If you are about to explore Bitcoin, there are a few things you should know. Bitcoin lets you exchange money in a different way than with usual banks. As such, you should take time to inform yourself before using Bitcoin for any serious transaction. Bitcoin should be treated with the same care as your regular wallet, or even more in some cases!
Securing your wallet
Like in real life, your wallet must be secured. Bitcoin makes it possible to transfer value anywhere in a very easy way and it allows you to be in control of your money. Such great features also come with great security concerns. At the same time, Bitcoin can provide very high levels of security if used correctly. Always remember that it is your responsibility to adopt good practices in order to protect your money.
Bitcoin price is volatile
The price of a bitcoin can unpredictably increase or decrease over a short period of time due to its young economy, novel nature, and sometimes illiquid markets. Consequently, keeping your savings with Bitcoin is not recommended at this point. Bitcoin should be seen like a high risk asset, and you should never store money that you cannot afford to lose with Bitcoin. If you receive payments with Bitcoin, many service providers can convert them to your local currency.
Bitcoin payments are irreversible
Any transaction issued with Bitcoin cannot be reversed, they can only be refunded by the person receiving the funds. That means you should take care to do business with people and organizations you know and trust, or who have an established reputation. For their part, businesses need to keep control of the payment requests they are displaying to their customers. Bitcoin can detect typos and usually won't let you send money to an invalid address by mistake. Additional services might exist in the future to provide more choice and protection for the consumer.
Bitcoin is not anonymous
Some effort is required to protect your privacy with Bitcoin. All Bitcoin transactions are stored publicly and permanently on the network, which means anyone can see the balance and transactions of any Bitcoin address. However, the identity of the user behind an address remains unknown until information is revealed during a purchase or in other circumstances. This is one reason why Bitcoin addresses should only be used once. Always remember that it is your responsibility to adopt good practices in order to protect your privacy.
Unconfirmed transactions aren't secure
Transactions don't start out as irreversible. Instead, they get a confirmation score that indicates how hard it is to reverse them (see table). Each confirmation takes between a few seconds and 90 minutes, with 10 minutes being the average. If the transaction pays too low a fee or is otherwise atypical, getting the first confirmation can take much longer.
Confirmations Lightweight wallets Bitcoin Core
0 Only safe if you trust the person paying you
1 Somewhat reliable Mostly reliable
3 Mostly reliable Highly reliable
6 Minimum recommendation for high-value bitcoin transfers
30 Recommendation during emergencies to allow human intervention
Bitcoin is still experimental
Bitcoin is an experimental new currency that is in active development. Each improvement makes Bitcoin more appealing but also reveals new challenges as Bitcoin adoption grows. During these growing pains you might encounter increased fees, slower confirmations, or even more severe issues. Be prepared for problems and consult a technical expert before making any major investments, but keep in mind that nobody can predict Bitcoin's future.
Government taxes and regulations
Bitcoin is not an official currency. That said, most jurisdictions still require you to pay income, sales, payroll, and capital gains taxes on anything that has value, including bitcoins. It is your responsibility to ensure that you adhere to tax and other legal or regulatory mandates issued by your government and/or local municipalities.
The Bitcoin protocol is not just about sending money from A to B. It has many features and opens many possibilities that the community is still exploring. Here are some of the technologies currently being researched and in some cases, turned into real products and services. The most interesting uses of Bitcoin are probably still to be discovered.
Control against fraud
An unprecedented level of security is possible with Bitcoin. The network provides users with protection against most prevalent frauds like chargebacks or unwanted charges, and bitcoins are impossible to counterfeit. Users can backup or encrypt their wallet and hardware wallets could make it very difficult to steal or lose money in the future. Bitcoin is designed to allow its users to have complete control over their money.
All payments in the world can be fully interoperable. Bitcoin allows any bank, business or individual to securely send and receive payments anywhere at any time, with or without a bank account. Bitcoin is available in a large number of countries that still remain out of reach for most payment systems due to their own limitations. Bitcoin increases global access to commerce and it can help international trades to flourish.
With the use of cryptography, secure payments are possible without slow and costly middlemen. A Bitcoin transaction can be much cheaper than its alternatives and be completed in a short time. This means Bitcoin holds some potential to become a common way to transfer any currency in the future. Bitcoin could also play a role in reducing poverty in many countries by cutting high transaction fees on workers' salary.