TheStreet

It's certainly been an interesting few months for cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin dropped more than 30% toward the end of November, putting it at new 13-month lows. And while crypto has been taking a bit of a hit recently, it remains a pseudo-currency that many investors are bullish on. However, when in the market for cryptocurrencies, you aren't limited to just Bitcoin. In fact, among the some 180 cryptocurrencies on the market, Litecoin is one of the biggest "altcoins" on the market. 

So, what is Litecoin, and how do you buy it? 

What Is Litecoin?

Litecoin is an online cryptocurrency that ranks as the third-largest cryptocurrency on the market behind Bitcoin and Ripple. The currency trades on many digital exchanges and wallets, and has a higher circulating supply of coins than Bitcoin. Litecoin was created by Charles Lee in 2011 and has a coin limit of 84 million. 

Just like other cryptocurrencies, Litecoin functions as a payment system similar to fintech companies like PayPal (PYPL) in that it allows users to pay with or trade the currency. 

The former Google (GOOG) engineer created Litecoin under MIT/X11 lісеnѕеѕ, basing the coin off of Bitcoin's original code and earning it the title "altcoin" (alternative coin to Bitcoin). 

Since coming to market in 2011, Litecoin hit a peak price of $360.93 in December 2017 - up an astonishing 8200% from its previous price of $4.40 the year before, according to Forbes. And due to its similarity to the original Bitcoin, Litecoin is often referred to as the "silver" to Bitcoin's "gold." 

Litecoin Features

There is certainly no shortage of options when it comes to different cryptocurrencies to own or trade. But, what makes Litecoin different? 

Algorithm and Mining

Litecoin uses a proof-of-work algorithm (much like Bitcoin) called Scrypt. The algorithm produces coins at four times the speed of Bitcoin's algorithm, despite being modeled after the pioneer coin. Litecoin's algorithm has a transaction processing speed of respective coins at a rate of one coin every 2.5 minutes. 

The coin's algorithm uses computing power to process transactions, which are completed by "miners" confirming transactions in their networks with their computing power. As a result, the miners receive coins in exchange. Additionally, Litecoin's Scrypt algorithm is generally considered to be very efficient given that it prevents too much customization with hardware solutions like Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), and favors high-speed random access memory. For this reason, Litecoin's Scrypt algorithm is generally considered easier for regular cryptocurrency users to be able to mine without too much complexity because it allows miners to use CPUs (central processing units) or GPUs (graphics processing units). 

Market Capitalization

The coin's market cap sits at around $1.75 billion as of 2018. Litecoin's circulation is currently 59.61 million. 

As of December, 2018, Litecoin is priced at around $28. 

Total Coins

Just like with other cryptocurrencies, Litecoin has a limited amount of coins that can be mined. Litecoin can produce up to 84 million coins - more than Bitcoin. 

However, Litecoin (like other cryptocurrencies) can be divided down to trade or buy in smaller amounts, so the importance of total coins has somewhat diminished. 

Rewards

When cryptocurrency miners mine a block of any given currency, they are rewarded with a certain number of coins. Litecoin miners are rewarded with current block rewards of 50 LTC (2014).

However, Litecoin rewards are halved every 840,000 blocks, but due to Litecoin's average processing speed of about 2.5 minutes per LTC, it takes years for the rewards to be halved. 

Litecoin Exchanges and Wallets

If you're looking to buy, sell or trade Litecoin, you're going to need a platform. So, where can you buy or trade it? 

Cryptocurrency exchanges are places to buy and sell crypto. But before using any exchange or wallet, be sure to do your research to avoid any scams or hacking. Better safe than sorry. 

Exchanges

There are a fair amount of exchanges that offer Litecoin in addition to other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. 

One of the larger exchanges that has Litecoin is Coinbase - which offers a variety of other cryptocurrencies in case one isn't enough. Additionally, the Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss-owned exchange, Gemini, also offers Litecoin - which can be bought with USD. As a plus, you can also buy Litecoin with BTC (Bitcoin) or ETH (the coin for Ethereum). The creator of Litecoin celebrated the addition on Twitter (TWTR) .

Ever since MtGox announced Litecoin support in 2013 and failed to deliver, I've been on a mission to get LTC added to exchanges to help increase liquidity.

With the launch of LTC on Gemini today, every single major Bitcoin exchange supports Litecoin. Mission accomplished! ���� pic.twitter.com/6jvSyvsKdm

— Charlie Lee [LTC⚡] (@SatoshiLite) October 16, 2018

You can also buy, sell or trade Litecoin on Binance or Bitfinex - both fairly large and widely used cryptocurrency exchanges. 

Wallets

Once you've decided on an exchange to use, you're going to need a wallet to store your LTC. So, what are your options? 

Cryptocurrency wallets have a variety of forms and uses - including hardware, desktop, software, mobile and paper. You may wish to store your cryptocurrency in an easily accessible wallet, or, you might want to store it in a safe, offline storage place. 

Hardware wallets like Trezor offer a good, offline place to protect your cryptocurrency from hackers. Among the other 500 cryptocurrencies, Trezor supports Litecoin.

However, if you're looking for easy, online access to your coins, go with Jaxx or Exodus as a wallet. Jaxx offers both desktop and mobile interfaces that allows you convenient access to your Litecoin. Additionally, Exodus (along with being a wallet) also has an exchange as part of its services. 

But, what about Litecoin might make it a better choice for you than other cryptocurrencies? Or, at the very least - what's the difference between Litecoin and other cryptocurrencies? 

Litecoin vs. Bitcoin

Bitcoin famously paved the way for other cryptocurrencies back in 2009, when it was created by an unknown individual by the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. And unlike Litecoin, Bitcoin remains the most popular cryptocurrency with a value of over $3,519 (although it recently plummeted from around $6,000). 

However, there are several key differences between Litecoin and Bitcoin apart from their value.

The two cryptocurrencies use different algorithms and have different mining specifications. While Litecoin uses a less complex algorithm called Scrypt, Bitcoin uses a traditional SHA-256 algorithm (which is a cryptographic proof-of-work algorithm much like Litecoin's). However, Bitcoin's algorithm is widely known for being more complex and stresses processing power - using what are called Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) - hardware systems that can be customized for mining a specific cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. Still, because Bitcoin's algorithm requires more processing power, it is generally considered to be less user-friendly and more complicated than Litecoin's.

Additionally, Litecoin has a much faster transaction processing speed than Bitcoin - 2.5 minutes compared to Bitcoin's 10 minutes or so. 

And while Bitcoin's market cap recently fell below $100 billion for the first time in a year, it still sits quite a bit higher than Litecoin's at around $98 billion. Additionally, while Bitcoin actually has much less total coins (only 21 million compared to Litecoin's 84 million), the coin has been traded in such small quantities (divided into 0.00000001 Bitcoins, dubbed "satoshi" in the crypto community) that the total number is slightly less consequential. And, while the rewards of Bitcoin (which are 25 BTC per block), just like Litecoin, are halved, they're halved every 210,000 blocks. 

Litecoin vs. Ethereum

Unlike Litecoin, Ethereum is actually both a cryptocurrency and a blockchain - with Ether as the actual coin (although it is generally synonymous with Ethereum for investors). 

While Litecoin is a type of cryptocurrency, Ethereum is a digital blockchain platform that creates and runs decentralized applications called "dapps." For this reason, Ethereum functions in a similar fashion as the internet, but stores data in individual blockchain ledgers instead of a general storage space like Google or Facebook (FB) . 

Still, the coin - Ether - doles out only 3 coins in rewards for mining one block (compared to Litecoin's 50). 

How to Invest in Litecoin

Well, the simple answer is through exchanges. 

Most investors buy Litecoin with either USD or BTC (Bitcoin). Because different exchanges have different trading or buying capacities, be sure to check if your exchange supports USD or BTC to LTC transactions. 

It is generally the best option to go with a larger exchange like Binance (where you can trade BTC for LTC) or Coinbase (for using a credit or debit card with USD). 

However, because cryptocurrency is a largely unregulated pseudo-industry, it shouldn't be thought of as the same type of investment opportunity as stocks, bonds or other securities. In fact, you should proceed with caution when investing (especially given cryptocurrency's volatility in recent months). 

Cryptocurrency is popular for short-selling, and following the drop in price for Bitcoin, many are touting short-selling as the way to go with cryptocurrency. 

"The new investment opportunity led to a fall in demand in the spot bitcoin market and therefore a drop in price. With falling prices, pessimists started to make money on their bets, fueling further short-selling and further downward pressure on prices," the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco wrote this summer. 

Additionally, others in the fintech space are bullish on the strategy with cryptocurrency. 

"Shorting is one part of the creeping legitimization of bitcoin-we're getting access to proper financial products," Simon Taylor, cofounder of fintech consultancy 11:FS, told Forbes this summer. 

What Is Cryptocurrency? 

Cryptocurrency is a digital asset that can be used for exchange, much like traditional currencies. However, cryptocurrency uses cryptography (hence the "crypto") to secure and validate the currency online. To this degree, cryptocurrency mainly uses decentralized blockchain technology to allow miners (people who create new blocks on the blockchain) to mine various amounts of different cryptocurrency coins as they create new blocks. 

However, cryptocurrency is still largely unregulated and is not widely accepted as currency (in fact, the list of vendors that accept coins like Bitcoin is actually comparatively small). Some companies that do accept cryptocurrency, however, include Expedia (EXPE) and Dish Network (DISH) .