Everything you wanted to know about how to accept EBT payments online but are too afraid to ask.

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Merchants wanting to accept SNAP EBT, eWic, and EBT Cash payments online need the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) approval. Once approved, merchants will receive an account number that they provide to their merchant processor. The merchant processor will then activate their card terminals and online payment gateway.

However, merchants first need a card-present (in-person) FNS retailer numbers, and then they can apply for an online retailer number. To qualify for a card-present EBT account, merchants must have a physical location (a room or a garage can work if it’s legal and stocking is continuous).

Disclaimer – Pay Now Direct does not represent the USDA/FNS, and we do not approve or deny merchant applications to accept EBT online. We help merchants with their USDA/FNS applications, build their websites and ensure they comply with the 135 pages of requirements. The good news is that merchants that accept EBTs increase revenues by 5-15% and can ship nationwide, including AK, HI, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam.

From our experience of consulting clients on how to get acceptance from the USDA/FNS, here are the nine critical steps merchants should take.

  1. Get a card-present the FNS number.
  2. Sign up with a card processing company that accepts EBT and Debt/Credit online and offline.
  3. Build a WordPress eCommerce website.
  4. Send a letter of intent (LOI) to the USDA/FNS asking to participate in the online EBT program.
  5. Receive a “welcome to the program” email with the 135-pages requirements document.
  6. Create a copy of the eCommerce website and place it behind a firewall or a staging server.
  7. Add the Pay Now Direct plugin to the WordPress staging website.
  8. Fill out the paperwork and forms, then submit the website for USDA/FNS review.
  9. After testing is complete, the USDA/FNS will approve and provide a “go live” date.

Below are the nine steps in greater detail for online USDA/FNS approval:

  1. To get the free (in-person) retailer FNS number refer to Pay Now Direct’s 11 Steps For Retailers To Apply To Accept SNAP EBT Benefits.
  1. Merchant Processing (CRITICAL STEP and created massive delays if you don’t do it)
    • Apply for a CardKnox merchant account – they will match or beat your current rate.
    • CardKnox can process card-present EBTs and online EBTs through the USDA/FNS-sanctioned thirded party processor (TPP) called Fiserv – merchants will need to convert, or it’s a failure path as of this article – other options will come along, but not at this time, otherwise merchants will need to build their custom solution.
    • The USDA/FNS requirement is that merchants MUST be able to do a split transaction between non-EBT qualified items (delivery charge is non-SNAP item), Cash EBT, WIC, debit/credit, and gift card both online and offline (omnichannel) to get USDA/FNS approval.
    • Circumventing the split transaction requirements is a failure path – the FNS will test extensively. You can not do an online split transaction with SQUARE, CLOVER, SHOPIFY, TOTIL PAY. We know merchants don’t like to switch, but food retailers won’t get approval unless they meet the requirements.
  1. Build an eCommerce Website
    • Another critical step is choosing the right e-Commerce platform, and at the time of this article, the only platform that will work is WordPress/WooCommerce.
    • Again, Wix, SQUARE, CLOVER, and SHOPIFY websites will not work; however, you can make a WordPress WooCommerce website and connect it to other platforms like Netsuite, Odoo, a potentially Square (untested).
  1. Send a Letter Of Intent (LOI)
    • Send an email to SM.fn.snaponline@usda.gov with a letter of interest of intent (LOI)
    • The LOI must contain the following:
      • FNS retailer number XXXXXXX
      • The criteria your company qualifies under (A or B).
      • URL of your eCommerce website, type of company, location, and contact information.
  1. Build an EBT compliant password protected website
    • The easiest way is to duplicate the eCommerce website and place it on a staging server behind a firewall.
    • Then the Pay Now Direct plugin for WooCommerce, costs $359 a year.
    • The Pay Now Direct plugin converts the site within 85% of the USDA/FNS 135 pages of requirements and takes just a few minutes.
    • Merchants must also update their FAQs, T&Cs, refund, and privacy policy.
  1. Connecting and Testing the CardKnox Payment Gateway
    • Create new APIs for the sandbox gateway with CardKnox, inventory selected, and FAQs added.
    • After completing the website conversion with the inventory, pickup, delivery scheduling requirements met, and POS integration (optional), you submit it to the USDA for approval.
  1. USDA/FNS review process
    • The USDA will evaluate and get back to the merchant in 10 days with feedback – they usually have a few concerns that need clarification.
    • Once the paperwork is approved, the merchant must purchase three live EBT cards from the State where they reside with a $50 balance on each card – $150 total.
    • The merchant must test their website (100 test scenario spreadsheet sent in the welcome package) and send the results to the USDA/FNS.
    • After giving your website a 100% (passing grade), the USDA/FNS will begin their testing of all 100 scenarios as a customer and ensure that all the requirements are met.

9. After passing the final exam

A “go live” date is set, and the USDA/FNS will inform the State where you reside that your business accepts EBT online.

The EBT-approved website transfers to the main URL on the live date, and customers can begin transacting with their EBT cards.

How long does this take?

Card present (in-person) applications usually are approved in 30-45 days. Getting an online FNS number can take three months to a year. It depends on how organized you are. The USDA turns documents around in 10 days. The hang-up is when people don’t understand what they are asking for in the application process and have other priorities. On that note, the USDA/FNS approval process is daunting. If food retailers need help, Pay Now Direct offers consulting services and a flat fee to shepherd through the applications.

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