Your Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card may fail to swipe when you try to pay for an approved purchase. There is no reason to panic ― your card is not necessarily locked. It could be a problem with the store’s card reader machine, the system is out of service, or your card is damaged.
The good news is that you can enter your EBT card manually when making payments at brick-and-motor stores. This guide explains everything you should know on how to use EBT without card.
Can You Enter Your EBT Card Manually?
The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) is the government agency responsible for disbursing economic and food assistance to eligible low-income households. DTA performs this core function via the EBT card.
EBT cards are a convenient way to receive:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit (formerly called Food Stamps)
- EBT Cash benefit
- Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC) and other economic benefits
While EBT cards make accessing your benefits easy, it is not uncommon for the machines in EBT-participating stores to experience technical problems that can make them unable to read the SNAP EBT card.
If your card fails to swipe when you try to make a payment at a store, you will be required to enter your card number manually to complete the transaction for your EBT benefits.
This procedure is normal, so you shouldn’t worry about compromising your card as long as you implement the safety tips shared in the last section of this guide.
How to Use EBT Without Card in Stores
The procedure for manually entering your EBT card number is usually straightforward, but sometimes, a supervisor must approve the transaction before it occurs.
In any case, you must come to the store with your physical card. Stores do not accept written or memorized EBT card details to prevent fraud. Additionally, you may have to provide proof of identity (like a government-issued ID) to verify that the SNAP EBT card belongs to you.
With your card in hand, the clerk or cashier will type in your card number, expiration date, and Card Verification Value (CCV) code into the system. Enter your secret PIN to process the payment.
How to Use EBT Without Card Online
Manually entering your card is unavoidable when shopping online. Like regular debit or credit cards, you must provide certain card details to complete online transactions.
Typically, you will provide the following information when paying for items online with your EBT card:
- Your 16-digit card number (ensure you enter it exactly as it appears on the card)
- The card expiration date ― a four-digit number in the format: mm/yy (for example, 12/29)
- The CCV code on the back of the card
Depending on the online store, you may be required to provide additional information, such as your name, email address, and billing or shipping address. The purchase will be confirmed once the transaction goes through.
Avoiding Manual Card Entry in Brick-and-Mortar Stores
While you can enter your EBT food stamp benefit card manually, it is usually best to swipe the card when paying for purchases in stores.
Understandably, you can’t insert your EBT card into a physical machine when making online purchases. Still, when paying for in-store purchases, it is usually best to avoid manual card entry whenever possible.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid or reduce manual EBT card entry when shopping in stores.
Make Sure the Store Accepts EBT Cards
Before you hand over your EBT card details to a store clerk, make sure you are shopping at a store that accepts EBT as a form of payment.
If you shop in a store that doesn’t accept EBT, the card reader machine can’t read your card because it is not programmed to work with EBT cards.
For this reason, ensure to only use your card in locations where EBT is accepted. Keep an eye out for the Quest logo or a sign that says, “EBT accepted here.”
Care for Your Card
EBT cards typically last several years, allowing you to use the same card for as long as you receive EBT cash benefits, SNAP, or other government assistance. However, you must take proper care of the card to keep it usable.
When you are not using your card, store it in a safe place, such as inside your cardholder or wallet. Don’t keep the card loose inside your pocket or bag, and avoid bending it.
Keep the card away from magnets, including appliances with magnets (stereos, TVs, refrigerators). Also, avoid putting your EBT card near a wallet or purse with a magnetic clasp.
Whatever you do, never scratch or write on the black stripe on the reverse side of your EBT card. Don’t even write your PIN on it (you may damage the card and expose your secret code to others).
Physical damage is one common reason an EBT card may fail to swipe. If your card is damaged, request a replacement from your local EBT office as quickly as possible.
This will reduce the frequency of manually entering your card details and lower the chances of the card information falling into the wrong hands.
Safety Tips When Entering Your EBT Card Manually
You must protect your benefit dollars stored in your EBT card, whether you use it online or at participating stores. An unauthorized person can use all your benefits if they have your card and know your PIN.
While EBT cards work like debit cards, they are not federally protected against fund theft and loss. In other words, your benefits will not be replaced if someone else uses the card to make purchases.
Worse still, an unauthorized person with your card and PIN can continue stealing your benefits unless you report the issue and change your PIN.
To keep your EBT funds safe, here are some important safety tips when entering your card manually:
- Swiping, inserting, or tapping your card when shopping in stores should always be your first option. Only enter your card manually if the POS device or card reader machine fails to work.
- When you use your EBT card in stores, do not give your PIN to the store clerk or let them see the code you enter. This applies whether or not the card reader machine is working. Insist on keying the secret code yourself or ask someone you trust to help enter your PIN if you need assistance.
- Consider changing your PIN frequently to reduce the chances of someone guessing your secret code.
- Some dubious people can steal your benefits even when the physical card is in your possession. They do this by first accessing your card and cloning it. For this reason, don’t give anyone your EBT card and PIN to shop for you unless they are authorized members of your household.
- Only enter your EBT card information on safe websites like government webpages or official websites of stores.
- Avoid using your card at unknown merchant locations or online stores.
- Always keep your card in a secure place, and report loss or theft as soon as possible.
The information in this guide helps you know how to use EBT without card. To reduce the risk of stealing your card information, consider entering your card details manually only when you really have to.