What Is HODL?

HODL Explained

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HODL is a term used in the cryptocurrency world to describe a buy-and-hold investing strategy. While some claim that HODL is an acronym for “hold on for dear life,” it’s actually a misspelling of the word “hold.”

The term HODL dates back to a 2013 post on a Bitcoin talk forum and is still being used today by cryptocurrency traders. Those who adopt the HODL strategy are focused on long-term gains rather than day trading and attempting to time the market. Learn how HODL works, its benefits and drawbacks, and how it may impact you as an investor. 

Definition and Examples of HODL

HODL is a misspelling of the word “hold” and a popular term used in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency world to describe a specific investing strategy. The strategy consists of investors purchasing assets and holding them for long periods of time. It’s one of many slang terms used by cryptocurrency traders, 

The term HODL dates back to a 2013 post on a Bitcoin forum. The title of the post, found on the platform Bitcointalk, was “I AM HODLING.” The post’s author went on to say that because he couldn’t predict market trends well enough to be a successful day trader, he would hold his investments instead. Other forum participants embraced the misspelling, and it soon became the subject of memes. The week the post was published, the price of Bitcoin dipped nearly 40%, as a result of actions taken by the Chinese central bank.

How Does HODL Work?

HODL is an investing strategy in which individuals purchase cryptocurrencies and hold them for a long period of time. This allows investors to take advantage of an increase in the value of the asset. Someone adopting a HODL strategy isn’t trying to time the market, and they aren’t going to sell their investments when they think the market might dip. 

The opposite of HODL is a short-term trading strategy. In that case, investors buy when prices are low, hold an asset while the value increases, then try to sell it before the price dips.

HODL vs. Buy-and-Hold Investing

The strategy of buying and holding an asset for a long period of time is hardly a new one, and its roots predate the invention of cryptocurrency. 

Buy-and-hold investing occurs when individuals purchase an asset—often stock—and hold it for a period of many years. Rather than trying to time the market, this strategy simply operates under the assumption that the asset’s price will increase over time. 

With buy-and-hold investing, you generally choose stocks based on a company’s long-term success and prospects. Before investing, review the company’s standing, looking at things like earnings and sales, vision and background of management, and the overall status of the industry. 

There are many benefits to a buy-and-hold investing strategy, including:

  • You reduce the money you pay in transaction fees when you don’t trade regularly.
  • Because you’re holding your investments for long periods of time, you avoid higher short-term capital gains taxes
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) claims that those who adopt a buy-and-hold approach to investing tend to be more successful in the long run, as opposed to those who try to time the market.

It is worth noting that there could be some differences between a HODL strategy and the traditional buy-and-hold investing strategy. When people adopt a buy-and-hold approach with stock investing, they often put their money into index funds in the hope of not beating the market but matching it. But long-term cryptocurrency investors, on the other hand, tend to hope for more substantial gains.

Pros and Cons of HODL

Pros
    • Isn’t reliant on timing the market
    • Profits are subject to long-term capital gains taxes
    • Proven track record


Cons
    • Cryptocurrency doesn’t have a proven track record
    • Capital is tied up for long periods of time


Pros Explained

  • Isn’t reliant on timing the market: Short-term trading is reliant on timing the market, which means you have to guess when prices are going to rise and fall. But unless you’re a market expert—which most people aren’t—it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to accurately predict every market shift. HODL removes the risks of timing the market. 
  • Profits are subject to long-term capital gains taxes: Capital gains on assets held for more than one year are taxed at a lower rate than those held for less than one year. A HODL strategy will result in a lower tax rate on your earnings.
  • Proven track record of buy and hold: The reason so many financial experts recommend buy-and-hold investing is that it has a proven track record. While it’s important that investors recognize the difference between stock investing and cryptocurrency investing, buy-and-hold investing traditionally wins out.

Cons Explained

  • Cryptocurrency doesn’t have a proven track record: With buy-and-hold investing, there are many decades of performance to look back on, and you can see the market trends drive upward over the long term. In fact, the first stock exchanges date back to 1792, giving us literally centuries of data to study. But since cryptocurrency is only about a decade old, there’s no evidence that it will trend upward forever. As a result, we can’t really know if a buy-and-hold strategy will be effective in the case of cryptocurrency.
  • Capital is tied up for long periods of time: When your money is tied up in the market for many years, or even decades, it can’t be spent on other things. HODL may not be an effective strategy for any money you hope to use in the next few years, so be sure you have the funds allocated for investments.

Is HODL Worth It for Individual Investors?

Now that you’ve heard some of the arguments for and against the HODL strategy in cryptocurrency trading, you might be wondering whether it’s really worth it. After all, we know that cryptocurrency doesn’t have the same proven track record that the stock market has.

To answer that question, let’s go back to the example of the 2013 Bitcoin crash. At its lowest point over those few days, Bitcoin reached a trading price of $506.17. Let’s take a look at what would have happened if you invested in Bitcoin in December 2013 and held onto it. 

At one point on Friday, May 21, 2021, Bitcoin was trading at $35,889.63. If you had purchased 10 Bitcoin at its low price in December 2013, your investment on May 21, 2021, would be worth $358,896.30, an increase of more than $350,000.

It’s important to state that debating whether or not a HODL strategy is worth it when investing in cryptocurrency is entirely different from the question of whether to invest in cryptocurrency at all. Cryptocurrency is still relatively new and isn’t subject to the same regulation as traditional investing. This could leave investors open to additional risk. As with any investment, you should make sure you understand cryptocurrency before you begin investing.

Key Takeaways

  • HODL is a misspelling of the word “hold” and describes a cryptocurrency investing strategy in which individuals buy and hold assets for long periods of time.
  • The opposite of a HODL approach would be short-term trading, in which investors try to time the cryptocurrency market.
  • HODL is similar to the buy-and-hold approach that many investors take in the stock market.
  • Buy-and-hold investing has a proven track record and is often more profitable than short-term trading, but it comes with a greater risk in the case of cryptocurrency, which doesn’t have a proven long-term track record.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.