an hour ago. No probs.

Clicked on to the account and there is summary, positions, balances, activity & orders, documents. Can't see actual send /withdrawl or receiving/depositing crypto.

Upper l/h corner = trade. Click onto that for trading what you have (options, mutual funds, cyrpto, fixed income, recurring investment, conditional, baskets.) Then action, quantity, order type, time in force.

Also transfer $, pay bills, quote, messages.

Top = accts & trade, planning & advice, news & research, products, cust service, virtual assist, profile, etc.

Don't want to overload thread but here's two links to fidelity crypto. Just found them, haven't watched any yet.

Crypto For Beginners

Crypto News
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I don't know. And yes, I'm aware that PM put this up at least partly because I was asking questions.

I've already looked at the hardware wallet-flash-drives. They're not cheap. .

Next question, over time, might be compatibility. Suppose, just a wild-a$$-guess, that the government mandated that encrypted flash-drive wallets, no longer worked with any operating system?

Impossible? Ah, but, I've already seen how the techies have made it hard-to-impossible to use external hard-drives with OSX. Made searches hard-to-impossible. With early versions of Ubuntu, I was able to save a Eww Toob vid by just going into the TEMP file. Gurgle bought Eww Toob, and shortly thereafter, Canonical, the repository for Ubuntu and a private corporation...FORCED an update on users, on boot-up. They'd never done that before, but they did it then, and when it was done, that backdoor was welded shut.

So, my stuff has to remain on an exchange, where government tax-goons can see it, and grab it as they see fit.

So, someone's gonna say, just keep it there. Yeah. Like I'd just keep my gold in my broker's "safe" gold repository.

I'm still open to this, but I don't like the complexity for complexity's sake, and the problems being set up that I'm not capable of dealing with. Coding...stupid-smart people who think they're clever and like getting one over on others.

I buy PMs, it's a simple exchange. Here, fiat; there, coins or bars. Let's swap.
Next question, over time, might be compatibility. Suppose, just a wild-a$$-guess, that the government mandated that encrypted flash-drive wallets, no longer worked with any operating system?

The hardware wallets connect to computers with the USB standard interface. The chances of your doomsday scenario are less, IMO, than government going door to door to every door in the country confiscating private, physical gold and silver.

There is a lot of complexity in the security features of the hardware wallets (and Ledger's white hat hacker team is very good), but they are easy to use:

While searching for that video, I was reminded of a point that I did not mention specifically that I should have. When using a hard wallet, securing your seed phrase is of paramount importance. This is why I mentioned the CryptoTag Zeus. With your seed phrase secured, you can recover access to your crypto even if your Nano device gets damaged (or lost). You just get another Nano and you can recover access to your crypto with the seed phrase.

BTW, I use Ledger Live on a desktop computer as I found the mobile version of the software to be a bit limiting (the two versions of the software don't both have exactly the same features).

I agree that the hard storage solution (wallet device + seed phrase security) is not cheap (running ~$300). But if you plan to own more than a mid four figures worth of crypto, it's worth it. It's analogous to purchasing a safe for storing physical PMs (and/or firearms). Some investment in security is warranted when you have a stash worth securing.

On the issue of security, Ledger recently rolled out a "Ledger Recover" subscription service for seed phrase storage/recovery. Using it is a security risk as you would be divulging your seed phrase to a 3rd party (Ledger) which opens up a host of vectors where it (the seed phrase) could be hacked, stolen or otherwise abused. I'd suggest that the CryptoTag Zeus is cheap for a one time cost alternative that does the same job.
On the issue of security, Ledger recently rolled out a "Ledger Recover" subscription service ...

Like many crypto execs, Ledger CEO Pascal Gauthier this year learned the type of hard-won lessons that only come from adversity. When the company, one of the largest and most trusted hardware developers in the industry, unveiled a new security feature in May, it ignited a firestorm of criticism.

The idea was simple enough: The Ledger Recover seed phrase recovery service would give "less rigorous crypto users" the ability to reclaim their funds if they ever lost access. Essentially, it's a type of "insurance policy against losing their private keys," an issue that plagues crypto.


It's not difficult to secure your keys (seed phrase) if you use a self custody solution. looking to be a legit global exchange: received authorization to operate as an electronic-money institution in the U.K., the exchange said in a Monday press release.

It will use the new license from the Financial Conduct Authority to offer e-money products in the U.K., the company said., as Forisgfs UK, was registered as a crypto business by the FCA in August last year.

“The U.K. has and continues to be a hugely important market for our business and the greater industry,” said Kris Marszalek, CEO of The country has said it wants to be a crypto hub. has been striving to be compliant with regulators across the globe. The exchange recently received licenses in Singapore and is regulated as a derivatives clearing organization with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. It also has registrations and licenses in France, Dubai and elsewhere.

Ok.........brought twice, early morning and about an hour ago. No probs.

Checked my acct earlier. Up almost 9 % so I brought more. If things keep going like this I may branch out.
I think you bought in at what will turn out to be the start of a years long bull run. If I'm right, there is still plenty of runway left to realize nice gains. BTC could easily double or triple over the course of 2024.

Some of the other crypto have also done very well over the last week (or 3 months), with several doing better than Bitcoin (so far).
I could guess at the definitions, but a real definition would make it clearer....

Seed Phrase

This technology kind of sounds like the internet back in 1990's... experimental.

Any chance one of you gurus could document a detailed step-by-step purchase of crypto??

1. Logged into xyz brokerage
2. transferred $ from bank to brokerage
3. found a 'coin' of interest
4. clicked 'buy'...
5. transfered coin to wallet...

something along those lines...?
I could guess at the definitions, but a real definition would make it clearer....

Seed Phrase

DeFi = Decentralized Finance. You can find a ton of explanations on the internets for this term, but this one is good enough:

Seed Phrase = A sequence of words (commonly either 12 words or 24 words) selected from the BIP-39 standard that form your unique key for unlocking a wallet (either soft or hard - you don't have to mess with a seed phrase when using a brokerage or exchange as they handle the custody work for you). If your hard wallet gets lost or damaged, or you forget your login password for a web browser based soft wallet, you can use your seed phrase to recover access to your wallet (using a new hard wallet device or recovering a login password for a soft wallet). There is more to it than that but that's technical details beyond a crypto 101 introduction. The important thing is that the seed phrase is your master key for accessing your hard or soft wallet. See also:

Any chance one of you gurus could document a detailed step-by-step purchase of crypto??

1. Logged into xyz brokerage
2. transferred $ from bank to brokerage
3. found a 'coin' of interest
4. clicked 'buy'...
5. transfered coin to wallet...

something along those lines...?

That is correct! Step 5 is done automatically when the purchase is effected. After you click buy and your payment clears, the coin will appear in your wallet. Also, many exchanges (not sure about brokerages) also let you skip step 2 and pay with a debit/credit card.

You could also do:

1. Acquire hard/cold wallet
2. Select buy option on a dApp marketplace for coin of interest
3. Tell dApp your hard/cold wallet address for the coin
4. Pay with credit card or bank transfer
Looks like there is now another (bitcoin only?) hard wallet to choose from (in addition to the Ledger and Trezor):
Bitkey, the self-custody bitcoin wallet built by Block, Inc. (NYSE: SQ), launched today in more than 95 countries across six continents, widening access to self-custody and empowering people around the world to truly own and manage their bitcoin easily and safely. Today, the vast majority of the millions of bitcoin owners1 keep their bitcoin in the custodial platforms or exchanges where they bought it, leaving them under the control of the custodian. Accessing self-custody solutions where people can truly own the keys to their bitcoin still often relies on a complex set of devices or long passwords that people need to remember to be able to recover their money in case of loss.

Bitkey includes a mobile app, hardware device, and a set of recovery tools in case the customer loses the phone, their hardware, or both. Built by the Proto team at Block, Bitkey is now available for pre-orders2 at, with shipping starting in early 2024. Thomas Templeton, who leads the Proto team, said:
“The bitcoin decentralized payments network has the potential to create a more inclusive financial system for all, especially those who have traditionally been underserved. In the future, we believe customers will demand ownership and self-custody because it brings peace of mind, reduces dependence on any one entity, and puts individuals in control of their own bitcoin. With Bitkey, we are building a safe and easy way for people all around the world with different levels of experiences with bitcoin to take control of their finances on their terms.”
Ease of use and peace of mind

Gareth is one of the customers part of Bitkey’s external beta program, based in South Africa. He works in the banking sector and has some previous experience with other self-custody wallets as well as exchange-hosted wallets.

According to Gareth, “The major benefit is that this is the first time my family would be comfortable engaging in self-custody. It is an experience that makes a healthy set of trade-offs to make bitcoin self custody accessible to all for the first time. There is still a huge amount of work to be done in terms of convincing and educating people that they should be self custodying their bitcoin, but this product certainly removes the most significant barrier to entry - complexity.”

A critical part of making self-custody more accessible is providing forgiving recovery experiences that prioritize both simple and secure paths to help customers recover their money when something goes wrong, without the burden of having to remember long passwords. According to Lindsey Grossman, Business Lead for Bitkey:
“People holding bitcoin on exchanges and custodial platforms today are often hesitant to move to self-custody wallets because they are nervous about making mistakes, especially with the historical requirement that you must safely guard 12 or 24-word long passwords called ‘seed phrases’. People have often felt stuck: worried about the lack of control they might experience on a custodial platform or exchange, yet also anxious about the unforgiving product experiences that exist in other self-custody wallets historically available. With Bitkey, we wanted to build a product that helps bring everyone to self-custody, combining robust security and recovery options, with a simple customer experience that puts them in control of their money.”

Bitkey addresses this with a unique 2-of-3 multi-signature design that doesn’t require customers to remember long passwords or seed phrases: it uses three keys to secure bitcoin, and any two keys working together are needed to move bitcoin or approve other security-related actions like initiating recovery or modifying security settings.

Bitkey puts two keys in customers’ hands: one is in the mobile app, which enables customers to make bitcoin transactions easily on their mobile phone, track their balance, and manage security preferences; and the second customer-held key is in the hardware device, securely stored offline. The hardware key serves two main purposes: an extra layer of security to co-sign money movements (based on a customer-set limit); and enables recovery when customers lose their phone.

A third key is on Bitkey’s server and is used for only two things: to help customers move bitcoin with just their phone for the transactions they choose to make on the go without their hardware device, and to help customers recover their wallet if they lose their phone or hardware - or even both. Importantly, because Bitkey only has access to one, not two or three keys in this 2-of-3 multi-signature wallet, Bitkey cannot access or move a customer’s bitcoin without them. This puts customers in true control of their money, while giving them peace of mind that they can recover their money if they lose something (for more information on how Bitkey’s 2-of-3 multi-signature design and recovery tools works, read ‘How it works page’).

Helping bring more bitcoin to self-custody

Part of Bitkey’s mission relies on connecting people across two worlds: the world of today’s domestic or regional centralized fiat monetary systems, and bitcoin’s distributed, borderless financial system. In June 2023, coinciding with the kick-off of the external beta program that launched that month, Bitkey announced its first two partnerships with Coinbase, a leading global exchange, and Cash App, a leading financial services app and part of the Block ecosystem, to help people easily and transfer their bitcoin off exchanges and custodial platforms, making the journey to self-custody easier.

Thanks to these partnerships, Bitkey customers are able to choose a partner they would like to transfer or buy bitcoin with and then initiate a transfer from that partner to self-custody in their Bitkey wallet - all through a seamless integration. The transfer and buy+transfer features will roll out in a staggered approach, starting with the ability to transfer existing bitcoin from Coinbase and Cash App available immediately upon the product’s launch. These two partnerships are the first of more to come globally. More information on our partner integrations can be found in our blogpost ‘Welcoming our first global partners: Coinbase and Cash App’.

About Bitkey

Bitkey is a self-custody bitcoin wallet with three parts — a mobile app to make transactions easily on the phone, a hardware device to protect savings securely offline, and a set of recovery tools in case customers lose their phone, hardware, or both. As an innovative multi-signature self-custody wallet, Bitkey provides innovative recovery tools that give customers multiple ways to recover their money, so they can take their bitcoin off exchanges and truly own and control it themselves, without the anxiety of guarding a long complex seed phrase. Bitkey provides the convenience of a mobile app, the security of hardware, and peace of mind that in case they lose something, customers can still recover their money. Bitkey is built by the Proto Team at Block, Inc. Proto’s mission is to help accelerate the world’s transition to a more open economy by making products that increase access and independence for everyone. Bitkey is the first of these. Find out more at

It sounds like this one is Bitcoin only and for me, that's disappointing. The Ledger Nano and Trezor both let you secure and manage a huge selection of crypto tokens (including Bitcoin of course).
1. Logged into xyz brokerage
2. transferred $ from bank to brokerage
3. found a 'coin' of interest
4. clicked 'buy'...

This is how it worked for me. I used Fidelity. Maybe this link will help:

I chose the route I chose because it was easy and I'm not a sophisticated investor. More a dabbler.
... Coinbase Pay’s functionalities are now integrated into the Ledger Live app, allowing users to transfer their existing cryptocurrency holdings and conduct transactions directly from their desktop or mobile device.

This integration benefits Ledger users by facilitating direct receipt of crypto purchases from Coinbase on their Ledger device. It also enables users to retain their preferred payment methods in Coinbase including ACH, Visa, Mastercard and Maestro. This new feature is currently available in the US, UK, EU, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Singapore.

Excellent! For people like me that have a Coinbase account and a Ledger Nano (for self custody), this makes acquiring crypto a bit easier and less expensive. Previously, I could buy crypto on Coinbase and then transfer it from my Coinbase wallet to my Ledger Wallet (paying a gas fee for the transfer and exposing myself to the risk that I didn't introduce an error/typo in the wallet address). If I read that correctly, now I can buy crypto using Coinbase Pay (using my Coinbase account) and have it delivered directly to my Ledger wallet. No intermediate transfer required now.
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