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Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)

Learn about EBT Scam Prevention and how to receive replacement funds if you are a victim of a scam.

Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) is a system for issuing SNAP benefits using debit card technology. After benefits are added to eligible household accounts, cardholders spend them by swiping their EBT card at the point of sale (POS) and then entering their PIN number. When retailers who do not have POS terminals, they must resort to paper vouchers.

Authorized retailers will display a "We Welcome SNAP EBT Customers" poster.

Items that Can and Cannot be Purchased

Items that can be purchased with SNAP include:

  • Food or food products meant to be eaten by people
  • Vegetable seeds and food producing plants, roots, and trees for family consumption
  • Baby formula, diabetic, and diet foods
  • Edible items used in preparing or preserving food such as spices and herbs, pectin, and shortening
  • Water and ice labeled for human consumption
  • Snack foods
  • Meals delivered to elderly or disabled SNAP recipients if the organization providing the meal is authorized to accept EBT cards

Items that cannot be purchased with benefits include:

  • Prepared hot foods in grocery stores
  • Any prepared food (hot or cold) sold and meant to be eaten at the store
  • Alcoholic beverages and tobacco
  • Cleaning products, paper products, toiletries, and cooking utensils
  • Pet foods
  • Items for food preservation such as canning jars and lids, freezer containers, or food wrapping paper
  • Medicines, vitamins or minerals
  • Items for gardening such as fertilizer and peat moss

Retailers will not give cash change on an EBT purchase. The EBT card will not allow a person to receive cash from an Automated Teller Machine (ATM).

Food purchased with SNAP benefits are exempt from the state sales tax. However, sales tax is charged on the value of manufacturer's coupons that might be used in the transaction, and the sales tax must be paid in cash.

Example: An EBT cardholder's groceries add up to $27.50. She has manufacturer's coupons which total $3.50, to reduce her grocery bill to $24.00. $24.00 is deducted from her EBT account, and she will owe Virginia's food sales tax on the value of the coupons (2.5% food sales tax times $3.50 equals 8.75 cents, rounded to 9 cents). When items that were purchased with SNAP benefits are returned to the store, the merchant credits the money back to the EBT account. Cash is not given back.

At the checkout counter, tell the cashier beforehand that you will pay with your EBT Card. Depending on the store, you may need to separate the items.

Advantages of EBT:

  • Food can be bought using a simple, conventional plastic debit card
  • If the EBT card is lost or stolen, the cardholder can report it and that card is immediately deactivated
  • EBT transactions are faster for the retailers to process and receive their funds
  • There are better audit trails to detect fraud and misuse of benefits

Get the ConnectEBT Mobile App

It's the easy and free way to manage your EBT Card
  • Check your available balance anytime, anywhere
  • Review up to 12 months of transaction history
  • Confirm your last deposit
  • Change your PIN

The ConnectEBT app is the fast and easy way to monitor your EBT Card's available balance, deposits, and transaction activity.

Get it on Google Play | Download on the Apple App Store


Cardholder Information

About Your Card

The EBT card has a 16 digit card number on the front. If the card was issued through the mail, the cardholder's name is printed on the front. If the card was issued at the local social service office, the cardholder's name is not printed on the front.

The back of the card has a place for the cardholder to sign under the black magnetic stripe. It also lists the toll free customer service number.

EBT cards must be cared for properly or the black magnetic stripe will not work. Keep the card in a safe place. Do not bend or fold the EBT card, do not scratch or write on the black magnetic stripe, and do not wash the card. Do not leave the card near magnets (like purse clasps or refrigerator magnets) or near electronic equipment. Do not leave the card in the sun or other hot places like the dashboard of a car.

To use the EBT card, the cardholder swipes the EBT card at the point of sale in a card reader, then enters his or her secret PIN. Some merchants, such as route vendors, farmer's markets or stores where the SNAP volume is low, will not have point of sale card readers - these merchants use a manual paper voucher to accept EBT cards. This voucher requires the retailer to enter information about the transaction, and then call the retailer hot line for authorization.

Keeping Track of Your Balance

Cardholders should know the balance in their EBT accounts before they shop. They can keep track of their balance by doing the following:

  • Cardholders can access their account balances and the past 3 months of EBT card transactions by visiting and selecting Virginia EBT from the dropdown box.
  • Every time a purchase is made with the EBT card, the receipt prints out the amount of the transaction and the remaining balance. By saving receipts, the cardholder can know the account balance.
  • Many stores have a Point-of-Sale device available where the cardholder can swipe the card, enter his or her PIN, and do a balance inquiry.
  • Cardholders can call the toll free customer service number 1-866-281-2448, enter the 16 digit number on the front of the card, and hear the balance inquiry.

Pin Numbers

Every cardholder must select a PIN (Personal Identification Number) before the card can be used. The cardholder must call the toll free customer service help desk at 1-866-281-2448, and follow the prompts to select a PIN.

The PIN is a four-digit number that the cardholder chooses when an EBT account is activated. It should be a number easy for the cardholder to remember but hard for someone else to guess.

When buying groceries, the cardholder swipes the EBT card in the card reader, and then enters his or her PIN on the keypad. Without a correct PIN, the EBT card cannot access the money in the account.

Cardholders must keep their PIN a secret. Their PIN should never be shared with anyone. The PIN should not be written on the EBT card or on any piece of paper that is kept in the same place as the card. If someone gets the EBT card and knows the PIN, that person can spend all the money in a person's SNAP account. If that happens, the money will not be replaced.

To protect EBT accounts, if a PIN is entered wrong five times in a row, the account cannot be used that day unless the cardholder chooses another PIN. The cardholder can change a PIN by calling the toll free customer service help desk at 1-866-281-2448 and following the prompts to select or change a PIN.

Carryover Balances

SNAP or P-EBT benefits that are not spent in the month they are issued remain in the account. Even if the card holder's case closes, benefits remaining in the EBT account can continue to be spent. Any SNAP or P-EBT funds on cards with no spending activity for nine months, or 274 days, will expire if you do not take any action. If a card is not "active," benefits issued more than nine months ago are required by federal law to be removed from your account. You do not have to spend your entire account balance; just ensure that your P-EBT or EBT card stays active by occasionally making a food purchase at least once every nine months.

Replacing EBT Cards

When an EBT card is lost, stolen, or damaged, the cardholder should call the toll free customer service help desk at 1-866-281-2448. The help desk is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The caller will hear a prompt for English or Spanish, then a prompt to enter the 16 digit card number. Stay on the line! If no card number is entered, the caller will hear a message that says if the card has been lost, stolen, or damaged, press 2.

After verifying the identity and address of the caller, the original card will be deactivated and a new one issued. If the cardholder's address has changed, the customer service representative will tell the cardholder to report the change to the local social service agency. The customer service representative cannot change the address in the EBT system; that change must be sent over by the local agency. Once the address has been updated, a new EBT card can be issued.

EBT Scam Prevention

Criminals try to steal card benefits nationwide through scams that attempt to trick you into providing your EBT card number and/or PIN. The Virginia Department of Social Services and USDA are actively monitoring this fraudulent activity, but there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself from EBT scams. Learn more.

Settling Disputes with Retailers

On rare occasions, there may be a problem with such things as a being charged twice, or retailers processing a voucher twice. When disputes happen, the cardholder should speak with the store manager or assistant manager to resolve the issue. If the cardholder cannot work out a solution with the retailer, the cardholder may call the toll free customer service help desk at 1-866-281-2448 and file a claim. Claims take approximately 10 business days for resolution.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are you a retailer looking for more information about EBT?

Click here for EBT Retailer Information
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