Today Coinbase announced a new Bitcoin debit card that will allow U.S. users to pay with Bitcoin anywhere Visa is accepted.
The new Bitcoin card is the result of a partnership with Shift Payments, a Y Combinator-backed startup that has been working on a cryptocurrency credit card for well over a year. Shift teamed up with Visa on this new card, giving card users the ability to pay with Bitcoin at 38 million merchant locations.
The card will be available to Bitcoin owners in 24 states in the U.S. and can be used to make purchases both at physical retailers and online. To get the card, Coinbase users need to connect their account to the Shift payments system, provide an address, and pay a $10 card-issuing fee (paid for with Bitcoin, of course).
For the Bitcoin ecosystem, the Shift Card marks a major step forward, giving Bitcoin owners more opportunity to spend their Bitcoin easily.
Bitcoin is a digital-only currency allegedly developed by someone named Satoshi Nakamoto. It is a democratized currency, meaning it is regulated by a community of people rather than a government. It has a transparent transaction network maintained by a group of people called miners that earn Bitcoin in exchange for their work. Miners process Bitcoin transactions and then post them to a public ledger called the blockchain. The system relies on a community to ensure that money in the system is accounted for and tracked, instead of using a private institution like a bank.
An increasing number of businesses both large and small have begun accepting Bitcoin, including PayPal, Microsoft, Reddit, Overstock, and Amazon. Bitpay and Coinbase both provide solutions for accepting cryptocurrency, as do a few smaller players. For example, the San Francisco, California-based startup Snaps set up area merchants with point-of-sale systems that accept Bitcoin last holiday season. But these systems haven’t really encouraged Bitcoin owners to pay with Bitcoin at stores.
In this way, the Shift Card could be a game changer. It takes an existing behavior — swiping a credit card — and applies it to a totally new form of currency. It may be somewhat counterintuitive, but it is exactly the kind of innovation that Bitcoin needs in order to become more widely used.
Shift Card holders will be subject to some restrictions. For instance, users won’t be able to spend more than $1,000 a day, and ATM withdrawals from a Coinbase account will be limited to $200 a day. However, if you link the card to a Dwolla account, you can withdraw up to $500 daily.
Transactions are free, but you’ll pay between $2.50 and $3.00 when you take money out at an ATM. International transactions incur a 3 percent charge.
The Shift Card is available to residents in Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Washington D.C., and West Virginia, and in limited testing in California.