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For this service I paid less than a penny. There were no banks involved. If there had been, it would have cost me at least twice the amount I was sending. I sent the money using Bitcoin, the decentralized peer-to-peer network that's received a great deal of buzz over the past year or so. People usually think of Bitcoin as an alternative currency challenging the hegemony of government-controlled fiat money, which it is and technically, the currency is bitcoins, with a small "b".

But Bitcoin is more than that. In addition to being bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist store of value, it's also a means of exchange, a payment system that can perform many of the same functions bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist banks and as financial services companies like Bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist Union, PayPal and Visa. And bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist efficiency as such is arguably a more important reason for bankers to pay attention to it.

The technology, powered by tens of thousands of users' computers across the globe, lets you move as much of your money as you want, to whomever on the Bitcoin network you want, whenever you want. It sends funds nearly instantaneously, and for almost nothing. Bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist there are catches. First, anyone you want to send money to or receive it from needs to be on the Bitcoin network also.

Then, getting money in and out of Bitcoin is difficult, maddeningly so. Unless you're a "miner" with a ton of sophisticated computer gearthe main way to acquire bitcoins bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist to buy them for dollars or euros on an online exchange. The biggest is Mt. Gox, based bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist Japan. Getting money to an exchange generally entails funding an account at a third-party service like Dwolla, which can then send bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist dollars or other government currency on to the exchange.

You can cash out your bitcoins for fiat money on the exchanges, too, but sometimes the funds get held up before returning to your account.

Another disadvantage of Bitcoin is that there are few merchants that accept the digital money. Sure, you can use bitcoins to buy alpaca socksor illicit substancesor T-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with the Bitcoin logo.

A few restaurants and bars take it. You can even donate bitcoins to WikiLeaks. I'm not saying you shouldso please don't tap my phone, Homeland Security. But you can't spend bitcoins at Amazon or Wal-Mart or McDonald's or pay your electricity bill with them. And Bitcoin is a risky place to store large sums of money. Fanatics will argue it's a better long-term investment than the U.

There are currently about 9. The last bitcoin is expected to be generated years from now. But even if the devotees are right, the Bitcoin "wallets" that store the currency aren't FDIC-insured. You can keep your wallet on your computer, where security is up to you, or in the cloud — and like in the pre-FDIC banking days, you choose your cloud wallet provider based on trust. Wallets have been hackedand as with physical cash, you can't get bitcoins back once they're gone.

On top of all this, the exchange bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist between bitcoins and traditional currencies has been volatile — you can see for yourself on sites like BitcoinCharts. Yet once I had the coins, I was able to send some to a Twitter acquaintance in London, quick snap and dirt cheap. If entry and exit from the system were easier, this technology could become a more viable alternative to established financial players.

The company's flagship service expedites the transfer of funds to and from the exchanges, for which it charges a commission. Charlie Shrem, the founder and CEO, says that in two to three months it will come out with a reloadable general-purpose prepaid debit card. Each card will come with a Bitcoin address printed on the back and a QR code, along with the MasterCard logo, on the front. Cardholders will bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist able to convert bitcoins held at the address to dollars stored on the card by scanning the code into a smartphone.

The dollars would then be available to spend wherever MasterCard is accepted. In theory, this should make getting in and out easier, and make Bitcoin more attractive as a conduit for funds. Of course, the banking system will have to be involved here, since only insured depositories can issue cards on the MasterCard network.

Shrem would not identify the two banks that will issue the BitInstant card; one will issue it in the U. After some of the blogosphere reports about the card this week, BitInstant had to clarify that unlike Bitcoin addresses, the cards themselves won ' t be anonymous and will comply with anti-money-laundering and know-your-customer regulations.

Dollars stored on bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist U. Bradley Leimer, the vice president for online and mobile strategy at Mechanics Bank in Richmond, Calif. Linking it to a prepaid card, he says, is "a little bit of a game-changer," since it's "a much more mainstream way to move the value within your bitcoin collection. However, using a MasterCard debit card as the exit means someone will still be "incurring a transaction cost at some point," Leimer says.

BitInstant's existing service is the bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist way I know of to acquire bitcoins, which is to say it's the only way that's worked for me. The teller looked mighty confused when I read her the script "I am making a deposit into the account detailed on the invoice". But after a few minutes she figured out I needed to fill out a deposit slip with an account number for Bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist, an Atlanta outfit that serves as BitInstant's go-between with the bank.

I didn't have to give my name, much less show ID, throughout the whole process. TrustCash knew which order to fill because it sets a unique deposit amount for each order at each branch. Sounds steep, but the service speeded the process of acquiring bitcoins, which could take a week when dealing directly with one of the exchanges.

Normally, bitcoins would have shown up in my online wallet within 30 minutes of the bank deposit, except I'd goofed. When I placed the order, I'd pasted the wrong character string in the field where my Bitcoin receiving address was supposed to go.

It took me another business day to sort things out with BitInstant. It may have helped that the three guys in the company's New York office knew me. And they are all guys. Dave Bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist, the director of Consult Hyperion in Surrey, England, says Bitcoin "is really interesting because it informs other debates, not necessarily because of what it is itself.

Bitcoin's most rabid fans would beg to differ. It's a tantalizing thought. But I think Bitcoin can coexist with the established forms of money and payment. Competition doesn't have to mean winner-take-all. I can envision a future where people will sometimes charge purchases to Visa to rack up rewards points and earn special offers tailored to their spending history, enjoying the fraud protection of chargebacks, and sometimes use Bitcoin or something like it or something that evolves from it for transactions they don't want tracked, incurring the same risks as they do with physical cash today.

Transacting off the grid should remain an option bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist after we phase out paper bills and metal coins. Just because the world's going digital doesn't mean we have to fulfill Orwell's prophecy of the telescreen. The problem with Bitcoin right now is that if it were a car, it would come only in stick shift. When the automatic version arrives, though, watch out. Marc Hochstein is the executive editor of Bitinstant to bitcoin address checklist Banker. The views expressed are his own.

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