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What Is Tether and Is It a Good Investment?

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Cryptocurrency is constantly in the news as well-known financial institutions and companies add bitcoin to their balance sheets. In recent times, the less volatile assets within cryptocurrency — stablecoins — are also making their way onto investors’ radars. The largest stablecoin by market capitalization is Tether (USDT).

What Is Tether?

Tether is a blockchain-based cryptocurrency that is pegged to the U.S. dollar. Actual dollars as well as bonds, Treasury bills and other assets are held in reserve at financial institutions to serve as collateral. Stablecoins typically have a 1:1 relationship with USD and experience far less volatility than cryptocurrency counterparts like bitcoin and ethereum.

Understanding Stablecoins

The stablecoin sector aims to avoid volatility and allow cryptocurrency to be a store of value rather than a risky investment. Stablecoins also provide liquidity in a volatile cryptocurrency market where it would be hard to convert back and forth between cash and a cryptocurrency like bitcoin.

The most well-known stablecoins are the USD-backed cryptocurrencies like tether, gemini dollar and USD coin. However, other stablecoins use other types of collateral. Some are backed using other fiat currencies, like the euro or yen, or by commodities, such as gold and silver.

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Good To Know

Despite the 1:1 ratio of the popular USD stablecoins, there are typically minor fluctuations in price. Most of the time, you’ll find that stablecoin values can have a difference of 1 to 3 cents. This is largely due to changes in liquidity and supply and demand, which are driven higher or lower by transactions, trading volume and market volatility.  

It is important to keep in mind that some companies are less transparent than others about how much of their stablecoin is actually backed by fiat currency and commodities. Tether itself has been embroiled in controversy over its false claims and lack of full backing.

History of Tether and Controversy

Tether began as realcoin in 2014, and the first tokens were distributed in 2015 on the Bitcoin network. It was one of the earliest cryptocurrencies and one of the first successful stablecoins. Not only was it technologically revolutionary, but it also had a roster of reputable founders, including Bitcoin Foundation director Brock Pierce.

However, as quickly as it rose to success, skepticism and controversy followed, which is unsurprising considering the amount of scrutiny the coin received as the first popular stablecoin. Tether has had to get past a few controversies to maintain its position at the top:

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Key Events

  • Bitfinex: Tether saw early success by being listed on the Bitfinex exchange, but further digging by researchers uncovered that the two companies had the same CEO and CFO — and identical executive structures.
  • Bitcoin pump: It seemed that tether was being artificially pumped into the cryptocurrency market to create liquidity and was a driving force behind bitcoin’s bull run up to $20,000.
  • The 2017 hack: About $31 million of tether was stolen in the 2017 hack, forcing Tether to create a hard fork.
  • USD-backing controversy: An audit of its dollar reserves that was supposed to happen in 2017 never did. The audit was supposed to ensure its reserves were maintained, but Tether parted ways with the auditors instead.
  • Hiding losses: In 2019, New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the parent company of tether of hiding an $850 million loss by dipping into the tether currency reserves. As of 2021, Tether had settled with James, agreeing to pay $85 million and cease trading operations with New Yorkers. Despite this, Tether did not admit fault and claimed it simply wanted to move on from the matter. It says it has implemented a new backing policy that includes loans as well as USD.
  • Antitrust accusations: A class action filed in June 2020 accuses Tether of manipulating the markets by issuing USDT to itself without dollar backing, then selling the USDT to the Bitfinex exchange, which is Tether’s sister company, according to The Block. The case hasn’t yet been heard in court.
  • Reserves controversy: Bloomberg Businessweek reported on Oct. 7, 2021, that a former banker with Tether alleged that company executives had invested reserve funds. Further investigation turned up evidence that Tether had made billions of dollars worth of short-term loans to large Chinese companies and made loans to other crypto companies that it had secured with bitcoin. Tether called the report “a tired attempt” to undermine the company, according to Cointelegraph. But although a Tether spokesperson told Bloomberg Businessweek that Tether has enough cash to match the largest one-day payout it ever has had to make, it didn’t confirm it is holding the roughly $69 billion it would need to back all the coins in circulation at the time.
  • Sell-off amid terraUSD de-pegging: When competing stablecoin terraUSD “de-pegged” last month, dropping below 30 cents at one point, a sell-off among nervous investors resulted in $3 billion in tether withdrawals — all of which Tether was able to redeem without incident, CNBC reported. While tether’s price never dropped below 95 cents and was back at or near $1 a day later, the event caught the attention of regulators concerned about the lack of protection for investors.

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Despite the controversies, new Tether tokens continue being minted as demand continues to increase. In fact, Tether recently launched on Polygon, which has become hugely popular in its own right by providing a solution to the Ethereum network’s high costs, slow speed and lack of scalability. Tether was already live on smart-contract platforms like Solana and Algorand in addition to Ethereum, Crypto Briefing reported.

As of June 8, the market cap of USDT is $72.378 billion, down from $78.426 billion in mid-January.

What To Consider Before Investing In Tether

Tether can be bought on most major cryptocurrency exchanges, but should you invest, considering its history and outlook? Tether, despite having many issues in the past, continues to be a very stable cryptocurrency that is stronger for having gotten past its problems mostly unscathed — thus far, at least.

Although competitors have popped up over the years, tether is still the largest stablecoin and is widely used for trading, loans and earning interest. Tether could potentially be viewed as one of the riskier cryptocurrencies due mainly to its issues with transparency, but it’s still very important in the cryptocurrency world.

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Where To Buy Tether and Earn High Interest Rates

You can buy tether on major cryptocurrency exchanges and lending platforms. Many will pay you interest just for storing tether on their platform. Tether will typically earn more interest than other popular stablecoins like GUSD, USDC and DAI because of its high demand in trading and cryptocurrency loans.

Likewise, you might be able to ask for higher interest rates for tether on KuCoin, a cryptocurrency-based peer-to-peer lending platform. On that platform, tether earns higher interest rates than many other cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin.

Whether or not you choose to invest, make sure you understand tax laws around cryptocurrency. Income in the form of cryptocurrency can be taxed, whether earned as interest or capital gains.

Below are some platforms and their tether interest rates.

Platform USDT APY
Celsius 7.10% (9.32% for accredited investors)
Nexo 12%
Youhodler 13.07%
Binance 5%

Is Tether a Good Investment?

With the creation of tether and other stablecoins, it is quick and easy to swap any cryptocurrency for tether, while converting a cryptocurrency to cash would take days and cost transaction fees. This creates liquidity for exchange platforms, creates no-cost exit strategies for investors and adds flexibility and stability to investors’ portfolios.

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Additionally, tether can be sent anywhere globally much more quickly and with lower fees than transfers at traditional banks and financial institutions. While most people wouldn’t use bitcoin or ethereum for purchases and daily transactions due to their high volatility, it makes perfect sense to use tether.

For these reasons and more, it is still worthwhile to consider investing in tether. While tether is not a long-term investment that will grow your money by itself because it stays pegged to the U.S. dollar, there are lending platforms, exchanges and wallets that will pay you high interest rates to store USDT on their platform.

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Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.

Data is accurate as of June 8, 2022, and is subject to change.