Ask a Fool: Is Bitcoin a Smart Investment Now?

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Q: Bitcoin keeps breaking though record highs. Should I invest some of my money in it?

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It's easy to see why people might want to jump into bitcoin (BTCUSD). The digital currency just set an all-time high above $19,000 on Thursday, and subsequently plunged by more than $4,000. Even after the drop, bitcoin is up more than 1,500% in 2017.

However, it's important not to confuse investing with speculating, which buying bitcoin definitely is. An investment is intended to gradually grow in value over time, while speculating is closer to gambling -- that is, betting that the price of something could go up, while it's also highly likely that you'll lose money. Bitcoin's extreme volatility shows us just how speculative it is.

To be fair, there's a valid argument to be made that bitcoin will eventually be worth much more than it is today, and could even get to the million-dollar level that some experts are predicting.

However, for this to happen, bitcoin would need to achieve widespread, global use as a currency, not just as a speculative asset. And there are several challenges that need to be overcome before this could ever happen. The price would need to stabilize, it would need to become much more user-friendly, and the blockchain network which processes transactions would need to handle far more volume than it's currently capable of, among other things.

Treat bitcoin like a lottery ticket. You could absolutely make a ton of money, but the opposite outcome is just as likely (if not more so).

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