For a large section of Americans, finding the money necessary to make ends meet is a struggle, week in and week out. With bills piling up and relatively few options, plenty of people might start to feel lost or forego important parts of life like attending college or buying a home. The good news is there’s one source for financial help that many Americans can turn to: the government.
If you need help from the government, you can often find it in the form of financial assistance. In order to qualify, you’ll typically need to demonstrate a financial need for government assistance, and you might be required to meet other requirements. There’s a variety of options for free government money, ranging from federal grants for homebuyers to child care assistance and grants for women, plus a plethora of other government funding and loans. If you’re looking for ways to subsidize your expenses, there are a number of government programs you might qualify for in order to get some free money.
1. College Grants
The U.S. Department of Education offers student loans that you can repay over time, as well as grants, such as the Pell Grant, that you don’t need to pay back. To get a Pell Grant or one of the other common types of federal aid for college, you’ll have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — and demonstrate financial need. The amount you can get from government grants varies. The maximum Pell Grant, for example, is $6,095 for the 2018-19 school year. That amount is subject to change every year and awards are based on the student’s need, tuition, course load and length of study.
Related: 15 Ways to Pay Off Student Loans
2. Federal Work-Study
Federal work-study programs fund part-time jobs for postsecondary students with financial need. The program encourages community service work such as tutoring and literacy training. As with federal grants, you’ll need to complete a FAFSA to begin the application process. The amount awarded depends on factors such as the timing of the student application and the amount of demonstrated financial need. Although the school or employer typically pays up to 50 percent of the wages, which must meet the federal minimum wage standard, in some cases the federal government pays 100 percent of the student’s wages.
3. Healthcare Support
The Affordable Care Act provides subsidies for healthcare insurance to low- and middle-income taxpayers. As of 2018, some 9.8 million Americans benefitted from these subsidies. To apply, visit the government healthcare website to determine if your income qualifies you for a subsidy. You might be directed to a separate state website, as some states run their own marketplace. The amount of your subsidy is based on your household size and your modified adjusted gross income. You’ll qualify for some level of subsidy if your MAGI is between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
4. Child Care Services
The Child Care and Development Fund provides child care assistance for low-income parents and primary caregivers of children under 13 years of age, or 19 if they are incapable of self-care. Other requirements vary by state, but typically, you must be employed or participating in a training or education program. Financial eligibility also varies by state. Visit the CCDF website for your individual state to find out whether you qualify for help with your child care expenses.
5. Utility Bills
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (commonly known as LIHEAP) helps those with low incomes to pay home energy bills. The income range for eligibility falls between 110 percent and 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Higher priority is given to households in which energy costs represent a significant percentage of household income. Priority is also afforded elderly or disabled households and those with young children. Grants are issued via individual states. The amount you can receive varies and is based on need and other factors, but it generally won’t be enough to pay your entire utility bill.
6. Down Payment Assistance
Low- and middle-income homebuyers can benefit from grants and loans that help with closing costs or a down payment on a new home. These programs are administered by individual states, each of which has its own requirements.
In California, for instance, you can qualify for a deferred-payment junior loan of up to 3.5 percent of the purchase price of a home if you’re a first-time homebuyer. The loan is issued with a CalHFA first-mortgage loan. You must complete homebuyer counseling and have an income within certain limits to qualify. For example, in Los Angeles County you can qualify for a home purchase price of $705,000 or less with an income of $128,300 or less.
In addition to providing down payment assistance, Alabama offers a Step Up+ program that offers 3 percent down payment assistance to homebuyers. There are restrictions, though. Debt to income ratios must be 45 percent or lower, homebuyer’s credit score must be 620 or higher and you must have an income under $97,300.
7. Unclaimed Money
Perhaps the easiest way to get money from the government is to ask for funds you’re already owed. There are actually many common reasons why you might be owed money that you aren’t even aware of, such as forgotten bank accounts and safe deposit boxes, uncashed checks and insurance benefits. In fact, the Office of the New York State Comptroller reports that it has already returned over $350 million in unclaimed funds in 2018.
Start at the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators to find the appropriate state agency to help you. In order to file a claim, you can enter your name online and search for the relevant missing money. You can process claims online or via mail, depending on the individual state’s instructions.
8. Disaster Relief
If you’re a renter or homeowner in an area that the president has declared a federal disaster area — such as the counties affected by Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018 — and you lost your home or primary residence in the disaster, you can apply for relief through the Federal Emergency Management Association. You can apply for FEMA’s relief process by filling out the online disaster assistance application, and it might require that you also submit a Small Business Administration loan application even if you don’t plan to take out a loan.
9. Living Assistance
If you need money to cover basic living expenses, find out if your state has a program for cash-based living assistance. In California, for instance, the CalWORKs program provides immediate short-term help for families who don’t have enough cash to cover basic needs such as housing, food, clothing, medical care or utilities. The process begins with an online application, and successful California applicants can receive up to $900 per month for a family of four.
10. Assistance for Veterans
The government offers veterans a host of financial assistance programs that are not available to civilians. These options include cash-out refinance loans, direct home loans for Native American vets, home loan guarantee programs, interest rate reduction refinance loans, life insurance policy loans and cash surrenders.
In the case of a veteran’s cash-out refinance loan, the government will loan qualifying honorably discharged veterans cash for the equity in their homes. These funds can be used for expenses such as home improvement and paying off liens. This VA loan has no maximum limit, and it allows the vet to borrow as much as 100 percent of the home’s value. Borrowers need a valid Certificate of Eligibility in order to apply. The COE is available online or from a qualifying lender.
11. Business Loans
The most-used type of business loan you can get from the government is a small-business loan from the Small Business Administration. The name is a bit misleading, as the SBA doesn’t actually issue loans — it guarantees loans made by participating institutions. Most small businesses that operate for profit are allowed to apply, but you’ll still have to get approved for the loan by an issuing institution. Loans have a maximum of $5 million, but the average amount was $417,316 as of 2018. Under the SBAExpress program, you can have an answer to your loan request within 36 hours.
You can get money from the government for a wide variety of needs. Although loan recipients must pay the money back, in some cases you can get money in the form of grants, which you’ll never have to repay. If you have a need, look to see if there’s a government program designed specifically for your situation, and send in an application.
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