What is bitcoin?
First created in 2009, bitcoin is a digital currency which experienced a dramatic surge in value over recent years amid the exploding global appetite for cryptocurrencies.
At the time of writing, one bitcoin is worth around $49,000 AUD, although this figure tends to fluctuate pretty drastically.
The appeal of a digital currency like bitcoin is its lower transaction fees, and the fact that it is decentralised - i.e. it generally isn’t regulated or controlled by a government.
Unlike shares, you can buy fractions of a bitcoin, meaning you don’t need $52,000 lying around to get in the game.
Despite its popularity, bitcoin is highly volatile, meaning its value can rise and fall daily, even hourly, making investing in bitcoin a risky proposition. Given how unregulated it is, there have also been numerous scams and millions lost by Australians trying to cash in on the crypto craze.
What can you buy with bitcoin?
There are goods and services in Australia that can be bought easily using bitcoin and other digital currencies. A coffee, a haircut or even accommodation can be bought with crypto through a small number of businesses that accept it as a method of payment. But what about a house?
Over the past two years, there have been reports of sellers accepting bitcoin for their property.
In 2019, a beachfront home in NSW was sold at auction with all bidding done in bitcoin.
Technically, bitcoin is not recognised as legal tender by the Reserve Bank of Australia.
However The Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) said cryptocurrencies were approved for use in Australia and last year, Olympic swimmer Cam McEvoy was reportedly open to trading his million dollar listing on the Gold Coast for bitcoin.
Despite these cases, researching the phenomenon shows it’s very rare and reserved for the uber-wealthy.
For the average punter, having enough bitcoin to pay for a house outright would be unrealistic.
However, if you are lucky enough to have held (or HODLed) onto bitcoin throughout its recent boom (up around 230% since September 2020) you do have another option to convert your profits to home ownership.
Selling bitcoin for AUD and using it as a deposit
It’s highly unlikely you will be buying a house with bitcoin in the near future.
Regulations in Australia are likely to catch up to the sector, which has outpaced legislation, and listings offered for sale in bitcoin are few and far between.
However you could sell your bitcoin for AUD and use it as a deposit on a house.
Hypothetically, if you bought $20,000 worth of bitcoin in early 2020, that would now be worth roughly $100,000.
Although most of us were not that lucky or that smart (whichever you believe) to invest in bitcoin earlier, you now would be looking at a considerable nest egg.
Even though this isn’t enough to buy a house, or be transferred to a seller in most cases, you can sell your bitcoin for AUD and use that money towards a house deposit.
One hundred thousand dollars would be a sizeable deposit for a $500,000 property, meaning your bitcoin could be turned into a nice investment property, or holiday home for the family.
How to sell bitcoin
Thanks to its rise into the mainstream, bitcoin and other digital currencies can be bought and sold through apps and platforms similar to other investments like shares or ETFs.
Last year CBA became Australia’s first bank to offer customers the ability to buy, sell and hold crypto assets - directly through the CommBank app.
Other apps allow users to buy and sell cryptocurrency, but just like other investments, cryptocurrency is subject to capital gains and losses.
Adrian Raftery, a.k.a. Mr Taxman, told Savings.com.au the most common mistake that people make is not declaring any crypto in their tax return.
"People seem to think that if they don’t cash out but merely keep all the trading within their exchange wallet that there is no tax issue – this is wrong because each time you dispose of one type of crypto, this is a CGT [capital gains tax] event and needs to be declared, no matter how small it is," Mr Raftery said.
"The ATO’s interpretation on the tax treatment of cryptocurrency is slowly evolving as transactions in cryptocurrency become more and more common.
"Although it does vary from crypto to crypto, the ATO’s view is that they are neither 'money' nor 'currency' but rather 'property' and are assets which are taxable under CGT regulations.”
Mr Raftery said a CGT event occurs when you sell your cryptocurrency, meaning some or all of any gains you made could be taxed.
"Certain capital gains or losses that arise from the disposal of cryptocurrency that is a personal use asset may be disregarded."
Helpful guide: How to declare crypto at tax time
The future of bitcoin in Australia
In November last year, the RBA’s Head of Payments Policy Tony Richards spoke on the future of digital currency in Australia.
Despite the rise of bitcoin in mainstream society, it seems more likely the RBA could introduce its own regulated digital currency.
"Central bank digital currency (CBDC) is a potential new form of digital money that would be a liability of (or a claim on) the central bank," he said.
"A retail (or general-purpose) CBDC would be like a digital version of cash that is universally accessible, presumably via wallets on phones and possibly via purpose-built devices like smart cards.
"Like cash and settlement account balances, the unit of account of the CBDC would be the sovereign currency (also known as fiat currency).
"The CBDC would be convertible at par (i.e. one for one) with other forms of money, and in all likelihood it would also be specified to serve as legal tender."
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