Nothing in life is free, or so they say. But what if I told you that we know of 18 government programs where you really, truly can get free money (or services)? If you’re anything like me, I’ve probably piqued your interest.
Below are some of the ways you can get your hands on money that’s rightfully yours. We’ve also included ways to find assistance and funds when you need them most.
1. Find Unclaimed Money
Ok, full disclosure: this isn’t really a way to find free money. However, it can help you collect on funds you didn’t even know you were missing.
Simply visit unclaimed.org and enter your information to search whether you have money waiting to be returned to you. The National Association of State Treasurers created the site to connect consumers with forgotten funds. These can include insurance reimbursements, apartment deposits, forgotten savings bonds, old utility payment overages or deposits, or paychecks you never cashed.
You can search by specifics like your full name and address. Or you can even just browse the results from your last name alone. (I found a few unclaimed health insurance reimbursements for my mom this way, to the total of $400!)
2. Find Unclaimed Pension Funds
Okay, one more not-really-free-but-yours-already resource. If you’ve left a company due to acquisition, merger, or layoffs, you may have been too preoccupied with your next career move to remember pension funds. Luckily, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) can help you reconnect with this forgotten money.
Visit pbgc.gov to check your name and information against their database. There are currently almost 73,000 names on their unclaimed pensions list. So you may very well find some money you had forgotten all about!
3. Get Help With a Down Payment
One of the biggest hurdles in buying a new home is likely the down payment required. Luckily, the government is willing to provide help if needed.
Each state has its own funded down payment programs with unique requirements and benefits. To see the state-sponsored programs in your area, visit the FHA’s down payment grant page and search your state.
For example, Texas offers a statewide program that can cover down payments and closing costs up to 5% of the total mortgage price. They also offer a Hill Country-specific program for Travis County, if you’re looking to live deep in the heart of Texas.
4. Apply for Educational Grants
College is expensive. We all know that. In fact, the 2017-18 school year saw tuition averages of almost $35,000 for private colleges and just under $10,000 for state colleges. Ouch.
If you want to further your education but can’t afford the high costs of tuition, room, board, books, and more, an education grant might be a great option. The best and most broadly-offered funding source is the government’s Federal Pell Grant. This awards as much as $5,920 (2017-18 school year) to students each year that they qualify for need. And it doesn’t need to be repaid (unlike student loans).
In order to qualify, you’ll need to complete a FAFSA. You can view all of the details for the Pell Grant at ed.gov.
Beyond that, though, there are hundreds of excellent grants available to students based on interests, major or career sought, and even local areas. I was surprised to find that some organizations even offer grants to students who are left-handed!
You should, of course, shoot for the government’s Pell Grant first. But then fill out as many grant applications as you can find from other organizations and companies. A great place to find them is the College Grants Database.
5. Get Assistance with Childcare Expenses
Paying for childcare is expensive. For families in the D.C. area, where I live, the average annual cost is $22,658. That’s absurd and, frankly, impossible to cover for many families.
If you are employed and looking for assistance with childcare expenses, the government has a program to help. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers assistance in the form of the Child Care and Development Fund, which has state- and territory-specific allocations to assist with care expenses (typically for children 13 or under).
To find funding options for your area, visit the CCDFs web page here.
6. Accept Healthcare Credits
Along with all of the confusion and frustration involved with healthcare in this country, we also get to deal with skyrocketing costs. This can make it difficult or even impossible for some folks to pay for much-needed premiums, especially as monthly prices continue to climb.
If you purchase coverage through the Healthcare Marketplace and meet certain income eligibility requirements, you can receive government assistance in the form of a tax credit. You also have options for this credit. You can either take it in equal allocations, allowing you to reduce (or eliminate) monthly premium payments, or you can save it for the end of the year. If you choose the latter, you’ll receive the credit in the form of a tax return when you file with the IRS.
Visit Healthcare.gov to learn more, qualify for your tax credit, and enroll in a health plan.
7. Get Free or Reduced Healthcare for Your Kids
If you are having trouble paying for health care for your children and meet low-income requirements, you may be eligible for free or reduced coverage through InsureKidsNow.gov.
Here, you can learn more about services like CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) and local Medicaid programs. You can also find health care providers in your area--even dentists!--and apply for your state’s specific programs.
8. Get Assistance With Utilities
The average American spends over $300 a month on basic utilities. It’s easy to see how these bills can be difficult to manage for some--especially in the summer or winter months. The government’s LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) provides funds to those in need across the nation.
These grants are available to assist residents with their heating and cooling expenses. They are managed through state programs (funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). To search for your state’s available programs and aid, visit the LIHEAP website here.
9. Winterize Your Home
Do you need assistance with updating and improving your home to winterize it? You may be able to get the government’s help as a grant through the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Weatherization Assistance Program Technical Assistance Center (WAPTAC) can connect you with state-specific grant programs for home improvements to reduce energy expenses. If you have children, a family member in the home with a disability, or are over age 60, you’ll get preference for approval. In fact, the DOE estimates that as many as 20-30 million homes are eligible for weatherization grants.
10. Low-Cost or Free Phone Service
If you meet income requirements for eligibility, you may be able to take advantage of the Lifeline Program. This is the FCCs free and reduced-cost cell phone grant. This allows access to cell phones and services for safety, well-being, and job-related needs.
The amount you’ll get per month varies by need. But you can choose from a number of cell service providers if you qualify. Eligibility requirements are as follows:
To learn more and see if you’re eligible, visit the FCCs Lifeline website here.
11. Avoid Foreclosure
Since the housing crash of 2008, it seems that we all know someone who has been affected by a foreclosure. If you are at risk of foreclosure yourself, there is a program to help.
Called HOPE (run by the Home Ownership Preservation Foundation), this program offers assistance in setting up plans that allow you to stay in your home. They also offer advice if you’ve been the victim of a mortgage scam or if you are interested in a mortgage modification.
You can call their hotline at 888-995-HOPE or visit 995hope.org to learn more to see how this foundation can help you for free.
12. Get Free Tax Preparation
Tax filing time is just around the corner, but some of us may need a little help with preparing our taxes. Unfortunately, tax pros can be quite pricey.
Related: Credit Karma Tax Review
If you meet low-income requirements, you may qualify for free tax preparation help through the IRS’s VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) initiative.
Assistance is generally limited to those who make less than $54,000 a year, persons with disabilities, or those with limited English-speaking abilities. However, the program is available and free to all, so it can’t hurt to apply for help.
If you are age 60 or older, you can also take advantage of the TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly) program, another IRS initiative. This program offers free assistance for those nearing retirement who have questions about their pensions, retirement, income, and taxes.
To learn more and apply for assistance, visit the IRS’s website here.
13. Replace Damaged Currency
If your dog destroyed your wallet or your toddler took a pair of scissors to your bank withdrawal, you aren’t necessarily out of luck. Don’t throw those shredded bills in the trash just yet!
You can sometimes replace currency too damaged to be spent at your local bank branch. If it’s so mutilated even they won’t take it, though, you can also send it to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for replacement.
You’ll need to submit a claim online. The process can take between three and 36 months (depending on how bad of shape the money is in). So don’t expect a quick fix. However, this is a great solution for the currency you may have thought was just a loss.
14. Apply for Unemployment
If you’ve been laid off or otherwise lost your job, you may be eligible for unemployment assistance while you’re looking for a new position. The Department of Labor offers temporary benefits to workers who find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own, until they are able to find suitable, replacement employment.
To see if you are eligible for one of these Federal-State programs and apply for benefits, visit the DOL’s website here.
Related: How to File For Unemployment (And What It’s Like)
15. Pay for Necessary Home Repairs in Urban Areas
If you are 62 years of age or older, live in an urban area, and meet income requirements, you may be eligible for a government grant to complete improvements on your home.
The Rural Housing Repair Loans and Grants program offers both loans (repaid over 20 years at 1% interest) and grants (free money that doesn’t need to be repaid) to homeowners in rural areas. The grants are for up to $7,500/ You can use them to remove or repair health or safety hazards (such as lead paint, collapsing structures, etc.).
To learn more or apply for a grant and/or loan, visit the Rural Housing info page here.
16. Refunds for Past FHA Mortgages
If you had an FHA-insured mortgage in the past, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) may owe you a refund. You can search the HUD database to see if you’re eligible for a refund through their website. You’ll need at least your last name or your FHA case number to search.
17. Food Assistance
The government offers a number of programs that give low-income families nutrition assistance and education on healthy eating.
These programs include WIC (for women, infants, and children), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), programs for seniors, and various food distribution options. If you are interested in learning more, visit the Nutrition.gov page here.
18. SSI for Elderly or Disabled Individuals
If you are temporarily or permanently disabled, have a child who is disabled, or are over age 65 (with or without a disability), you may be eligible for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits.
These benefits are limited to those that meet certain income requirements. If you have worked long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits, you may be able to collect both Social Security retirement benefits and SSI benefits.
To learn more, visit the Social Security Administration’s page here.
Things to Remember
It’s important to keep a few things in mind when seeking out free money from the government (or anywhere, really).
First off, a Google search for free money is almost sure to net you some scam results. You need to ensure that any website you are visiting--especially if you give them your personal information--is a trusted entity. This means searching for .org, .gov, and similar web addresses. You should also make sure that the program is indeed government-sponsored.
If a website is offering you free money, make sure it explains how you’ll get said money. What is the application process? What are the eligibility requirements? Is the site transparent in explaining the process and what’s offered?
Also, make sure it doesn’t ask you for any sort of up-front money or fees in order to apply for free funds. No legitimate government program will ask you for money to receive assistance.
Free money is out there in various forms. Just be careful where you look and who you trust--if it sounds too good to be true, it just might be.