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When you think about the government and money, it’s probably not happy thoughts.
We’re used to paying the government, and often much more than we’d like to.
You might not think about the government paying you, but if you know where to look, it’s possible to get free money from the government.
Learning how to get free money from the government can require a little patience, and the following are some of the best ways to make it happen.
1. Find Unclaimed Money Owed to You
Claiming money owed to you might not necessarily be free, but it is still a way to get money from the government.
So, how can you do this?
There are different ways, but one of the easiest ways is to go to Unclaimed.org. Once you’re there, use the map to click on your state.
You’ll then be directed to a site for your state, usually operated by the Department of Treasury.
You can type in your name, and if you have unclaimed property, you can receive it free of fees.
So what exactly is unclaimed property?
Unclaimed property can come from the government, banks, credit unions, your utility company, or other organizations.
Sometimes these organizations can’t find people, or they can’t connect with them for some reason, but they’re still entitled to the money.
Unclaimed money is sent to a state treasury.
You don’t have to meet any specific requirements since it is your money.
Types of unclaimed property are:
- Checking and savings accounts
- Uncashed dividends
- Gift certificates
- Traveler’s checks
- Distribution of trusts
Reports show millions of dollars go unclaimed every year, and while you might not be entitled to much, it’s worth searching.
2. Do a Search for Old Pensions
There is a U.S. government agency called Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
You can go to their website, PBGC.gov. Once there, do a search to find out if any pension benefits are available to you.
When you go to the site, you can find pension plans you forgot about because of a former employer you worked for going out of business. A lot of former employees overlook their pension plans when their employer goes out of business or gets bought out.
There is a massive database on the utility website where you can check.
According to the site, there are more than 80,000 people who are owed a benefit pension and who haven’t claimed their benefits. The total dollar amount of unclaimed benefits is more than $400 million.
There are benefits that are currently unclaimed ranging from 12 cents to nearly a million dollars.
You can search using your name or the name of the company you worked for.
You might also search for the name of relatives or beneficiaries.
3. Winterizing Grants
Winterization grants are available under the Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).
This program is intended to help reduce the cost of energy for low-income families and households.
This program is the largest residential efficiency initiative in the country. Program funding is available in all 50 states and D.C. as well as all U.S. territories.
According to the Department of Energy, weatherization is beneficial for households and communities because it reduces environmental impact and also boosts economic growth.
If you want to apply for weatherization assistance, you can contact your state agency. The DOE doesn’t provide services, nor do they process applications.
Instead, the process to apply is handled at the state level.
One of the main eligibility factors is income, and every state has its own income requirements to be eligible for this program.
If you receive Supplemental Security Income or Aid to Families with Dependent Children, you’re automatically eligible for weatherization assistance.
In many states, preference is given to people who are over 60 years old, families with one or more members who have a disability or families with children.
It’s estimated that anywhere from 20 to 30 million families in the United States might be eligible for weatherization grants and services.
Steps to follow if you want to determine your eligibility for this program include:
- Find your local weatherization agency. You will have to contact your state to do this. Most are nonprofit organizations, but some are part of the local government.
- Fill out the application, which usually takes around 20 minutes. You’ll include income information and answer some questions about the people in your household.
- Then, once you submit your application, the agency determines if you are eligible, and you’re likely to be put on a waiting list.
If you’re approved to receive these services, the weatherization agency will probably do an energy audit of your home.
Then, you’ll be provided with a list of the best energy conservation steps for you, based on that audit.
All work has to be energy-related, and the average amount spent is $6,500 per home.
Along with weatherization, there are other programs from the federal government to help low-income families who need assistance with their energy costs and bills.
One option is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which is a short-term program to help with utility bills.
There is also assistance available to people who are affected by a natural disaster.
These services are managed by the Federal Energy Management Agency, and specific services can include cash grants and low-interest loans.
4. Free Tax Return Preparation
There is a program available from the IRS called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program
This program offers free help on taxes for anyone who makes $55,000 or less a year.
The program is also available for people who speak limited English or people with disabilities who need help with their tax returns.
There is a similar program from the IRS called “Tax Counseling for the Elderly” or TCE.
This free tax preparation program is geared toward people who are 60 and older and have questions relating to pensions and retirement.
The tax preparation volunteers on these programs are IRS-certified, and they are affiliated with non-profit groups that receive grants from the IRS
There are usually VITA and TCE sites in community and neighborhood centers like schools and libraries. There is a VITA and TCE locator tool on the IRS website.
At some of these sites, you may be able to use free tax software to prepare your returns, and then volunteers are on-hand as guides or to answer questions.
5. Discounted Phone Services
Lifeline is a program administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
This program is meant to help provide more opportunities for people with communication services.
For low-income people, Lifeline gives subscribers discounted phone services from certain telephone providers.
There are also providers offering discounted broadband options.
The discount from Lifeline is $9.25 per month for people who are considered eligible low-income subscribers.
For participation, a subscriber will either need to have an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participate in other assistance programs such as Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
6. Down Payment and First Time Home Buyer Assistance Programs
There are quite a few different down payment and first time home buyer assistance programs. These include:
The Good Neighbor Next Door Program
The Good Neighbor Next Door Program is from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to HUD, this program is meant to promote the revitalization of certain areas of the country by providing people in specific professions the opportunity to buy homes in said communities
Under this program, HUD provides a financial incentive of a 50% discount on the list price of eligible properties
Bids have to be submitted through a real estate broker registered with HUD.
You have to commit to living in the property you buy for at least 36 months, and these are typically homes other buyers wouldn’t necessarily choose to live in.
National Home Buyers Fund
The National Home Buyers Fund isn’t exactly a way to get free money from the government, but it is a valuable assistance program for making a down payment.
The NHF is a multi-state, first-time homebuyer grant.
You find a participating lender, and the program provides you with up to 5% of the loan amount.
You don’t have to pay the grant back, and eligibility criteria are similar to requirements for FHA and VA Loans
7. Veterans Administration Loans
If you are a veteran, you may be eligible for a VA-backed loan.
It’s not a grant, and it’s for anyone and not just first-time home buyers.
What the program does is offer the ability to get a home loan without a down payment.
These loans are offered through different lenders and not the VA, but the VA guarantees them.
Eligibility is based on military service requirements.
Single-Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program
The Single-Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program is administered by the USDA.
The program helps certain lenders provide households considered low-to-moderate income the opportunity to own a home.
These homes have to be in eligible rural areas.
An applicant who is eligible for this USDA program has to improve or rehabilitate a dwelling in the rural area.
The program provides a 90% loan note guarantee to lenders.
- You have to meet the income-eligibility requirement
- You must agree to personally occupy the property you buy, and it has to be your primary residence
- You have to be a U.S. citizen, a qualified alien or a non-citizen national
- You have to be legally able to take on the obligation of the loan
- You can’t have been suspended from other federal programs
- The property you purchase has to meet the criteria of the program
Homeowner Voucher Program
For low-income families or families currently in public housing, there is the Homeownership Voucher Program.
The eligibility requirements are set by HUD and the local public housing authority where you live.
You need to be a first-time homebuyer and meet a minimum requirement. You also need to have at least one adult working full-time in the household, and you have to complete a homeownership counseling program.
Along with federal programs to help people purchase a home and to provide down payment assistance, there are also state government programs.
Just as an example, if you live in Nevada you may be eligible for a grant of up to 5% of your mortgage that you can use to pay your down payment and closing cost.
In many states, you don’t have to be low-income to be eligible for these grant programs.
8. Health Insurance Tax Credits
If you apply to receive health care coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace, you’ll be notified if you are eligible for a premium tax credit. If you are, you can pay a lower premium every month.
The amount of tax credit you’re eligible for is based on your estimated household income used on your application you completed in the Marketplace.
You can put a portion or all of your tax credit toward your premium payment each month.
The tax credit goes directly to the company you buy your insurance from, meaning you will pay less every month.
9. Find and Claim Wages
The U.S. Department of Labor has a search feature on their website that allows you to search for wages owed to you.
The Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing the labor laws in the U.S., and the organization works to recover unpaid employee wages.
If they can’t find an employee, they will hold wages for three years and try to find them, and after that point, they have to send the money to the U.S. Treasury.
You start your search by looking up your employers’ name.
10. Help Paying for Childcare
If you need help covering the cost of your child’s care, you may be eligible for certain government programs.
For example, there are childcare subsidies, which are also called fee assistance and vouchers.
If you’re eligible for these programs, you can get help from your state to cover the cost of childcare while you go to school or work.
The specific requirements vary depending on your state.
11. Utilize the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
The Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC is for people with a low or even moderate income level.
You have to file a tax return, even if you don’t owe money in taxes or you aren’t required to.
You have to have earned income from working for someone else or running a business to qualify.
In 2018, the income limits for someone married filing jointly with one child claimed was $46,010, and for two children claimed it was $51,492.
Depending on your income and number of children, the maximum earned income tax credit for 2019 was $6,431.
12. Apply for Education Grants
Most people are aware federal student loans are available to cover the cost of their college or post-secondary education.
Federal loans come with some benefits, such as income-based repayment after graduation.
However, since they are a loan, they do have to be repaid.
There are ways to get free money for college in the form of grants from the government.
There are two main types of grants from the federal government—need and merit-based.
There are certain groups of people that may be eligible for grants as well, including students from underrepresented groups, individuals who study certain subjects, and students with disabilities.
When you receive a grant, you don’t have to repay it, so it is essentially free money you can put toward your education and education-related expenses.
The first step to getting a federal student grant is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The earlier you file your FAFSA, the better in terms of receiving grants.
The following are examples of some of the most popular federal grants available to students.
Federal Pell Grants
The Federal Pell Grant is the biggest federal grant program.
These grants are available to undergraduates who demonstrate a financial need.
Pell grant eligibility is based on financial need, enrollment status, cost of attending your school, and whether or not you are enrolled year-long.
Currently, undergraduates are eligible for Pell Grants of up to $5,500 for each academic year.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is a supplemental grant for students who demonstrate the highest level of financial need.
Awards go up to $4,000 a year, dependent on need.
Academic Competitiveness Grant
The Academic Competitiveness Grant is for low-income first- and second-year college students. Eligible students must demonstrate high-level academic standards.
This grant program is both need and merit-based.
Applicants have to be recipients of the Pell Grant, and they must maintain a 3.0 GPA.
This grant also promotes STEM studies, so for students taking science and technology classes during college, there is priority consideration.
National SMART Grant
The National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant is for low-income third and fourth-year college students. It’s considered a continuation of the Academic Competitiveness Grant.
To be eligible, students have to be recipients of the Pell Grant, be high-performers academically, and they either need to be majoring in a STEM-related field or a high-need foreign language. The annual maximum for SMART Grants is $4,000 for each student.
The federal government also offers grants for students who are studying to pursue certain careers.
For example, there is the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant, which is for students studying teaching who agree to teach in high-need areas when they graduate.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
If you’ve already completed your education and you used federal loans, depending on your career field, you may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a program that will forgive your remaining balance on federal Direct Loans if you have made 120 monthly qualifying payments while working full-time for an employer that qualifies as a public service employer.
Employers can include the government, school districts, non-profits, and public hospitals, among others.
13. Small Business Administration Grants
Grants aren’t just a way to get free money for education.
You can also find grants to help you with other endeavors, including starting a business.
The U.S Small Business Administration works to provide financial assistance and community resources to certain small businesses.
The types of grants they back include:
- Grants for research and development such as the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program
- The SBA State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) which provides financial awards to state and local governments to help them with export development
The SBA also offers free business counseling to small business through SCORE mentorship, Small Business Development Centers, and Women’s Business Centers.
14. Claim Senior Benefits
If you’re a senior, you may be eligible for valuable benefits you aren’t even aware of.
One way to find out is to visit BenefitsCheckup.org.
This site has a database of the thousands of programs available throughout the country specifically for seniors.
You get started by entering your zip code.
Just as an example, you might find medication-related benefits that help seniors cover co-pays and other similar health care costs.
There are income assistance programs that provide cash assistance to help seniors take care of basic needs like food and shelter.
There are also housing and utilities-related benefits to help seniors keep and repair their home.
Beyond what’s listed above, there are other ways to get free money from the government that you might never think of.
For example, did you know you can exchange torn or damaged money?
Getting free money from the government can range from easy to do, such as filling out your personal information to find unclaimed money, to more complex but perhaps more valuable as well.
From tax benefits to programs that help you make your home more energy-efficient, be on the lookout for ways to get free money from not only the federal government but your state government as well.