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If you’re looking to trade crypto and only crypto, then Coinbase could be an attractive option, especially if you’re able to use its Advanced Trade tier, as opposed to its opaque and pricey core service. Unfortunately, Coinbase continues to obscure the pricing for its entry-level service, keeping its complex, multi-layered fee structure hidden.
On the brighter side, the exchange also continues to expand the number of tradable coins on its service, now well over 200, and it’s made great strides in increasing its educational content and market commentary, helping those new to the space. Coinbase also lets clients take custody of their cryptocurrency as well as enables them to earn staking rewards, both of which are not all that common among crypto exchanges. And it’s worth mentioning that Coinbase has finally added phone support, after a long period of promises.
Those looking to focus on just major cryptocurrencies and broader trading in stocks should check out Interactive Brokers. If you’d prefer to stick to just crypto, though, see Kraken and eToro, and Binance.US also offers an enviable selection of cryptocurrencies.
The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Coinbase in June 2023, alleging it had illegally operated as an exchange, broker-dealer and clearing agency, and offered and sold unregistered securities. The lawsuit said Coinbase knowingly violated securities laws that are designed to protect investors. Coinbase said it would continue to operate its business as usual.
Coinbase at a glance
|Securities tradable:||243 cryptocurrencies|
|Cost per trade:||Basic tier: Rates that range from 1.49 to 9.9 percent, plus a spread markup of 0.5 percentAdvanced Trade tier: Sliding scale starting at 0.6 percent and declining based on volume|
|Customer service:||Email, 24/7 phone and chat|
|Account fees:||No deposit or withdrawal fees|
|Mobile app:||The Coinbase mobile app is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store|
Pros: Where Coinbase stands out
Coinbase Advanced Trade commissions
Coinbase offers a volume-based, sliding-scale pricing structure, but only if you’re using the exchange’s Advance Trade service tier, formerly known as Coinbase Pro. (For more on the basic service tier, see below.) At this tier, you’ll pay a fee of at most 0.6 percent for monthly trading volume less than $10,000. But you may be able to whittle that fee down even further using the exchange’s volume-based pricing.
The pricing structure for Advanced Trade is scaled, so that fees decline the more you trade. What you pay depends on your total dollar trading volume over the prior 30 days. Coinbase also uses a maker-taker pricing model, so if you’re adding liquidity to the market (a maker) or taking liquidity (a taker), you’ll be charged a different fee.
For example, if you trade less than $10,000 in the prior 30 days, you’ll pay 0.6 percent as a taker or 0.4 percent as a maker. Trade between $10,000 and $50,000 over the same time period and takers pay 0.4 percent, while makers pay 0.25 percent. A monthly trading volume between $50,000 and $100,000 would give takers a fee of 0.25 percent and makers 0.15 percent. The fees ultimately decline even further, but you’ll have to trade staggering amounts of cryptocurrency for it to make any difference.
The all-in fees compare well to eToro, where a spread markup fee starts at 1 percent, though it’s more than Interactive Brokers, which charges 0.12 – 0.18 percent, depending on your monthly volume (with a $1.75 per trade minimum). It’s worth noting that the fees at Binance.US start at 0.45 percent and then move down from there, though some of the most popular cryptocurrencies can be traded without a commission.
Coinbase has an enviable selection of cryptocurrencies that you can trade – more than 240 at last count – and that should prove wide enough for all but the most hardcore crypto trader. You’ll get the most popular cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Cardano, Solana, XRP and dozens more that are up and coming. So you’re probably going to find what you’re looking for here.
That’s in sharp contrast to other brokers or financial apps that advertise crypto trading but offer only a handful of the most widely followed coins. For example, Robinhood offers trading in just 19 cryptocurrencies – which is still better than many brokers – while Interactive Brokers just launched trading in four cryptos.
If you’re looking for something else besides crypto on Coinbase, you’re going to be out of luck. If you want to trade stocks, options and ETFs while accessing only the most popular crypto coins, Robinhood, Webull or Interactive Brokers could be good alternatives, however.
Unlike brokers that are focused more on trading, Coinbase allows you to take custody of your crypto assets yourself. The exchange offers its own crypto wallet, or you can bring your own wallet. Either way, you can pick the solution that best fits your needs. And that’s unusual in the trading world, with most traditional brokers not allowing you to hold your own assets.
Coinbase also allows customers who hold some cryptocurrencies with them to participate in staking rewards. Staking is like earning interest in a bank account but with a much different set of risks. Staking generates income from your holdings as they’re used to validate transactions in a given cryptocurrency, and Coinbase shares that reward with you. Coinbase does take a 25 percent commission on any income you receive from staking.
Clients can earn staking rewards on just a few cryptocurrencies right now, including Ethereum, Solana and Tezos. The exchange handles the technical side of things and the extra coins – or fractions of them – are added to your account on a set schedule.
The SEC’s lawsuit against Coinbase alleges it offered and sold unregistered securities as part of its staking program. The future of the staking program is unclear.
Coinbase has really made strides in increasing its customer support. While it wasn’t that long ago that the only phone support you could receive was to lock down your account, now the crypto exchange offers 24/7 access to a live human, even if you have to run through a short gauntlet of automated voice prompts on the phone first. Still, it’s an improvement and notable in an industry where customer support has been an afterthought, if it’s been a thought at all.
If you have other run-of-the-mill issues (funding problems, for instance,) you can submit a support ticket and wait until Coinbase gets back to you. Or you can run through the site’s chatbot or 24/7 live chat, and see if those resolve your concern.
Coinbase has made clear strides in developing its educational content over the last year, and now offers quite a selection of material to help clients who are new to the crypto world get up to speed. It offers a range of “101” explainers of the basics such as “What is Bitcoin?” as well as a glossary that explains what some of the most popular cryptocurrencies do. A tips and tutorials section instructs readers on how to set up a crypto wallet or how to donate crypto.
All in all, it’s a much-improved addition to the site and provides useful information on crypto.
Cons: Where Coinbase could improve
It can’t be stated any other way: If you’re using Coinbase’s basic platform you’ll be hard-pressed to find a fee schedule before you actually place a trade. In fact, Coinbase has gone out of its way to hide its fee schedule, purposely obscuring the once public – and confusing – list of fees.
Now, to be clear, you will be able to see your trading commission, but only right before you’re ready to place your trade. In an era of highly transparent pricing, it’s a serious knock on the company if it can’t provide a list of trading fees so that you can make a sound judgment.
Why does Coinbase do this? It’s not clear, but the broker’s hefty fees for its basic tier probably have a lot to do with it. And that’s further corroborated by the broker’s good disclosure of fees for its Advanced Trade platform – where its costs are competitive with rivals’ and in some cases beat them.
Trading commissions on the basic tier
It’s advisable to avoid Coinbase’s basic service tier if you can and jump right to its Advanced Trade tier, given its lower pricing. Just how high are commissions on the basic tier? Well, frankly it’s hard to say (see above). But the most recent data suggest that you’ll pay a lot on a percentage basis.
Let’s break down two of the most common charges on the last published schedule of fees and see what traders would pay if they were buying $1,000 in Bitcoin:
- A 1.49 percent fee, if paying from a bank account or Coinbase dollar wallet
- A 0.5 percent spread markup
If you’re using Coinbase’s entry tier, you’ll be hit with at least 1.99 percent in costs. And they go up from there because the company uses a sliding scale. Want $10 of Bitcoin? You’re on the hook for a fee of $0.99 – or 9.9 percent – plus that 0.5 percent spread markup – for 10.4 percent all in. That’s not on just one side of the transaction, either. You’ll get hit coming and going.
The effective percentage declines until your purchase is $200, and then the broker switches to a fee based on your payment method, starting at 1.49 percent (as above) and rising to 3.99 percent if you use a debit card. And you’ll still be paying that spread markup on top of it.
That’s a confusing welter of fees and markups across payment methods, and it can be hard to navigate. So it’s better to skip the entry tier and move straight to Advanced Trade’s competitive prices.
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