Due to the unique nature of virtual currencies, there are some inherent advantages to transacting through Bitcoin that users of other currencies do not get. Digital currencies are a relatively new and untested medium of exchange, and users should be careful to weigh their benefits and risks. That said, Bitcoin appears to offer some unique possibilities.
What Is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a decentralized, peer-to-peer, "cryptocurrency" system designed to allow online users to process transactions through digital units of exchange called Bitcoins. Started in 2009 by a mysterious programmer, Bitcoin has generated plenty of interest and controversy as a "third" type of currency and an alternative to government flat currencies like the U.S. dollar or the euro or pure commodity currencies like gold or silver coins.
Bitcoin payments are processed through a private network of computers linked through a shared program. Each transaction is simultaneously recorded in a "blockchain" on each computer that updates and informs all accounts.
Bitcoins are either "mined" by a computer through a process of solving increasingly complex mathematical algorithms or purchased with standard national money currencies and placed into a "Bitcoin wallet" that is accessed through a smartphone or computer.
Bitcoin purchases are discrete. Unless a user voluntarily publishes his Bitcoin transactions, his purchases are never associated with his personal identity, much like cash-only purchases, and cannot be traced back to him. In fact, the anonymous Bitcoin address that is generated for user purchases changes with each transaction.
No Third-party Interruptions
One of the most widely publicized benefits of Bitcoin is that governments, banks and other financial intermediaries have no way to interrupt user transactions or place freezes on Bitcoin accounts. The system is purely peer-to-peer; users experience a greater degree of freedom than with national currencies.
Purchases Are Not Taxed
Since there is no way for third parties to identify, track or intercept transactions that are denominated in Bitcoins, one of the major advantages of Bitcoin is that sales taxes are not added onto any purchases.
Very Low Transaction Fees
Standard wire transfers and foreign purchases typically involve fees and exchange costs. Since Bitcoin transactions have no intermediary institutions or government involvement, the costs of transacting are kept very low. This can be a major advantage for travelers. Additionally, any transfer in Bitcoins happens very quickly, eliminating the inconvenience of typical authorization requirements and wait periods.
Like with many online payment systems, Bitcoin users can pay for their coins anywhere they have Internet access. This means that purchasers never have to travel to a bank or a store to buy a product. However, unlike online payments made with U.S. bank accounts or credit cards, personal information is not necessary to complete any transaction.