Food Stamps: Can Your Car Payment Affect SNAP Benefit Eligibility?

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To qualify for food stamps, you need to meet a certain set of financial criteria, in terms of both income and assets. One of those assets is a car, meaning that having a car payment could impact your benefit eligibility, at least indirectly.

Food stamps, formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, are designed to help low-income households purchase food. To ensure that only the truly needy qualify for SNAP benefits, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets strict eligibility limits. These limits are based on household size and how household income relates to the federal poverty level.

In addition, the USDA looks at “countable resources” such as cash and bank accounts. According to the agency’s website, eligible households can have up to $2,750 in countable resources unless a household member is age 60 or over or disabled. In that case, the household can have up to $4,250 in countable resources. These amounts are updated annually.

Among the resources that are not counted when determining SNAP eligibility are homes, lots, most retirement and pension plans and other government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income.

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However, vehicles do count as a resource for SNAP purposes, though there are some exceptions. Individual states determine how vehicles might factor into SNAP eligibility. For non-excluded licensed vehicles, any fair market value over $4,650 counts as a resource.

Licensed vehicles might be excluded from countable resources if they:

  • Are used for income-producing purposes (e.g., taxi, truck or delivery vehicle)
  • Produce annual income consistent with their fair market value
  • Are needed for long distance travel for work, outside of daily commutes
  • Serve as the home
  • Are needed to transport a physically disabled household member
  • Are needed to carry most of the household’s fuel or water
  • Would result in a sale of less than $1,500

For vehicles with both a fair market value over $4,650 and an equity value, the greater of the two amounts is counted as a resource. In addition, the equity value of unlicensed vehicles typically counts as a resource, with some exceptions.

If you are making a payment on a car, it only affects your SNAP eligibility if the vehicle is not excluded from countable resources. In this case, your state SNAP agency will help you determine if you qualify for SNAP.

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One thing to keep in mind is that some states exclude cars as an asset regardless of their worth or what they are used for, according to the FreedomCare website. Check with your state SNAP agency to find out its policy on cars and car payments. You can find state agency contact information by using the USDA’s SNAP State Directory of Resources.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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