The foodstuff retailer Trader Joe’s sells high-quality and unique grocery items you can’t find anywhere else, emphasizing organic produce, international foods, and vegan options.
Most people consider Trader Joe’s a luxury supermarket, and most people don’t associate upscale groceries with EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer).
Once referred to as “food stamps,” government benefits for food (SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits) now come in the form of EBT cards that look similar to a debit card or credit card but only work at certain retailers for certain items.
We answer everything you want to know about whether Trader Joe’s takes EBT cards.
Does Trader Joe’s Take EBT?
Yes, all Trader Joe’s stores accept EBT cards for qualifying purchases when you buy your items at a register inside the store.
You cannot use an EBT card to purchase items from Trader Joe’s online or through the app.
Just because Trader Joe’s will take your EBT card does not mean that you can buy anything in the store.
This retailer sells a range of products that don’t fall under SNAP benefits, and it’s your responsibility to know the difference when making your purchase.
When you can’t use your EBT card, you can pay for nonqualifying purchases at Trader Joe’s using the following alternative payment methods:
- Credit cards
- Debit cards
- EBT cards
- Gift cards
- Mobile wallets
- Personal checks
Always separate items you want to pay for with your SNAP from other items.
You can’t put them on the same ticket.
What Is An EBT Card?
An EBT card refers to a card issued by the government with funds on it specifically designed to cover a struggling household’s food costs.
The federal government distributes the money to the states, which handle regulations and distribution.
One account covers the entire household.
Two people from the same household cannot both get SNAP benefits.
The card works similarly to a standard debit card or credit card.
However, it can only be used to purchase approved items.
A retailer must register with the state to accept EBT cards.
Trader Joe’s has done all the work to service customers who wish to pay with an EBT card.
Who Qualifies For SNAP Benefits?
Qualification specifications vary slightly from state to state, but in general, a household qualifies for SNAP benefits if they make 130% or less than the poverty line in their state.
Only one person per household can apply for benefits, but the benefits should go to the entire household.
The government trusts the head of the household will do the right thing and prioritize children and share with the rest of the household.
The income maximum to be considered impoverished is higher in richer states, such as Hawaii or New Hampshire, and it’s much lower in a low-income state, such as West Virginia.
This system aims to keep things fair for someone who lives in a less affluent state who would otherwise get rejected if we based qualification at the federal poverty line.
Due to Covid, the stipulations for who qualifies have been significantly relaxed.
How Much Will I Get On My EBT Card?
All SNAP recipients get a prespecified amount loaded onto their card on the same day every month.
Any money that wasn’t used the month before rolls over to the new month (for up to 12 months).
The amount varies based on how many people are in the house, the age of those people, your location, and the specifics of your situation.
For example, a disabled single mother in Hawaii with five kids will receive significantly more than a healthy two-parent household with one child in West Virginia.
What Can I Buy At Trader Joe’s With My SNAP Benefits?
SNAP benefits are specifically designed to counter hunger in homes that come uncomfortably close to the poverty line.
In order to promote proper usage of the benefits, the government restricts the products you can buy to grocery items.
As a grocery store, Trader Joe’s carries a number of products that qualify under your SNAP benefits, including:
- Dairy Products
- Snack Food
- Soft Drinks
- Cooking Oil
- Bread and Cereal
- Nonalcoholic Beverages
- Plants that Produce Foods and Herbs
What Can I Not Buy At Trader Joe’s With My SNAP Benefits?
Arguably more important than what you can buy is what you can’t buy.
Restricted items you can’t buy with SNAP benefits include:
- Healthcare Products (vitamins, medicine, etc.)
- Lottery Tickets
- Pet Food
- Paper Products
- Cleaning Supplies
- Gas for Your Car
- Sanitary Products
While Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell all of the items listed above, they do sell a large number of items that fit into one of those categories.
You can pay for these items during another, separate transaction.
Are You Able To Buy Food From Restaurants With Your SNAP Benefits?
The rules regarding what you can and cannot buy with your EBT card vary from state to state.
In a majority of states, you cannot use your EBT card at restaurants or coffee shops.
States that offer more leniency and approve certain restaurants through some sort of Restaurant Meals Program include:
- Rhode Island
- Maryland (restaurant list limited)
- New York (pending approval of legislation)
- Illinois (in certain zip codes—not Chicago)
Many states restrict their Restaurant Meals Program to citizens with specialized needs, such as disabled people and senior citizens.
A little bit of good news for people in a state that doesn’t have a Restaurant Meals Program: take-and-bake pizzerias, such as Papa Murphy’s, fall under SNAP benefits in every state.
Starbucks does not accept EBT as a company-wide policy, but they can accept EBT cards at certain in-store grocery store locations.
However, should you really be spending $10 on a drink from Starbucks with your SNAP benefits?
In some states, you have the freedom to make that choice for yourself.
FYI: Protein Powder
One item that confuses many consumers is protein powder.
Is it a health drink that falls under SNAP benefits or a healthcare product that the benefits don’t cover?
The answer lies in the label.
If the product’s label reads “Nutrition Facts,” you can purchase it with your EBT card, but if the label reads “Supplement Facts,” you cannot.
What Happens If I Pay For A Restricted Item With My EBT Card?
If you try to purchase an ineligible item with your EBT card, your transaction will most likely simply get declined.
Outside of some minor embarrassment, you won’t see serious consequences.
We all make mistakes, and proper classification for certain products can get murky, so one declined transaction won’t set off any alarms with the authorities.
Avoid repetitive declines that can create cause for concern at the SNAP office.
In some cases, they may suspend your benefits if they have sufficient evidence for fraud.
Tips For Preventing Declined Transactions
No one wants to see the pity in the cashier’s eyes when they explain that their EBT card got declined.
Things happen, but you can take steps to ensure those mistakes happen less.
Here are some tips on how to prevent declined transactions when using your EBT card.
Tip One: Verify Balance On Card
Always check the balance on your account before you plan your shopping excursion, so you know for sure how much money you have.
Since one account supplies food for the entire household, many people may have access to the EBT card.
If someone forgot to tell you about a large purchase, you may think you have more funds on your account than you do.
You can check your balance online or over the phone, depending on your preference.
If you haven’t used your card in a long time, you can use this opportunity to verify that your account is still active.
SNAP benefits remain certified for 12 months.
After 12 months without recertification, the benefits expire.
When you enter your account information, you will learn the status of the account as well as the balance.
If not active, you may need to recertify and get a new card before you go shopping.
Tip Two: Create A SNAP-Only Shopping List
Separate SNAP purchases from non-SNAP purchases by creating a separate SNAP-specific shopping list.
We also recommend taking separate trips for each shopping list to prevent any confusion.
It’s not always so easy to tell if a product qualifies, though.
Tip Three: Confirm Benefits Cover All Items On The List
Did you get conflicting information about a particular product on your shopping list or just don’t know whether it’s covered or not?
Before you sheepishly ask the Trader Joe’s cashier to remove a particular item from your cart, you should check with your state to learn for yourself.
Every state offers resources online that detail the products they do and do not accept in excruciating detail.
Ensure that you access your state’s information as qualifying products vary slightly from state to state.
Tip Four: Select EBT And Enter Correct PIN
You will use your EBT card just like you would use a debit card or credit card except you will select “EBT” when the credit card terminal asks for you to enter the card type.
If you select “credit card” or “debit card,” your transaction will get declined.
Once you select “EBT,” you will need to enter your EBT card PIN.
If you forgot your PIN, you will not be able to complete your purchase.
You can change your PIN online.
Tip Five: Stay Within Your Budget
Don’t let your shopping list get out of control to the point that you exceed your budget.
Calculate your total in advance, making a point to account for taxes (if applicable) and a little wiggle room.
Your transaction will get declined if you go over the funds available through your SNAP benefits.
The system will not deduct the balance and give you the opportunity to pay for the remaining balance with another form of payment (not advanced enough yet).
Your entire transaction will get declined.
About Trader Joe’s Products
Trader Joe’s is a private grocery store chain with over 500 locations in 41 states that provides customers with superior products thanks to highly flexible processes.
Trader Joe’s maintains control over the quality of their products since they create and manufacture roughly 80% of the products they sell.
The company freely adjusts inventory based on what products best represent what customers want and the company’s high-quality standards (at a low manufacturing cost).
This means you have new options every time you shop at Trader Joe’s, but you’ll still find most of the fan faves you have on your shopping list.
This system relies heavily on fresh, locally sourced ingredients and products made in-house or near your local store, which is what makes Trader Joe’s brand products stand out from the rest.
Since some ingredients may be more prevalent in different parts of the state, you will notice that stores in distant locations will have different product offerings, too.
Other Grocery Stores’ Products
Most other grocery stores receive regular shipments of their outsourced products that can only be adjusted once the vendor contract comes up for renegotiation.
Grocery retailers with large-scale operations of cookie-cutter stores that contain the same products, such as Walmart, can’t adjust inventory nearly as quickly or effectively since they must change store signage, displays, and internal communications for every store, meaning the new, fresh items they want to incorporate will go bad by the time they launch them in their stores.
Most large grocery retailers also have no control over the quality of their products since they buy them from the manufacturer.
If you buy a subpar product from Walmart, Walmart can’t adjust the recipe or operations to enhance the quality since another company makes the product.
Price Of Trader Joe’s Products
With all of the luxury mini-SUV in the parking lot and professionally dressed people walking the aisles, you probably assume that products from Trader Joe’s cost more than products from other stores.
Trader Joe’s does cost about 2% more than Walmart, but that was the only grocery retailer except for ALDI that beat Trader Joe’s in price.
Grocery prices at Trader Joe’s were 16% lower than the average grocery store and 12% less expensive than Hy-Vee’s and 2% cheaper than Target.
To add to the numerous reasons to shop at Trader Joe’s, people found the cheaper Trader Joe’s products superior 69% of the time.
Does Trader Joe’s Offer Regular Sales?
Trader Joe’s offers great prices every day, so they don’t need to use manipulative promotions and sales as gimmicks to tempt customers to buy their products.
Since Trader Joe’s prices their food at a very fair rate from the start, they don’t have a lot of sales (unless they need to get rid of inventory of a discontinued product).
The owners believe that their pricing system instills trust between them and the customer (and many customers agree).
They also don’t need to allocate nearly as much money in the marketing department for sale signs, stickers, and ads, allowing them to continue making food at reasonable prices.
Are you starting to salivate at the mental images of the dinner you can cook tonight with your Trader Joe’s groceries?
Grab your EBT card and get to your nearest Trader Joe’s to start shopping, since they proudly accept EBT cards (after you verify the balance and products you want).
If your state does offer a Restaurant Meals Program, avoid the temptation of fast food and overpriced lattes and shop at Trader Joe’s instead.
Trader Joe’s: Better products, lower prices, and EBT-certified.