Crypto Cards: Everything to Know
By Beluga Research October 6, 2023
- A "crypto card" is a physical or virtual card that allows users to store, manage and spend digital assets like bitcoin and ether
- There are two primary types of crypto cards: "Custodial" and "non-custodial," each with unique advantages and considerations
- Crypto cards offer advantages including convenience, accessibility, global usability, security and privacy
- Disadvantages of crypto cards include limitations such as limited acceptance, volatility, fees and regulatory uncertainty
A "crypto card" is a physical or virtual card that allows users to store, manage and spend digital assets like bitcoin and ether. These cards are linked to a cryptocurrency wallet, and when a user makes a purchase using the crypto card, the equivalent amount in fiat currency is deducted from the cryptocurrency balance at the current exchange rate. Crypto cards make it more convenient for individuals to use cryptocurrencies for buying goods and services, bridging the gap between the crypto world and traditional financial systems.
A Brief History
Using cryptocurrencies for everyday transactions through debit cards is not an entirely new concept, as a company called Xapo introduced the first crypto card, a "bitcoin debit card," in 2014. With this model, users could load bitcoin onto a physical card and use it at any merchant accepting traditional cards. However, due to regulatory challenges and limited acceptance, these early crypto cards had a relatively small impact on mainstream cryptocurrency adoption.
Crypto Cards: Everything to Know
- Types of Crypto Cards . Two primary types of crypto cards exist: "Custodial" and "non-custodial." Custodial cards require users to deposit cryptocurrencies into a custodial wallet managed by the card provider. While convenient, these cards involve entrusting funds to a third party. On the other hand, non-custodial cards allow users to retain control of private keys and manage funds directly. Non-custodial cards offer enhanced security but may require additional steps for fund management.
- Card Issuers and Supported Cryptocurrencies . Various companies offer crypto cards, each with distinct features, supported cryptocurrencies and geographical availability. Popular issuers include Coinbase Card and Crypto.com. It is important to research and choose a card issuer that aligns with specific user needs, such as supported cryptocurrencies, regional availability and associated fees.
- Funding and Spending . To use a crypto card, users typically need to load it with cryptocurrencies. This can be done by transferring digital assets from wallets to the card provider's custodial wallet or by linking non-custodial wallets directly to the card. Once the card is funded, users can make purchases at any merchant accepting traditional debit or credit cards. The card provider converts the selected cryptocurrency into the local currency at the time of the transaction, enabling seamless spending.
- Exchange Rates and Fees . When using a crypto card, it is important to consider the exchange rates and fees associated with converting cryptocurrencies into fiat currencies. Card providers often charge fees for currency conversion, ATM withdrawals, card issuance and maintenance. Additionally, exchange rates can vary among providers, impacting the overall cost of using the card. Therefore, it is advisable to carefully review the fee structure and exchange rate policies of different card issuers before making a decision.
- Security Measures . Security is crucial for crypto cards. Custodial cards rely on the security measures implemented by the card provider, while non-custodial cards give users greater control over funds. Non-custodial cards typically require users to authorize transactions using mobile devices or hardware wallets, adding an extra layer of security. Additionally, many crypto cards offer features like transaction notifications, two-factor authentication (2FA) and the ability to instantly freeze or block the card in case of loss or theft.
- Regulatory Considerations . Regulations for crypto cards vary across jurisdictions. Some countries embrace cryptocurrencies and have clear frameworks for usage, while others impose restrictions or lack comprehensive guidelines. Understanding the legal and regulatory implications of using crypto cards in a specific region is essential for compliance and to avoid potential issues.
To start using a cryptocurrency crypto card, the user must first choose a reputable provider that offers this service. Thorough research is advised to select a provider that aligns with specific user needs and preferences.
Once the user has chosen a provider, they can sign up for an account. The registration process typically involves providing personal information and completing identity verification procedures to comply with regulations and ensure fund security.
After creating an account, the user is ready to fund the crypto card. Most providers support a wide range of cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin (BTC), ether (ETH) and litecoin (LTC). The user can then transfer the desired amount of digital currency from a personal wallet to the wallet associated with the crypto card.
Crypto cards can be used as soon as they're funded. They work like traditional payment cards, allowing users to make purchases at any merchant that accepts card payments. Crypto cards can also be used for online shopping, in-store purchases and cash withdrawals at ATMs.
One unique aspect of crypto cards is the ability to convert digital assets into fiat currency in real time. When a user makes a purchase using a crypto card, the provider automatically converts the required amount of cryptocurrency into the corresponding fiat currency at the current exchange rate. This allows the user to spend digital assets without the merchant needing to accept cryptocurrencies directly.
Crypto cards also offer an added layer of security. Each transaction requires authentication through the card provider's app or website, reducing the risk of fraud and unauthorized transactions.
Furthermore, crypto cards often come with additional features and benefits. Some providers offer cashback rewards or loyalty programs, allowing users to earn cryptocurrency rewards for each transaction. Others provide virtual cards for online purchases, adding convenience and flexibility. It is important for users to explore different offerings to find the card that suits specific needs.
- Convenience . Crypto cards make it convenient to spend cryptocurrencies at various locations where traditional payment cards are accepted, as there is no need to convert cryptocurrencies into fiat currencies before making purchases.
- Accessibility . Cryptocurrencies become more accessible to a wider audience through crypto cards. Even those unfamiliar with the technical aspects of cryptocurrencies can easily use these cards for day-to-day transactions.
- Integration . Many crypto cards seamlessly integrate with popular digital wallet applications, making it effortless for users to manage cryptocurrencies and track spending in one place.
- Global Usability . Crypto cards can be used internationally, allowing users to make purchases or withdraw cash in different countries without currency exchange. This is particularly beneficial for frequent travelers or individuals involved in cross-border transactions.
- Security . Robust security features like 2FA and transaction monitoring are usually offered with crypto cards, protecting user funds and personal information from potential threats.
- Privacy . Because it is not necessary for users to disclose personal information during transactions, crypto cards offer a certain level of privacy. This feature is attractive to individuals who value privacy and anonymity.
- Limited Acceptance . While the acceptance of crypto cards is growing, they are not as widely accepted as traditional payment cards. Thus, users may face difficulty finding merchants or establishments that support cryptocurrency payments.
- Volatility . The price volatility of cryptocurrencies can be challenging when using crypto cards. Significant fluctuations in the value of users' cryptocurrency holdings can impact the purchasing power of the card and result in unexpected gains or losses.
- Fees . Crypto cards often have various fees, including issuance fees, transaction fees and currency conversion fees. These fees vary between card providers and can impact the overall cost-effectiveness of using crypto cards.
- Regulatory Uncertainty . The regulatory landscape for cryptocurrencies and crypto cards is still evolving in many jurisdictions. This uncertainty creates challenges for card providers and users as they navigate compliance requirements and potential legal implications.
- Centralization . Some crypto cards are issued by centralized entities, contradicting the decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies. This introduces counterparty risk, as users rely on the card provider to safeguard funds and fulfill financial obligations.