The biggest drawback to cryptocurrency is also the most obvious one: it is impossible to spend most altcoins in the real world. You cannot use DASH at the grocery store, Ethereum at the gas station, or Ripple at the corner bar.
To use cryptocurrency for purposes like buying food for your family, or paying the electric bill you have to sell it. That can take time, cost money, and make it hard to deal with sudden emergencies. There is a solution to this problem; known as crypto-debit cards.
What is a Crypto-Debit Card?
A crypto-debit card is a Visa or MasterCard debit card with an added feature that is supposed to convert altcoins into fiat currencies such as dollars or Euros.
When you get a crypto-debit card you also get a digital wallet that has a currency-conversion feature. You deposit cryptocurrency into the wallet then when you swipe the card at a store or an ATM, the altcoins get converted into fiat currency. For example, if you swiped a Centra Card at a McDonald’s in London it would convert Ripple into Pound Sterling to pay for your burger.
To work, crypto-debit cards have to have the brands of one of the major credit-card providers. In most of the world that means Visa or MasterCard, the two major brands, but in some areas – it means a lesser brand, such as Diner’s Club, Discover, or American Express (Amex).
Note: It would be best to get a Visa or MasterCard-branded crypto-debit card because almost all merchants accept those two brands. Discover is only accepted in the United States, and many merchants refuse to accept Diner’s Club and American Express.
Why you need a Crypto-Debit Card
There are some added advantages to crypto-debit cards including the ability to get cash from ATMs or cash registers at retailers like Walmart with a PIN number. That means you can get cash without finding a Bitcoin or Ethereum ATM. Such ATMs are rare, and many of them charge high fees. Using a crypto-debit card it might even be possible to get cash without paying a fee at some retailers.
It would also be possible to use Visa or MasterCard crypto-debits at large internet retailers like Amazon and Walmart, which do not accept Bitcoin. Another use for Visa and MasterCard crypto-debit plastic would be to buy altcoins from miners like Genesis Mining or exchanges such as Coinbase. Most of the Miners and exchanges accept Visa and MasterCard payment. There are some exchanges that will not accept bank transfers from some countries such as Canada.
Beyond that, it should be possible to use MasterCard and Visa crypto-debit products to make payments through Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay. Those payment apps are designed to support MasterCard and Visa payments.
Where to Find Crypto-Debit Cards
Even though crypto-debit cards are a relatively new product there are quite a few of them around. Despite that such cards can be hard to find, because the technology behind them is pretty experimental.
Fortunately we’ve prepared a list of popular crypto-debit cards and proposals. To make matters worse, Visa and MasterCard do not like these products. That means it might be hard to find a card that works in your area.
Fortunately, there are several projects to create cryptocurrency debit cards out there including; Centra, TenX, Omise, Monaco, Metal Pay, Pillar, OMG, Uquid, and others. Here is a list of products and some of their features:
The Centra Card
Centra Tech is a U.S. company that claims its Centra Card will convert eight cryptocurrencies including Ethereum, DASH, Litecoin, Zcash, Ripple, Bitcoin, and various ERC Tokens (Ethereum-based ICO tokens) into fiat currencies.
There is a lot that is not known about Centra’s card including what brand it will be; Visa, MasterCard, or something else. Also unknown is what fiat currencies Centra will convert altcoins into. Presumably, it will be U.S. dollars but even that is not clear at this time.
Instead, you will have to wait until Centra starts shipping its cards, which is supposed to happen sometime in the next few months, for answers to those questions. Currently, Centra plans to give a black card to the first 500 contributors of more than 100 Ethereum coins and a Gold Card to the first 1,000 contributors of more than 30 Ether tokens. Those who don’t want to participate in the ICO will have to wait until Centra’s card hits the market to learn about its features.
Centra’s planned products include a debit-card and wallet, a platform called the Centra Market, and an ICO-token called the CTR. A debit-card processing program with a major US-issuing bank and shipment of Centra Cards is supposed to begin in fourth quarter, the last three months of 2017.
If all goes as planned, Centra hopes to be able to support purchases with bank accounts and being public orders for the card next year. A Near Field Communication (NFC) smartphone app similar to Apple Pay is also planned. Long-term plans call for a rewards network and a banking license next year.
Edit January 2018: Ben Krypto has received his Titanium Centra card and has verified it works wonderfully as promised. He has been testing it out buying coffees at Starbucks, Big Macs, buying lift tickets at world class ski resorts, and ordering a ton of products online with it. So far, the Centra Card is a big win and the best crypto debit card you can get right now. We currently recommend THIS card as the card to get right now, though you may have to wait a few months for the card to arrive.
Singapore-based TenX is best known and highest-profile crypto-debit card on the market. Unfortunately, it afoul of the powers that be in the credit-card industry and ran into a variety of problems.
TenX created an app, digital wallet, and debit card that successfully converted several altcoins including Ethereum, Bitcoin, ERC-20 Tokens, and DASH into fiat currencies. The company posted videos showing employees using the card and app at McDonald’s online, and even shipped a Visa card.
TenX got into trouble when the company that issued its Visa cards shutdown all TenX cards outside of Europe on October 16, 2017. That happened because TenX did not have permission to issue Visa cards outside of Europe.
Currently, there is a TenX Visa available in Europe, but nowhere else. TenX’s website does not say when its card and wallet will be available outside of Europe. The site does not even say what brand of debit cards it will issue.
Instead, TenX is now seeking permission to start a bank so it can comply with Visa and MasterCard’s rules. Those interested in TenX should watch its website but not hold their breath because it will be awhile before its crypto-debit card reaches the market.
Edit Jan 2018: TenX is not recommended. WaveCrest, their card issuer, has been orderd to shut down by Visa. All WaveCrest customers which include TenX have had their cards shut down and NO longer work anywhere in the world. This is a big blow for TenX and right now, we don’t recommend this card. TenX has consistently had problems with their card working the past 6 months and so far have been unable to keep a card working for more than 2 months at a time. Avoid TenX and look for better options. Right now, we prefer Centra as the product is better, cheaper, and actually works anywhere in the world.
Monaco claims to have a Visa that will convert cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin and Ethereum into fiat currencies including Euros and Pounds. It also promises a savings of 5% to 8% on currency exchange and 2% cash back.
Unfortunately it is not clear if Monaco’s Visa is actually available even though the company claims to have raised $26.7 million in its token sale. Some media outlets including Bloomberg Technology have accused Monaco of running a “pump and dump” scam – that is making dubious claims about its product to boost the price of its ICO.
You should stay away from Monaco until it actually issues a card. There was a Monaco wallet available at the App Store and Google Play on November 25, 2017, but no sign of a card.
Edit January 2018: Despite promises, still no sign of a working card or delivery of one. Avoid these guys.
Metal or Metal Pay
Metal is actually a next generation money transfer service based on a cryptocurrency called Metal or MTL. The team behind it claims they can transfer funds around the world instantly and reward users with loyalty points.
There is no Metal Card but there is a digital wallet that can supposedly send money with nothing but a phone number. A good sign at Metal is that the team behind it is revealed on the website.
The best way to think of Metal would be as a Venmo for cryptocurrency. Venmo enables people to send money to friends and family over a social network.
Like Venmo, which is owned by PayPal, Metal might issue a debit card at some point. News reports indicate that Venmo is planning to offer a Visa debit card. Metal looks more like a company to watch than a service to take advantage of.
The Pillar Wallet
Like Metal, Pillar does not have a card; instead it is a project to build the world’s best cryptowallet. One of its goals is to replace phone apps with services; another is to build a next-generation financial services network. Pillar is definitely a company to watch.
Omise Go is a project to create an Ethereum-based banking platform for the unbanked. The unbanked include people in developing nations with no banking infrastructure, and poor people in nations like the United States, who lack access to banking.
There is no Omise Crypto-Debit card available right now, but gift cards and rewards points are mentioned at the website. A strong possibility is that Omise will release such a card after its platform is up and running.
Shake Pay is a Canadian company is offering a pin and chip Visa Prepaid Card and a currency-conversion app right now. Shake Pay’s Visa crypto debit card will convert Bitcoin, DASH, and Ethereum, into U.S dollars and Euros. It also allows ATM withdrawals.
Virtual Visa cards that can be used online are also available at Shake Pay. There is a ShakePay Android app available on Google Play. To use ShakePay’s Visa you will have to load it with Bitcoin, DASH, or Ethereum.
Uquid is a British company that claims its card and app will be able to convert 83 to 90 different cryptocurrencies into US dollars, Euros, or pounds. The brand of the cards is not mentioned; but Uquid’s website mentions Bitcoin and altcoin debit cards. The altcoin card will supposedly work with Ethereum, DASH, ZCash, Litecoin, and many other cryptocurrencies.
Change is another ICO-based company that claims it will launch a crypto-debit card in fourth quarter 2017. Change is currently beta testing a crypto-wallet. The first 500 Change cards are supposed to be shipped to ICO investors in the next few months.
Like other crypto-debit card projects, Change is vague on details. Important information that has not been revealed yet includes the brand of the card and the cryptocurrencies that will be converted.
The granddaddy of crypto-debit cards, bitpay is an American company that has been offering a very simple Bitcoin Visa card for some time.
The advantage to bitpay’s Visa is that it exists and you can use it right now. The disadvantages are that it only takes one cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, and only converts to one fiat currency: the U.S. dollar. The bitpay Visa is the only crypto-debit card widely available in the United States right now. Many Americans like it because ATM cash withdrawals are allowed with the bitpay Visa.
The Future of Crypto-Debit Cards
There are numerous plans for crypto-debit cards out there. Googling the words cryptocurrency and debit card will reveal hundreds of projects to create one.
Unfortunately, only a handful of companies seem to have an actual card, and only one or two companies are actually shipping cards. The number actual of crypto-debit cards is limited because to have a working card outside of the United States, you must be part of one of the big two payment networks; Visa or MasterCard.
The cost of entering those networks is high, and the companies that run them are very skeptical of cryptocurrency. MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga even said, “non-government-mandated currency is junk” in an October newspaper interview. Banga seems to like the idea of cryptocurrency, but fears payment solutions that are not government sanctioned.
Banga is probably afraid that governments would restrict or shut down his company’s networks if they started using cryptocurrency without official permission. Another reason Banga is afraid of non-government cryptocurrency is that it might be used for illegal purposes like money laundering, or funding terrorism.
Interestingly enough, MasterCard is researching the use of Ethereum for money transmission and has filed at least patent application for blockchain payment processing. That means MasterCard would like to issue a crypto-debit card, but only if it has government approval.
Therefore it is likely that companies like MasterCard, Visa, and American Express will start issuing official crypto-debit cards when governments start using cryptocurrency. Since governments like those in China and Estonia are researching the possibility of issuing national cryptocurrencies that is possible.
Until then cryptocurrency debit cards will remain a niche product that might be reliable. They should be watched carefully but nobody should hold their breath waiting for large numbers of crypto-debit cards to hit the market.
What’s the Best Crypto Debit Card Right Now?
Hands down, we recommend Centra because they have actually started shipping out their crypto debit cards as of December 24th, 2017 and the site owner of CryptoIncome.io has himself received his Centra card; Ben verifies the Centra card does work as promised and loves it. Stay tuned for a hands-on review of the Centra card by Ben Krypto.