What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a form of digital currency – a new form of money, essentially – that is tradable throughout the world. It is not an official currency, however, which means that it operates without the involvement of banks or clearinghouse.
Bitcoins can be transferred between individuals or between businesses to pay for goods and services, all without the use of a bank, so the fees for that exchange are lower. Bitcoins do have value and, as such, are subject to taxation just as with cash in your local currency.
Advantages of Using Bitcoin
Some of the advantages of using Bitcoin over another online payment network, such as PayPal, or even your bank, are:
- It can be used in any country without the need for currency conversion
- Sending money to a business or individual costs less per transaction
- There are no limits to the number of transactions you can initiate each month
- Your account cannot be frozen or suspended
- Transactions are irreversible, unlike PayPal payments
- You can keep Bitcoins in a digital wallet that is accessible from your phone, tablet, or computer
Several of these advantages exist because there is no central governing authority, as there is with a bank. Of course, that may also be a disadvantage. Bitcoin is still considered “experimental,” even by the organization itself, so be aware that there are also risks involved in accepting Bitcoins in place of cash. Bitcoin began trading in 2009.
Another potential advantage is that the fee to transfer Bitcoins from one person or business to another is unrelated to the amount being transferred. Unlike other payment networks that charge a percentage of the transaction value, Bitcoin charges based on the ability to reverse the transaction – the easier to cancel, the lower the fee.
That is, a Bitcoin transaction takes an average of 10 minutes to be resolved – 90 minutes at the most. During that process, there are confirmations that occur that the transfer of Bitcoins is occurring. The fewer the number of confirmations requested – you can request zero – the lower the fee to send coins; there is never a fee to receive Bitcoins. But you can also request as many as 36 confirmations to be absolutely sure that once the Bitcoins are in your account, they cannot leave without your permission.
This can be especially useful when selling expensive goods. On some payment networks, a buyer can claim to have an issue with an order and almost immediately receive a refund, even without your input. This would not happen with Bitcoins – once the payment is in your account, it is yours to keep.
Where to Get Bitcoins
There are only a few ways to obtain Bitcoins:
- You can purchase Bitcoins at an online exchange
- You can obtain them from an individual who has them
- You can accept Bitcoins as payment
- You can earn them by supporting the process of verifying transactions in the Bitcoin system, called mining.
You cannot make purchases through other platforms, such as PayPal or Dwolla, using Bitcoins because of the potential for fraud. Only Bitcoin-approved exchanges are authorized to sell them. The value of a Bitcoin as of late 2015 is just under $400.