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In our first article about Free Money we shared a novel approach to those who need help: free money! In the U.K. they tried an experiment, giving money to the chronically homeless to put their lives back together.
The very positive results surprised many. And here in the U.S., in Santa Clara County, California, a different but equally creative program is planned.
They are trying a model called “pay for Success.” Working with private groups and a nonprofit they aim to get as many as 200 chronically homeless off the street. The organizations will foot the $6.9 million bill initially. After three months — if they show success — the county will start paying them back.
These homeless folks have serious disabilities. They cost the county billions each year in jail time, emergency room visits and other services. So the county will actually save money by getting them housed and cared for.
It’s clear that sometimes “free money” can change lives. Here are some free money programs and opportunities that could make a big difference in your life!
Discover your program today!
We describe many free money programs in the articles Free Money and Free Government Money. Some have been around for a while. Even if they’re not around now, knowing about them can give you tips about where else to look. In this article we focus specifically on programs that are more recent and sometimes based on new technology. We offer our top picks in five categories: Crowdfunding, Recovering Past Wages, Credit Card Programs, Shopping, and Education after a quick note about how to avoid the Obamacare penalty:
Update July 2017 So what’s happening with the “Obamacare Penalty” now? With a new administration and the ongoing battle to repeal and replace Obamacare, it’s hard to say what the current status is of the penalty for not purchasing coverage. At this moment in late July, efforts are being made to at least pass a “skinny” healthcare bill to get rid of some of the most hurtful aspects of the original “affordable” healthcare act. That would include the penalty so that seems destined to go away regardless of what happens to the rest of the bill. And that would help a lot of Americans.
Important Update April 2017:
This question has become more complicated because of the new administration and new issues regarding healthcare. An executive order from Trump required agencies to ease the burden of complying with Obamacare. Some have interpreted this to mean that you are no longer required to prove you have healthcare in order to avoid a penalty. Others say that because no new law is in place, you are still subject to penalties if you were not covered during the tax year for which you are filling out your return. See our discussion in Free Tax Help and be sure to act quickly if you need some help with your return.
If you haven’t signed up, or didn’t get to keep your coverage, you could have to come up with the “individual shared responsibility payment.” Unless you qualified for an exemption, you’re on the hook if you went without essential health benefits in 2015. For that year the flat rate penalty is $325 for each adult and $162.50 for each child — or 2% of your family’s income, whichever is higher. And it gets worse each year. So to avoid that penalty the best thing you can do is get health insurance. You can get it through the Marketplace or your employer or a private insurer. If you qualify for Medicaid you can get it there as well. You may consider it better to get an exemption. You can do that if the least expensive coverage you can find is over 8% of your family’s income, if your income is too low to bother filing a tax return, you’re in prison, you’ve been abroad over a year, your religion objects to insurance, you’re homeless or you have other similarly serious circumstances.
Update December 2017
If you’re an investor rather than a fundraiser, you might want to step back and take a close look at the potential dangers of backing a new company via a crowdfunding platform. A paper published in the Business Horizons Journal claims that there are too many loophole opportunities for swindlers to take advantage of this means of fundraising. Though the companies fundraising must provide paperwork and audit reports it’s apparently pretty easy for those documents to be faked. And apparently some portals may not be particularly diligent about vetting the officers of the startups seeking funds. So here as in most situations it’s important for the buyer to beware and do some of their own research to assess investment opportunities.
2016 Note: If you are reading this in 2016 you can be sure you can still get great information even though the title is Free Money 2015. We publish new Free Money articles each year to provide the most current information available. Always check the latest article to be most up to date. With regard to Crowdfunding discussed below, there is lots of news in 2016. Be sure to read the 2016 article about free money and also take a look at Crowdfunding News for the latest!
Crowdfunding is a relatively new way to raise money for a wide variety of projects. It allows people to create campaigns, publicize them on the internet, and raise money from people they don’t even know. The money received is usually taxable but otherwise is essentially “free” in that it never has to be paid back.
You might assume that crowdfunding is just for entrepreneurs and artists. And a lot of campaigns are run to get money for a new business idea or creative project. But now crowdfunding is also being used to get funds for personal needs. Examples include paying off medical bills or other debts, covering college tuition, rebuilding a home destroyed by a natural disaster, or even helping an athlete get to the Olympic Games to compete.
The basic concept is simple. Companies provide crowdfunding platforms that allow you to create a website that tells your story. You promote the story using easy connections to your social media networks like Facebook and Twitter and of course you encourage friends and family to spread the word.
It’s not easy for everyone to tell a great story but it is certainly worth a try. Each site provides tips and advice for creating an effective campaign. Here’s a quick description of four representative platforms, each with a different type of focus:
- Gofundme is a well known site which is geared toward fundraising for “life events” and special family occasions as well as challenging situations like disabilities, accidents and medical emergencies. They even have a special section for students hoping to raise money to pay their tuition at college. Gofundme has been in business for more than five years and were recently purchased by a venture capital company. They make money by taking an 8% cut of donations raised by campaigns. They have hosted many very successful campaigns that have generated positive news. There have also been occasions where individuals created campaigns allegedly for people in need, but they ended up taking the money themselves and disappearing. Those cases are being prosecuted and are not considered the fault of gofundme.
- Giveforward has a special focus on campaigns for money for medical needs. These needs could include not just medical bills but also things like “bucket list” activities for someone who has a terminal illness, travel needs for medical treatment, or funeral and burial expenses for a loved one. Their pricing structure is different from Gofundme’s but the overall cost is pretty similar.
- Fundrazr is an interesting site in several ways. They have a nice user interface some people consider easier than some better known platforms; they provide personal coaching throughout your campaign set-up and implementation; and you get however much your campaign raises. Most other platforms require that you raise your entire fundraising goal in order to get any money (contributions are returned to donors.
- Sites like one called generosity focus on fundraising for people’s personal and social causes. They actually do not charge a fee for using their platform, which is quite different from most crowdfunding sites. Whatever gets donated in response to your campaign, you get to keep. If you’re nervous about how to put together a campaign, which can feel pretty intimidating, you don’t need to be. They provide tools to make it really easy and claim that you can get yours up and running within minutes. And they also take pride in the fact that they send you your money quickly (which we understand can also be a differentiating factor!).
- Modestneeds is quite unique among crowdfunding platforms we have studied. Their goal is to provide short term support to people who are working hard and need a boost to get things together and break the poverty cycle. Unlike other platforms, donations provided via modestneeds are considered gifts. Therefore the recipient is not taxed.
Did you know there’s a way to recover past wages that could be held in your name? The Department of Labor (DOL) takes on responsibility to help you get paid wages that were due to you (sometimes because of employer violations) but not paid.
When the DOL discovers violations at an employer, they attempt to find employees due back pay. If they are not successful they hold those wages for a period of three years while they continue their search. After those three years, if they haven’t found the employee, they are required to forward the money to the U.S. Treasury.
If you believe you may be owed past wages - or if you’re just curious to find out - you can search names of employees with unclaimed wages due. Just go to the website of the Department of Labor and in their search bar enter “WOW search”. (WOW stands for Workers Owed Wages.)
If you’re looking for free money you may very well be trying to get out of debt. And debt often includes big balances on credit cards — credit cards that are charging high interest rates. Here’s one promising approach — and we have no ties to Chase and receive nothing for mentioning this option.
Chase Bank offers a card called “Slate.” It lets you transfer balances from other credit cards with no balance transfer fee if you do the transfer within 60 days of opening your account. There is also an introductory APR (annual percentage rate) of 0% on balance transfers AND purchases for the first 15 months. That sounds like an excellent deal, especially since most other cards will charge you 3-5% for balance transfers. And they typically have shorter introductory rate periods. Be aware that once you get past those first 15 months your interest rate will be variable between 12.99 - 22.99%. Those are fairly steep but if you work to pay off as much as possible in those first 15 months you could be ahead of the game.
Here our top two tips are a “do” and a “don’t”.
Do: Whether you shop online or in person, always check first to see if you can find a coupon or discount offer at retailmenot.com. (Again, we have no ties to this business and we receive nothing from them for this mention.) If you enter the name of the store or website where you are shopping they will show you what the current discount offers are. Better yet, they show you how recently each has been used and with what success rate. Significant savings are sometimes available (like free shipping, or 15-20% off your purchase price) and the discounts are super easy to use. Worth a try!
Don’t: If “Black Friday” is a beloved tradition for you and your friends or family you might want to skip this one. But it’s good to be informed! Studies by NerdWallet have shown that Black Friday really isn’t a bargain —- and shoppers still go into debt during the big holiday shopping season. The day after Thanksgiving turns out not to be the best day for sales after all, and you may actually end up spending more for your purchases. Even when the deal looks good it’s often available for the same price at other times of the year. So if you just enjoy “Black Friday” because it’s a fun outing that’s fine. But be aware that you may not be getting good deals and sometimes you could be paying more than you need to. Happy Holidays….
There is a lot of school-related financial aid available from the top schools in the United States. Typically, however, aid aimed at low-income students goes to those who live in big cities. College representatives can’t visit lots of smaller towns and rural areas and as a result they overlook kids who might have impressive potential.
Now an investor group with big-name backing, recently featured in the Wall Street Journal, is changing that. They have established a network of folks who can help find gifted students who don’t have the means to go to college, much less to a top school. They may not even be aware that a top school would be interested in them. Sometimes students who receive their application in the mail even assume it must be a scam.
The outfit is called QuestBridge, so if you get mail from them be sure to fill out the application (there’s no fee involved)! Students can also fill out applications online and many learn about it through the internet. And QuestBridge doesn’t based its selections only on academic performance. They also consider financial need, special circumstances like students having to work in addition to attending school, and diversity.
So if you’ve got some talent don’t let your finances or your assumptions about colleges’ interest in you keep you from going after a college education and one at a top school. That student who thought his mailed application might be a scam ended up with a full scholarship at Stanford!
While these tips and opportunities are specified as part of our Free Money 2015 offerings most of them are still valid now. It’s worth your time to check them out to see if they’re still around. And now you can also get our latest in Free Money 2016.