About a month or so ago Coinbase announced its partnership with Shift Payments, a company who developed a virtual currency debit card and you can now connect that with your Coinbase wallet and spend bitcoin just was if it were fiat currency in your bank account.

The Shift card is nothing new (not as far as bitcoin debit cards go anyway), countless companies have offered these, even in the US, but Shift is different in that it made it to market. With Coinbase and its plazillions of dollars as a partner, it may well be the first one to stick around for a while. Shift itself actually started development on this product well over a year ago back in 2014.

The Review

If you read our article back in January about the Coinbase exchange, you'll certainly understand why I had a slight level of skepticism. That aside, like undoubtedly thousands of other United States residents, I signed up and bought one of these fine specimens for $10. I was unaware of the fee until it happened. I didn't mind, but the fact it hadn't been mentioned really was mildly annoying.

I'd like to say that "...we just had this missions glitch". I'd like to... 

The first issue was the need of an abundant amount of information. Uploading identification, answering tricky questions that I know I knew but had trouble remembering when I knew them and had no time-machine handy to go back and remind myself of what I needed to remember. 

As a previous victim of identity theft, I am not a fan of uploading my identification onto the internet, PCI compliant or not. One hack and there I am in Russia on a replicating dark-web onion site getting sold for $5 of darkcoin dash. I do it anyway along with the aforementioned pile of data and eventually manage to get it pushed through after finally remembering an address I haven't lived at in over two years but for some reason they wouldn't accept despite the fact my current address is actually present on the same identification card I was forced to upload.

I manage through this and get to the rather easy Shift Payments part and my card is on the way in 7 to 10 days. Yeah right. 

Try 15 to 18 days, mine being the latter of the spread, for actual delivery. At one point during the eternity that was waiting for this plastic, I tried to get some sort of status from either Coinbase or Shift Payments and well, do I even need to say it? I will. That effort was a waste of time, there's no way to find anything out, and I assume if you got a hold of anyone you would be met with a snappy rehearsed line of BS instead of the actual truth of which whomever is speaking with you on the phone has no flippin' clue.

So I wait ...

...and I wait ....

7 days becomes 8...
8 days becomes 9...

9 days become 15...
15 days become 17...

... and eventually somewhere around 18 or 19 days, finally, an envelope arrives so valiantly attempting to be inconspicuous that it screams "SOMETHING IMPORTANT IS IN HERE!". I'll never quite understand the logic behind that one.

UPDATE: 12/12/2015: It's been reported that Shift is aware of delays and in some cases have refunded the initial $10 fee. We have not verified this, however, it was reported by more than one source so in all fairness it is worthy of noting. This is beyond commendable since they never guaranteed a speedy delivery in the first place.

The Unveiling 

I open the envelope to find the card glue-dot glued to a sheet of paper bearing the Shift logo. You know the glue-dot things I'm talking about right? The small dots of rubber stuff with the plasticity of a gummy-bear, those glue-dot things.  

It was early morning, so I sent $40 of bitcoin to my Coinbase wallet and waited about an hour. It got to my Coinbase wallet much faster but I waited the full hour and then some to make absolute sure it was there. Once I verified that, it was on to the Shift card.

There was the normal sticker as with all plastic that gave you a number to call for activation, the exception being that you could also activate the card from the Shift app. Shift app? Oh yeah, the Shift app. Maybe later, I was hungry. I called the number.

This is where I just have to stop and complain. I want to let Shift, Coinbase, or whomever the hell is in charge of the voice on that customer card activation line in on a little secret. For $5 you can waltz on over to Fiverrhave your choice from a plentiful pile of talented voice recording professionals, and have that person redo that horrid display of synthetic annoyance that was the greeting and instructor during the activation process. In fact, I WILL PAY FOR IT if you promise to never make another soul suffer through that experience ever again. Just shoot us a note at [email protected] to collect.

Proof that I am not without resolution when I bitch about something. 

The voice is a computer generated text-to-speech concoction that has to be one of the worst interpreters that I have ever had the regret to torture my ears with. It's bad. I felt the need to wash my ears out after the experience. (did I mention I'm a grouch when I'm hungry?)

The voice also likes to tell little white lies, more on that here in a second.

After the activation process was complete, it told me that my Shift card was ready to use. Fantabulous!

I walk a block or so to a McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin and morning coffee (believe it or not, McDonalds has some of the best damn coffee these days) and placed my breakfast request with the order-receiving-electronic-point-of-sale-gizmo-operating-nutrient-composition-procurement-engineer who finally repeated my order back to me correctly the 3rd or 4th try.

She gave me the total to be paid and I reached into my pocket and pulled out the shiny new Coinbase blue Shift debit card of bitcoin spending power extraordinaire as the entire restaurant gasp in utter disbelief as to how on earth I was about to undertake the task of undertaking I was about to undertake. Oh ok ... maybe that wasn't why they gasp, some lady just dropped a pancake on the floor ... I guess that makes a little more sense.

Armed with my new weapon and bitcoin securely snug in the Coinbase wallet of which it was attached, I aimed the payment instrument at the magnetic reading digital data extraction and verification device. One brief pause ... mostly for dramatic effect ... and through the slider it slid at the command of my sliding instruction. 

I had one of those moments ... you know the ones I am talking about ... it's the igno-second in disguise as the isitgonnaworkcuzIdunnowhatIgotleft-second. The second where the previous second before it boasted confidence in the success the card would elevate your "Approved" message chances to a solid 99% ... crumbling into the next and current second that slaps your ass upside the head in a "what the hell are you thinking" awakening type fashion, reminding you that the card might not work because you don't actually have enough credit or money to debit to actually cover the purchase you just swiped the card for. That second.

My moment wasn't for that reason. I put $40 in my wallet now about two hours ago. I was worried because I couldn't help but remember the last time I got excited about a Coinbase product, the exchange, and that massive let down of the year aftertaste that is apparently still behind my grill.

But ... there was no turning back at this point, it had been swiped and it was thinking about something or connecting to a connection, but it was certainly making some sort of forward progress that led me to believe that short of smashing it to bits or unplugging it, my transaction was making an attempt for approval. With beeps beeping and communications communicating on connections connected, the small unit verified my card and prepared itself to charge...

and then ... nothing, just a blank screen. 

In my anticipation I didn't actually swipe it properly. "Ok. My bad. Let's try this again." I told myself.

Now this is about where I just have no damn clue as to the whereabouts of that "little voice". Had that been properly nagging me, I am rather certain it would have talked me out of my next move, but it was absent that day... so of course, once again I swiped and this time with some authority. SWIPE! 

...and then...

Grrrrr! Coinbase strikes again. I'd been had. Some sick joke once again and I was certain that somebody somewhere was laughing their ass off about it.

Luckily Uncle American Express bailed me out and I stormed off and went about my day, mind fully blown.

Surely it Gets Better..Right?

Well, it kind of had to now didn't it? It certainly couldn't have gotten any worse. 

About 8 hours later, it did indeed start working. I tested it safely on our own processor here to the tune of an approval and used it again to purchase some snacks at a convenient store. I'm not sure at what point it actually did what captain-personality text-to-speech'ed me on the telephone that is was going to do, however, somewhere between hour three and hour eleven it decided that it would start working. You know, it was one of those new activation grenades. 

They have all the power and you just pull the pin ... but you have to wait for the boom.

Later that day I found the fee schedule for the Shift card as well, which I had previously looked for and couldn't find so I guess I must have missed that one (imagine the suspicion in my eyeball there as I let it slide).

The Shift card connects directly to your Coinbase wallet (the bitcoin wallet) and sure enough, as advertised, it spends bitcoin. However, It most likely just converts bitcoin into dollars and then pays the merchant that way the next day, but to the cardholder it pays using bitcoin. That is cool.

The fee schedule is as follows:

Plastic Card Issuance Fee:
Customized Card Issuance Fee:
Up to $100.00 depending on the type of card requested (pricing provided upon request)
Domestic Cash Withdrawal Fee (applies to both ATM and Over The Counter “OTC” withdrawals):
$2.50 (per transaction)
International Cash Withdrawal Fee* (applies to both ATM and Over The Counter “OTC” withdrawals):
$3.50 (per transaction)
International Transaction Fee**:
3% of total** (per transaction)
Card Replacement Fee:
$10.00 (per Card issued)
Paper Statement Fee:
$3.00 (per statement)

There are no annual fees and most transactions are free of charge. Other than the $10 fee up front, there's really nothing else other than what is in the fee schedule. Which makes you wonder how they are going to survive without making any actual money.

You can read the terms of service here: Cardholder Agreement


Make sure you give the activation process ample time to activate, don't believe the computer voice. Watch out for ATM or OTC withdraws as well, they get pricey, and if you are overseas you might want to avoid using the card all together at 3% per transaction.

Despite my initial poor experience of waiting an eternity for the card, getting ear-bashed by a computers interpretation of how annoying phone messages should be, a nice big fat decline in a busy fast-food line, gummy-bear dots, a quick activation process that actually took hours, and of course the feeling that I wasn't really spending bitcoin (vendors get paid in US dollars) which made me sort of felt like I was cheating ... but despite it all, ultimately:

The damn thing actually works, and now my opinion of Coinbase sucks less.

Story by dinbits
Image by dinbits staff

The opinions expressed by authors of articles linked, referenced, or published on dinbits.com do not necessarily express, nor are endorsed by, the opinions the of dinbits.com or its affiliates.

Post a Comment

  1. I think that http://bit.do/Coinbase has improved a lot recently with new features, although former clients have legitimate gripes with the service. Most people don't want to pay the fees of http://bit.do/buybtc or have to go through the hassle.

  2. I had a very different experience. My card was received promptly 7 days after I ordered it from the site and after I activated the card from the app and I was able to immediately pay for some pizza with my Coinbase balance.

    1. In all fairness we updated the (see above) article to reflect reports of Shift being aware of the delays in some cases and being pro-active about it, including refunding the card fee.

  3. This was the best review I could find for this product. Very good job, I love the brutal honesty!

  4. Coinbase is total scam! I now buy bitcoins from liviacoins.com and I have never had a failed transaction. great service from liviacoins.com

  5. I signed up with Coinbase a few weeks ago.
    I must say that the experience with that exchange is more than unsatisfactory! The limits imposed make it virtually impossible to make any gains in this booming crypto currency market. I since have have started trading with liviacoins.com, which has a speedy transaction process, thus allowing me to make trades commensurate with the level of funding I desire.
    If you want to deal in pennies or get scammed, stay with Coinbase.


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