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Top cryptocurrency exchanges methodology
How our cryptocurrency exchange top picks are selected
There’s no single cryptocurrency exchange that’s the best in every circumstance, and the best cryptocurrency exchange for you depends on what you’re looking for, and which features you value over others.
To help make it easier for everyone to find the best cryptocurrency exchange for their needs, we assemble our top picks for different situations.
These top picks are reviewed quarterly, using the following methodology.
What's in this guide?
Which exchanges are eligible to be a top pick?
To be eligible for selection as a top pick, an exchange must be listed in our cryptocurrency exchange comparison table. This includes both exchanges that have financial agreements with us and those that do not.
This means there are more than 50 cryptocurrency exchanges considered in total. However, because not all exchanges are applicable in each article or each country, the number of exchanges considered in any given case will typically be much fewer. For example, if we are assessing the top pick for a specific cryptocurrency, we rule out any exchanges which do not offer that cryptocurrency.
It’s not feasible to thoroughly compare every single cryptocurrency exchange in existence, and we believe this is a good starting point because it means we’re only comparing exchanges that have already passed our vetting process.
What are the top pick categories and where do they apply?
We examine eligible exchanges, to find a winner in up to five different categories per page.
These categories will sometimes be referred to by slightly different names in different articles, for the sake of clarity, but the selection process remains the same. Our categories are:
- Beginner-friendliness. May also be referred to as “easiest”, “beginners” and similar.
- Extra features. May also be referred to as “most features,” “extra features” and similar.
- Overall value for money. May also be referred to as “good value,” “low fees” and similar.
- Altcoins. May also be referred to as “selection” or “variety.”
- Suitability for trading. May also be referred to simply as “trading.”
These categories are used with the objective of helping as many people as possible find the cryptocurrency exchange that suits their needs.
- Some features are considered in multiple categories. For example, liquidity can affect both suitability for trading and overall value for money.
- An exchange cannot be a winner in more than one category. If an exchange wins in more than one category, we place it in the category that we feel it better exemplifies.
- The same categories and selection process is used on multiple articles, and may be modified to suit the content of each article and our assumptions about who is reading them. For example, we will try to avoid selecting an exchange that does not cater to US residents on a page that we believe many US residents are reading.
What’s the process for selecting winners in each category?
Every quarter the winners in each category are selected or reassessed by a group of reviewers including the Finder cryptocurrency editor and two or more other Finder employees with experience in the cryptocurrency space and an understanding of this methodology.
Each reviewer starts with a list of eligible exchanges, and then independently reviews these exchanges according to the selection criteria for each top pick, to subjectively select their own top pick for each category.
These top picks are then discussed among the reviewers.
Where all reviewers unanimously choose the same top pick, it is chosen. If the selection is not unanimous it is discussed until the reviewers reach agreement.
Here’s how we assess each category.
Who is this category may be helpful for?
This category may be helpful for people who have decided they want to buy cryptocurrency for the first time, but aren’t sure how.
The ideal exchange in this category would be able to take these people through the process from start to finish, being simple enough for anyone to use and supporting the right payment methods to make it easy, without preying on their customers’ inexperience.
How we chose our top pick.
To be considered in this category an exchange must offer a fiat-to-cryptocurrency brokerage service, rather than being strictly peer to peer trading and it must have at least some kind of customer service.
We also prioritise exchanges which provide a wallet for customers and which don’t require users to download an app or any program prior to use. Where possible, we prioritise regulated local exchanges. We also prioritise exchanges which are usable on any platform (PC, tablet and mobile) and which offer more than one cryptocurrency.
Eligible exchanges should have at least one convenient local deposit/payment method,
Exchanges which refer to BCH or BSV as “Bitcoin” are not eligible for this category, as this can be extremely confusing for beginners. Exchanges which present cryptocurrency as a risk-free ticket to wealth, or which present misleading or incorrect information, are not eligible either.
Exchanges are de-prioritised if they have high pressure or misleading sales tactics (eg. “Everyone’s getting rich from Bitcoin. Don’t miss out!”) or if they’re more focused on selling the idea of wealth and success than selling cryptocurrency. Promotions and special offers are not necessarily considered “high-pressure sales tactics” for the purposes of this category, as these can sometimes be genuinely helpful for beginners.
Using the above criteria to create a shortlist of eligible exchanges, we then virtually walk through the signup process for a first-time user with limited technical knowledge and no cryptocurrency knowledge, including creating an account, verifying identity and making a purchase.
At each step we subjectively consider whether it’s clear what the user should do next, how easy it is, how long it takes and whether the user is likely to need knowledge they don’t have to complete the step. Before making a purchase, users should be given a clear and accurate understanding of how much they’re paying in fees and spreads.
Using this methodology and the above considerations as guidance, each reviewer chooses their top pick candidate for this category. There is a discussion until a unanimous winner for the category is chosen.
Who is this category helpful for?
This category may be helpful for people who want to find a new “home exchange,” accessing many services and features under one digital roof to get more entertainment, experience or functionality out of their cryptocurrency holdings.
The ideal exchange in this category, in addition to offering cryptocurrency buying, selling and trading, also offers users additional ways of using their cryptocurrency and good reasons to visit the exchange every day.
How we chose our top pick
To be eligible for this category, an exchange simply needs to be one of the vetted platforms in our table.
The features of these exchanges are compared across 25 areas in a two step process.
The first step is to give each of these exchanges a binary score for each area, simply saying whether or not it qualifies as offering features in that area. This initial score is used to create a shortlist, ruling out the more basic exchanges and highlighting the ones that are clearly more feature-filled than the rest.
We then examine the shortlisted exchanges in more detail, comparing their features like-for-like as well as seeing what one exchange might have that others don’t.
While some areas are obviously more important than others, there is no particular weighting assigned to any of them. The areas are a framework for more easily creating and maintaining a shortlist of exchanges and structuring in-depth subjective comparisons, rather than just awarding a score.
The areas we use are:
- APIs. APIs that allow for integration of trading bots or other third party tools.
- Community. An active community on Reddit, Twitter and Telegram, in an exchange chat box, on Discord or any other social media that allows for community discussions.
- Crypto spending cards. The ability to load crypto onto cards, or otherwise easily spend your cryptocurrency at merchants who have not made the deliberate choice to accept cryptocurrency payments.
- Derivatives. Mostly refers to futures and options trading, but
- Earning interest. Earning returns on cryptocurrency deposited on the exchange, where those cryptocurrencies were not designed to earn returns (eg. earning interest on Bitcoin deposits qualifies, earning interest on EOS or Tezos does not). This typically refers to earning interest on margin lending or on P2P crypto lending platforms
- Education. Being able to learn about crypto and blockchain more broadly on the platform, and how comprehensive it is.
- Exchange services and trading tools. Being a cryptocurrency exchange (in contrast to just a broker) where people can trade against each other with multiple order types, accessing tools such as stop losses. Dark pools and block trading is also considered in this category.
- Fiat currencies. Support for fiat currencies.
- Freebies. Getting free crypto or other rewards just by using the platform in certain ways.
- Games. Any kind of games, including gamified promotions. Where permitted, we consider gambling a game for the purpose of this methodology.
- Governance. Governance powers for users. For example voting on upcoming token listings.
- IEOs or other pre-sales. The ability to buy tokens before they are supported for open trading.
- Insurance and security features. All features most related to the security of user funds, whether fiat or crypto. It includes whether user cryptocurrency deposits are insured, whether user fiat deposits are insured and/or held with registered custodians and other security considerations such as whether 2FA is mandatory, the exchange’s use of cold storage, bug bounties and multisignature wallets.
- Key or account management. Password or account recovery, secret sharing schemes, inheritance planning, account co-ownership, etc.
- Loans. The ability to take out loans. This typically means loans with cryptocurrency collateral, but does not necessarily have to.
- Margin trading. Trading with leverage. Leveraged tokens are included in this
- Market data. Being able to access more global crypto market data on the exchange, rather than just exchange-specific information.
- Non-crypto assets. Support for assets or derivatives of assets other than cryptocurrency and fiat currencies, including tokenised assets, gold-backed stablecoins and non-crypto CFDs.
- Non-custodial wallet. Whether the exchange has created or otherwise provides, or even just recommends, a specific non-custodial crypto wallet.
- Peer to peer direct trading. Whether users can connect to make direct transactions.
- Portfolio management. Tools to manage a portfolio such as automatic rebalancing or the ability to set up automatic purchases for easier dollar cost averaging, or anything more exotic that could also fall into this category such as access to financial advisers or advanced trading bots.
- Publishing. Publications from the exchange, such as a regular blog about updates or the market, educational material or news.
- Social trading. This primarily refers to the ability to copy other traders, but this category also encompasses any other deliberate efforts on the part of the exchange to allow for a more social twist on trading.
- Staking pools and other staking services. Staking coins via the exchange, such as in an exchange staking pool.
- Transfers. Whether the exchange makes it easy to send cryptocurrency to other exchange users and external wallet addresses with reasonable fee settings. Fiat currency transactions from an exchange are not considered.
- Miscellaneous. Notable features that don’t fall into any of these categories.
Using this methodology as guidance, each reviewer chooses their top pick for this category in whatever way they feel is most appropriate.
Overall value for money
Who is this category helpful for?
This category may be helpful for people who want to get good value for money when buying cryptocurrency, even if it means going to a little bit of extra trouble.
The hypothetical ideal exchange in this category would let people buy cryptocurrency at mid-market prices (or less) with no fees, no conditions and strings attached.
In this category we first consider the total cost of a transaction in this category, for a first time user who’s buying US$500 or their local currency equivalent of Bitcoin, and then withdrawing it to an external address.
This process varies slightly depending on the article we are selecting a top pick for.
For example, when applied on “sell” pages such as “How to sell Bitcoin,” we look at the cost of selling instead of buying. When it is applied to pages specific to other cryptocurrencies, we look at that other cryptocurrency instead of Bitcoin and when we believe the typical purchase size is much less than US$500 equivalent we will use another amount instead.
The total cost includes whether the purchase price of the Bitcoin includes a spread at the time of assessment and the transaction fees. It does not include any conditional promotions, such as limited time offers or special deals for first time buyers.
The assumed type of deposit type is always the cheapest reasonable option available, for the relevant transaction size. In most regions this is a zero fee bank transfer of the local currency to an exchange’s local bank account, and it will typically be accessible even with small (less than US$100 equivalent, depending on the article) deposits.
In theory we also assess deposit fees (eg. credit card transaction fees, international bank transfer fees) and fiat currency exchange fees where applicable, but for practical purposes this is rarely relevant, because an exchange whose cheapest payment option incurs deposit or currency exchange fees is unlikely to be a contender for this category.
When the above process leads to a tie between multiple exchanges, or on articles where we believe more readers would benefit from a more holistic overview of exchange value for money, rather than just finding the cheapest exchange for a one-off initial transaction, we compare additional factors until a front-runner emerges.
These factors can include:
- The spreads on trading pairs at the time of assessment
- Fee discount schemes, and how accessible they are
- How fees vary for different types of trade, such as special fees for stablecoin trading pairs or derivatives, to the extent that we believe these are relevant for visitors to a page.
- Additional fees, such as overnight fees
- How accessible the cheap deposit and withdrawal methods are
- Any fees on additional services
- The minimum and maximum deposit and transaction sizes
Who is this category helpful for?
This category may be helpful for people who want a one-stop-shop for all cryptocurrencies, even uncommon ones, as well as a chance of picking up obscure cryptocurrencies before they list on major exchanges.
The ideal exchange in this category would have deep order books for every cryptocurrency in existence, with many exclusive listings.
In this category we first take a look at how many cryptocurrencies are listed on an exchange. Exchange aggregator services naturally have an insurmountable advantage in this category, but are only included in the panel for articles where we believe they can meet readers’ needs.
For example, we might include aggregators in articles where we believe people are looking for a place to make sporadic purchases of various obscure cryptocurrencies, but would not include them where we believe people are interested in day trading a wide range of coins.
Beyond sheer selection we also consider how liquid the obscure coin markets are, and how much cryptocurrency it’s realistically possible to buy.
A history of early or exclusive listings also counts in an exchange’s favour but only outside the context of initial exchange offerings (IEOs) or the hosting of initial coin offerings (ICOs). Fiat-pegged and gold-backed tokens are considered to be cryptocurrencies for the purpose of this category. On-chain representations of other assets, such as fractionalised real estate or shares, are not.
An exchange having more fiat currencies than another does not count towards this category, except to the extent that this can make it easier for someone to purchase a wider variety of cryptocurrencies with their preferred fiat currency.
For the purposes of our top picks, we consider IEOs, ICO hosting, non-cryptocurrency assets and wider fiat currency selection more strongly in the “extra features” category than this one.
Using this methodology and the above considerations as guidance, each reviewer selects their top pick for this category in whatever way they feel is most appropriate.
Suitability for trading
Who is this category helpful for?
This category may be helpful for people who want to actively trade cryptocurrencies, including day traders as well as more casual market watchers. This category does not assume any particular experience on the part of traders, other than an awareness of the risks involved in cryptocurrency trading.
The ideal exchange in this category would offer cryptocurrency trading tools, derivatives, margin trading and deep liquidity across a wide range of crypto-assets, on a high and all-around convenient platform that can satisfy beginner and experienced traders alike.
To be eligible for this category an exchange needs to offer Bitcoin margin trading and some way for users to directly take a short position on Bitcoin prices, whether with futures, options, CFDs, “leveraged tokens” or other derivatives.
Where required, these exchanges should be suitably licensed and legally allowed to provide these services to the readers we believe are looking at this top pick.
From there we compare platforms with the main intention of finding one that works well, while also being suitable for beginner to intermediate traders.
We prioritise elements including an intuitive user interface and competitive, clearly-marked fees over finding the fastest possible exchange, and as long as an exchange has adequate liquidity and tight enough spreads, we don’t necessarily give another one priority for having even more liquidity and even tighter spreads.
Given the high risk nature of crypto trading, we also prioritise exchanges which clearly signpost the risks involved.
In keeping with the goal of finding more beginner-friendly exchanges, we prioritise having an education-oriented practice or demo mode above paper trading or backtesting.
A wider variety of assets is also highly regarded, as well as access to more types of investing such as the ability to follow bots or other traders without needing to create your own.
Frequently asked questions
How often are the rankings reviewed?
These rankings are reviewed quarterly, but we might make changes at any time if something happens.
For example, if an exchange goes out of business, withdraws certain services or otherwise becomes a clearly unsuitable choice for a top pick, we will not necessarily wait until the next quarter to remedy that pick.
Something doesn’t seem right. Who should I contact?
Click the blue chat bubble in the bottom right of your browser, or scroll to the bottom of the page and leave a comment for one of our experts.
Thanks in advance for helping us provide the best information possible!
What other conditions are there?
There’s no one exchange that’s best for everyone, so we have to make some assumptions about readers when formulating our top picks.
Some of these are quite safe, and probably apply to almost everyone. For example, we assume people prefer lower fees and that people prefer more popular exchanges with a history of reliability.
Others won’t always apply. For example, we assume people favour their local currency, but a lot of people would rather buy from an overseas bank account. We assume people are happy to verify their identity on exchanges, but a lot of people are more privacy-conscious. We assume people are more interested in smaller purchases and don’t have a lot of trading experience, but that’s not always the case.
It’s quite possible that some of our assumptions aren’t right for you, so if none of our top picks seem to suit, you may want to compare some of the other exchanges in the table.
While our top picks have been through a more rigorous process, all of the exchanges in our table have been vetted.
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