Sell your Bitcoin
Bankrate diligently follows the ups and downs and developments of virtual currencies. Earlier this year, I bought some bitcoin so I could see for myself firsthand how it worked and track its movements.
After having bought, owned, spent and sold bitcoin, here are a few of my takeaways.
Bitcoin’s price volatility is unsettling. From the time I bought my first bitcoin to the day I sold it, the price of bitcoins jumped by nearly 25 percent and then fell as low as 45 percent from that high. That fluctuation makes it difficult to use bitcoin as a currency.
That also makes it a discomforting investment choice. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has released an investor alert to that effect. The bottom line is that it’s probably best to only invest money in bitcoin that you’re OK with losing.
Bitcoin is not anonymous. But at the same time, it can provide more privacy than paying with a credit card or other electronic payment. Like cash, you can transfer bitcoins from one person to another, or to a company, without attaching your name or other personal information to it. It creates a measure of pseudonymity.
Unlike cash, the bitcoin public ledger keeps a record of all transactions. If someone knows your bitcoin address, and you only use that address to make transactions, anyone can see your transaction history.
Buying bitcoin also has varying degrees of anonymity. When I bought bitcoin through LocalBitcoins, I didn’t have to share any personal information online. It was very close to a cash transaction. At the other end of the spectrum, I handed over my Facebook account, credit card information, phone number and email address to Tinkercoin to buy bitcoins through that company.
Bitcoin is not the shady underworld that some have reputed it to be. But, there are opportunities for scams and illicit transactions. Bitcoin’s reputation has suffered several blows, thanks to such news as the government’s crackdown on the online marketplace Silk Road, the arrest of one of bitcoin’s proponents on money laundering charges and the sudden shutdown of Mt. Gox. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also has released a warning that bitcoin “does not have an established track record of credibility and trust” and could be ripe for scammers.
My limited experience with bitcoin was anything but shady. Instead, I encountered a number of people and businesses who wanted to help me learn about and transact in bitcoins.
Some illicit bitcoin sites do exist, such as online illegal drug and weapons markets that are the descendants of Silk Road, and Assassination Market, which uses bitcoin to crowdfund bounties for the murder of public officials. But there are many other sites and businesses that want to prove bitcoin is legitimate and viable.
Still, there are no guarantees when transferring bitcoins or working with bitcoin companies. For instance, when I sent bitcoin to a company to buy pizza, I had no way to ensure that my bitcoin would be used to buy my pizza. (My pizza did arrive as promised.)
Unlike credit card transactions, where you can dispute a purchase, bitcoin transactions are not reversible, so there is little recourse if someone improperly takes your bitcoins. Similarly, if you store your bitcoins with a company and that company goes under (see: Mt. Gox), you could similarly be out of luck.
Buying the things you need with bitcoins is not easy. A growing number of companies are now accepting bitcoins, but the network of businesses doing so is still small. I’m based in Bankrate’s North Palm Beach, Florida, office. Here, local vendors that accept bitcoins are fairly limited but do include a florist, car dealership, screen repair company and computer repair firm. Most have had none or only a few bitcoin sales.
There are people who have successfully lived on bitcoins, including Forbes senior editor Kashmir Hill and a newlywed couple from Utah who have done a documentary of their bitcoin journey.