SINGLETARY: Bitcoin is scary speculation on steroids


A lot of people suffer from the “FOMO” syndrome.

It’s a common ailment named for its main symptom: the fear of missing out. And now that bitcoin is the hottest financial craze, I’m afraid these FOMO sufferers might be extremely anxious that you’ll be proven a fool if you don’t invest in this virtual currency.

There’s no question the price of bitcoin has been skyrocketing: It’s up more than 1,000 percent since the beginning of the year.

With returns like that, no wonder so many people fear missing out. Who wouldn’t want to become a bitcoin millionaire?

But investing in bitcoin is speculation on steroids.

No, thank you. I’ll pass. I’d rather get my thrills watching the women on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” pull at each other’s hair weaves.

The North American Securities Administrators Association warned investors three years ago about virtual currencies. This week, the association issued another warning about pitches that use cryptocurrencies as a way to lure investors into scams.

Investing in bitcoin is too risky for the average person, says Joseph P. Borg, the association’s president and the Alabama Securities Commission director.

As he speaks around the country, Borg asks folks if they’ve bought bitcoin. Then he asks where they got the money to invest, and some admit to having used a credit card or a home equity line of credit. These folks have put themselves in a perilous position.

Here’s what three certified financial planners — Mark DiGiovanni in Atlanta, Steven Podnos from Cocoa Beach and Robert Schmansky from Detroit — had to say when I asked them about virtual currency.

Q: What are you telling clients who are interested in investing in bitcoin?

DiGiovanni: “I would first have them tell me what bitcoin is, how and by whom it is created, and how its valuation is determined. If they can’t give complete answers to these questions, I would ask why they would ever risk money in something like that.”

Podnos: “I think this bitcoin investment scheme is insane. Presumed ‘scarcity’ and newness are attracting attention. The underlying ‘asset’ is both almost impossible to understand or to explain to anyone. A big red flag in my book.”

Schmansky: “The most important thing to realize is this is not an investment, it’s a gamble. When we gamble, we risk total loss for the chance of a windfall. Think of bitcoin like you would a lottery ticket. You’ll be lucky if you get a few matching numbers and only lose a little, and there’s very little chance you will cash out with a windfall.”

Q: Who is the right bitcoin investor?

DiGiovanni: “Someone with way more money than sense.”

Podnos: “No one that is buying it at this point is counting on anything but having a ‘greater fool’ come along who will pay more for no reason other than attracting the next greater fool. I’ve had three calls inquiring about investing in bitcoin. I told them all that I was against it. One asked me to invest six figures in it anyway, and I said he’d have to do that himself.”

Schmansky: “Of all the conversations I’ve had with investors, those with money don’t see the value.”

Q: Should people borrow to invest in bitcoin?

DiGiovanni: “Borrowing money to invest in bitcoin is stupidity squared.”

Podnos: “They should not invest in bitcoin at all, much less borrow to do so.”

Schmansky: “Absolutely never borrow to buy bitcoin. While it may seem like a decent bet on its good days, it’s a bet that can flip where you owe the debt and have nothing of value to show for it.”

I’m not a financial planner. But I do have a lot of common sense. If you can afford to lose every penny you invest and not lose any sleep over the loss, do what you want. But if you have a regular job, a mortgage, kids to put through college, credit card debt, a pitiful emergency fund and a lackluster retirement account, don’t even think about buying bitcoin.

The currency may be virtual, but the investment risk is very real. Still have FOMO?

Contact Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071, or email michelle.singletary@washpost.com.

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