Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are the shiny, tempting and incredibly risky money of the future

Posted at 4:30 AM, Feb 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-15 06:37:03-05

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin -- that thing your friendly neighborhood Redditor never stops talking about -- have existed online for nearly a decade, offering investors a chance to purchase units of a decentralized digital currency that retains the same value worldwide, but Santiago Esquivel believes they could burst into the mainstream for the first time in 2018.

"I believe 2017 was an early adopter phase," he said. "2018 will be a mainstream year for it."

It's understandable he'd think that. Esquivel invested $5,000 in cryptocurrencies and said he increased his wealth 10 times over when their value later rose. Some reports have tracked an escalating value in the first half of the new year, although it's worth noting there have also been dips.

It's a tempting buy-in, if an expensive one. A single Bitcoin costs nearly $10,000.

However, said Xavier University finance professor David Hyland, putting money into cryptocurrencies is also exponentially more risky than letting your dollars stay dollars. 

Cryptocurrencies are controlled by online markets and online creators rather than being backed by a national government. If you lose your investment or have it stolen, there's little recompense available.

"If I put my money in the bank, I have deposit insurance and I also have a bank keeping track of it and guarding, which I don't really have in this cryptocurrency environment," he said.

His advice to potential investors: Don't blow all your money on Bitcoin. If you have the thousands it takes to buy whole units of cryptocurrency, you have money to spend diversifying. The stock market, also risky but usually on a smaller scale, is a good option.

"Over the last 100 years or so, the returns in stocks have been 10-11 percent, so certainly good," he said. "I might buy U.S. stocks, I might buy international stocks, and I might also want to have some of my investments in lower-risk things like fixed incomes."

Esquivel agreed. The golden rule: Don't spend more money on cryptocurrency than you're prepared to lose.