Spend Bitcoin Anywhere

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I've written about Bitcoin several times during the past few years, and I still love the technology. I am a little disturbed by the amount of electricity the Bitcoin blockchain consumes using dirty power sources, but that's another discussion altogether. Although there are many places to spend Bitcoin directly, and services like Purse.io exist that allow you to spend Bitcoin at Amazon, what if you want to buy a pack of gum at the local gas station?

I recently ordered two different Bitcoin debit cards. One card is from BitPay, and one is from Shift. They both conceptually do the same thing, which is convert your Bitcoin into currency that can be spent anyplace that accepts debit cards. They work slightly differently in function though.

The BitPay card is a "reloadable" debit card that allows you to add US Dollars to your card. When you load the card, Bitcoin is converted at the current price, and the dollar amount is stored in your account. Once the card is loaded, Bitcoin is out of the equation, and fluctuating prices don't matter. If you want to know exactly how much money you have on your card, the BitPay card is the way to go.

In contrast, the Shift card doesn't have any money loaded onto it. Rather, the Shift card connects to a Coinbase account, and at the time of purchase, your Bitcoin is converted to US dollars. This is actually "cleaner" than the BitPay method, but the volatility of Bitcoin can mean your actual available money isn't consistent. If Bitcoin tanks, so does your buying ability with the Shift card.

Each card was $10 to buy, and neither has an ongoing fee to use. The transactions don't cost anything, and the only fees are when one of the cards is used at an ATM to get cash. Considering that you instantly can get cash from an ATM from Bitcoin, however, the small fee associated with the process isn't too difficult to accept.

If you've been avoiding digital currency because you don't have any way to spend it, I urge you to check out one or both of these cards. There are other options, but these seemed like the best deal, and I've personally used both.

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Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.