We bought and sold $50 worth of Bitcoin -- here's how it works

Photo: Andrew Burton/ Getty Images.

A year and a half ago, the idea of buying the virtual currency Bitcoin was laughable. After a rapid rise in value in 2013, the cryptocurrency’s value more than halved by mid-2015.

At its lowest point, one Bitcoin was equal to about $230.

These days, Bitcoin has made a comeback, and recently rallied over $1,000, before fluctuating wildly.

But given the currency’s covert operations, the average person still may not understand how buying and selling actually works.

Using the app Coinbase, which lets anyone trade Bitcoins for a small fee, we decided to find out.

A brief warning: If you’re going to do this, tell your bank you’re about to buy Bitcoin, but more on that later.

This is what the Coinbase app looks like on an iPhone.

Chris Weller

When you first open the app, you're presented with the latest price of Bitcoin, which you can sort depending on the desired timeframe, and the change since that period. You can see how wild the latest moves have been in the chart below.

Chris Weller

I happen to be one of the many who have never traded Bitcoin before, so there is a certain level of wariness in buying into the cryptocurrency world.

Chris Weller

However, Coinbase's interface makes it simple to enter the basic personal information it needs to create your account.

Chris Weller

User-friendliness quickly hit a snag. In putting in my address, the app didn't recognise I had already selected it from the autofill menu. I couldn't proceed unless I switched to the desktop app.

Chris Weller

So switch I did. From the desktop portal I could easily enter more identifying info.

Chris Weller

The final step before getting to enter my financial information was the two-step verification for security, which Coinbase quickly sent to my phone.

Chris Weller

I decided to give the app another try and opted to use my debit card to buy the Bitcoin.

Chris Weller

Entering all my information was just as straightforward as everything else. The problem was I couldn't exit this screen. Neither the 'Buy' nor 'Not now' options registered. I had to press the X and start all over.

Chris Weller

Ultimately (and frustratingly), it was back to the desktop. So far, the actual process of buying Bitcoin was simple -- the app itself was my only nemesis. My $50 ended up buying 0.0524 of one Bitcoin.

Chris Weller

No looking back! (Until I sell, of course.)

Chris Weller

Oh... It appeared the price was falling pretty fast the morning I decided to buy. I went back to try again, doing my best to outrun the falling price.

Chris Weller

I own Bitcoin! Well, a small fraction of Bitcoin. But now this means I could theoretically sit on my tiny pile of cryptocurrency and hope it amasses value.

Chris Weller

Instead, I decide to sell off immediately (but not before shedding a single tear for the 12 cents I've already had to part with).

Chris Weller

To sell off the Bitcoin, Coinbase only allows users to pair their bank account with the app. A credit or debit card won't suffice.

Chris Weller

So I scroll through the options to pick my bank.

Chris Weller

And we're back to the desktop. (When I tried to sell the Bitcoin, the app told me either the amount was invalid or I couldn't pay with the given method. I didn't understand what that meant and didn't want to enter a wrong number.)

Chris Weller

Luckily, the online experience is much smoother. My bank account showed up right where it should have and I sold the Bitcoin just like I bought it.

Chris Weller

Since it wasn't linked to my debit card, the transaction needs a few days to process before the money gets transferred.

Chris Weller

A small hiccup: When I went to sell the Bitcoin, I had to estimate the amount. The numbers were inconsistent in certain places depending on the Bitcoin value or the USD value. I ended up with one penny leftover.

Chris Weller

When I tried to close the account, that penny proved to be an issue. As much as I tried to send the lone cent with addresses I found around the Internet, Coinbase didn't let me. Here's to hoping Bitcoin skyrockets and my investment quadruples in value.

Chris Weller

Oh, and a final thing: When I tried to buy lunch after all this, my card got declined. My bank had blocked the card after the initial purchase.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was wary about going into all this.

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