CHICAGO (CBS) — Bitcoins: You can’t touch or hold them, but one today is worth $14,000.
So, how are they used, and should you invest? CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker took a closer look at how fortunes are being made with the digital currency.
Jimmy Couch, a software developer, spends bitcoins using what appears to be any other debit card. In actuality, it’s full of the cryptocurrency.
“I can use it pretty much anywhere. I’ve bought a few things. I’ve gone to bars with friends, and I bought a round of drinks,” he said.
Prior to that, however, Couch first had to buy bitcoin. You can do that by going to online sites, such as Coinbase, entering your credit card or bank information, and voilà. Do the same thing through an app, and your phone becomes your bitcoin wallet. You can also use cash at a bitcoin ATM.
“For as little as one dollar, you can insert up to $2,500 per transaction,” according to Marc Grens, owner of DigitalMint, a Chicago bitcoin startup.
Just put in the cash and the bitcoin appears in your digital wallet ready to spend.
“There’s over 200,000 legitimate online sources which individuals can go to a checkout and use bitcoins as a form of payment,” Grens said.
Sites from Craigslist to Expedia and NewEgg allow you to purchase furniture, hotel rooms or laptops. When you check out, look for the bitcoin option.
Anthony Palermo, for example, is selling his Melrose Park house, and he’s accepting bitcoins.
How many depends on the current value of bitcoin, but Palermo wants at least $320,000 worth. If he sells it for bitcoins, he plans to hang on to it.
“If I end up holding the currency, and it increases in value, it’s like an instant investment,” he said.
But is bitcoin a good investment?
The digital currency started 2017 at $1,006 and skyrocketed to $19,891 by mid-December.
Jim Sinegal, an analyst for Morningstar, said he thinks it’s a very difficult asset to value. “A bitcoin right now is worth only what someone else is willing to pay for it. It’s like a piece of artwork or a classic car,” she said.
“When I initially started buying bitcoin, it was worth about $5,” Couch said, who bought 200 at that time.
So, he must be a millionaire, right?
Wrong. He sold them all when bitcoin hit $10. You can convert bitcoins into cash through a wire transfer or an ATM.
Still riding the roller coaster, Couch has a six-figure portfolio, and checks the price first thing every morning.
“I find it exciting. Mostly because I have made not a life changing amount, but a significant amount,” he said. “If it goes up even higher I want to be a part of that.”
To prevent hacking, experts advise you store most of your bitcoin offline in a special USB-like device, called a cold wallet.