Bitcoin is in the news again, and if you’re like many would-be investors, you’ve got some serious FOMO.
You don’t want to miss the next big thing — even your hillbilly cousin is now a bitcoin thousandaire! — but aren’t sure how one even goes about purchasing cryptocurrencies.
Do you need to offer up your firstborn? Fly to Japan with a briefcase full of cash? Or, fingers crossed, can you buy bitcoins with a credit card?
UPDATE: As of late January 2018, many credit card companies are processing digital currency transactions as cash advances. This is a huge shift, as it means much higher fees and immediate accrual of interest. Make sure you understand the fees before making a purchase.
How Do You Buy Bitcoin?
First, let’s start with a quick overview of how buying bitcoin works.
Bitcoins are available on cryptocurrency exchange websites, where you can trade one currency for another. You could, for example, buy bitcoin (BTC) with U.S. dollars (USD), in the same way you’d exchange USD for euros at your local bank.
Many exchanges also allow you to trade for other forms of virtual currency, including:
- Ethereum (ETH)
- Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
- Litecoin (LTC)
- Ripple (XRP)
When purchasing bitcoins, you’ll usually place a market order at the current exchange rate. Or, if you prefer, you can set up orders to buy and sell bitcoins when they hit a certain price.
Before finishing the transaction, you’ll have to complete some sort of verification process. The level of personal details required will depend on where you buy your bitcoin, where you live and how much you buy or transfer.
Once you’ve got your shiny new currency, you can store it in a bitcoin wallet with its own bitcoin address for transfers and payments. Or, if you’ve used an exchange like Coinbase, it can act like a bank for your cryptocurrency and place it in an account for you.
Where Can You Buy Bitcoins With Credit Cards?
While some exchanges only allow direct payment methods like connecting a bank account or paying with PayPal, the most convenient ones accept credit/debit cards — and allow you to buy bitcoin instantly.
Here are some of the most popular exchanges:
- Bitstamp (BTC, BCH, ETH, LTC, XRP)
- Cex.io (BTC, DASH, ETH)
- Coinbase (BTC, BCH, ETH, LTC)
- Coinmama (BTC and ETH)
- BitPanda (BTC, BCH, DASH, ETH, LTC; only accepts certain types of Visa/Mastercard cards common in Europe)
Before you select any of these exchanges, however, do your research. With the rising popularity of bitcoin, some sites may try to scam you by taking your credit card information or stealing your cryptocurrency.
What to Consider When Buying Bitcoin With a Credit Card
When deciding whether to buy bitcoin via credit card purchase, there are a few things you should consider.
Impact on Your Credit Scores
First, think about how much of your available credit you’ll be using.
The percentage of your credit limits you’re using — known as your credit utilization ratio — is a major factor in calculating your credit scores. Generally, the more available credit you use, the lower your scores will be.
So if you max out your credit card to buy bitcoin, that could negatively impact your credit scores.
Though your scores will bounce back once you pay off that debt, you shouldn’t significantly reduce your available credit if you’re soon applying for a new credit card, auto loan or mortgage.
When you buy something in a store, the retailer has already included credit card processing fees into its prices.
But when you buy bitcoin, you’ll have to expect several percentage points to be tacked onto your purchase. Coinbase, for example, has one of the lowest credit card transaction fees — and still charges 3.99 percent.
Want to mitigate those fees? Purchase bitcoin with a bank transfer instead of a credit card.
Foreign Transaction Fees
If you use an American credit card to buy bitcoin on an exchange based outside the U.S., your card issuer may charge a foreign transaction fee.
Though this fee usually equates to around 3 percent, it’s easy to avoid by using a card without foreign transaction fees.
Cash Advance Fees
In early 2018, Visa and Mastercard started classifying cryptocurrency purchases as cash advances.
Not only did this mean higher fees, it meant interest would start accruing immediately. For the most part, it also prevents you from earning rewards on your purchase.
Before purchasing bitcoins, research your exchange and credit card to find out whether your purchase will be categorized as a cash advance. If it will, you might want to consider a bank transfer instead.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are highly volatile. If you buy bitcoin with money you don’t have — and the price drops dramatically — you could find yourself up that famous creek without a paddle.
We’d advise against buying bitcoin on a credit card unless you can pay it off in full that same month. If you’re using a credit card to get rewards, fine; if you’re using a credit card because you can’t afford the bitcoin, you should wait until you can.
Advantage of Buying Bitcoins With a Credit Card
As with most purchases, the biggest advantage of buying bitcoins with a credit card is the ability to earn rewards. Just be sure your purchase isn’t categorized as a cash advance — if it is, you probably won’t earn rewards.
The other (riskier) reason people buy bitcoin with a credit card is financial leverage. If your bitcoin buy is treated as a purchase (rather than a cash advance), a credit card lets you use large credit lines to potentially profit from major price swings.
If that’s your motivation for buying bitcoin with a credit card, be careful: Spending more than you can afford could land you in massive credit card debt.
Should You Get a New Credit Card to Buy Bitcoin?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any credit cards (yet!) that offer additional rewards for buying bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.
So if you’re planning to buy a significant amount of bitcoin — and you have excellent credit — applying for a new credit card could earn you a signup bonus in addition to rewards from the spend itself. If you time it right, you could even come out ahead in rewards value!
It’s important to note, however, that cash advance transactions don’t usually count toward introductory bonuses. So if your credit card issuer treats cryptocurrency purchases as a cash advance, you’ll likely miss out on those rewards.
The aforementioned credit utilization ratio is another reason you might want to consider opening a new credit card.
Here’s why: Since opening a new card increases your available credit, spending a lot on bitcoin won’t have as big an impact on your credit scores. (Alternatively, you could ask for a credit limit increase instead of opening a new card.)
If you’ve decided to apply for a new card to buy bitcoin, look for one that will fit your spending needs and provide you with benefits even after you’ve gotten your introductory bonus.
For example, you might open a travel rewards card that will earn you points toward flights or hotel stays. Or you could consider a high-end travel card like the Platinum Card from American Express (Review) or Chase Sapphire Reserve (Review), as they tend to have some of the highest signup bonuses around.
Though buying bitcoins with a credit card can be a smart move, think carefully before diving into the cryptocurrency craze. It may be an exciting industry, but it’s also unpredictable — and certainly isn’t worth going into debt over.
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