The U.S. gives out over $600 billion each year in what some call “free money” (grants, aid, welfare, etc.). Of course this money is not free. It comes from somewhere, and in this case from taxes paid by people and companies. So some folks get understandably irritated at the term “free” – they are the ones who are paying for it.
But we are civilized people and we want and need to provide a safety net and assistance to those in need. As the government grows (and grows!) it can get unwieldy and inefficient, sometimes seeming like an end in itself rather than something that services the people!
There are wonderful people trying to make government programs run smoothly. Still it gets confusing to figure out what is available, where, and how to get it. And there are great benefits and programs the public simply is not aware of.
We work to show what local, state and federal programs offer. We clarify who's eligible, how to find them, and how to make the most of them. Discover what “free government money” is and which articles will help you find it:
Discover your program today!
If you’re looking for ways to find “free money” from someone other than the government, check out our annual articles Free Money and Free Money 2015 and Free Money 2016. Here we focus on the best options available from the government:
Update October 2018:
Do you get how the health care plan “Marketplace” works? The easiest thing to do is to check out healthcare.gov to find out how to apply. Then, depending on your income level, you could get a credit to help pay for your insurance premiums. You can use those credits to pay your provider directly, or to reduce the size of your monthly payments, or use it as a credit when you file your income taxes. This certainly feels like “free government money”, event hough it is paid for using taxes so it’s not actually “free” to all…
Government Benefits provides an overview of what benefits are provided by the federal government.
Federal Assistance in the United States will give you an overview of the amount of “free money” distributed by the federal government each year and shows specific examples of categories of assistance programs. More specific examples are provided below:
Benefits.gov: This is your #1 go-to place to start looking for government benefits . These can range anywhere from money for food to getting assistance finding a job or learning to play a musical instrument. There's a long questionnaire tofill out but it’s worth it since the results will be comprehensive. You may be surprised at what you find! We give you tips on using benefits.gov so you don’t miss a thing!
Government Grants to Purchase a Home They may not hand you a chunk of money so you can go out and buy a house, but they do have a number of programs that reduce what you have to pay and therefore put money in your pocket. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's programs that require only 3% down mean you need to come up with a lot less money up front. And a housing agency counselor can provide information about available homes available at 50% off for teachers and firefighters.
Grants for Home Repair is a very hot topic these days as so many seem to have homes that are in urgent need of repair and improvements. This article provides examples of where government money is available. These include state housing agencies and the USDA's Rural Development Program.
Travel Grants are actually available! They come from some government agencies as well as private companies and non-profits. Some are for teachers, some for students, some just for folks who want to help make the world a better place. Find out how to get in on some interesting travel opportunities at Travel Grants.
Grants for Teachers exist as well – if not in the form of actual grants (though it happens, like the travel grants described above) then in the form of special tax deductions that some may not know about .
And don't miss out on the tips in the Money & Shopping section of USA.gov – you might be surprised how much you can learn.
Though it shares some information in common with this article you can find some additional resources in our article about Low Income Help. Some are from private sources but others do come from state or federal organizations. Government aid examples covered including updates to the SNAP (food stamp) program, assistance from the Labor Department for finding a job, ways to get assistance finding a home, support for child care and more. In addition you can find information about how to get free or very inexpensive computers and internet access. Though these don’t come directly from the government they do come from a government mandate from the FCC requiring communications carriers to provide special services for low income families.
Assistance for HARP Program Eligibility is a very timely resource right now since the HARP Program will end this year (2015). Under this program homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth can refinance at significantly lower interest rates. Since the requirements have loosened it doesn't matter if they have been turned down before – and no home appraisal is usually required. This is like receiving free government money because of the resulting savings in monthly mortgage payments – and the ability to stay in the home and build equity in the future.
Grants for Farms reviews Farm Service Agency loans available to beginning ranchers and farmers and to small family operations. Loans at similar rates would not generally be obtainable for such borrowers in the traditional market. So the difference between the FSA's attractive rates and willingness to lend and what borrowers would have to pay for such a loan elsewhere is effectively free money.
Grants for College gives you a great overview of what money is available from the government to help you pay for school – including both federal and state help as well as other sources of money to help pay your tuition and other expenses.
Social Security explains in simple terms what Social Security is and what it can mean to you. It also helps you understand how to plan when to start taking your benefits – and how to know what benefits you have. Then ssa.gov offers a review of the website that helps you do all these things – again in easy to understand terms.
va.gov is the main website for the Veterans Administration. There are of course extensive benefits available for veterans and the are all described here. Our review of the website helps you find what you are looking for with a special focus on health care benefits. We also review some of the current and planned improvements which could make it much easier for veterans to get access to medical services.
Vets.gov is the new and improved government website covering all things regarding benefits for those who serve our country. It has been up and running since October of 2017 and goes a long way to improving the older va.gov. It has consolidated hundreds of previously separate websites, come up with a new layout and best of all it is designed to put mobile first. Now vets (and their families and caregivers) have one place they can go to apply for the benefits for which they are eligible. Favorite sections are about getting healthcare and finding and applying for help with education. And check out the news for disabled vets carrying student loan debt…
missingmoney.com: While this is not technically “government money” it is the states that hold all unclaimed money that rightfully belongs to individuals in the U.S. This site is a portal for searching some of the records of a fairly large number of states so you can save time over going to each state one by one. However, not all records are provided for each state so if you think there’s a strong chance you should find a listing in your name it’s worth going directly to the state to do your search. Our review of missingmoney.com is also useful as it provides some important warnings and tips.
Disability Grants covers a great deal of territory regarding help for those who are disabled. From Social Security to housing issues, financial aid for students, special scholarships created for the disabled – including scholarships for high schools students, and help getting employment, there's something here for most folks' needs.
Grants for Churches may surprise some who believe that churches don't qualify for grants. Actually, though there are many grants for which this is true, there are others created specifically for churches. They may involve funds for capital improvements or programs that help the community or other needs unique to the church. Currently government grants do not go to churches but there are efforts being made to change that.
News March 2016 The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has announced that they will award $18 million in grants to historically black land-grant universities. (Land-grant universities are universities which came about due to an 1890 law. They were initially focused primarily on agriculture but that has changed over time. Some of them are historically black universities such as Prairie View A&M, Tuskegee University, and Langston University. That category contains the schools that will be receiving these grants. Schools will need to apply, and the grants are to be used to increase cultural diversity in the scientific and professional workforce. Specifically the grants will focus on research and teaching in the areas of sustainable bioenergy, climate change, food security, food safety and childhood obesity prevention. If you are part of targeted “diverse” groups you might want to check out these schools: they may have a lot more money available for grants and scholarships.
FAFSA: The Free Application For Federal Student Aid is your gateway to pretty much all federal aid for going to school. It is used not only by federal and state governments but also by individual schools and foundations for the purpose of qualifying you for assistance. You should fill it out no matter how much income your family has because a lot of pretty high income families end up getting aid. It is completely free to apply – and don’t let anyone convince you that you should pay them for their help. Make sure you do not go to fafsa.com to apply — that is NOT a government site. Read our article about the FAFSA to learn how to apply easily, online, and for free.
Pell Grants: The FAFSA also is used to determine who will receive Pell Grants. These are government grants for school — which means they are money that never has to be paid back! You do not have to compete for this money: if you qualify for a Pell Grant you will receive an amount determined by your available income and how early you apply. There is no minimum GPA requirement and no essays to write! So see if you qualify, read up on Pell Grants right away and get your FAFSA submitted. This is genuine “free money”!
State Grants: Not all assistance money comes from the Federal Government. In fact most if it is awarded by the feds to state and local agencies to administer at the local level. This means those closest to the area of need get to decide how best to spend the available money – yay. This happens through a vehicle called Block Grants and means you should always look to your state for available grants, loans and other forms of aid. Do this through an internet search or by going to your state’s main web page. We also have state-specific articles for several states including Texas, New York, California, Florida, and Illinois. These states in particular have some great grant programs for basics like housing and education as well as for business and the arts. They are definitely worth checking out!
In addition to moneys provided from Block Grants, states also typically have extensive programs to provide financial aid for school. They provide well over $10 billion per year annually in this type of assistance according to a report by the National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs! You may qualify as a result of filling out the FAFSA (see above), but your state may also have other programs you need to apply to directly. Go directly to your state's website and search “scholarships” or “financial aid” to find opportunities specific to where you live.
Grants For Housing: While not free money that is given directly to individuals, some forms of housing assistance are equivalent to free money because they subsidize your housing. So you pay less than the market rate and the difference is like free money to you. Another program pays up to a maximum amount to your landlord but you first go and find the place you want to live (assuming they accept this form of payment). So you have much more flexibility than those living in public housing.
Loans For Kids: Really? This one is a pretty unique program but if it’s a fit for your child it could have a huge impact on his or her life. And who would automatically think to go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help pay for their youngster’s project? The Farm Service Agency – part of the USDA – sponsors a great program for “Youth Farmers and Ranchers”. They provide loans (around $4-5,000!) to rural area youth in supervised programs like Future Farmers of America, the 4-H club and more. The money is given for specific income-producing projects and typically the kids make enough to repay the loan and have some left over. By repaying the loan they also get to qualify for more (maybe larger) loans in the future. Great way to learn how to care for and breed animals as well as how to run a small business. Learn more in our article about Grants for Kids.
Free Money Book by Kevin Trudeau: Yes the author is in jail for some of his previous books, but not for this one! We’re not entirely enthusiastic about this book, which is largely about so-called free government money. We don’t think there is a conspiracy that “they” don’t want you to kno about . And most of the information in the book (which you must purchase, often with big shipping charges) can be found for free on this website, and here it’s more current since it was not published years ago. But there are a few areas that he covers that we do not and they might be of interest to you. Before you fork over any cash though take a look at our short review of the free money book to see if it’s for you.
A Few Myths
Business Grants: Many advertisers work hard to convince you that – for a fee – they will just about guarantee they’ll help get you a business grant (free money) directly from the government. This is a myth. The government — in this case the Small Business Administration — does NOT give grants to individuals to start or grow a business. They DO guarantee certain loans for certain lenders, making it easier for you to qualify for a loan and get the capital you need for your business. And they DO provide a tremendous amount of information, training, and mentoring from expert business people. Read our review of the SBA website to understand what they can and can’t do for you!
Free Money Phone Calls: Unfortunately the calls are real - what the callers claim is the myth – better known as a complete scam. These con artists identify themselves as being from the government (or even from us!) and say that you are one of the lucky people to qualify for a pretty large grant ($7-10,000 typically). They often call Seniors or college students. They may have you call an official-sounding “account manager” at another number. They say all you have to is go to Western Union, or buy a Green Dot card, for around $200-400+. They then send you to someone else who takes the claim code, and then you supposedly get the “grant”. But all that happens is that the scammers get your money and you never see a dime of the fake grant.
If you receive this type of call DO NOT give them any personal or financial information and do not send them any money. You will never hear about a grant you have won via a phone call, not from the government or from anyone else. And we certainly will NEVER call you.
Grants.gov: This is a real and very legitimate site. In fact it is THE site that is the ultimate source for all government grants. These can be searched by keyword or by “funding notice” number. Sounds great, and it IS for state and local agencies, educational institutions, and official IRS-designated non-profit organizations.
The myth is that it’s a place where individuals can go to find government grants. Unless you are a PhD in a very specialized field looking for a research grant, this is not the place for you to look for money. If you’re uncertain about whether this site is worth your time, see our article called Grants.gov Is Not For You.
If you're tying to preserve an historical building, Grants for Historical Buildings can show you what it takes to qualify and how to go about getting such grants (free money!).
Free Money Newsletters: last but certainly not least, our monthly newsletters provide the latest and greatest in information and new developments regarding free money. A link to the current issue is provided on every page of this site, and you should also check out our quick summary of previous newsletter topics – you don't have to miss a thing!