A Guide to Buying and Using Bitcoins for Online Purchases
While it can be hard to tell if Bitcoin is going to go up or down in value, or if it is the future of currency or just a flash in the pan, one thing that is for sure is that Bitcoin is available to buy and sell right now. You can also use it for purchases if you’re creative enough and if you plan in advance for who will take your bitcoins.
If you're one of the many who are curious about how this cryptocurrency is bought, sold, and used, keep reading.
Get Bitcoin With a Virtual Wallet
Bitcoin is meant to be an entirely anonymous platform, like the way cash works in the physical world. You are supposed to be able to buy and sell things on digital platforms without financial details and records being exchanged.
In reality, it doesn’t work that way for most people. For the average person to buy and sell Bitcoin, they have to use what is called a Bitcoin wallet.
There are several companies that offer Bitcoin wallets, with Coinbase being one of the more popular options. In order to use Coinbase, you must give them personal details including your email address, your name, and the ability to link to your bank account.
However, a Bitcoin wallet doesn’t come with any kind of government guarantees. So, if Coinbase goes under or your bitcoins are lost or stolen, the consumer has very little recourse, meaning you will probably never get your money back.
Purchase Bitcoin Electronically
It can be pricy to buy one single bitcoin. As of May 28, 2020, one bitcoin is priced at $9,428.92.
But you don’t have to buy whole bitcoins. Just like you can use a fraction of a dollar (a penny, nickel, dime, or quarter), you can use and buy fractions of bitcoins.
The smallest fraction that can currently be bought or sent is 100-millionth of a Bitcoin—this is called a Satoshi, after the mysterious founder of the cryptocurrency.
You can purchase Bitcoin directly through your Coinbase account in whatever fraction or whole amounts you choose.
Many wallets charge a small bank transfer fee and then another fee on your purchase, so be sure to take that into consideration when you buy.
Buy Bitcoin Locally
This is a piece that many people new to Bitcoin don’t know about. You can buy Bitcoin locally through a site called LocalBitcoins.com. This allows you to meet people in person at public places and exchange cash for Bitcoin. It seems strange, but it’s no harder than a Craiglist transaction. Always use caution though, as there have been Bitcoin scams in the past.
Shop Online and Pay With Bitcoin
A limited number of retailers take Bitcoin in exchange for goods and services, but unlike its reputation, they are often regular, run-of-the-mill companies, and not black market operations. Currently, some Shopify store owners (under a variety of brands) will take Bitcoin, as does Overstock.com and Newegg.
There are others, as well, but it’s really a hit-or-miss scenario. If a store takes Bitcoin, you can use it just like a credit card to pay for products and services.
The Bottom Line
Because Bitcoin exists mostly outside of government regulation, it does pose more risk than dealing with banks and government currency. However, it’s not hard to buy or sell, although the value of a Bitcoin can fluctuate wildly.
You can also use Bitcoin to make a limited amount of purchases, mostly on the web.
If you decide to dabble in Bitcoin, it’s important to know that you can lose money if the value drops. Understand that it’s still a very new technology, and even the best futurists aren’t sure what’s going to happen with it. So, it’s a good idea to use the philosophy “buyer beware” when it comes to Bitcoin.
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.