So What’s the Deal with Bitcoin?


If you’re like me, you’ve pondered what exactly Bitcoin is. And you’re possibly uneasy about the thought of a “virtual currency.” Or maybe that’s just me.

Elaine Bedel of Bedel Financial Consulting is widely thought of as one of Indiana’s top financial experts (and we’re proud to say she serves on the Indiana Chamber’s finance/audit committee). She recently offered a useful summary of Bitcoin for Inside INdiana Business:

Bitcoin is a “virtual” currency. There is no physical paper or coins that you can touch or feel. It is an online currency. There is no centralized authority controlling bitcoin like other currencies such as the U.S. Dollar, Euro, and Yen.

How Do You Get Bitcoin?

Bitcoin can be purchased through an exchange or received in return for the sale of products and services. Once received, bitcoin can in turn be spent for other products or services. Today, there are almost 2,400 online businesses that accept bitcoin.

What is the Appeal of Bitcoin?

There are several reasons why bitcoin has appeal to some individuals. They include both good and not so good reasons:

-Limited Supply. The amount of bitcoin that can be created is capped at 21,000,000. For individuals concerned that governments are printing too much money, having a type of currency with a limited amount of supply is appealing.

-Privacy. Bitcoin provides a certain amount of privacy for its users. The ownership and recording of transactions with bitcoin is essentially a numerical code; therefore, there is no personal information attached when a person uses it. However, depending on where the bitcoin is used or stored this may be changing and some privacy may be given up. Several stories regarding bitcoin being used for online illegal activity has raised issues concerning the level of anonymity.

-Speculation. The value of bitcoin has skyrocketed in the past year. It has ranged from $100 to over $1,100 over the past twelve months and is now valued at approximately $500. This volatility in value is not appealing for a currency. To be widely accepted and used, the value of a legitimate currency needs to remain relatively stable.

What Does the IRS Say?

The IRS announced last week that bitcoin will be treated as property and not as currency. This ruling will likely make it more difficult for bitcoin users. Every time someone uses bitcoin to purchase a good or service, they will be required to keep track of their cost basis on those bitcoin for tax purposes. If the bitcoin was purchased or received a long time ago, it has likely gone up in value. Therefore, the individual will pay either capital gain or ordinary income tax on the increase in value when he/she files income taxes for that year. When the tax impact is included, a purchase may cost more when bitcoin is used than when dollars are spent.

The tax impact may cause some bitcoin holders to treat it more like an investment and less like a currency. If investors hold on to their bitcoin as a long term investment, it will limit the bitcoin in everyday circulation. A currency cannot exist if the everyday supply is too limited.

2 thoughts on “So What’s the Deal with Bitcoin?

  1. This helps. Not that we want to buy bitcoins, but to understand what it is. I think one of my sons owns part of a bitcoin. The recent hack of a bitcoin “repository?” also had me curious and wondering. Not much coherent news about this in the media.

  2. Anthony, thanks for the comment. I feel the same. I don’t exactly have gold stuffed in my mattress, but I’d definitely need to see more stability before using it or investing in it.

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