Bitcoin: Breaking Down the History (& Controversy)

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Whether you’re a Bitcoin enthusiast, believe it’s a scam, or aren’t sure what to think about cryptocurrency, it’s wise to learn more about it. The idea of cryptocurrency has existed for about 40 years, but it became a reality in 2009 when the first Bitcoin was created. 

This post will review Bitcoin’s history, an upcoming event known as a halving, and why the cryptocurrency is controversial.


What is the history of Bitcoin?

We’ve talked about Bitcoin for beginners on the Money Girl podcast, but here are some highlights in Bitcoin’s history:

  • In 1983, David Chaum, an American cryptographer known as the godfather of cryptocurrency, published a concept for anonymous electronic money, eCash. His company, DigiCash, created eCash, but it failed to attract enough users, so it filed for bankruptcy in 1998. 
  • In 2009, Bitcoin (BTC) was created, becoming the first truly decentralized cryptocurrency. 
  • On May 22, 2010, known as Bitcoin Pizza Day, Laszlo Hanyecz paid 10,000 Bitcoin for two Papa John’s pizzas delivered to him. At Bitcoin’s peak pricing in 2024, they would have cost more than $689 million! 
  • In 2013, Bitcoin was named the year’s best investment by Forbes. 
  • In 2014, Bitcoin was called the year’s worst investment by Bloomberg.  
  • In October 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved ProShares Bitcoin Strategy (BITO), the first U.S. Bitcoin futures exchange-traded fund (ETF). 
  • In January 2024, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved the first spot Bitcoin ETFs.

Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency and is now the most well-known and valuable coin. Its creator was a computer programmer (or a group of them) using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. 

He or they published a white paper in 2008, revealing the blockchain system that supports Bitcoin. I’ll explain blockchains more in a moment. But Nakamoto’s identity has never been verified.


What is a blockchain?

To understand Bitcoin, you need to grasp the concept of a blockchain. You might think about it as open-source software that’s a digital ledger of transactions. The ledger is distributed across a vast network of computers which secure it. Many public and private blockchains are used by companies and other cryptocurrencies besides Bitcoin. 

The Bitcoin blockchain is made up of blocks, which are a group of Bitcoin transactions. Each block creates an unbroken link on the public chain. Every block of data gets linked to previous blocks through cryptography, hence the name cryptocurrency.

You can see the Bitcoin blockchain in action as new transactions and blocks get recorded in real-time at Blockchain.com/explorer.


What is Bitcoin?

After releasing the Bitcoin white paper, Satoshi Nakamoto summarized how it would get created. I’ll explain who makes the coin in a moment. Bitcoin has no central authority, server, storage, or administrator. It’s a distributed, peer-to-peer network that exists to legitimize transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain.

Nakamoto wrote that total circulation would be 21 million bitcoins, with the amount created cut in half every four years. That’s known as the halving, which I’ll explain in a moment.

The 21 million cap and distribution schedule is part of the Bitcoin code, which experts say can never be increased. Bitcoin’s schedule is 10.5 million coins created in the first four years, 5.25 million the next four years, 2.625 million the next four years, and so on, never to exceed a total of 21 million.

So far, just over 19.7 million Bitcoins have been created, leaving just 1.3 million more to come. The limited supply of Bitcoin differentiates it from other cryptocurrencies and state-issued currencies like the U.S. dollar. Our Federal Reserve can add or remove dollars from circulation as needed in response to economic conditions, potentially devaluing our currency.

For better or worse, Bitcoin’s supply and creation schedule is permanent and shared across its network. Changing it would require an unfathomable amount of agreement and coordination across the Bitcoin community. 

The 21 million cap makes Bitcoin scarce compared to regular currency and other cryptocurrencies, adding to its appeal for many investors, including me. I own a small amount of Bitcoin relative to my total portfolio.

But I only recommend investing in Bitcoin or any cryptocurrency if you genuinely understand it and can withstand the risks of losing some or all its value. Crypto can be extremely volatile from minute to minute, so it’s not an investment to make lightly.

You can learn more about Bitcoin and purchase just a few dollars of it on exchanges like Coinbase and Binance. There are also platforms that allow you to purchase Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency in retirement accounts, such as Alto IRA and iTrustCapital.

Before buying bitcoin in your 401(k), understand the benefits and risks. Personal finance podcast host Laura Adams explains more.



How is Bitcoin created?

You may have heard of Bitcoin miners, the people and companies creating Bitcoin. Mining is a validation process that happens using software on specialized, high-powered computers. 

The miners’ computers rush to solve a cryptographic mathematical puzzle, and the first one to solve it gets rewarded in Bitcoin for creating a block, which gets added to the blockchain. 

Once new transactions are officially entered into the blockchain, new Bitcoins go into circulation. So, “mining” refers to the computational work done to validate data contained in blocks. So, you can think of miners like Bitcoin auditors.

To sum up, new Bitcoins enter circulation as block rewards for the miners who verify and add them to the blockchain.  

Mining is lucrative but also comes with many expenses. For example, on March 8, 2024, Bitcoin’s price topped $70,000 and closed at $68,285. The mining reward at the time was 6.25 bitcoin, or $426,781.


What is the Bitcoin halving?

I mentioned the Bitcoin halving, which is when its production gets cut in half roughly every four years. It happens each time another 210,000 blocks get added to the blockchain. It’s happened three times since 2009 when Bitcoin was created.

The halving also means the reward for miners is cut by 50%. When Bitcoin began, mining one block earned 50 bitcoin. In 2012, it was cut to 25 bitcoin, and in 2016, to 12.5 bitcoin. 

As I’m writing, the last halving occurred on May 11, 2020, reducing the mining reward to 6.25 bitcoin. This year’s halving is predicted to happen around April 20, 2024, and will cut the mining reward to 3.125 bitcoin.

At the current pace of Bitcoin distribution, it’s estimated that around 2140, coins will no longer be created. At that time, only transaction fees paid by users will be the incentive to participate in Bitcoin’s network. 


What is the Bitcoin controversy?

Nakamoto left clues that he or they created Bitcoin for political reasons, making it a bit controversial. The first Bitcoin block features the headline of a newspaper article: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.”

Many people interpret that statement as a sign that Nakamoto believed Bitcoin could potentially reduce governments’ power over monetary policy, including bank bailouts.

Some Bitcoin enthusiasts believe it will become a global reserve currency, and the U.S. is taking initial steps to explore using cryptocurrency. In March 2022, President Biden signed an executive order to examine the regulation of digital assets and consider a U.S. Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), a digital version of the dollar. 

While some countries, most notably China, have banned cryptocurrency mining and trading, many fully embrace it.

Bitcoin is also controversial for its massive electric power usage and relationship to climate change. The University of Cambridge publishes the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI), which estimates the greenhouse gas emissions related to Bitcoin. It found that crypto mining is responsible for 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

At just 15 years old, Bitcoin has quite a rich history and likely a long future ahead of it. 

This article originally appeared on Moneygirl.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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10 Savvy Ways to Save For Retirement

10 Savvy Ways to Save For Retirement

Between paying for your regular expenses including groceries, rent or mortgage, student loans, and bills, it can seem nearly impossible to find a few dollars left over for saving for retirement — especially when that might be decades away. However, building up a nest egg isn’t just important, it’s urgent. The sooner you start, the more financially secure you should be by the time retirement rolls around.

So, how to save for retirement? Finding a solid retirement plan to suit your needs may be easier than you think. Here are 10 ways to save for retirement to help make those golden years feel, well, golden.

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When it comes to saving for retirement, first do an inventory of your current financial situation. This includes your income, savings, and investments, as well as your expenses and debts. That way you’ll know how much you have now.

Next, figure out what you want your retirement to look like. Are you wondering how to retire early? Do you plan to travel? Move to a different location? Pursue hobbies like tennis, golf, or biking? Go back to school? Start a business?

You may not be able to answer these questions quickly or easily, but it’s important to think about them to determine your retirement goals. Deciding what you want your lifestyle to look like is key because it will affect how much money you’ll need for retirement saving.

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Now the big question: How much money will it take for you to retire comfortably? You may also be wondering, when can I retire? There are several retirement savings formulas that can help you estimate the amount of your nest egg. And there are various calculators that can help generate an estimate as well.

While using a ballpark figure may not sound scientific, it’s a good exercise that can help lay the foundation for the amount you want to save. And it may inspire you to save more, or rethink your investment strategy thus far.

As an example, you can use the following basic formula to gauge the amount you might need to save, assuming your retirement expenses are similar to your present ones. Start with your current annual income, subtract your estimated annual Social Security benefits, and divide by 0.04.

Example

Let’s say your income today is $100,000, and you went on the Social Security website using your MySSA account (the digital dashboard for benefits) to find out what your monthly benefits are likely to be when you retire: $2,000 per month, or $24,000 per year.

$100,000 – $24,000 = $76,000 / 0.04 = $1.9 million

That’s the target amount of retirement savings you would need, theoretically, to cover your expenses based on current levels. Bear in mind, however, that you may not need to replace 100% of your current income, as your expenses in retirement could be lower. And you may even be contemplating working after retirement. But this is one way to start doing the math.

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So, how to save money for retirement? Consider the following 10 options part of your retirement savings toolkit.

1. Leverage the Power of Time

Giving your money as much time to grow as you possibly can is one of the most important ways to boost retirement savings. The reason: Compounding returns.

Let’s say you invest $500 in a mutual fund in your retirement account, and in a year the fund gained 5%. Now you would have $525 (minus any investment or account fees). While there are no guarantees that the money would continue to gain 5% every year — investments can also lose money — historically, the average stock market return of the S&P 500 is about 10% per year.

That might mean 0% one year, 10% another year, 3% the year after, and so on. But over time your principal would likely continue to grow, and the earnings on that principal would also grow. That’s compound growth.

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Another important step in saving for retirement is to create a budget and stick to it. Calculating your own monthly budget can be simple — just follow these steps.

  • Gather your documents. Gather up all your bills including credit cards, loans, mortgage or rent, so that you can document every penny coming out of your pocket each month.
  • List all of your income. Find your pay stubs and add up any extra cash you make on the side using your after-tax take-home pay.
  • List all of your current savings. From here, you can see how far you have to go until you reach your retirement goals.
  • Calculate your retirement spending. Decide how much money you need to live comfortably in retirement so that you can establish a retirement budget. If you’re unsure of what your ideal retirement number is, plug your numbers into the formula mentioned above, or use a retirement calculator to get a better idea of what your retirement budget will be.
  • Adjust accordingly. Every few months take a look at your budget and make sure you’re staying on track. If a new bill comes up, an expensive life event occurs, or if you gain new income, adjust your budgets and keep saving what you can.

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Preparing for retirement should begin the moment you start your first job — or any job that offers a company retirement plan. There are many advantages to contributing to a 401(k) program (if you work at a for-profit company) or a 403(b) plan (if you work for a nonprofit), or a 457(b) plan (if you work for the government).

In many cases, your employer can automatically deduct your contributions from your paycheck, so you don’t have to think about it. This can help you save more, effortlessly. And in some cases your employer may offer a matching contribution: e.g. up to 3% of the amount you save.

Starting a 401(k) savings program early in life can really add up in the future thanks to compound growth over time. In addition, starting earlier can help your portfolio weather changes in the market.

On the other hand, if you happen to start your retirement savings plan later in life, you can always take advantage of catch-up contributions that go beyond the 2024 annual contribution limit of $23,000 and 2023 annual contribution limit of $22,500. Individuals 50 and older are allowed to contribute an additional $7,500 a year to a 401(k), to help them save a bit more before hitting retirement age.

If you have a 403(b) retirement plan, it’s similar to a 401(k) in terms of the contribution limit and automatic deductions from your paycheck. Your employer may or may not match your contributions. However, the range of investment options you have to choose from may be more limited than those offered in a 401(k).

With a 457(b) plan, the contribution limit is similar to that of a 403(b). But employers don’t have to provide matching contributions for a 457(b) plan, and again, the investment options may be narrower than the options in a 401(k).

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Another strategy for how to save for retirement, especially if you’re one of the many freelancers or contract workers in the American workforce, is to open an IRA account.

Like a 401(k), an IRA allows you to put away money for your retirement. However, for 2024 the maximum contribution you can put into your IRA caps at $7,000 ($8,000 for those 50 and older). For 2023 the maximum contribution you can put into your IRA caps at $6,500 ($7,500 for those 50 and older).

Both the traditional IRA and 401(k) offer tax-deductible contributions. Roth IRAs are another option: With a Roth IRA, your contributions are taxed, which means your withdrawals in retirement will be tax free.

You control your IRA, not a larger company, so you can decide which financial institution you want to go with, how much you want to contribute each month, how to invest your money, and if you want to go Roth or traditional.

For those who can afford to invest money in both an IRA and a 401(k), and who meet the necessary criteria, that’s also an option that can boost retirement savings.

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Should you save for retirement or pay off debt? And, more specifically, if you’re dealing with student loans, you may be wondering, should I save for retirement or pay off student loans? That is a financial conundrum for modern times. A good solution to this problem is to do both.

Just as it can be helpful to create a budget and stick to it, it can be helpful to create a loan repayment plan as well. Add those payments to your monthly budgeting expenses and if you still have dollars left over after accounting for all your bills, start socking that away for retirement.

If your student loan debt feels out of control, as it does for many Americans, you may want to look into student loan refinancing. By refinancing your student loan, you could significantly lower your interest rate and potentially pay off your debt faster. Once the loan is paid off, you will be able to reallocate that money to save for retirement.

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Working a side gig in your spare time can seriously pay off in the future, especially when you consider that the average side hustle can bring in several hundred dollars a month, according to one survey.

There are several things to consider when thinking of adding an extra job to your résumé, including evaluating what you’re willing to give up in order to make time for more work. But, if you can put your skills to use — such as copy editing, photography, design, or consulting — you can think about this as less of a side hustle and more of a way to hone your client list.

A side hustle should be one way to save for retirement that you’ll enjoy doing. And it could help if you find yourself dealing with a higher cost of living and retirement at some point.

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There’s no one best way to save for retirement — sometimes a multi-pronged approach can work best. If you already have a budget and an emergency savings account, and you’re maxing out your contributions to your 401(k), 403(b), 457, or IRA, then investing in the market could be another way to diversify your portfolio and potentially help build your nest egg. For instance, historically, stocks have been proven to be one of the best ways to help build wealth.

Putting your money in the market means you’ll have a variety of options to choose from. There are stocks, of course, but also mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and even real estate investment trusts (REITs), which pool investor assets to purchase or finance a portfolio of properties.

However, investing in any of these assets, and in the market in general, comes with risk. So you’ll want to keep that in mind as you choose what to invest in. Consider what your risk tolerance is, how much you’re investing, when you’ll need the money, and how you might diversify your portfolio. Carefully weighing your priorities, needs, and comfort level, can help you make informed selections.

Once you have your asset allocation, be sure to evaluate it, and possibly rebalance it, to stay in line with your goals each year.

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Setting up automated savings accounts takes the thought and effort out of saving your money because it happens automatically. It could also help you hit your financial goals faster, because you don’t have to decide to save (or agonize over giving in to a spending temptation) and then do the manual work of putting the money into an account. It just happens like clockwork.

Enrolling in a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 at work is one way to automate savings for retirement. Another way to do it is to set up direct deposit for your paychecks. You could even choose to have a portion of your pay deposited into a high-interest savings account to help increase your returns.

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To help save more and spend less, pull out that monthly budget you created. When you look at your current bills vs. income, how much is left over for retirement savings? Are there areas you can be spending less, such as getting rid of an expensive gym membership or streaming service, dialing back your takeout habit, or shopping a bit less?

This is when you need to be very honest with yourself and decide what you’re willing to give up to help you hit that target retirement number. Finding little ways to save for retirement can have a big impact down the road.

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If you’re getting closer to retirement and you haven’t started saving yet, it’s not too late! In fact, the government allows catch-up contributions for those age 50 and older.
A catch-up contribution is a contribution to a retirement savings account that is made beyond the regular contribution maximum. Catch-up contributions can be made on either a pre-tax or after-tax basis.

For 2023 and 2024, catch-up contributions of up to $7,500 are permitted on a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b).

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These are some of the biggest retirement pitfalls to watch out for.

  • Not having a retirement plan in place. Neglecting to make any kind of plan means you’ll likely be unprepared for retirement and won’t have enough money for your golden years.

  • Failing to take advantage of employer-sponsored plans. If you haven’t enrolled in one of these plans, you’re potentially leaving free money on the table. Sign up for a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) to tap into employer-matching contributions, when available.

  • Underestimating how much money you’ll need for retirement. Financial specialists typically advise having enough savings to last you for 25 to 30 years after you retire.
  • Accumulating too much debt. Try to avoid taking on too much debt as you get closer to retirement. And work on paying down the debt you do have so you won’t be saddled with it when you retire.

  • Taking Social Security too early. It’s possible to file for Social Security at age 62, but the longer you wait (up until age 70), the higher your benefit will be — approximately 32% higher, in fact.

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It’s never too early to start planning for retirement. And there are many ways to start saving, and set up a system so that you’re saving steadily over time. You can contribute to a retirement plan that your employer offers; you can set up your own retirement plan (e.g. an IRA); and you can choose your own investments.

The most important thing to remember is that you have more control than you think. While your retirement vision may change over time, starting to save and invest your nest egg now will give you a head start.

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.


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