Does Costco Take Food Stamps? Yes, but Here’s What You Should Know First

Indianapolis - Circa August 2019: Costco Wholesale Location.
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Warehouse giant Costco has over 100 million card-holding members worldwide. Many of these shoppers enjoy the wholesaler for its bulk items, budget-friendly prices and a variety of products, including those who have EBT cards. 

See: How To Get Cash Back on Your Everyday Purchases

But as tempting as Costco’s food and grocery items are, not everything is up for grabs when you’re paying with your government benefits. Here’s what you need to know before you head to Costco to use your food stamps. 

Does Costco Take EBT at All of Its Locations?

Costco accepts EBT across all its warehouse locations. However, Costco adheres to all state laws when it comes to what you can purchase with your EBT card.

What Can You Buy (and Not Buy) at Costco With Food Stamps?

Although Costco accepts EBT cards, the U.S. Department of Agriculture limits what you can buy with food stamps. Items eligible for purchase at Costco using your EBT card include the following:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, poultry and fish
  • Dairy products
  • Bread and cereals
  • Snack foods and nonalcoholic beverages
  • Seeds and plants that produce food
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Items not eligible for purchase with food stamps at Costco are as follows: 

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Tobacco
  • Hot foods that are ready to eat
  • Nonfood items such as pet foods, cleaning supplies, paper products and other household supplies
  • Vitamins and medicines
  • Food that will be eaten in the store
  • Live animals (except shellfish, fish removed from the water and animals slaughtered prior to pickup from the store)

Can You Use Your EBT Card at Costco.com?

Currently, the USDA has a pilot program in place for online EBT purchases, and only a limited number of retailers participate in this program. However, Costco.com is not currently part of this program. So while you can use your EBT card at Costco warehouse locations, you cannot use the card for online purchases at Costco.com.

Can You Use Your EBT Card at the Costco Food Court? 

Although Costco accepts EBT cards for purchases at its warehouse locations, this doesn’t include purchases made at its food courts. This is because the USDA’s SNAP guidelines do not permit the use of EBT benefits for prepared food or food that will be eaten at the store.

Can You Use Your EBT Card at Costco Business Center Locations?

Your EBT card can be used at Costco Business Center locations as long as your purchases meet the USDA’s guidelines. However, you cannot use your benefits card to pay for Costco Business Center purchases online.

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How To Save More Money When Using Your EBT Card at Costco

Whether you’re shopping with or without an EBT card, you’ll still be eligible for the same savings opportunities. Here are a few tips to maximize your savings when shopping at Costco

  • Shop with a list: To avoid impulsive buying, always shop with a list. This not only helps you stick to your budget but also ensures you don’t forget any essentials.
  • Get creative with bulk buying: Costco is known for selling items in bulk. This can lead to significant cost savings over time, especially for nonperishable items and those that can be frozen for later use. 
  • Shop seasonal sales: Keep an eye out for seasonal sales at Costco. It often offers discounted prices on various items throughout the year.
  • Consider Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand: Kirkland Signature is Costco’s store brand, and these products are usually cheaper than their name-brand counterparts but are often of equal quality.

What Is an EBT Card and Who Can Use It?

Electronic Benefits Transfer — also known as EBT — is an electronic system that permits the recipient to authorize the transfer of their government benefits from a federal account to a retailer account to pay for products like groceries. The card, which functions like a regular debit or credit card, is issued by state welfare departments to eligible users. Filled with food stamps or cash benefits, the cardholder can use it to purchase eligible items.

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Eligibility for an EBT card differs from state to state since the program is federally funded but overseen by each state’s government. Generally, the requirement to qualify involves meeting certain income and resource criteria. Check for the exact criteria on the USDA’s official website.

EBT and Online Shopping

While Costco’s online platform currently does not accept EBT as a payment method, several other major retailers do. For instance, both Amazon and Walmart have piloted programs allowing for online EBT payments.

Walmart, for example, allows EBT cardholders to purchase online for either home delivery or pickup. However, SNAP EBT customers must pay for the delivery fee out of pocket.

Amazon, on the other hand, allows EBT cardholders to shop for deals and SNAP-eligible groceries online without having a Prime membership.

The Future of EBT and SNAP

The landscape of EBT and SNAP is evolving to adapt to the needs of recipients and technological advancements. One future change is expanding the list of retailers that accept EBT, both online and in-store, and including those retailers that better serve rural communities and offer cultural food choices. As technology and shopping habits change, the SNAP program will need to continue to adapt to better serve its recipients.

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The Takeaway

For those eligible, EBT cards offer a great way to buy necessary items at stores that sell groceries like Costco. However, there are restrictions on what can be purchased, and you can only use the EBT card at Costco store locations, not online.

Before using your EBT card at Costco, do your research and make a list so you can take advantage of the savings opportunities the store offers without overbuying items in bulk that you won’t be able to use. After all, every cent counts. Doing so will help you stretch your benefits further to cover your needs.

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