Since its inception in 2009 by an unknown inventor operating under the alias Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin and other forms of virtual currency have gained significant ground as a valid payment option for consumers. For the uninitiated, Bitcoin is what is commonly referred to as a “cryptocurrency”, which operates on peer-to-peer software via the Internet and is created and held electronically, with the collective network taking the place of a central authority or bank to manage its transactions. With the rapid increase in e-commerce as a subset of total retail spending in domestic GDP in recent years, Bitcoin has gained viability; breaking away from its status as a mere topic of conversation for internet enthusiasts and tech gurus. This positive press, however, has oftentimes been laced with skepticism and these cryptocurrencies still remain a topic of controversy. This is largely due to the recent use of the currency in online illegal activity such as the infamous drug trafficking scandal perpetuated by individuals via the Silk Road website. Despite the dark shadow that such activity has cast, Bitcoin can be an attractive alternative for small business owners who are looking to avoid the fees charged by credit card companies and desire to become more tech-friendly and hip to their customer base.
One of the most enticing benefits of Bitcoin as a small business owner is the ability to avoid the fees associated with credit card transactions. Bitcoin only requires a small fee (less than 1%) to pay people called “miners” who help run the Bitcoin network. The fee is only incurred by those who choose not to hold onto their Bitcoin, but rather to pay these “miners” to immediately convert the Bitcoins received into currency and deposit the funds into a bank account. When compared with the fees charged by credit card companies (an application fee, a surcharge every time a card is swiped, the cost of buying or leasing the equipment, and a percentage of total sales), Bitcoin looks very attractive to small business owners, especially low-volume businesses, as a way to retain more profit per transaction.
Bitcoin transactions are incredibly quick and can be completed in as little as 10 minutes. This is largely due to the absence of a bank as an intermediary, which speeds up the process of the transaction. Bitcoin is also held virtually and can be easily accessed through any device with an Internet connection by using a numeric “public key”. In addition, a business does not need to apply to start using Bitcoin. It merely has to download the necessary software to begin accepting the currency.
Another advantage of Bitcoin is in the concept of virtual currency itself. A small business that accepts Bitcoin will be more tech savvy as a user of cutting-edge technology. While this may not impact the decisions of some small businesses to accept Bitcoin, the attention that can be gained from customers may be worth the effort.
One downside to Bitcoin not being backed by any particular currency is that this makes its value increasingly volatile. Since the value of Bitcoin is not subject to interest rates and fluctuates on a daily basis, it largely derives its value from its use in transactions. Although the supply of Bitcoin is fixed, the currency would decline into worthlessness if people decided to stop using it. This risk is decreased, however, by the fact that businesses need not hold on to the Bitcoin they receive. They can convert it to their respective country’s currency at any time. Important to note, however, is that an unwillingness of users to hold on to their Bitcoin will inherently stymie its worth.
Reluctance of Large Companies To Accept Bitcoin
Although some members of the Fortune 500 have begun to accept Bitcoin as a method of payment, they do so by using a middleman to immediately convert that Bitcoin into US Dollars. Although the acceptance of Bitcoin by larger companies is a positive thing and a step in the right direction for the virtual currency, the current reluctance to take on the risk that holding Bitcoin represents is a sign that confidence in Bitcoin’s continuing success is not yet widespread.
The IRS has deemed that Bitcoin is property, rather than currency. As a result, US based businesses must report gains and losses on Bitcoin fluctuation as short term capital gains and losses. . At this point, a business owner would need to be meticulous in tracking their Bitcoin acquisitions and expenditures, tracking each transaction and the exchange rate for Bitcoin at that time. Then, the business owner would provide this information to whomever prepares their taxes. Thus, although tax implications may be a somewhat daunting hurdle at the outset due to the relatively unknown nature of virtual currencies to a business owner, this process will surely become more routine as employers become comfortable and train their employees to account for these transactions.