How Many Cryptocurrencies Are There?

If you follow the cryptocurrency markets, it may seem like you're hearing about a new type of digital money every day. This is because there are well over 1,000 cryptocurrencies in existence, with new ones being created frequently. Here's what you need to know about the current size of the cryptocurrency markets, the major players, and why there's a need for multiple cryptocurrencies.

The short answer

There are 1,658 cryptocurrencies, according to's current list as of Thursday afternoon. This is up from 1,638 on Monday and less than 1,600 just a couple of weeks ago. And it's up from one cryptocurrency in existence until just a few years ago (bitcoin).

A very top-heavy market

I wouldn't call all 1,658 cryptocurrencies significant, or even legitimate. The method through which cryptocurrencies can be created (known as "open source"), makes it surprisingly easy for anyone to create their own cryptocurrency -- and in many cases, everyday people have done just that.

The total cryptocurrency market capitalization is just under $369 billion as of this writing, which implies that the average cryptocurrency is worth about $222 million. However, this statistic is extremely misleading. In fact, the top 20 cryptocurrencies account for 89% of the total market -- the other 1,638 cryptocurrencies are worth a combined $39.6 billion.

A more representative statistic is that the median cryptocurrency's market cap is just $925,000, meaning that half are worth more and half are worth less.

The largest cryptocurrencies by market cap

For this reason, it's important to realize that there aren't 1,658 relevant cryptocurrencies. Only a select few are worth paying serious attention to. With that in mind, here's a look at the 20 largest cryptocurrencies by market capitalization. (NOTE: Within the chart, I've provided links to the cryptocurrencies The Motley Fool has covered, if you're interested in learning more.)

Why is bitcoin not enough?

To be clear, there's certainly room in the market for several cryptocurrencies. Specifically, bitcoin has several shortcomings, such as limited scalability, high transaction fees, and relatively long transaction times. Some of the other cryptocurrencies simply do a better job -- for example, Ripple transactions are processed in seconds and cost just pennies, which is why several key financial institutions are using the company's technology.

Beware of trying to chase "the next bitcoin"

Having said that, there's no need for 1,658 cryptocurrencies -- not even close. The vast majority of these (especially the smaller ones) are likely to end up worthless. Therefore, be careful if you decide to buy a smaller cryptocurrency because you think it could eventually end up on the top-20 list.

Buying bitcoin, Ethereum, or any of the other major coins is speculative enough -- buying the really small ones is just as risky as buying a lottery ticket, if not more.

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Matt Frankel owns Ethereum, Litecoin, and Tron tokens. The Motley Fool has no position in any cryptocurrencies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.