When I first got my driver’s license, my grandparents handed me down a second car they owned. Obviously, I was beyond grateful. What freshly-minted driver wouldn’t want a free car or truck?
Of course, my first car wasn’t 100% free. Even though my grandparents gave me the car, I still had to pay for the tags, registration, and insurance. There were no complaints here. But, the point is that nothing in life is truly free. And, that’s definitely the case when it comes to the government.
Does the Government Give Money Away for Free?
“The federal government does not offer grants or ‘free money’ to individuals to start a business or cover personal expenses, contrary to what you might see online or in the media,” it clearly states on usa.gov. “Websites or other publications claiming to offer “free money from the ‘government’ are often scams.”
And, if you come across any, report them to the Federal Trade Commission immediately.
Wait. I heard that the government was giving handouts.
I know what you’re thinking. You heard a squabbling talking head proclaim that people are getting all sorts of freebies. You may have come across social media posts promoting COVID-19 relief grants. And, what about the people who are getting paid not to work?
Sure. Some people are certainly rigging the system here. But, their fraudulent behavior will catch up to them. Again, the government doesn’t just give money away.
At the same time, there are “federal benefit programs designed to help individuals and families in need become self-sufficient or lower their expenses.” And, these programs were crucial throughout the pandemic.
But, there are additional government services and programs to assist people with a disability, students, small business owners, and seniors. While this may seem like “free” money, it’s often money that’s owed to you because they’ve been funded through taxes.
Moreover, there are specific qualifications that you must meet. And, there may even be some strings attached. One example would be loans from the Small Business Administration. While non-profits and select fields may be eligible for grants, most small businesses will receive a loan with a more favorable interest rate.
So, with that in mind, here are 15 legit ways you can get “free” money from the government.
1. Missing stimulus checks.
Here’s the one that’s on the top of mind for most of us. And, for good reason. These checks have been a lifeline for millions of Americans. But, what if you and your dependents never received either the $1,200 or $600 checks from last year?
What’s more, this gives you a chance to update your info with the IRS, like signing-up for direct deposit, so that you’ll get the third stimulus check without any hiccups.
For more information on this, head over to the Economic Impact Payment Information Center.
2. Find unclaimed funds.
The IRS claims that for the tax year 2016, there were $1.5 billion dollars of tax refunds that went unclaimed. While it’s too late to claim 2016, you do have three years to file a return. And, there’s no penalty for doing so as well. Furthermore, you may be able to secure some sweet deductions along the way.
In addition to unclaimed tax refunds, you may be able to find unclaimed money from;
- Apartment deposits
- Old utility payment overages or deposits
- Forgotten bank accounts or savings bonds
- Insurance reimbursements
- Uncashed paychecks
3. Old pension plans.
Despite pension plans falling out of favor being replaced by 401(k) plans, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. states that more than 80,000 are owed over $300 million in unclaimed pension benefits. You might fall into that group due to a company acquisition or merger. Or, you were laid off.
To find out, visit pbgc.gov. If your name is in their database, then retrieve what you’re owed.
4. Boost your Social Security benefits.
“In 2019, the average Social Security benefit for a U.S. retiree is $1,461 a month, or a little over $17,500 for the year,” writes Tim Huffman over at MoneyWise.
“Again, that’s the average,” he adds. “Some seniors get even less. But some receive more; in fact, 2019’s maximum possible payout is $3,770 per month or more than $45,000 for the year.”
“How do you push your benefit into the higher end of the scale?” Huffman asks.
Well, follow these “tips to maximize your payout, to help you stretch your retirement savings.”
- “Errors can occur, given that the benefits calculation involves multiple variables and complex data,” states Huffman. “Download and go over your estimated benefit statement on a regular basis because mistakes can reduce your payments.”
- Put in 35 years of service as it’s based on your highest 35 years of earnings.
- Earn more money during your working years through side gigs.
- Work as long as you can and wait until 70 to claim your benefits since that’s when it’s maximized.
- “Avoid the tax trap by working less in retirement, or by doing more advance planning,” advises Huffman. “You might want to roll savings into a Roth IRA, because withdrawals from a Roth usually won’t count toward taxable income.”
- Relocate to a state that doesn’t impose taxes on your benefits.
- If your partners earned more than you, you could claim “that’s equal to 50% of your spouse’s benefit.”
- Did you lose a spouse? If that’s an unfortunate yes, then you’re eligible for a one-time death benefit.
- If you claimed benefits too early, you can “pay back your Social Security money so you can collect a fatter benefit later.”
- Do you have dependents like children, grandkids, or stepchildren? If so, “you and your dependents can receive up to 180% of your full retirement benefit.”
- If you have an income below certain levels or can not work because you’re blind, you can receive. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits
- Let’s say that you’re old enough for Social Security, but are still working. If you get laid off — you might be able to claim both Social Security and unemployment.
5. Housing assistance.
Finding affordable housing is a problem in the U.S. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies, around one in three households spend more than 30% of their income on housing. For those earning less than $15,000 a year, 75% of them are spending more than half their income on housing costs.
“The issue seems to be getting worse because, in many ways, it is getting worse,” said Shomon Shamsuddin, an assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. “Housing costs in the U.S. have been rising faster than incomes for many years.”
While they didn’t solve this problem completely, there are government-run programs that provide housing assistance, such as;
- State-sponsored FHA down payment grants.
- If you meet income eligibility requirements and guidelines for family size and composition, you may qualify for HUD assistance to help cover rent. Usually, this is through programs like privately-owned subsidized housing, public housing, or Housing Choice Vouchers.
- Contact the Homeownership Preservation Foundation if you’re struggling to pay your mortgage. You’ll be connected with a foreclosure prevention specialist to go over your options.
6. Help with utilities.
On average, Americans can expect to shell out around $398 per month on utilities. If you’re struggling with utility expenses, you can turn to LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program). While funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, they’re managed through state programs and can help with heating and cooling bills.
7. Weatherization money.
Another way to reduce your heating and cooling bills? Improve your home’s energy efficiency.
Thanks to a program run by the U.S. Department of Energy, you may be eligible for a weatherization assistance grant. Usually, this is based on income. For example, if a family of four has an annual income that’s below $52,400, they’re qualified.
8. Free or reduced childcare.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, money is allocated to states, territories, and tribes to assist with childcare expenses. As such, the criteria will vary. Usually, it’s based on income and only applicable for children under 13.
9. Healthcare needs.
Don’t have healthcare? Use the free income screening tool at the Healthcare Marketplace to see if you can claim a tax credit or lower-premium plans. There’s also Medicaid to assist individuals who are low-income, pregnant, disabled, or medically needy who are under the age of 65.
For parents, visit InsureKidsNow.gov to see if your children can receive free or reduced healthcare coverage.
10. Education assistance, grants, and loans.
There’s been a lot of talk about student loan forgiveness. And, it’s warranted. On average, it costs $35,720 per student, per year. If you take into account interest and loss of income, this might end up costing you $400,000 for a bachelor’s degree.
If there’s a silver lining, even if it’s just a sliver, you can apply for a Federal Pell Grant. Eligible students may be able to land up to $6,345 for the 2020-21 award year. And, since this is a grant, the money doesn’t have to be paid back.
You could also apply for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant, or Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. And, you can also head over to the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search tool.
11. Food assistance programs.
If you’re not careful, grocery bills can add up fast. Of course, that will depend on the size of your household, as well as their age and dietary needs. While creating a budget, using coupons, packing your lunch, and buying generic food can help, a family of four could still spend over $800/per month.
There are, however, programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (for women, infants, and children) that can provide low-income families nutrition assistance, along with healthy eating education. There are also programs for seniors and school-aged children.
Visit the Nutrition.gov page to see what food assistance programs you may be able to secure.
12. Low-cost or free phone service.
“Since 1985, the Lifeline program has provided a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family and emergency services,” states the FCC. “Lifeline is part of the Universal Service Fund.” And the “program is available to eligible low-income consumers in every state, territory, commonwealth, and on Tribal lands.”
In 2016, the program was modernized to include cell phone and internet plans. You still have to pay for service each month. However, monthly plans are only $9.25 from a number of cell service providers as long as you meet eligibility requirements, such as living below the poverty line.
13. Free tax preparation.
Filing your taxes can be nerve-wracking. For people with disabilities, not proficient in English, or make $57,000 or less, there’s the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, where retired tax experts volunteer to help you prepare your taxes.
If you are over the age of 60, there’s also the TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) program. In addition to assisting seniors with their taxes, they can also answer questions regarding income, pensions, and retirement.
14. Unemployment benefits.
Let’s say that, I don’t know, a global pandemic came along and caused you to lose your job. Because you’re being paying into this, you may be able to receive unemployment benefits. How much you’ll receive and the duration will depend on factors like where you live and how long you were employed.
However, if the “American Rescue Plan” passes, expect a supplemental unemployment benefit from $300 to $400 a week from the federal government through August.
15. Compensation when you’ve been scammed.
Have you been ripped off? Well, not to be harsh, you might have had to use some common sense here. If an online store looks sketchy, avoid it. But, there are nefarious individuals who are really proficient at scamming people.
If you’re in this situation, file a complaint with the FCC. Explain what happened and how much you lost. If the agency receives enough complaints, it will not only take legal action against the company; it will recover these funds and return them back to the victims.
Final words of advice.
There is no such thing as “free money.” If you’re promised free money, it’s probably a scam. But, if you meet eligibility requirements, you may have access to government assistance programs that can help you get through a rough patch.
It can be quite difficult to obtain these benefits — but if you need them, it’s definitely worth the try.