What is litecoin?

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Andrew Goldman

Andrew Goldman has been writing for over 20 years and investing for the past 10 years. He currently writes about personal finance and investing for Wealthsimple. Andrew's past work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Magazine and Wired. Television appearances include NBC's Today show as well as Fox News. Andrew holds a Bachelor of Arts (English) from the University of Texas. He and his wife Robin live in Westport, Connecticut with their two boys and a Bedlington terrier. In his spare time, he hosts “The Originals" podcast.

Litecoin is a cryptocurrency, and as of late 2017, it’s the fourth largest digital currency circulating. But just in case we’ve already lost you, a cryptocurrency is a digital currency that only exists online, has no physical form or intrinsic value, and isn’t regulated or controlled by a central bank or server, but is rather transacted between individuals and is thus referred to as “decentralized.” (The “crypto” refers to the fact that the transactions are made securely using impossibly tough-to-crack cryptography.)

The most well-known cryptocurrency was the first one to take off — bitcoin, created in 2009 and which sought to create a digital cash system that could transmit payment just as easily from one side of the earth to the other as it could from two people living next door to one another. Like bitcoin, litecoin relies on a blockchain, a publicly accessible electronic ledger that permanently, and immutably records every cryptocurrency transfer. The technological guts of both currencies are almost identical, and litecoin and bitcoin once coexisted on the same blockchain until litecoin “forked” off onto its own in 2011.

And while Bitcoin’s creation is great mystery — it was created by a person or group of people going by “Satoshi Nakamoto” who has yet to be publicly identified — litecoin's story is not so obscure: it was started in 2011 by a former Google engineer named Charlie Lee. Litecoin’s transaction time is quicker than bitcoin’s; a litecoin blockchain is created in 2.5 minutes, versus bitcoin’s relatively glacial 10 minutes. Lee has said he’s not hoping litecoin eliminates bitcoin, but will rather become a less expensive alternative to use for lower price goods. By this logic, bitcoin would be better for buying a house, litecoin ideal for a slushy and a couple sliders.

Last Updated January 29, 2018

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