Bitcoins are Digital CashBitcoins exist as amounts recorded in a public ledger (the blockchain) at various Bitcoin addresses. Each address has a public and private key. If you lose access to your private key, bitcoins stored at that address will be lost forever. There is no one to complain to. Keep your private key private. Your public key is fine to share. That's the address others can send bitcoins to. Coinbase makes this easy by managing all your public and private keys for you.
Security is Priority Number OneYou are the bank. There is no vault door protecting your investment. That's why your computer has to be secured against hackers and thieves. My first recommendation is to have an up-to-date antivirus software running at all times. You should also use a password management program like LastPass or 1Password. These programs will protect you from phishing attacks, make key logging almost irrelevant, and equip you to create strong individual passwords for every site which needs them. Please, never reuse passwords. If you're using 1Password, you can securely store and sync your password database across multiple devices using Dropbox.
Working With CoinbaseYour bitcoins were gifted to you via Coinbase. Coinbase is an online wallet which means they manage your bitcoin addresses and your private keys. You can send bitcoin to your Coinbase account by going to Account Settings -> Bitcoin Addresses. Coinbase creates a new public address with every transaction and sending bitcoin to any of those addresses will credit your account.
Sending Bitcoin for the First TimeA great exercise for understanding how Bitcoin works is to send some from one account to another. Set up a wallet at blockchain.info. If you're using 1Password, be sure to save the Identifier string as well. Once that account is created, you can copy your Bitcoin address, head back to coinbase.com and click the Send/Request option. Click Send Money, paste the address, and send a small amount, such as 1 millibit (.001 bitcoins). It's fun to have the blockchain.info window open in another tab when you do this so you can see how quickly the system works. Say goodbye to 3-5 business days to transfer money between accounts. :) Also, if you want to keep some bitcoin online for purchasing goods and services via your smart phone, the blockchain.info app works well. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to pay a very small transaction fee, but most of the time it will be free.
Setting Up a Paper WalletThroughout the history of Bitcoin, there have been a series of hacks on the online exchanges. The very best way to store your bitcoins and to eliminate this risk is to store them offline. This is done via creating a paper wallet through services like bitaddress.org. There are plenty of tutorials online for booting off a CD, disconnecting your computer from the Internet, and printing out your paper wallets. Depending on the amount of bitcoin you're storing, that may be overkill. Once you create your paper wallets, you can send various amounts from Coinbase to those wallet public addresses. Later they can easily be imported back into a standalone Bitcoin client or any of the major online wallets. It's a good idea to store these in a secure, water-proof place such as a safe or safe deposit box. Some people also email or mail portions of the import keys as a backup to friends and relatives so they can be reconstructed later if needed.
Bitcoin as an Investment?Some (including me) believe bitcoins will have a much higher value in the future. How high could they go? I've heard everything from $1,300 per coin to over $1M per coin Sound crazy? Well, when you think about the size of the remittances market, the daily forex market, services like MoneyGram and Western Union, those who store value in gold and silver, the number of ecommerce transactions, donations, etc… even a small percentage of those activities done via bitcoin would create a big disruption (especially since there will only ever be 21 million bitcoins).
Bitcoin as Money?The number of stores accepting bitcoin is increasing all the time with big announcements almost every month. For example, overstock.com recently said they will accept bitcoin as payment in 2014. You can also buy gyft gift cards with bitcoin which, in essence, lets you buy anything from the many vendors they support. Also, keep in mind there are 100,000,000 divisions in each bitcoin which means you can do micro transactions for fractions of a penny.
Cashing Out Your BitcoinsSince you now have an account with Coinbase, cashing out your bitcoins to old-fashioned fiat currency is really easy. You just have to set up your Coinbase account to have access to your bank account. I trust them, and if you use the method they offer which logs directly into your bank, you can be up and running in minutes. Selling your bitcoins back to Coinbase will result in a bank deposit within 3 to 5 business days.
TaxesThough some ultra-libertarians and anarcho-capitialists want to pretend bitcoin usage can fly under the radar of the IRS, the truth is today they are not anonymous and are always taxable. That means you need to keep track of a few things:
- The date you obtained them.
- The market value at the time you obtained them.
- The date you sell them, give them as a gift, or use them to purchase something (any taxable event).
- The market value at the time of the taxable event.
Why Bother?Well... to fuller understand my perspective on why Bitcoin (the protocol) and bitcoins (the currency used on the Bitcoin network) are so revolutionary, feel free to explore some of my other posts on the subject. In a nutshell, Bitcoin provides a decentralized public ledger which could make many financial institutions today irrelevant. They empower individuals to store and use the value they create without any third party risk with complete control to send that value to anyone anywhere in the world in minutes for free.
- March 2013 - Bitcoin: DO YOU SPEAK IT???
- April 2013 - My Bitcoin Obsession
- April 2013 - Why Does FoxyCart Support Bitcoin?
- November 2013 - Could Bitcoin Be More Disruptive than the Internet?
- December 2013 - Why Shouldn't You Accept Bitcoin?
I hope this post was helpful to you and your friends and relatives entering the amazing world of Bitcoin. If you'd like to support content like this, feel free to send donations here: 1BxUs1hjWzYLEYdECbrRTJJtcTmwBzNtFN