Insights & Analyses

Most Americans familiar with bitcoin but unsure of its legality, survey finds

September 20, 2017

While cryptocurrency has gained considerable ground in the public conscious, actual understanding of currencies like bitcoin remains low, as a new survey found that 48 percent of respondents said they are unsure whether bitcoin is legal.

The results come from a survey of 1,000 Americans shared by LendEDU, an online marketplace for student loan refinancing. The survey found that 78.5 percent of Americans say they have heard of bitcoin, but nearly 11 percent incorrectly said that owning bitcoin in the U.S. is illegal.

In all, between those unsure and those misinformed, more than 58 percent of respondents show a lack of understanding of bitcoin, though nearly 8 out of 10 people have heard of it.

A lack of familiarity with cryptocurrencies remains one of the biggest roadblocks on the path to wider public adoption.

Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency exchanged and accounted for with peer-to-peer technology. User identities are obscured behind an address, making transactions more anonymous than a typical online purchase or exchange.

The somewhat clandestine nature of bitcoin is one of the reasons more than 10 percent of respondents incorrectly think owning it is illegal, LendEDU said, saying the currency has a “dark-web stigma” attached to it.

“Most people know what bitcoin is, but they associate bitcoin as a mechanism for conducting suspicious behavior on the web,” they said.

In other findings, 14 percent of those who said they have heard of bitcoin currently owned it. In addition, 17 percent said they plan on investing in bitcoin in the future, but 55 percent said they had no plans to own bitcoin in the future.

As the public remains skeptical of bitcoin, financial institutions are beginning to come around. In May, Fidelity Investments announced plans to allow clients to view Coinbase holdings on their website, including bitcoin assets.

The survey published by LendEDU was conducted online by polling company OnePoll, based on the responses of 1,000 participants. The poll was conducted from Aug. 30 through 31.