When it’s difficult to make ends meet, the first essential part of household life to get cut is often the grocery bill. It makes sense to shop more efficiently and cheaply – presuming you don’t cut down too much.
For many low-income Americans, EBT makes up a valuable part of their weekly grocery bill. However, it’s important to know exactly what EBT is and how to use it. What can you buy with EBT – and what can’t you buy? How can you get into your EBT account?
We’ll discuss the answers to these questions and more in this article.
Table of Contents:
- What Is EBT?
- How to Check Your EBT Balance in Minnesota
- Frequently Asked EBT Questions
- The Bottom Line
What Is EBT?
EBT, or Electronic Benefits Transfers, is an umbrella term for all electronically issued benefits. While benefits were once handed out as paper coupons (think of the old-fashioned food stamps) electronic transfers are now the norm.
Your monthly benefits will be paid into an EBT account, and you can spend your benefits with a plastic payment card, like a debit or credit card. However, unlike a debit or credit card, you can’t overspend on your EBT account. Once your benefits have run out, you’ll have to wait until next month to make any more purchases – your card simply won’t work.
On the other hand, leftover benefits will add to the next month’s worth of benefits, and you’ll have more to spend in that month.
You can use your payment card to make purchases in-store, but also online. This is particularly handy for ordering groceries online, especially if you’re self-isolating. However, you will need to have another method of payment ready – your EBT card will cover the cost of food groceries, but not the cost of non-food groceries, personal items, and other fees, like delivery charges and tips.
Most mainstream stores accept EBT cards. However, if you’re not sure, speak to a member of staff – preferably before you start shopping. What you can and can’t buy will be the same in every store.
What Can You Buy With EBT?
EBT cash benefits won’t cover every kind of household product – even essential non-food ones. For an item to be suitable to buy with your benefits, it will need to be classed as a food item.
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)
As you can see, EBT users have plenty of freedom regarding what they choose to buy with their benefits. For example, “luxury” foods – like coffee beans, steak, seafood, snack foods, soda, etc – are all suitable to buy with EBT.
This is because the only criteria for an item to be suitable for an EBT card user are that it should be classed as food. For example, some energy drinks are classed as “supplements”, and aren’t considered food. On the other hand, products like coffee beans, soda, and ice are all perfectly fine to buy with EBT.
Essentially, most food items will be suitable to buy with EBT.
What Can’t You Buy With EBT?
Food stamps are designed to pay for – well, food. This means that most non-food items – even essential non-food supplies – are not covered by EBT.
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)
While some of these unapproved items are fairly self-explanatory – like alcohol, tobacco, and so on – others are essential. You’ll still need to buy household supplies, paper goods, hygiene products, and so on.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use your EBT card to pay for these items.
How to Check Your EBT Balance in Minnesota
The easiest way to check your EBT balance is by checking your last receipt, where you should find your closing balance. However, if you can’t check your last receipt, logging into your online account can allow you to check your balance as well as review other information.
Here’s how to log onto your online account.
- Step One: Start by visiting this site. You’ll be prompted to enter your user ID and password.
- Step Two: If you’ve forgotten your password, scroll down the login page until you see the “forgot password” option. You’ll be prompted to enter some details, and then you can reset your password and create a new one.
- Step Three: If this is your first time using your online EBT account, you’ll need to register. Scroll down the login page until you see the “first time logging in?” option. Enter the info required on-screen.
Frequently Asked EBT Questions
Most EBT users – especially new ones – have plenty of questions. Let’s discuss a few commonly asked questions about using EBT in Minnesota.
- Are EBT and SNAP the same?
EBT and SNAP are different. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a benefit that has replaced food stamps, whereas EBT is the account that benefits like SNAP are paid into.
- Can I use my EBT card to withdraw cash?
No, you can’t use your EBT card to withdraw cash, either at an ATM or in-stores. Purchases should be electronic only.
The Bottom Line
Using EBT and logging onto your online account may not come easily at first. If you’re not comfortable with your online account, or you don’t have access to the internet, you may prefer to call the customer service number on the back of your EBT card.