Crypto Rewards Are the Latest Credit Card Trend. But Are They A Good Idea?

A photo to accompany a story about credit cards with cryptocurrency rewards Illustration/NextAdvisor

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Bitcoin may not be the best way to make purchases, but it can still be part of your spending strategy — thanks to a growing number of crypto rewards credit cards.

Crypto-friendly investment platforms like SoFi and BlockFi, as well as cryptocurrency exchanges like Gemini, are all rolling out such credit card options. Like many conventional rewards cards, these cards also earn a percentage back on your regular purchases. But instead of points and miles, risk-taking investors earn rewards redeemable toward certain cryptocurrencies. 

We already love credit cards from traditional credit card issuers like Chase and American Express that can help you maximize cash back or score free travel (when you pay your balances in full and on time). These companies offer credit cards for nearly any type of user — whether you’re building your credit history from scratch or seeking premium travel perks and benefits. To take advantage of new crypto rewards card options, you’ll trade guaranteed returns in the form of travel points or cash back for crypto that may not return the same value. But these cards can make useful tools for the right type of spender. 

Here’s what experts have to say about the value of crypto credit card rewards, and how you can decide if they’re a fit for you.

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How Do Crypto Credit Card Rewards Work?

Credit cards tied to your investments aren’t unprecedented — the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card, for instance, offers 2% back on every purchase when you deposit your earnings into an eligible Fidelity investment account. 

Crypto rewards cards work similarly. You use the card to charge any purchase you would normally make with a credit card, and earn a certain percent back. Like typical rewards cards, some earn a flat rate on every purchase, while others offer bonus rewards in certain categories, like dining or groceries. 

Because these cards work like any other rewards card, they also come with the risk of high-interest debt if you fail to pay down the balance in full when your monthly statement is due. They carry the same variable interest rates as other credit cards, typically ranging anywhere from around 10% to upwards of 20% APR. Crypto rewards may offer potential value over time, but they can also be quickly wiped out by any balances that accrue interest at these high rates.

The main difference between a crypto rewards credit card and other rewards cards is in the redemption process. Instead of cash back or statement credits, you’ll earn that percentage back in crypto. For instance, if you spend $1,000 in a month on a card earning 2% back crypto rewards, you may be able to redeem those rewards for $20 worth of Bitcoin. Because these cards are co-branded with a crypto exchange or investment platform, your crypto is typically deposited into your associated account.

Drawbacks of Crypto Rewards Credit Cards

Crypto rewards can be a valuable way to add to your holdings if you’ve decided to take the risk and invest in Bitcoin or another type of crypto. Because it’s “free” money, you might find it a less risky option than putting your own money into crypto. But there’s still an opportunity cost.

“You’re giving up a sure thing,” says Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and consumer finance analyst for U.S. News and World Report. Crypto is a speculative asset, unlike the fixed value of cash back or relatively standard redemption value of credit card points. It’s true that the value of your crypto credit card rewards could increase over time — just like any crypto investment — but it’s not a guarantee the way your points and miles or cash back valuations are with more traditional credit card options. 

Even the Fidelity card, though still based on investments, can make for more of a guaranteed return, says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com (like NextAdvisor, CreditCards.com is owned by Red Ventures). “That card gives you 2% cash back that you could put in an S&P 500 index fund. You know, that’s probably a safer bet to get upside from your rewards,” Rossman says.

Another potential limitation is the types of cryptos for which you can redeem rewards. While some cards offer your choice of crypto, some only offer Bitcoin rewards. Experts recommend most people stick to Bitcoin (or Ethereum) for long-term crypto investing anyway, but if you wanted to use this as a way to explore other altcoins, your options may be limited.

Why Would You Choose a Crypto Rewards Card Over Other Rewards?

There are advantages to these cards, though. Rossman compares crypto investing through these cards to “gambling with house money.”

“To me that’s more enticing than putting my ‘own’ money into it,” Rossman says. “At the end of the day it kind of is your own money — you could use that cash back to offset your balance or you could use travel rewards to plan a trip — but for me the framing of it is important.” Even though it’s not a guarantee like those options, the potential upside of increased value on rewards is still enticing.  

But it’s also important to cover your financial priorities before opening a new credit card or putting money into a speculative investment like cryptocurrency. Make sure you have money saved in an emergency fund, pay down any existing high-interest debts you owe, and contribute to a conventional retirement account like a 401(k) before buying into crypto — whether using rewards or your “own” cash.

When you are certain you have the cash to spare, there are a few more reasons these cards might add value, especially if you already have some crypto (and if that crypto is on the same platform that issues your rewards credit card):

  • Fees: You can always earn cash back from a traditional rewards credit card, then use your rewards to buy more crypto yourself. But by earning crypto rewards directly, you can circumvent some of the trading fees exchanges charge for converting U.S. dollars to crypto. 
  • Security: Crypto rewards cards are issued in partnership with issuing banks and on established networks like Visa and Mastercard, so your purchases are just as secure and widely accepted as any other traditional credit card.
  • Timing: Even after you’ve made an initial investment of your own, rewards can be a useful way to practice dollar-cost averaging with crypto, especially if you choose a card that redeems your rewards on a regular basis or automatically after your purchase.

Which Credit Cards Offer Crypto Rewards?

BlockFi Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card

BlockFi recently announced it would begin offering its rewards card to users at the top of the waitlist launched in late 2020. It offers comparable rewards to flat cash back cards:

  • 1.5% back in Bitcoin on every purchase
  • 3.5% back in Bitcoin for the first 90 days after account opening  (capped after $100 worth of Bitcoin earned)
  • After you spend at least $50,000 annually, rewards raise to 2% Bitcoin back on every purchase
  • Rewards are automatically redeemed monthly and transferred to your BlockFi Interest Account, where you can earn additional interest
  • No annual fee, no foreign transaction fees
  • 14.99%-24.99% variable APR

It’s also a Visa Signature card, which means it comes with added benefits like access to Visa’s Luxury Hotel Collection, rental car savings, travel and purchase protections, and more. If you apply for the BlockFi card, you’ll need to read your cardholder agreement for the specific Visa Signature benefits it offers.

Gemini Credit Card

Gemini’s credit card hasn’t launched for applications yet, but the exchange says it plans to launch the card in summer 2021, with waitlist members getting early access. Unlike BlockFi’s flat rewards, Gemini’s crypto rewards card offers tiered savings:

  • 3% back on dining, 2% back on groceries, and 1% back on everything else
  • You can redeem your rewards for Bitcoin, or choose any cryptocurrency available on Gemini (including well-known altcoins like Ethereum or Bitcoin Cash)
  • Rewards are automatically deposited into your Gemini account when you make a purchase, so you can begin investing immediately. If you have an interest-earning Gemini Earn account, you can also choose to have your rewards deposited there
  • No annual fee

Because the card isn’t currently available, there’s no information yet on other fees and terms that will apply. The Gemini Credit Card is a World Mastercard, so it’ll carry additional benefits like savings with partners including DoorDash and Lyft, price protections, and more.

SoFi Credit Card

SoFi launched its SoFi Credit Card in 2020 as a flat cash back card with the option to redeem rewards into an eligible SoFi account — which included SoFi student or personal loans, SoFi Money cash account, or SoFi Invest accounts. In 2021, it added the option to invest rewards in crypto through your crypto account with SoFi Invest:

  • 2 points per dollar (equal to 2% cash back) on every purchase when you redeem rewards into an eligible SoFi account (including as cryptocurrency in your SoFi Invest crypto account)
  • 500 rewards points ($5 value) required to redeem rewards as crypto
  • Crypto redemptions limited to Bitcoin and Ethereum
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • 12.99%-24.99% variable APR
  • After 12 on-time monthly payments of at least the minimum amount due, SoFi will reduce your APR by 1%

The SoFi Credit Card is a World Mastercard, so it offers additional benefits like discounts with partner brands (including Lyft, DoorDash, and ShopRunner), cellphone protection, purchase and travel protections, and more.

Upgrade Bitcoin Rewards Card

Upgrade recently launched its Bitcoin rewards card offering, which is open for applications. Like other crypto rewards options, it resembles flat cash back rewards offerings:

  • 1.5% back in Bitcoin rewards when you pay down your purchases (not when you make the purchase)
  • Bitcoin is redeemed within 1-2 statement periods after your payment is received
  • You can’t do much with your Bitcoin rewards besides hold them in your Upgrade account or sell. There’s no option to transfer your Bitcoin to another wallet, and there’s a 90-day holding period after redemption before you’re eligible to sell
  • Once you do sell your Bitcoin holdings, you’ll incur a 1.5% transaction fee and can only receive the money from the sale as a statement credit
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • 8.99%-29.99% APR — if you carry a balance, the Upgrade Card works more like an installment loan; you’ll pay off equal monthly installments over a fixed period

The Upgrade card offers the least flexibility when it comes to Bitcoin rewards, and the other cards on this list are likely better options for earning and investing. If your goal is to simply own Bitcoin as a store of value before eventually selling it, you can do that with this card, but you won’t be able to hold your coins in your own wallet or exchange them for any other crypto.

  • Intro bonus:
    $100
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    12.99%-24.99% APR
  • Recommended credit:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
  • Learn more externa link icon at our partner’s secure site.
  • Intro bonus:
    N/A
  • Annual fee:
    $0
  • Regular APR:
    14.99% – 24.99% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit:
    670-850 (Good to Excellent)
  • Learn more externa link icon at our partner’s secure site.

Crypto Debit Cards and Prepaid Debit Cards

Crypto rewards credit cards require you to forgo what is essentially free cash with conventional rewards cards, but using one isn’t inherently a bad financial decision — as long as you practice good credit habits.

Crypto debit cards, on the other hand, can be much more risky. These cards often earn rewards on your spending, like crypto rewards credit cards. The difference is in how you spend. Crypto debit cards allow you to pay for goods and services using the converted value of your crypto holdings to fiat currency (like U.S. dollars). 

Because cryptocurrencies are highly volatile and their price values fluctuate constantly, they’re not a good choice for spending, especially for long-term investors.

Not only is volatility a red flag, but there are also added tax implications. Credit cards rewards you earn on spending — whether in the form of points, cash back, or Bitcoin — are viewed as rebates on spending, Rossman says, and not taxed when earned (though you will pay capital gains taxes on crypto rewards when you convert them back to U.S. dollars). But each time you cash out your crypto holdings to spend them via debit card, that’s a taxable event. 

Coinbase’s not-yet-released debit card offering, for instance, will allow you to spend any asset in your Coinbase portfolio (while earning rewards), and Coinbase automatically converts your crypto to U.S. dollars when you make a purchase. But it’s up to you to track those conversions, and report any gains or losses on the value of your crypto to report on your tax returns. Depending on the card, you may also be charged fees for your conversions or transactions.

“I think if you’re in crypto in the first place it’s because you think it’s going to go up over time,” Rossman says. “I don’t really view cryptocurrency as a currency in the sense that we’re going to use it to buy our daily coffee … I tend to view it more of an investment. It’s just like you might not sell stocks or bonds or gold to buy lunch or something.”

Should You Get a Crypto Rewards Credit Card?

If you’re looking for a way to get into crypto because you don’t want to risk your own money, cryptocurrency may not be the best investment choice for you. But these cards can be a relatively low-risk way to test the waters, Harzog says. And for crypto enthusiasts who have already accepted the risk, they can be a solid way to bolster your portfolio — so long as you’re willing to forgo the cash that other rewards cards give you for your spending.

Just consider the opportunity cost of the cash back or travel rewards you’re giving up. While you shouldn’t rely on credit card rewards in any form as a part of your monthly budget, “you do need to make sure that you’re at least on solid enough footing that those cash back rewards might not have been better used elsewhere,” Rossman says. “Or, you know, maybe you’re sacrificing the opportunity to get a free trip.”

There’s also the standard risks of credit cards in general. If you’re already in credit card debt, or you have difficulty paying down your balance every month, a new rewards credit card isn’t going to help. If you do open one of these cards, make sure you practice good credit habits — pay your balances in full and on time each month — or you’ll end up paying more in interest than you earn in crypto rewards.

“You just have to decide: how do you want your portfolio to look?” Harzog asks. “And I’m thinking of not just your investments, but also what’s in your wallet. What credit cards do you have? What kind of risk can you manage, that you can feel good with?”

Rossman says, in many ways, these cards appeal most to savvy users who are already customers of an exchange and looking to centralize rewards where they’re already invested. And, he hypothesizes, the companies themselves are likely viewing the cards with a long-term strategy that can be well-suited for long-term HODLers.

“None of these really have the eye-popping sign-up bonuses,” Rossman says — which he finds reassuring. “They’re not looking for the short-term, flash in the pan kind of [points] gamer. I think what they’re looking for is either somebody who’s already a crypto fanatic that just wants more of it, or somebody who thinks they might want to try it out.” 

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