Card Services & Providers

Farmers markets that accept SNAP have increased market sales and provide greater access for low-income customers. In order to process SNAP at your market, a “point of sale” (POS) machine is needed to process what is called the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). These machines are either 1) a “wired” system to use through an existing phone line, 2) a free-standing “wireless” machine using cellular technology to receive information and perform the monetary transactions, or 3) a free-standing “wireless” machine that interfaces with various internet-connected devices such as iOS and Android phones and tablets.

Farmers Markets can get POS machines that accept SNAP onlySNAP and debit services or SNAP, debit, and credit.  Each offering has different associated costs depending on the wireless card service provider and frequency of use. Generally, farmers markets are using point of sale (POS) wireless machines since most do not have access to a telephone line or power source. A Merchant Services Provider can provide wireless machines plus the technology to process your sales transactions and deposit the SNAP/EBT monies into your bank account. Whether or not you should use a SNAP-only system, SNAP/Debit or SNAP/Debit/Credit depends on your market.

Choosing EBT Equipment and Card Service:

Depending on your market, you may want to provide SNAP-only transactions, or increase sales by using a debit/credit card option.

Getting a Free Wired EBT SNAP-Only Machines
It is a USDA Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) requirement that qualifying entities (farmers markets, farm stands, etc.) have access to free wired EBT machines. SNAP is issued through the FNS and its nationwide network of state field offices; however, FNS contracts with EBT providers in each respective state.

The process for a free wired machine is nearly automatic. The market must first complete an application with FNS for their Certification Number. Once that is approved, FNS enters that number into a database that all contractors access.  E-funds then sends the market a packet of information and an application that allows them to apply for the wired machine. Markets that expect to do less than $100 in SNAP transactions each month may be sent vouchers to complete by hand rather than a machine.

Your free wired machine does NOT connect you to debit or credit options – it’s for SNAP only. There are restrictions for the free machine and many markets still try to get set up with wireless (satellite/cellular) system so they can expand into debit or credit in the future.

Getting a Free or Discounted Wireless EBT SNAP-Only or Debit/Credit Machine
Oregon DHS sometimes can provide free or discounted POS machines and service to newly SNAP-authorized farmers markets and/or farmers. Email Candi Quintall for current details on the program.

Federal programs also exist to provide markets with support in accepting SNAP and other EBT benefits. Learn about Federal Programs for Free and Discounted EBT Equipment.

Price Comparison
The following PDF’s will provide information about break even analyses to determine which Merchant Service Provider and card service program fits your market needs. These analyses are based on full price wireless systems (which means the wireless machine is communicating with cell phone towers to transmit information versus using a direct phone line).

Wireless SNAP Only (pdf)
A wireless system requires a portable handheld card reader and a network connection. The SNAP only option offers limited sales, lowest cost, and no revenue source.

Wireless Debit/SNAP (pdf)
A wireless system requires a portable handheld card reader and a network connection. The Debit/SNAP option may have a higher initial start-up cost but it can provide higher vendor sales and can be a source of revenue via customer usage fees.

SNAP and Debit service charges have a relatively fixed fee structure and consequently are easier to project future program costs. Credit card usage fees are based on percentage of sales and are much less predictable, and require more complex accounting. 

Learn more about weighing costs of different EBT programs