If you search Google for how to buy Bitcoin, or for a Bitcoin exchange, far too many roads will lead you to centralized exchanges. Bitcoin is not a centralized currency, as you know, but instead is secured and generated via a global peer-to-peer network and ledger called the Blockchain.
This article intends to be an overview on how to keep your sound money sound, how to truly be your own bank and not rely on the whims of an exchange like Coinbase or any of its major competitors. First, perhaps, we should discuss why one would want to avoid a “top shelf” exchange like Coinbase.
The first thing you should know about Coinbase is that they have frequently been guilty of canceling trades during the escrow period for bank and credit card purchases. They typically use “security” as an excuse for these cancellations. Here is an example of a group of Coinbase users complaining about this process. These cancellations rarely occur when the price of Bitcoin drops between the date of purchase and finalization of the transaction, rather they occur when the price of Bitcoin swells.
Secondly, Coinbase is overly friendly with regulators. Despite fighting a blanket order by the IRS for customer records, the company will freeze accounts on a whim. The centralized nature of the exchange allows them to hold user funds, be they in fiat currency or cryptocurrency, for long periods of time. For someone intending to profit through Bitcoin trading, or even simply to secure wealth, this can be a lot of unnecessary headache.
An alternative way to trade bitcoins
How is this headache unnecessary? There are alternative ways to trade. A decentralized, peer-to-peer currency does not rely on agents such as federal reserves or banks like Coinbase. Instead, it relies on other users of the currency, which is one of the reasons regulators are weary of it. Just like cash, the criminal element can of course use Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to mask their financial activities from government authorities. This can be said about any article of value, however, from precious metals to vehicles.
For the purpose of this article, the writer can personally recommend LocalBitcoins.com. LocalBitcoins is a worldwide platform of peer-to-peer traders. In the same way that eBay early on relied entirely on user reputation, trading on LocalBitcoins can be risky if you go in blind. It is important to always read the user profile for positive feedback, and any user with more than a few negative feedback comments is probably not worth taking a risk on.
However, LocalBitcoins does use an escrow system, which is the exchange itself’s primary function. In-person trades for cash or other items can be escrowed within LocalBitcoins, and once the funds have been received by the seller, the coins can be released. This writer, however, has personally never done an in-person trade. Primarily this writer has used Paypal and Western Union to do trades, on the selling bitcoin side. From a buyer’s (your) perspective, without this writer’s 100% positive feedback, it would be overtly risky to send funds first via Paypal or Western Union. From the seller’s perspective, it is also risky to accept Paypal, because Paypal transactions can be reversed whimsically. This is why feedback and trust are important on the platform.
But there are several advantages you cannot get with centralized Bitcoin exchanges like Coinbase. First, LocalBitcoins can be used as a standard currency exchange once you have Bitcoin. You can then purchase funds in most of the world’s currencies using your Bitcoin. If you manage to buy Bitcoin low, this can be a force multiplier in FOREX trading, since many FOREX exchanges give no heed to Bitcoin at all.
Second, there is a wider and more competitive price market. Depending on the payment method, sellers will sell Bitcoin at different rates to compete with other sellers. Sometimes the mark-up on smaller buy orders can be as high as a few hundred dollars.
Third, signing up for LocalBitcoins is less involved in terms of privacy. One does not need to have a bank account, or any account at all, linked with LocalBitcoins in order to trade. A Paypal account or cash, or a variety of other methods the world over (or even a payment method not listed on the site) that one can take to a money transfer service will be sufficient. One can even exchange gift cards for Bitcoins on LocalBitcoins. The exchange will ask for your photo identification card once you have begun trading. Again, this is much less involved than the process presented by Coinbase.
One thing should be said before we bid adieu: never, ever leave coins on the exchange overnight. Doing so involves the same hazard as using a centralized exchange entails: risk of total loss. Negligible amounts, maybe, but it is unadvisable to leave bitcoins in any wallet to which you do not have physical access.
In the next Acquiring Bitcoin article, we will discuss, in concrete terms, how to make your first peer-to-peer Bitcoin purchase via LocalBitcoins.