Virtual Money: Understanding Cryptocurrency
The concept of cryptocurrency can be fairly confusing to those who are just hearing about it. After all, words like Bitcoin, blockchain and mining sound like they belong in a video game rather than the financial sector. If you’ve ever wondered what this world is all about, here’s a brief introduction.
What is cryptocurrency?
In the simplest of terms, cryptocurrency, or crypto, is virtual money. It only exists electronically. Bitcoin is the most popular, but there are thousands of others, with names like Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple, Feathercoin and TRON. Users can’t make their own Bitcoins, but anyone with the know-how can create their own digital currency, so it’s not easy to tell which options are viable for investing. Some digital coins may be worth more in the future, but others may disappear completely, leaving the investors with nothing.
How does it work?
People use digital currency much like they do regular money. If someone can find a person or business that is willing to accept the crypto they have, they can make an exchange, no matter where in the world they are. This system is dependent on a peer-to-peer network with multiple parties supervising what’s going on. While users are anonymous, each transaction is logged and verified in digital ledgers, otherwise known as blockchains. Since there is no overseeing authority for cryptocurrency, these blockchains are monitored by various users around the globe.
How do people get it?
There are a couple ways. First, people can purchase it with real money. One Bitcoin, for example, currently costs over $6,000. Interested parties can buy a fraction of one coin, too. Another way to earn some types of digital currency is by putting a computer to work, verifying blocks (transactions) on the blockchain with an algorithm—a process known as mining. When a computer successfully confirms a logged transaction, the owner may be rewarded with a certain amount of crypto. Some people spend lots of money buying special hardware and software to mine for Bitcoin and other virtual currencies.
What are the risks?
Cryptocurrency has been referred to as the wild west of the financial world, because there aren’t many rules or regulations. Some say investing in it is akin to gambling, whereas others say it’s the future of money. Either way, investors should not convert funds they can’t stand to lose. Since crypto isn’t regulated by any state or government, no one is there to investigate fraud and investments aren’t insured or protected. If the virtual coins in a digital wallet disappear, the money is gone.
There is a lot more to say on the subject, but this article is a quick overview to help you understand what the digital currency trend is all about. In summary, cryptocurrency is a volatile, experimental market and only time will tell how worthwhile such an investment might be.