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Crypto credit cards are catching on

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Two credit cards pay 1.5 cash back in cryptocurrency on all purchases: the BlockFi Rewards Visa® Signature Credit Card and the Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card. Neither charges an annual fee, and customers spend U.S. dollars, not cryptocurrency.

On Dec. 10, 2021, about five months after the BlockFi card launched, the company said it had 70,000 cardholders who had accumulated more than 235 bitcoin (equivalent to over $11 million at the time, although that only worked out to about $150 per cardholder). BlockFi indicated that it has a loyal audience, with nearly half of cardholders using the card for at least three-quarters of their total card purchases. And 89 percent have retained their bitcoin, seemingly betting that it will be worth more in the future.

The card’s other key features include:

  • 3.5 percent crypto back on every purchase made in a new cardholder’s first three months with the card
  • 2 percent crypto back on every purchase made over a $50,000 annual spending threshold
  • A 0.25 percent rebate on all eligible crypto trades, up to $500 in bitcoin each month
  • A “Rewards Flex” option that allows cardholders to select rewards in cryptocurrencies other than bitcoin, although about 95 percent have opted for bitcoin, according to the company

There are also crypto debit cards

The debit card with the highest rewards potential is the Crypto.com Rewards Visa Card. This is a prepaid debit card that can be loaded with cryptocurrency or U.S. dollars (via bank account transfers, credit cards or debit cards). If you “stake” your funds—essentially locking them within the Crypto.com platform for at least six months—you could earn between 2 percent and 8 percent in CRO rewards. CRO refers to the Crypto.com cryptocurrency token, which you can exchange for U.S. dollars or other cryptocurrencies.

This approach is definitely for the more seasoned crypto enthusiast. The 8 percent threshold is out of reach for most people since it requires staking at least $400,000. Getting 5 percent back also requires a hefty amount ($40,000). The 3 percent and 2 percent returns are more attainable; they require staking $4,000 and $400, respectively. Cardholders don’t have to stake anything to earn 1 percent back on every purchase. At the mid and higher levels, cardholders can unlock additional benefits such as Spotify, Netflix and Amazon Prime credits, airport lounge access and discounts from Expedia and Airbnb.

Other crypto debit cards include the Coinbase Card, the BitPay Prepaid Mastercard and the CoinZoom Visa. In some cases, you can load the account with cryptocurrency converted into U.S. dollars, and in others, you can convert crypto into fiat money at the point of sale. Either way, this concept doesn’t appeal to me as much as earning crypto rewards. The valuation can be murky, and you’re incurring capital gains taxes on these purchases. It’s clunky—would you want to sell stocks, bonds or mutual funds every time you buy something?

More crypto cards are on the way

Gemini has a waitlist for its crypto rewards credit card. The Gemini Credit Card gives cardholders 3 percent cash back (paid in bitcoin or a different cryptocurrency) on dining purchases (up to $6,000 in annual spending, then 1 percent back), 2 percent back on groceries and 1 percent on all other purchases. It also includes World Mastercard benefits such as a free ShopRunner membership and discounts from Lyft, DoorDash and others.

The UnifiMoney Visa Credit Card is scheduled to debut later this quarter after some delays. Official details are still forthcoming. Last year, Business Insider reported that the rewards program details were awaiting regulatory and legal approval, but UnifiMoney CEO Ben Soppitt told the website to expect features including:

  • An annual fee under $275
  • The ability to get that fee refunded by spending a certain amount (perhaps $15,000)
  • An unlimited cash back percentage around 2 percent, paid in bitcoin, gold, stocks or ETFs
  • Additional Visa Signature benefits

What about general-purpose cash back cards?

While you could earn 2 percent cash back on purchases with no-annual-fee credit cards such as the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card, the PayPal Cashback Mastercard® and the Citi® Double Cash Card (that one technically gives 1 percent cash back when you make a purchase and another 1 percent when you pay it off), you have to jump through additional hoops and pay additional fees in order to convert that cash into crypto on your own.

If crypto rewards appeal to you, the SoFi Credit Card might be the best option of all. It lets you earn 3% cash back for a year when you set up direct deposit with SoFi. After that, earn 2% unlimited cash back on purchases when redeemed toward investing, saving, or paying down an eligible loan with SoFi.*  One way to get a 2 percent rate is to buy crypto through a SoFi Invest account (other options include saving, paying down debt and investing in stocks and bonds). Using your rewards to buy crypto avoids SoFi’s usual crypto commission and transaction fees and secures a better cash back rate than other crypto rewards cards’ standard percentages.

The Venmo Credit Card has also expanded its rewards offering beyond traditional cash back. Like SoFi, Venmo cardholders (if they wish) can convert their cash back into an eligible cryptocurrency without the usual transaction fees. The Venmo card gives 3 percent back in each cardholder’s top eligible spending category each month, 2 percent back in the second-largest eligible spending category and 1 percent back on everything else.

Also, Brex now allows its corporate credit cardholders to redeem their rewards points for bitcoin and Ethereum, alongside preexisting options such as cash back, travel and gift cards (however, in this case, crypto redemptions are worth less than other redemption methods).

The bottom line

I like the idea of earning upside from your rewards, and to some people, crypto credit card rewards are akin to gambling with house money. Just be prepared for a wild ride since crypto prices are notoriously volatile. Most people are probably better suited for more traditional cash back or travel redemptions.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@bankrate.com and I’d be happy to help.