EBT Transactions

Electronic benefit transfer (EBT) is an electronic system that allows state welfare departments to issue benefits via a magnetically encoded payment card used in the United States. Funds are transferred onto an EBT card much like a direct deposit into a bank account with a check card. The EBT card can then be used at authorized businesses to purchase food and other commodities that are approved by the government. Approved retailers are able to accept EBT card payments from customers the same as they would debit or credit cards. There is no difference for the merchant as the total purchase amount is transferred into the merchant’s bank just like any other electronic payment.

Common benefits provided via EBT are typically of two general categories: food and cash benefits:

  • Food benefits are federally authorized benefits that can be used only to purchase food and non-alcoholic beverages. Food benefits are distributed through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program. Through EBT, a recipient uses their EBT card at participating retailers to purchase food items authorized by the USDA’s SNAP program.
  • Cash benefits include state general assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits and refugee benefits. Cash benefits may be used to purchase any item at a participating retailer, as well as to obtain cash-back or make a cash withdrawal from a participating ATM.


It is illegal for anyone to charge sales tax, surcharges or card processing fees from an EBT SNAP account, according to federal law and USDA SNAP Guidelines.