For many low-income American families, their EBT balance is a crucial part of their monthly budget. EBT, or Electronic Benefits Transfer, is available for individuals or households of all sizes, depending on their income.
If you’re a new or existing EBT user, you likely already know that your benefits need to be used in a certain way. So, what is EBT, and what can you buy with it? How can you check your balance?
We’ll discuss these questions and more in this article.
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Table of Contents:
- What Is EBT?
- Frequently Asked EBT Questions
- How to Check Your EBT Balance (Washington)
- The Bottom Line
- Need Burial Insurance?
What Is EBT?
EBT is an umbrella term for all electronically issued benefits and is most commonly used for SNAP benefits. SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assitance Program, has replaced the old-fashioned food stamps coupons.
Your benefits will be paid into your account monthly, and you’ll be able to make payments from your account via a plastic payment card, like a debit or credit card. You can’t use your EBT card to withdraw cash, since this makes it too easy to use your EBT card to buy unapproved items.
So, which items are covered by your EBT? Does it matter if you buy the wrong things? Let’s find out.
Here’s what you can buy with EBT:
- Fruit and vegetables (Frozen, canned, or fresh)
- Meat, poultry, fish, and seafood
- Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese, etc)
- Non-dairy products (almond milk, etc)
- Bread, cereals, grains, etc
- Baby food and formula
- Baking ingredients (sugar, flour, etc)
- Non-alcoholic beverages (juice, soda, etc)
- Snack foods (ice cream, candy, chips)
It’s up to you what you spend your EBT balance on. Snack foods and “luxury” foods, like steak, seafood, and other more expensive food items are covered by your EBT balance. Of course, you might prefer to focus more on cheaper, staple items, like vegetables, dairy, rice, and pasta, but it’s completely up to you.
Here’s what you can’t buy with EBT:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Tobacco products
- Gambling/lottery tickets
- Pet food/live animals
- Medicines, vitamins, and supplements (some energy drinks are classed as “supplements”)
- Clothes, cosmetics, or other personal items
- Household supplies (cleaning products, paper goods, etc)
- Hygiene and grooming items (soap, shampoo, diapers, etc)
- Hot, preprepared food and drinks (hot coffee, rotisserie chickens, etc)
As you can see, some unapproved items are still household necessities. For example, you will still need to buy household supplies, clothes, medicines, as well as hygiene products. While these items are clearly essential groceries, your EBT balance only covers food groceries.
So, how can you go about buying non-food groceries? Firstly, you may be able to get additional benefits that can contribute towards buying non-food groceries. Medicaid, for example, can help to buy necessary medicines.
Otherwise, you’ll need to use your own money to buy non-food items. If you try and use your EBT card to buy unapproved items, your card will be declined altogether. Even if the transaction somehow goes through, you will have to pay back the money for the item later.
Fortunately, many stores allow customers to make multiple payments on one load of shopping. You can use your EBT card to pay for food groceries, and your own money to buy non-food groceries.
Frequently Asked EBT Questions
It’s important to stay up to date with the latest EBT regulations. There may be a temporary lifting of restrictions in certain states, or there may be exceptions. For example, some users may be allowed to buy restaurant food or hot food, if they’re not able to prepare food for themselves at home.
- Can I check my EBT balance at an ATM?
Yes, you can. Insert your EBT card into the ATM, and enter your four-digit pin. You should then be able to view your balance.
- Where can I use EBT online?
Amazon, Walmart, and other mainstream stores now accept EBT cards for online purchases. However, you’ll still only be able to buy approved food grocery items.
You’ll also need to have another method of payment attached to your account, like a debit or credit card. This is because while your EBT card will cover food groceries, it won’t cover extra fees, like delivery charges and tips.
How to Check Your EBT Balance (Washington)
You can also use an ATM to view your balance. If you’re still struggling to view your balance, try calling the customer service number on the back of the EBT card.
However, many users prefer to check their balance by logging onto their online accounts. You can also view other important information on your account. Here’s how to log in:
- Step One: Start by visiting this site. You’ll be prompted to enter your user ID and password. Once you’ve entered your details, you can access your account and view your balance.
- Step Two: If you’re unable to log in, click the “trouble logging in” option below the login button. You can then select which problem you’re having: forgotten password, forgotten user ID, or unlock user ID (if this is your first time using your online account). Select which option fits you best, and follow the instructions given onscreen.
- Step Three: If you’re still having problems, click on the “trouble signing in FAQs” option. This will open a downloadable document detailing frequently asked questions concerning your EBT account.
The Bottom Line
You can’t overspend on your EBT account, as once you run out of money, you won’t be able to make any more purchases. However, any leftover benefits will add on to next month’s benefits.
Not everyone feels comfortable using the internet, but it is the easiest way to review your EBT balance and view your account. Like everything else, practice makes perfect! After a couple of successful log-on attempts, you’ll quickly get used to using your EBT card and benefits.
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