Bitcoin-blocking shows that banks can help tackle debt – if they really want to
Polly Mackenzie


So credit card companies can block certain purchases.

It’s time to let consumers use that tool for their own good.

For the card to only work at supermarkets, to help you resist the temptation to shop elsewhere?’

Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

As bitcoin tumbles, more and more credit card companies are preventing their customers from buying cryptocurrencies with borrowed money.

This is great news, and not just because it may protect speculators from getting into unsustainable debts in the bitcoin markets.

It could signal a change of approach from card companies, who have done far too little to let customers protect themselves from risky transactions.

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When you use a credit card, your provider knows what kind of shop or trader you’re spending money with.

That’s because everyone who takes payments has to declare this information, by using what’s called a merchant category code.

This information is what partly feeds the increasing number of smart-spending apps that group and colour code your spending.

But it could – and should – also be used to allow you to take more control of your spending, by limiting your spending to the merchant types you choose.

Blocking bitcoin is a good step.

But why can’t you also choose to block gambling transactions?

Why can’t you block online, or offshore transactions, to protect yourself against fraud?

Why can’t you set your credit card to only work at supermarkets, to help you resist the temptation to shop elsewhere?

And why not go one step further?

Wouldn’t it be nice to put a daily limit on your spending so you can’t go overboard on a whim?

Some people would like to stop themselves spending money after midnight on a Friday, because they know that’s the moment when their willpower ebbs away.

Lloyds Banking Group
Lloyds Bank bans customers from buying bitcoins using credit cards

Some might laugh at this idea. No one is forced to spend money on things they can’t afford – why do you need your credit card to tell you what to do?

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