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August 20 2015

The Confident Girl’s Guide to Paying For Stuff: Introducing the Bitcoin By Marissa Licursi

Dear She’s Fit to Lead,

I keep hearing more and more companies say they now accept Bitcoins.  Truth – I’m not totally sure I get what a Bitcoin is.  Are they good?  Are they real?  Should I be using Bitcoin instead of cash or my credit card?  Can I feel safe using them?  HELP!!!!!!!!

Signed,

Stressed Out


Dear Stressed,

Lose the stress!  We’re here to help.  We want you to feel confident in deciding how to pay for things, and the best way to get that confidence is to make sure that you understand all the ins and outs of whatever form of payment you are using.

Imagine the internet created its own currency…and WELL-AH.  Presenting………the bitcoin.

What is it? Think of them as new-found “online coins.” Created in 2009, Bitcoin is the largest and most widely known virtual currency. It is a payment system, where companies and individuals can store, spend and receive bitcoins by using what are known as “Bitcoin wallets”.  These virtual “wallets” help convert dollars, euros, or any other currency into bitcoins. You can buy and sell bitcoins at one of the Bitcoin Exchanges (a platform similar to the stock market).  Watch this super short 1-minute bitcoin intro video!

Where do they come from?  In a conventional financial system, money is created by a central bank (like the Federal Reserve). But Bitcoin has no such central bank printing bitcoin.  In fact, there are no physical bitcoins.  Weird, right?  Bitcoins are created through a process called “mining.” In this process, individuals and companies — known as “miners” — own government computing power and can process transactions using their computing power — usually with specialized hardware. In exchange for offering this computing power, the miners are given rewards, which come in the form of bitcoins.

How can you make purchases?  To make purchases, anyone can send bitcoins from a smartphone or computer to anyone else within seconds.  You first need a wallet application (like Blockchain.info or Breadwallet for the iPhone). Enter the recipient’s’ address (by scanning a QR code), enter the amount, and press send!  Companies can accept bitcoins by using a service like BitPay, at no cost to set up, with fees basically free (depending on the service used).

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At checkout, a customer can select Bitcoin as the payment option. A BitPay tab will then open.  “If they’re buying something for $1,000, BitPay will show 1.16 BTC owed, at an exchange rate of $850 to 1 BTC [as of press time]. Instead of having to enter credit card and billing information, the customer simply scans a QR code on the BitPay page with an iPhone or Android app, or copies the merchant’s Bitcoin receiving address to their online wallet.” (Mikal Belicove, Entrepreneur.com)  After BitPay accepts Bitcoin, it converts the payment into dollars and sends a bank transfer to the company’s bank account within just hours.

Benefits?  

  1. There are no credit card fees, no bank transfers, and no delays in receiving payments. That’s what makes using and accepting the Bitcoin so attractive for small businesses.  In regular currency markets, governments issue currencies and banks control them. But the Bitcoin eliminates these “middlemen” and the higher fees associated with them. So, mom-and-pop shops avoid these annoyances and instead make payments easily with very low or even zero processing fees.
  2. Another benefit is the rapid speed with which payments are processed.  And this is particularly advantageous for smaller companies that need money on hand for survival alone. Unlike credit card transactions that take a few days to process and show up in company accounts, Bitcoin payments are rapid — and can be in a business owner’s “electronic pockets” in just a couple of hours.
  3. Further, bitcoin tears down international borders!  As a virtual currency that doesn’t belong to any particular country, bitcoin breaks down borders and makes international transactions easier and efficient.  You can send and receive any amount of money anywhere in the world, AND at any time.
  4. One benefit for consumers is that bitcoin offers more protection! You are in full control of your transactions with bitcoin, so companies are unable to force unwanted or unnoticed charges — which can and does happen with debit cards, credit cards, and Paypal . Bitcoin can also detect typos and won’t let you mistakenly send money to an invalid address.
  5. Also, immediate transparency.  All information surrounding a bitcoin transaction is readily accessible to anybody and everybody to see, on the Bitcoin ledger, popularly known as the blockchain. This ledger is public, distributed throughout the world, and stored by the Bitcoin miners.

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Risks?

  1. For one thing, Bitcoin is not yet widely accepted.  In fact, many people are still totally aware of its existence!  Each day, more businesses and individuals accept bitcoins but the list still remains small and has a long way to grow.  
  2. 2. Another risk is the unpredictable value of bitcoins.  As explained earlier, the virtual currency has experienced extreme volatility so it is hard to determine a bitcoin’s price.
  3. Also, bitcoin may not be so secure (right now at least). There are tools being developed, but they aren’t yet ready to offer bitcoin users any kind of insurance against theft. This is because bitcoin wallet files that store important “private keys” can be easily stolen, altered, or even deleted. Our advice? It’s best for anyone who uses bitcoins to use security practices to protect their money.   There are now many bitcoin services that provide insurance and security and it’s recommended to use these services.

Who accepts it?  While some are still skeptical, many companies accept Bitcoin. These include Apple’s App Store, WordPress.com, Amazon, Target, CVS, Subway, Victoria’s Secret, Reddit, PayPal, Ebay, Etsy Vendors, Zappos, Whole Foods, Expedia, Bloomberg.com, Home Depot, Kmart, and Sears.  The list is only growing, as bitcoins are a rapidly-spreading currency.

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Bitcoin and the Winklevii: Notorious for their legal battle with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the (insanely gorgeous) Winklevaus Twins are apparently “in love” with the Bitcoin. Why you ask? They emphatically believe that this virtual currency is the “payments network of the future” (CNN). In fact, they are building a Bitcoin exchange called Gemini that they hope will eventually become the “NASDAQ of Bitcoin.”  By building the foundations for Gemini, the two brothers aim to give security and credibility to the Bitcoin.

And why does it matter?  Over the last few years, bitcoin has been EXTREMELY volatile. Without an official government backing and controlling the currency, the value of bitcoin fluctuates rapidly. And this  volatility can either help or hurt a company that accepts bitcoin as a form of payment. While some global finance gurus have their doubts, others deem the bitcoin as a viable currency.  One thing’s for sure: growing technology is making the transfer of digital funds easier and easier each day. So it remains to be seen what the bitcoin will do in the years to come. Is it simply a dangerous fad soon to die or will bitcoin become the next wave of the future?

We don’t have all the answers, but we do want you to feel confident in your understanding of what the heck this thing called the bitcoin really is.

Xo,

She’s Fit to Lead

 

Want to Read More?

http://money.cnn.com/2015/01/27/investing/bitcoin-winklevoss-twins-gold/

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232118

http://www.businessinsider.com/winklevoss-twins-bitcoin-will-dominate-global-finance-2015-3

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/08/11/should-small-businesses-bet-on-bitcoin

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2013/11/19/12-questions-you-were-too-embarrassed-to-ask-about-bitcoin/

http://www.runtogold.com/images/bitcoin-beginner-guide.pdf

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About Marissa Licursi

Hey, I’m Marissa!  I am from Rye, New York and am a junior at Johns Hopkins University, majoring in Economics with a double minor in Entrepreneurship & Management and Financial Economics. Greek Yogurt addict, organizational guru, fitness fanatic. I love traveling, music and spoken-word poetry.  Fun Facts?  I've kissed 3 stingrays, published a children's book, and can ride a motorcycle. Life mantra to live by? Confidence is your absolute best outfit. Wear it. Own it.

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