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Investing

What are meme cryptocurrencies and should you buy them?

Select looks at meme cryptocurrencies which have become a staple of the broader crypto ecosystem.

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Yuriko Nakao | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The cryptocurrency community loves memes and one of the industry's favorites is Doge, which pairs the Shiba Inu dog Kabusu, with colorful fonts and childlike language along the lines of "such wow" and "very concern."

With the introduction of Dogecoin, which was created as a joke in December 2013, a whole new crypto category was spawned — the meme coin, cryptocurrencies that associate themselves with an internet joke or pop culture reference. 

Following the creation of the Doge meme, Dogecoin brought forth an explosion of cryptocurrencies bearing the likeness of the cute pooch, making it the most commonly used meme for these types of cryptocurrencies. 

As a result, within the category of meme coins, a more specific group has emerged: dog-themed coins. Most retail investors will be familiar with these, as 2021 saw significant amounts of speculation on the new subset of meme coin, which includes Dogecoin and its derivatives, Shiba Inu and Dogelon Mars. Tesla founder Elon Musk was a key reason why these cryptocurrencies pumped and expanded last year after he tweeted about his interest and support of Dogecoin. 

Other meme coins beyond the dog-themed coins niche include Pepe Cash, based on the Pepe the Frog character, and "HODL" (hold on for dear life), from the crypto rallying cry to hold onto your coins at all cost, even during a market downturn.

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A brief history of Dogecoin

Dogecoin is considered to be the first meme coin, and while it was initially designed to poke fun at the wild speculation that thrives in cryptocurrency markets, a community all its own quickly developed around it. Crypto enthusiasts saw Dogecoin as a way for new investors to learn about and experiment with the technology without having to worry about the higher stakes that came with Bitcoin, which, at the time, had just broken $1,000 per coin.

As a result, Dogecoin was promoted as a "fun and friendly internet currency." Compared to the Bitcoin community, the Dogecoin community was less concerned about the cryptocurrency's price and more interested in seeing the coin utilized in the use cases being touted as key for cryptocurrency broadly.

For instance, a number of Dogecoin-tipping bots launched on social media platforms, which allowed people to send small amounts of it to someone if they liked their post. The community also used Dogecoins to fundraise for several worthy causes, including helping Charity: Water build a well in Kenya and sending the Jamaican Bobsled Team to the Sochi Olympics when they qualified but were unable to afford the trip. 

The serious risks of investing in meme coins

While Dogecoin may seem like a light-hearted project, investing in this type of cryptocurrency or other meme coins like it carries some amount of risk. 

Some meme coins have reached high market capitalization, while in other cases, the price per coin skyrockets thousands of percent within a few days, making some investors rich, essentially signaling others that they might be able to do the same.  

It's also worth noting that these meme-based cryptocurrencies are generally not serious, substantive projects, as they're typically created by copying and pasting code from another type of cryptocurrency. They also tend to lack significant developer communities, which help to keep them secure and technologically up to date. Dogecoin development, for instance, has nearly come to a standstill at different moments throughout its history. 

Additionally, many meme coins are owned by small groups of people who hold large, market-moving quantities of it, along with thin liquidity pools. As such, their prices tend to be highly volatile, influenced significantly by social media sentiments and "FOMO" (fear of missing out). Because of this, meme coins are particularly susceptible to pump-and-dump schemes, whereby an individual or group of large coin holders hypes up the coin, getting others to buy and inflate the price before dumping all their holdings on the market.

While that particular individual or group will end up making significant returns, that type of quick sale can swing the market to the red, leaving everyone else, as they say in crypto, "holding the bag." Unknowing investors who thought the price of their coins would rise end up with tokens that are worth far less than what they initially paid. 

Above is the one-day price chart for meme coin Elon’s Marvin (MARVIN), named after one of Elon Musk’s dogs. This chart displays what a typical pump-and-dump looks like, with a run-up in prices until a big sell that plunges the price off a cliff (see vertical line right after 4 a.m.).
Image courtesy of CoinMarketCap.

Buying meme coins

While memecoin markets can be particularly volatile, some investors choose to  invest in them anyway. Whether they're interested in timing the market pumps to make money or just want to participate in a silly, crypto-insider market, investors can purchase meme coins on many of the same platforms they'd use to purchase more serious cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. 

As the oldest and most well-known meme coin, Dogecoin can be bought, sold and traded on top crypto exchanges like Coinbase, Gemini and Binance. Traditional stock investing and trading platforms such as Robinhood, WeBull and SoFi have begun allowing their users to invest in crypto, including Dogecoin, as well.

Coinbase

  • Minimum deposit and balance

    $2

  • Fees

    0.5% - 4.5% per trade. Fees varies by type of transaction and other fees may apply.

  • Bonus

    New Coinbase users can earn $5 in bitcoin after signing up.

  • Investment options

    You can trade over 100 cryptocurrencies on Coinbase. You can also earn interest on a number of crypto coins.

  • Educational resources

    Coinbase Earn allows you to earn crypto rewards when learning about different cryptocurrencies.

Pros

  • Over 100 cryptocurrencies available to trade
  • Simple user interface
  • Low account minimum
  • Coinbase Earn feature which allows you to earn rewards when learning about cryptocurrency

Cons

  • Confusing fee structure and high fees compared to other crypto exchanges
  • Reports of bad customer service
  • Advanced trading tools not available on normal Coinbase app

Robinhood

  • Minimum deposit and balance

    Minimum deposit and balance requirements may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. No minimum required to open an account or to start investing

  • Fees

    Fees may vary depending on the investment vehicle selected. Commission-free trading; regulatory transaction fees and trading activity fees may apply

  • Bonus

    Robinhood will add 1 share of free stock to your brokerage account when you link your bank account and fulfill the conditions in your promotion (you'll be able to keep the stock or sell it after 2 trading days)

  • Investment vehicles

  • Investment options

    Stocks, ETFs, options trading, fractional shares, IPOs, plus certain cryptocurrencies through Robinhood Crypto (depending on where you live)

  • Educational resources

    "Investing basics" blog, an online library of content and Robinhood Snacks newsletter

Terms apply.

Pros

  • $0 minimum deposit to open an account and invest
  • Commission-free trading
  • Free stock welcome bonus
  • Plenty of investment options for active traders
  • Variety of accessible learning tools

Cons

  • Fees outside of commissions may apply
  • Users rely on their own knowledge when building their portfolio

Fun fact: When Dogecoin was first released, slips of paper containing private keys with hundreds if not thousands of Dogecoins were given out at crypto events and parties as a way to bring more people into the community. If you had received a paper wallet containing 500 Dogecoins in December 2013, worth about 20 cents at the time, when the cryptocurrency hit it's all-time-high around 70 cents in May 2021, that wallet would end up being worth about $353. 

Shiba Inu, another dog-themed cryptocurrency, is also available on these centralized exchange platforms, however more obscure meme coins can't be purchased easily this way. Instead, interested investors will have to sign up for newer exchanges or learn how to use decentralized exchange platforms to buy these lesser-known coins.

Dogelon Mars, for instance, can be traded on Crypto.com, KuCoin and OKX. There is also a wrapped ether pair on the decentralized exchange, Uniswap V2. 

Should you invest in meme coins?

Before investing in crypto, especially meme coins, make sure you have a solid financial footing. You'll want to have established an emergency fund that can cover at least three to six months of living expenses as well as pay off any high-interest debt, like from a credit card. Plus, if you have a 401(k) retirement account with an employer match, you should focus on contributing enough to get the match from your employer.

Depending on your risk profile, investing in meme coins could serve your interests. For investors who trade daily and have time to watch the markets closely, meme coins can offer a low initial investment and substantial gains. Still, it's a good idea for investors to understand the risks involved and do their own research into each specific meme coin they want to trade. Consider that you could potentially lose nearly all of your principal investment.

For those who wish to invest in cryptocurrency as a hobby or store wealth long-term, meme coins are not appropriate and it might make sense to go with more stable cryptocurrency investments via Bitcoin or Ethereum. However, even these more established cryptocurrencies experience plenty of volatility. Traditional investment methods such as stocks and index funds also make more conservative and reliable choices for those who aren't interested in the volatility of crypto markets.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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