Due to the unique nature of virtual currencies, there are some inherent advantages to transacting through bitcoin over fiat currencies. Although over a decade old, the digital currency landscape is constantly changing, with most tokens being untested as a medium of exchange, and users should be careful to weigh their benefits and risks. That said, bitcoin is designed to offer users a unique set of advantages over other payment methods. We’ll take a closer look at those below, but before we do, it will be useful to explore what bitcoin is. By better understanding how bitcoin was designed, it will be easier to see what the advantages of using bitcoin for payments are.
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 (BTC). Started in 2009 by a mysterious entity named Satoshi Nakamoto, the Bitcoin network has come to dominate and even define the cryptocurrency space, spawning a legion of altcoin followers and representing for many users an alternative to government flat currencies like the U.S. dollar or the euro or pure commodity currencies like gold or silver coins.
Why the need for bitcoin in the first place, if there are already so many traditional means of making payments? A key element of bitcoin is its decentralized status, meaning that it is not controlled or regulated by any central authority. This immediately distinguishes it from fiat currencies. Bitcoin payments are processed through a private network of computers linked through a shared ledger. Each transaction is simultaneously recorded in a “blockchain” on each computer that updates and informs all accounts. The blockchain serves as a distributed ledger and obviates the need for any central authority to maintain such records.
Bitcoins are not issued by a central bank or government system like fiat currencies. Rather, bitcoins are either “mined” by a computer through a process of solving increasingly complex mathematical algorithms in order to verify transaction blocks to be added to the blockchain, or they purchased with standard national money currencies and placed into a “bitcoin wallet” that is accessed most commonly through a smartphone or computer.
Benefits of Bitcoin
Now that we have seen a brief overview of what bitcoin is, we can better understand how this leading cryptocurrency provides potential benefits to its users.
1. User Autonomy
The primary draw of bitcoin for many users, and indeed one of the central tenets of cryptocurrencies more generally, is autonomy. Digital currencies allow users more autonomy over their own money than fiat currencies do, at least in theory. Users are able to control how they spend their money without dealing with an intermediary authority like a bank or government.
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 easily be traced back to him. In fact, the anonymous bitcoin address that is generated for user purchases changes with each transaction. This is not to say that bitcoin transactions are truly anonymous or entirely untraceable, but they are much less readily linked to personal identity than some traditional forms of payment.
3. Peer-to-Peer Focus
The bitcoin payment system is purely peer-to-peer, meaning that users are able to send and receive payments to or from anyone on the network around the world without requiring approval from any external source or authority.
4. Elimination of Banking Fees
While it is considered standard among cryptocurrency exchanges to charge so-called “maker” and “taker” fees, as well as occasional deposit and withdrawal fees, bitcoin users are not subject to the litany of traditional banking fees associated with fiat currencies. This means no account maintenance or minimum balance fees, no overdraft charges and no returned deposit fees, among many others.
5. Very Low Transaction Fees for International Payments
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.
6. Mobile Payments
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.
Because users are able to send and receive bitcoins with only a smartphone or computer, bitcoin is theoretically available to populations of users without access to traditional banking systems, credit cards and other methods of payment.