What Is an EBT Card?


The Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card facilitates a payment system used by those receiving food stamp benefits and other welfare benefits. All states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, have implemented the payment system as of June 2004. EBT cards are issued separately by each state.


  • The card works similarly to a debit card or credit card. A magnetic strip on one side of the card is swiped through a merchant's processing machine, and any food stamp credits on the card are debited from the account. The other side of the card contains the card holder's identification. Just like a bank card, an EBT card comes with a personal identification number (PIN), which must be entered whenever the card is used.

Food Stamps

  • The card may be used to purchase food, using accumulated food stamps, by stores displaying the "Quest" sign. After using the card, the grocer prints out a receipt that instructs the card holder how much credit is left. Only allowable food items can be redeemed using food stamps. There is no charge for using an EBT card with regard to food stamps. Others must be debited using welfare benefits.

Welfare Benefits

  • When withdrawing welfare benefits, EBT cards may be used at participating automated teller machines (ATMs). Two free ATM withdrawals are permitted each month. Further withdrawals may be subject to a surcharge, plus an additional 50 cent fee. Any surcharge or fee is taken directly out of the EBT account.


  • New balances of food stamp benefits are added each month. The specific day of credit depends on your Social Security number. Any unused balances remain on an account when new credits are added. If there are more than two months' worth of benefits remaining on a card, your benefits may be reassessed. You may have to provide proof of income in such a case. After three months' worth of accrued benefits balance, a card may be blocked completely. Many states also offer an online service for checking account balances.


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