Free money from the government? You may think that sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t.
While you might think the only way to get money back from the government is your annual tax refund, that’s far from the truth. Whether you’re down on your luck or need money to launch a new business, it’s possible for everybody to make money from at least one of these tips below.
Some of the possibilities might surprise you, and you might catch yourself thinking, “I can get money for that?”
How to Spot a Free Money Scam
Maybe you have seen the TV commercials for similar services and thought the commercial was a scam. While I can’t guarantee the person in that advertisement had honest intentions, in a matter of minutes you can claim your free money directly from the government all by yourself!
While you wouldn’t think that people would impersonate a government official to steal your money or identity, they do. Here are a few tips to always keep in mind before you try to get money back from a questionable website or phone call:
- Government agencies don’t charge an application fee
- You never have to pay a processing fee
- If the application site doesn’t end in .gov, look for a link from a trusted government website to verify the site is legit
- Most government programs will be listed on a federal or state government website
If a website or agency charges a fee, it’s most likely a third-party agency that is charging you compensation for your time. By paying them, they might submit the request for your unclaimed money, loan, or grant. Even if they are honest and give you the entire amount you’re legally entitled to, avoid these services at all costs.
Most agencies offer free help if you have trouble understanding the forms or do not have the necessary equipment to complete the request online from home or the library.
1. Find Unclaimed Money
One of the most common ways to find free money is by checking with your local, state, or national government. If a government agency or a business legally owes you money but can’t find your current mailing address, these funds don’t disappear. Some of the reasons why you might be owed money can include: utility deposits, uncashed paychecks, lost savings bonds, safety deposit box contents, and unclaimed insurance benefit to name a few.
There’s an estimated $42 billion in unclaimed money! How much of it is yours?
Occasionally, these unclaimed dollars will post in the “Public Notice” section of your local newspaper. In case you missed that publication or you moved to another city, you can also check unclaimed property records online. The process is 100% free and all you need to do is visit one of the following two websites:
The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) operates both of these sites. If you have lived in multiple states, or think you might be eligible for a claim in several states, MissingMoney.com searches the unclaimed property databases of multiples states at once.
If you are eligible for a claim, these sites will also help you learn how to retrieve any money that is legally yours.
To avoid getting scammed, only use the two sites on this list. You can also go directly to your state’s unclaimed property website as well if you know the URL address. Other third-party websites might charge a small (unnecessary) fee to help you get your money.
2. Unclaimed Pensions
If you or family worked for a company and qualified for a pension and haven’t begun receiving payments, that might money is still around. Visit the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to see if your name is listed in the “Unclaimed Pensions” page.
If your pension plan “failed” and is now covered by the PBGC, visit the Trusteed Pension section to find out more about your pension plan and when to expect your benefit payments.
3. Unclaimed Tax Returns
If you are due a federal or state tax refund that wasn’t successfully delivered, you can still receive that money by checking your refund status with the IRS. You might have to submit a change of address form to receive your refund.
You can also check with your state revenue department to receive an unclaimed tax refund too.
4. Receive Free Tax Return Preparation
The IRS offers free tax return preparation through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program if you meet at least one of the criteria below:
- Make less than $54,000 a year
- Have a disability
- Speak limited English
Seniors age 60 years or older can also receive free tax help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program. IRS-certified volunteers can help you with your retirement and pension-related questions.
With either program, the tax prep volunteers will work to ensure your tax bill is as low as possible. Maybe you will even receive a tax refund.
5. Recover United States Savings Bonds
If you have a U.S. Savings Bond that was lost, stolen, or destroyed, visit TreasuryDirect and complete FS Form 1048. The U.S. Treasury will provide a replacement copy of your Series EE, I, and HH Bonds. Provide as much information possible to expedite the replacement process.
6. Redeem Mutilated Currency
Every year, the U.S. Treasury Department redeems over $30 million a year in mutilated currency. It doesn’t matter if you submit currency that was buried, water damaged, or burned, the Treasury Department replaces your damaged money dollar-for-dollar when the serial numbers are still readable.
This is a free service that only requires your time to submit a Damaged Currency Claim.
7. Collect Unemployment Benefits
If you receive a pink slip from work, you can be eligible for state unemployment benefits. CareerOneStop is operated by the U.S. Department of Labor. For most states, the entire application process can be completed online and you will receive a decision within four weeks.
8. Social Security and Disability Benefits
There are two different sides of the Social Security program. In addition to receiving a Social Security benefit in retirement, you can also receive Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance when you are still of working age and cannot earn a regular wage.
You and your dependents might also qualify for the Federal Workers’ Compensation program too if you are injured at work or suffer from an occupational disease. If you work for a private corporation, state agency, or local government agency consider sending your claim to your state workers’ compensation board.
9. Receive Food Assistance
Even though we live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, many families still struggle with hunger. If you are experiencing financial hardship, there are three programs that will make sure your family remains well-fed:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)–More commonly known as “food stamps,” SNAP is a monthly debit card that pays for the core food staples that your family needs most. Take a walk down your grocery store aisle and look for any items that might have the “SNAP Eligible” tag to get an idea of the food items you can buy.
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides benefits to supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutritional education to low-income women that are pregnant, breastfeeding, or postpartum of children less than 5 years old.
- The National School Lunch Program offers free or reduced rate lunches to school-aged children every school day. During the summer, children can receive food aid with the Summer Food Aid Service Program until they turn 18 years old.
You will need to apply for these benefits through your local government organization either online or in-person.
10. Child Care Assistance
One of your largest monthly expenses can be child care. Your state’s Child Care and Development Fund can offer income-based financial assistance to pay for your childcare bills so more of your income can be used for other essential monthly expenses.
11. Receive Discounted Phone Service
Lifeline offers discounted wireless and landline phone plans to low-income residents of any state, territory, commonwealth, or Tribal land. You can only collect the discount on only one phone plan.
12. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families offers a basket of aid when you experience financial hardship. Some of the potential grants you can receive include food, child care, housing assistance, and much more. A few of the potential benefits are listed in some of the other sections in this article.
13. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
If you have trouble paying your electric bill or heating bill, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will provide the necessary funds to ensure you stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
It’s even possible to get free household appliances from the LIHEAP program!
14. Weatherization Assistance Program
To lower your heating and cooling bills, the Weatherization Assistance Program provides funding to insulate and modernize your house to make it more energy-efficient. If you cannot afford to make the necessary improvements yourself, WAP will list only available resources to turn your dreams into possibilities.
15. Home Mortgage Payment Assistance
If you are struggling to make your current home mortgage payment, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation offers a free hotline that puts you in contact with a foreclosure prevention specialist. That toll-free number is 888-995-HOPE (4673). With one call, you can talk to an expert when rising interest rates, job loss, health crises, a weak real estate market, or even a loan scam affects your finances.
The Homeownership Preservation Foundation is a HUD-approved organization, which means you won’t get scammed. For your convenience, the hotline is open 24/7/365. Whether you call at midnight or noon, even on holidays, someone is waiting for your phone call.
16. Home Mortgage Down Payment Assistance
If you’re ready to buy a home, but can’t meet the down payment requirements for an FHA loan, you might qualify for an FHA Down Payment Grant. If you live in a state with more than one grant program, compare each one to see which one offers the best terms.
17. Find Senior Citizens Benefits
BenefitsCheckUp is a search engine that specializes in finding senior benefits. This search engine is the easiest way to find the following senior benefits:
- Health Care
- Income Assistance
- Food and Nutrition
- Housing and Utilities
- Tax Relief
- Veteran Benefits
So far, BenefitsCheckUp has helped seniors find more than $22.8 billion in previously unknown benefits.
18. Veteran Benefits
Former members of the military have two different resources for finding potential benefits and grants. Military OneSource is a search engine for government and non-profit organizations. Whether you need help finding a job, getting medical benefits, or almost anything else, Military OneSource probably has a resource for you.
When you need medical care, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will help you locate your closest VA facility for the assistance you need.
19. Qualify for Affordable Medical Insurance
Health insurance is expensive and if you currently don’t have health insurance, you might be paying the Individual Mandate Penalty for no reason. HealthCare.gov is the place to go sign up for federal health insurance through The Marketplace (also known as The Exchange).
Depending on your income, you can actually receive a premium credit and potentially pay nothing for your medical insurance. If you think your only two options are $700-a-month premium or being uninsured and paying a penalty at tax time, you might be pleasantly surprised.
A family of four that makes $35,000 a year can receive a monthly tax credit of $1,337 to reduce their monthly premium costs.
In addition to applying for a plan on the Marketplace, you can also find information on low-income health coverage like Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
20. Receive Additional Medical Discounts for Non-Insured Expenses
In addition to your monthly medical insurance premiums, you may still have to pay cash for certain expenses not covered by insurance. HealthFinder.gov offers free resources to help you find the various government medical assistance program to get discounted prescriptions, medical testing, and medical care.
21. Apply for College Financial Aid with the FAFSA
If anybody in your family is attending college, take a few minutes to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This application is used by the U.S. Department of Education, your state government, and the university to determine how much need-based financial aid you qualify for.
Without the FAFSA, your aid package will not include:
- Federal Pell Grants
- State educational grants
- Subsidized federal student loans
- Unsubsidized federal student loans
- Work-study programs
- College need-based aid
In other words, your only three payment options for college without the FAFSA are cash, scholarships, and private student loans with notably higher interest rates. A FAFSA application is required to receive any type of federal student loan.
The application window for each FAFSA filing season opens October 1. As some aid is distributed on a “first come first serve” basis, file as early as possible to have the best chance of getting the most aid possible.
In addition to being free, the application only takes a few minutes to complete. It can really be one of the easiest ways to get free money.
22. Student Loan Forgiveness
There are some strings attached to this recommendation as you won’t get free money right away. In fact, it can take up to 10 years to receive it. But, it’s still better than nothing, right?
If you work for a government agency or a qualifying non-profit, your remaining federal student loan balance can be forgiven after 10 years of repayment with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness option.
You can also have your federal student loans forgiven when you volunteer for the following organizations:
- Peace Corps
- National Health Service Corps
- Nurse Corps
- Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program
- Military Financial Aid
When the average college graduate has at least $35,000 in student loan debt at graduation, these programs can help them become debt-free sooner and have a guaranteed job upon graduation. Plus, they can help serve their country or community and improve somebody’s life at the same time!
23. Start a Business with a Small Business Loan
Channel your inner entrepreneur with a low-interest small business loan from the Small Business Administration. These loans can offer a significantly lower interest rate than a similar private lender loan.
While a small business loan isn’t free money, it is cheap money.
24. Qualify for a Business Grant
Depending on what type of business you are launching, you can also qualify for a grant from Small Business Innovation Research agency. Most of these grants are for scientific and high-tech research and development.
To access the entire federal business grant database, search Grants.gov to find scientific and non-scientific grants. You might be able to find state and county grant listings on this website as well. Otherwise, you can always check with your local Chamber of Commerce or Industrial Development agency for more information.
If you’re a resident of Delaware, Mississippi, New York, or Oregon, you can also receive additional state-based self-employment assistance to help you start a small business if you are currently unemployed.
25. Get a Free Credit Report
Once a year, federal law requires the three major credit bureaus–Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion–to provide your credit report for free. AnnualCreditReport.com is the official, free site to access your report to check for any reporting errors that can negatively affect your credit score and to look for fraudulent accounts opened without your permission.
While AnnualCreditReport.com provides your credit report for free, you won’t see your credit score. While several companies will charge you to view your credit score and credit report each year, you can also view both items for free on-demand at Credit Sesame.
26. Protecting and Repairing Your Credit
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website offers advice on how to protect yourself from scams and what to do next if you a victim of fraud or identity theft. On the FTC website, you can also:
- File a consumer complaint
- Report identity theft
- Register for the “Do Not Call” List
- Receive scam alerts
In some cases, you can be reimbursed for being scammed by a business by registering your complaint with the FTC. By law, every complaint must be investigated for validity. If the FTC rules in your favor, you can get money back from deceptive business practices.
Federal, state, and local governments give away free money for a variety of reasons. Whether you live on a small income, are experiencing temporary financial hardship, or need money to pay for college or start a business, you will most likely qualify for some type of funding at some point in your life.
Which benefit program do you think is the most helpful? Which one(s) did you learn about for the first time today?