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How to Use EBT Cards

An EBT card, also known as an Electronic Benefit Transfer card, is issued to everyone who receives food stamps. Many seniors ask “How long does it take to get EBT card benefits?” after they apply for services from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Cards are issued to eligible SNAP participants as soon as the state benefits office processes their application. Once a senior receives his or her card, it is important to understand how to use it and check the balance. The techniques for checking available SNAP funds vary by state. An EBT card balance will be updated on a regular basis. Because benefits are issued on a different schedule in each state, seniors who receive SNAP need to learn when their EBT benefits will be available for use. Below, seniors can learn how to use an EBT benefit card at retail locations, how to check card balances and other important information.

When are EBT cards for seniors issued?

If you are wondering “How long does it take to get an EBT card for seniors?” note that credentials are usually issued within a month of your application being approved. EBT cards are processed more quickly if you have a very low income and need food assistance right away. Because you apply for SNAP with your state benefits office, the policies for issuing cards will vary. Some states will send your EBT card in the mail after your SNAP interview, whereas others may be able to issue your card in person. Learn more about when your benefits card may be issued by downloading our guide to senior programs.

How to Use an EBT Card for Seniors

An EBT card is a plastic credential that is very similar to a debit card. EBT cards can be used in the checkout line in the same terminal that you would use for other electronic payments. Once you receive your benefit card, you will need to activate it and use the PIN associated with the card. If you are wondering “Where can I use my EBT card,” note that they can be used at any approved retailer with point of sale terminals. This includes a large number of food retailers. While these cards have been used nationwide for many years, it is possible to shop at a retailer that does not accept electronic payments of any kind. When you need to shop at a store that does not have point of sale terminals, you may have to receive benefits in the form of paper vouchers instead. If you cannot use an EBT card at a retail location, contact your state benefits office for assistance.

Asking “What can I buy with EBT card benefits?” is another common question. EBT cards for seniors may be used on a variety of food items. Note that your SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase edible items. In general, you cannot purchase hot foods, luxury items or junk food items. In addition to grocery stores, you may also be able to use your Electronic Benefit Transfer card at certain restaurants and farmers’ markets, provided that these locations have partnered with SNAP and offer SNAP-eligible items for purchase. A senior EBT card cannot be used at retailers who do not accept food stamps. Even if you want to buy an eligible food item, you cannot use your card to access your SNAP benefits unless the store has agreed to receive funds from the program.

How to Check an EBT Card Balance for Seniors

Once a senior receives an EBT card, his or her benefits will be distributed on a monthly basis. An EBT card balance is updated automatically. Each state staggers its SNAP benefit distributions based on different rules. However, once an account is established, the funds will appear on the same day of the month, making it easier for seniors to plan their grocery shopping. SNAP beneficiaries should keep an eye on their account balance after each shopping trip due to the fact that funds will not replenish before the next scheduled benefit delivery. EBT card balances may be checked using an online benefit management portal in some states. In states that do not have a system for checking benefits online, it may be necessary to contact the state benefits office instead. SNAP participants can also save receipts from EBT transactions in order to keep track of spending. Furthermore, in order to check an EBT card balance seniors can call the customer service number on the back of their card.

Find Out Additional EBT Card Information for Seniors

Once you receive your senior EBT card, it is important to keep your card secure and learn who can use your credentials. Your EBT card is much like a debit card. Accordingly, you should protect your PIN number and report a missing or stolen card right away. Your state benefit office will be able to assist if you lose, damage or misplace your card. Similarly, if your EBT card balance shows evidence of any suspicious transactions, contact your state benefit office or call the customer service number on your card. Always keep in mind that you are responsible for your card and you have certain responsibilities for using your benefits. It is illegal to sell EBT cards or allow unauthorized people to use your SNAP funds. Learn more about how to use your card safely by downloading our senior benefits guide.