For many low-income households all over the US, EBT is quite literally a lifesaver. If you or a loved one has recently qualified for SNAP or some other governmentally issued benefits, you will be given an EBT account, complete with a payment card.
You probably have questions. First of all, what is EBT? How can you use it? Can you overspend and end up in debt? How can you check your balance?
Let’s find out.
Table of Contents:
- What Is EBT?
- How to Check Your EBT Balance in Massachusetts
- Frequently Asked EBT Questions
- The Bottom Line
What Is EBT?
EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer and is an umbrella term for all kinds of electronically issued benefits. Most commonly, EBT is used to receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
To use your EBT balance, your benefits will be paid into your EBT account monthly, on the same day every month. You’ll receive a plastic payment card, like a debit or credit card, which you’ll use to make purchases in-store and online.
All purchases must be electronic. This helps to reduce the chances of fraud or accidentally purchasing an unapproved item. You can’t use your EBT card to withdraw cash.
If you have leftover benefits at the end of the month, the extra cash will add on to next month’s benefits. Once you’ve spent all the money in your account, you can’t make any more purchases. This means there’s no chance of you overdrawing on your EBT account.
Using your EBT card is as simple as using a debit or credit card – you swipe the payment card at the checkout, and enter a four-digit PIN. However, before you even get to the checkout, you need to make sure your shopping is all suitable for purchase with EBT.
What Can You Buy With EBT?
Virtually all food items are covered by EBT and SNAP (which are essentially food stamps).
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)
The average EBT user has plenty of freedom to buy what they want. So long as an item is classed as food, it will be suitable for purchase with EBT. There are a couple of notable exceptions, which we’ll discuss next.
What Can’t You Buy With EBT?
Of course, you can’t just buy anything with your EBT card. Personal items, non-food items, alcohol, and tobacco are all clearly off-limits. If you do plan to buy some of these items along with your weekly shop, you’ll need to use your own money to pay for them.
Here’s what you can’t buy with EBT:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Tobacco products
- Gambling/lottery tickets
- Pet food
- 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)
Trying to buy an unapproved item will lead to your card being declined at the checkout. Repeatedly trying to buy unapproved items (for example, regularly trying to buy alcohol) could even lead to your benefits getting suspended. Any unapproved items that you’ve bought with your EBT card will need to be paid for yourself.
If you’re not sure whether an item is covered by EBT, ask a member of staff. You can always divide your shopping up into sections, and pay for certain items yourself.
How to Check Your EBT Balance in Massachusetts
The easiest way to check your EBT balance is to review your last receipt. Your closing EBT account balance should be listed on the receipt. Alternatively, you can also call the customer service number on the back of your card and request an update on your balance.
However, most EBT users prefer to use their online accounts to view their balance and other information. Logging on is relatively simple in all states. All your need is your personal information and EBT card info. Here’s how to log into your EBT account.
- Step One: Start by visiting this site. You’ll be prompted to enter your user ID and password. Then you can access your account, and view your balance and other info.
- Step Two: If you’ve forgotten your password, scroll down the login page until you see a “forgot password?” option. You’ll be prompted to enter some information, like your birthday, user ID, EBT card number, and more. Then you’ll be able to reset your password and create a new one.
- Step Three: If this is your first time using your EBT online account, you’ll need to register. Scroll down the login page until you see a “first time logging in?” option. You’ll be prompted to enter some information to get your account registered and ready to go.
Frequently Asked EBT Questions
It’s natural that new EBT users will have questions. You’ll want to get the most out of your benefits, without breaking any rules. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions about EBT in Massachusetts.
- What restaurants accept EBT in Massachusetts?
- Can I use my EBT card in Massachusetts?
You can use your EBT card in all fifty states, including Massachusetts. EBT is a nationwide program, and you can freely use your card in all participating stores. If you aren’t sure whether a store participates in the EBT program, ask a member of staff before you start shopping.
The Bottom Line
Whether you use your online EBT account or not, there’s no denying that EBT and SNAP benefits are perfect to boost a low-income family’s nutrition. With a little practice, using your EBT card will become second nature.