Cryptocurrency transactions are supposed to be irreversible. But what if a transaction has been initiated but not confirmed? This article looks at your options:
One question frequently asked by newcomers and even long-time cryptocurrency users regards canceling a transaction. With fiat currency, canceling a transaction isn’t always easy, but it can be done through some format in most cases.
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With crypto, things are different. Once you hit send in your cryptocurrency wallet, the transaction is released to the blockchain, waiting for miners to confirm your transaction.
This begs the question: can you cancel a cryptocurrency transaction?
Can You Cancel a Cryptocurrency Transaction?
No, you cannot cancel a crypto transaction. When you press send in your cryptocurrency wallet, your transaction details are broadcast to the blockchain, and once initiated, your crypto transaction cannot be stopped.
However, just because the transaction is in the process of being sent doesn’t mean that miners have confirmed (begun processing) the transaction fully. Confirmation of a crypto transaction means that your transaction has been included in a block and is now part of the blockchain. Once that happens, there is no going back. Your transaction will process. Cryptocurrency transactions are designed to be irreversible, and no single entity has control over a blockchain (hence their decentralized nature).
Take a Bitcoin Block 720467, for example. The Block confirms 46 transactions contained in that block to the blockchain. All of those transactions are now part of the blockchain. After around 20 to 30 minutes, the entire block will finish processing, and the transactions complete their transit to another wallet.
Why Are Crypto Transactions Irreversible?
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency transactions are one-way only. Once sent, there is no going back. There is no option to reverse the payment, there is no charge-back feature to force the crypto back into your account.
When you make a cryptocurrency transaction, you send a numerical value from one cryptocurrency wallet that you control (i.e., that you own the private and public cryptographic key for) to one you have zero jurisdiction over (i.e., someone else controls the wallet).
The nature of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency wallets means that no other entity can force the wallet holder to transfer funds. That means once the transaction lands in someone else’s wallet, no one can move them, access them, or transfer them elsewhere. As is often said in the world of crypto, not your keys, not your crypto, and this applies more than ever once you hit the send button.
There are other issues, too.
If you sent a payment from your fiat bank account to the wrong account, it would be a struggle, but you have a good chance of receiving the money back. The fiat bank account has a linked name, address, and other financial records tied to it.
A cryptocurrency wallet has none of this information tied to it. If the recipient account isn’t on a cryptocurrency exchange or other similar service, it will have almost zero identifying information. Might get lucky with an exchange that offers KYC/AML and tracks its customers, but even then, they’re under no obligation to return funds.
Replacing Using Replace by Fee
Now, there is one way you can alter a Bitcoin transaction: the Replace by Fee (RBF) protocol. However, this isn’t canceling your transaction. Instead, RBF offers users the chance to adjust their transaction fee in the hope that a miner will include their transaction in a block.
If you set your initial transaction fee too low, miners may refuse to process it in any block. At least, it will take a very long time for it to process. Replace by Fee allows you to set the same transaction (i.e., identical) parameters but increase your transaction fee. A miner can then scoop up your original transaction fee and the new transaction fee to earn a tiny bonus, and your transaction is processed.
Replace by Fee isn’t available to every Bitcoin wallet, nor is it enabled by default. So, if it is a tool you’d like to use, you’d need to find a supporting wallet first. Still, remember that RBF doesn’t “cancel” your transaction in the true sense of the word. It just replaces it with a slightly different one.
How to Check Confirmations on a Crypto Transaction
Confirmations are key. Once a transaction receives confirmations, it is effectively “on the blockchain,” and there is zero chance of changing or reversing the transaction. Even before that point, you’ve already seen in the above section how difficult it is to cancel or adjust a crypto transaction. It’s safe to say crypto isn’t for the faint of heart or those who brush over details.
Once you send cryptocurrency on any blockchain, from any crypto wallet, you’ll receive a transaction ID. You can take this transaction ID and input it in blockchain explorer to see the current status of the transaction. The transaction ID is typically a long alphanumeric string. You can copy and paste this into a blockchain explorer, like Blockchain.com, to reveal information regarding the transaction
The location varies between blockchain explorers, but you’ll see a number of confirmations somewhere on the page. A brand new transaction will have zero confirmations to begin with. A much older transaction can have thousands of confirmations once settled into the blockchain.
You Cannot Cancel a Crypto Transaction—So Check Your Details Before Sending!
All of the above makes the prospect of sending a crypto transaction sound downright worrisome. But, despite the fact you cannot cancel a transaction, sending Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies doesn’t have to become stressful. The most important thing to do is double-check everything—and then check again.
That means, check:
- Recipient address: Is it the correct address? Are you sending to the correct blockchain network (different blockchains use different wallet address formats)? Have you input the full address?
- Amount you’re sending: Have you input the send value in Bitcoin or in USD/your local currency? Sending 10 bucks and 10 BTC is a big difference!
- Transaction fee: Is it too low? Is it too high? How quickly do you want your transaction to process?
Check these details before sending, and your transaction should process without a hitch. Just remember that once you hit send, it’s not coming back.
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