Stephen Gerrits, a senior at Clemson University in South Carolina, has a part time gig with a start-up. He gets paid in cryptocurrency.
“Why not take the chance or the opportunity to kind of strike it rich, get some money out of it?” said Gerrits.
Gerrits says he spends about eight to 10 hours a week at SharpRank, persuading people to download its sports app on their phones and gets paid by the download.
He says he has probably earned about the same or more in crypto as he would have in cash, thanks to price appreciation, but, given the large fluctuations in crypto’s value, he’s not certain.
“I probably check it like three times a week,” Gerrits said of his crypto account. “I just tried to let it sit for the most part, but it’s kind of fun to watch when it’s rising — and then not so much fun when it’s going down.”
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Since he has other funds to cover rent and essentials, Gerrits considers the money from this job as an investment.
His employer sees it as a way to attract talent.
SharpRank, an independent ratings agency for oddsmakers, uses “campus captains,” influential college students, to serve as brand ambassadors and build its user base. Unlike a Redbull, Lyft or Apple, however, SharpRank doesn’t have a physical product to discount or give away.
“We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the pack when they [prospective employees] looked at what we were doing as a startup,” said Chris Adams, SharpRank’s founder and CEO.
Adams says more than half of its workers take at least some of their pay in crypto. There seems to be added value in terms of crypto’s “cool factor” for some employees when they talk about their jobs.
“A lot of my friends have graduated and work in real ‘adult’ jobs and wish they could get some of their salaries in crypto,” said Gerrits.
While there is an interest in getting paid in digital coins, it’s risky. This year alone, the price of bitcoin has topped $67,000 and sunk to under $30,000. In real dollars, someone paid $670 in crypto in early November, had $500 just a month later.
Ethereum, a cryptocurrency used by developers to power decentralized applications — including non-fungible tokens — is popular with artists. The coin hit an all time high near $4,800 on Dec. 1 and has traded lower since, fluctuating between $3,600 and $3,900 in the last week.
Sports figures, artists, and musicians are also getting paid in crypto. Artist Tiyanna Brown, 29, is willing to take the risk to get a foothold in the crypto economy and is optimistic it will create value.
“I’m looking to see the term ‘starving artist’ as a thing as of the past,” said Brown. She paints acrylic on canvas and also sells digital art in exchange for ethereum on the Rarible platform.
‘Ethereal Body’ is one of Tiyanna Brown’s works on the blockchain.
“It’s almost like licensing, so every time someone uses your art, you gain a percentage,” she said, speaking from her Atlanta studio. “Your art can potentially go up in value, the more that it is used and the more that is shared in the more that people purchase.”
The IRS requires people earning income in crypto to pay tax on the digital coins — and that can get complicated. Employees must report total wages in dollars, based on the value of the cryptocurrency on the day it was received. That means people paid in crypto may be paying tax on income that has since dropped in value.
With more young people entering the workforce interested in getting paid in crypto, and as employers look for creative ways to attract talent, more companies are exploring paying salaries in digital tokens.
The complexities around wage laws and taxation makes crypto salaries a difficult ask, yet companies are interested in figuring it all out.
“Options can be taken to understand and mitigate risk,” said Phil Bauknight, chair of the Fisher Phillips Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Taskforce. Firms should consider federal, state and local requirements and make sure to put in writing that an employee agrees to be paid in crypto.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.