For many low-income American households, governmentally issued benefits like EBT are quite literally a lifesaver. However, like any other cash benefit, EBT has to be used in a certain way, and there are rules you’ll need to stick to.
Whether you’re a new or existing EBT user, you likely have questions. First of all, what is EBT? How should you use it? Can you overspend on your EBT account, and how can you check your balance?
Let’s find out.
Table of Contents:
- What Is EBT?
- How to Check Your EBT Balance in Illinois
- Frequently Asked EBT Questions
- The Bottom Line
What Is EBT?
EBT is short for Electronic Benefits Transfer. Most governmentally issued cash benefits are given out electronically, and you’ll need your EBT account to receive and spend your benefits.
EBT is most commonly used to receive SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which has replaced old-fashioned food stamp coupons. SNAP and EBT are not the same things, however, you can’t get SNAP without an EBT account.
To spend your benefits, you’ll receive a plastic EBT card, which you’ll swipe at a store checkout and enter a PIN just like you would a normal debit or credit card. However, once you’ve run out of cash benefits, you won’t be able to use your EBT card anymore. This means that you don’t run the risk of overspending, but any leftover benefits will roll on to the next month.
While your EBT balance will cover most food grocery items, there are some unapproved items. Let’s briefly discuss what you can and can’t buy with EBT.
What Can You Buy With EBT?
EBT and SNAP benefits are designed to supplement a household’s income and pay for food items. This means that most food and drink items (with one or two notable exceptions that we’ll discuss later) are covered by your EBT.
Price isn’t part of the criteria, so you can use your SNAP money to buy more expensive groceries if that’s what you want.
Here’s what you can buy with EBT.
- Fruit and vegetables (frozen, canned, and fresh)
- Meat, poultry, fish, and seafood
- Bread, cereals, and grains
- Baking products
- Baby food
- Dairy and dairy substitutes (milk, cheese, almond, soy, or coconut milk)
- Non-alcoholic beverages (soda, juice, bottled water, etc)
- Snack foods (chips, ice cream, candy, etc)
EBT also covers “luxury” food items, like seafood, steak, snack food, soda, and more. While it may be a better choice to spend your SNAP money on lower-priced, nutritious food, to make your benefits last longer, the choice is completely yours.
Other “grey area” items, like coffee beans, instant coffee, tea bags, ice, and more are also covered by your EBT. If you’re not sure whether an item is covered by your EBT, ask a member of store staff, or call the customer helpline number on the back of your EBT card.
What Can’t You Buy With EBT?
Food stamps are designed to pay for – well, food. This means that you can’t buy any non-food items with your EBT card. While some unapproved items are obviously not suitable to buy with food stamps, this also includes essential non-food items, like household supplies and hygiene products.
Here’s what you can’t buy with EBT:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Tobacco products
- Gambling/lottery tickets
- Pet food
- Diapers and other baby supplies
- Medicine, vitamins, and supplements (some energy drinks are classed as supplements, so be careful)
- Personal items (like cosmetics, electronics, furniture, clothing, etc)
- Hot, preprepared food and drinks (fast food, rotisserie chickens, hot coffee, etc)
- Household supplies (paper goods, cleaning products, etc)
- Hygiene and grooming products (sanitary pads, tampons, soap, shampoo, etc)
Most stores allow customers to make multiple payments on one load of shopping. This means that you can use your EBT card to pay for your food items and use your own method of payment to pay for the non-food grocery items.
If you do try and buy an unapproved item, at best, your card will be declined and at worst, your benefits may be suspended (if you keep trying to buy unapproved items), and you’ll have to pay back any of your benefits money that you spent on non-food items.
How to Check Your EBT Balance in Illinois
You can check your EBT balance in Illinois by visiting your online EBT account. Here’s how to do this.
- Step One: Visit this site. You’ll be taken you a login page, and prompted to enter your social security number, date of birth, and EBT card number. Once you’ve done that, you can log in and view your balance.
- Step Two: If you have any difficulties logging in, you’ll need to call the Illinois EBT helpline number, at 1-800-678-LINK (5465).
Frequently Asked EBT Questions
Whether you’re a new or existing EBT user, you likely have lots of questions. Let’s discuss a few commonly asked questions about using EBT in Illinois.
- Will P-EBT continue in Illinois?
- Can I use my EBT card to shop online?
Most mainstream stores accept EBT cards when shopping online. However, you may need to attach a payment method of your own, as well. This is because your EBT card will cover the cost of any food items, but not any non-food items or other fees, like delivery charges and tips.
The Bottom Line
Using EBT doesn’t need to be a difficult process. The cards are designed to be easy to use, just like a regular payment card. Most stores accept EBT, but if you’re not sure, ask a member of staff before you start shopping.
Also, you can use your EBT card in all 50 states. This means that if you plan to move or travel, you can use your EBT card wherever you go. This makes shopping much easier!