The stock market is rising, gas prices are falling and inflation has been at record lows for a while. So everything should be just great as far as your finances are concerned, right?
Chances are that’s not the case. Even with all those conditions - now including low unemployment - you may still feel like you’re missing the boat. Part of that is because the things you have to spend your money on are increasing in cost. Those things - like food and housing - are eating up a bigger and bigger chunk of what little money you have to spend. And you may not be getting any benefit from lower interest rates and lower gas costs.
A recent Labor Department study shows the 10% of households with the lowest income spend 42%of their money on housing and another 17% on food — for a total of about 60%. That doesn’t leave much for the rest of life’s necessities.
So the squeeze is on. There are lots of programs to help low income individuals and families. You may be receiving assistance fro some of them — but you may not even know about others:
Discover your program today!
New Update 2018 If your problem has something – or a lot – to do with substance abuse or any sort of addiction, help is be available to you. And some of it is free. Check out our recent article about Help for Addiction to discover more.
Update February 2018 Want to find out lots of different ways you could – legitimately – bring an extra $1000 into your life? It's not a come-on – these are all straightforward and if you put a little effort into it you can really do it. Discover more in Free MOney 2018.
Get a Loan and Improve Your Credit Score Get a Loan and Improve Your Credit Score A relatively new organization called Oportun has 275 offices in eight states in the U.S. They use a new technology to assess credit-worthiness and are focused on helping low income borrowers get a reasonable loan that doesn't end up making their financial situation worse. Their loans typically cost around one-seventh the cost of other borrowing options. And they arrange repayment plans to fit the borrowers' budget. They also help borrowers to improve their credit scores on Experian and TransUnion. In addition to meeting them in person in one of their many offices you can also apply for a loan online or by telephone.
Update October 2017
Some good news recently reported by the Wall Street Journal: for the first time in quite a while low income workers’ (those in the bottom 10th percent of wages) pay is rising at a faster rate than all other pay groups, measured year to year. The shift for these workers — who include those who work in restaurants and cashiers at retail stores — is a good sign for others, as well as those looking for work. It means the labor market has gotten quite tight and employers are having to increase wages to compete for talent. This is an especially good sign for the lowest earning workers since they have not been able to participate the way others have in the economic expansion that began in 2009. If you have given up on the job market now is a good time to get back in the game. Wages are rising particularly rapidly at places like amusement parks, gambling establishments and restaurants. This observation reflects the fact that as the economy improves people have more disposable income to spend on eating out and seeking entertainment.
Update June 2017 Whether you have a low income or not you may be in need of improving your credit score. Many people have had success increasing their score significantly by taking out a “credit builder loan.” This is basically a secured loan — that is, a bank or credit union gives you a loan that is deposited in a savings account that you cannot access. You pay off the loan faithfully (this is a must for good results…) over a period of time typically from 6 months to a year. When payment is complete you get the money — and the lender sends a positive report to credit bureaus. To find a lender in your area just do an online search for credit builder loans or look for a local “Community Development Financial Institution.”
News February 2017 If, like many, you have little or no credit, are not able to get a loan and maybe don’t even have a bank account, you should make a point to finding out if MAF operates in your area. MAF, or the Mission Asset Fund, has a very interesting approach to helping people. They organize “Lending Circles” in lower income areas. Those in the Circle contribute to a communal fund which is used to make loans needed by a member of the Circle. The recipient then works to pay off the loan and the fund is used to support another person or family. Often people are able to improve their credit scores with the loan received or take care of something more urgent like a rent payment. Another benefit to the Circles is then provision of classes about finances, personal counseling and even getting access to loans for a small business or a microloan. Importantly, the MAF guarantees loans made by the Lending Circles — and over the past four years there has been a 0% default rate! MAF currently operates in San Francisco and has also gotten started in Nevada, Los Angeles and Boston.
News October 2016 Looking for a better job – or a job, period? You may be in luck this holiday season. Amazon has announced that it will hire 120,000 seasonal workers this year, up 20% from last year. And you don't have to live in Washington – these jobs are in warehouses, sorting centers and fulfillment centers across the country. And Amazon estimates that 44% of people in the U.S. live near one of these centers. Even better, these seasonal jobs can lead to full time, year round employment. Last year 14,000 seasonal workers became full time and that number is expected to increase this year.
June 2016 Update: The government benefits site is celebrating National Fruit and Vegetable Month by providing advice and benefits related to eating healthy foods. Like others, they recommend that most adults eat at least 3 coups of fruits and vegetables each day. Since that can be expensive they are also offering some associate benefits. The WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) has linked up with SNAP. In addition to their other benefits they will also provide local fruits and vegetables to participants who qualify. You can find more information on the benefits.gov site which we review here.
The same Labor Department study showed the income sources for different levels of income. We can take a look at those to see where you might find additional income or aid to help you get by. The lowest 10% in terms of income get their financial resources from wages, salaries or being self-employed (37%); Social Security and Retirement Plans (34%); Unemployment and Workers Comp (4%) and government assistance and food stamps (25%). If you are not taking advantage of any of those for which you are eligible or able to do, you should look into that source of aid right away.
As a starting point, definitely take a look at our article Free Government Money. You will almost certainly find out about resources you didn’t know you had coming to you. It covers many aspects of federal assistance in the U.S., a questionnaire you can fill out to be sure you are getting all the benefits you should be, special grants for farmers, money to help with your education, and a lot more. And to find out what benefits may be available to you through the Social Security Administration check out our guide to the website ssa.gov.
If you need help finding a job — or finding a better job — the U.S. Department of Labor can actually be a good place to start. They provide descriptions and links to a variety of resources that can help you wherever you live. For starters they help you put together resume and cover for your search and they include some templates and samples so you can do a professional job. They offer links to job banks in each state so you can narrow your search to where you live or where you might want to move to. You can link to job openings with the federal government in any state. And there are specialized job banks available for veterans as well as those preparing to transition to employment as a civilian. If you would like to talk to someone in person you can locate a One-Stop Career Center in your area or you can simply call for information at 1-877-889-5627.
Housing is a huge issue these days with prices going up steeply in many areas and wages not catching up. But there are numerous places to look for help and they’re not all federal or state agencies. There are also more and more private organizations that are working to alleviate this problem.
Home Grants is a great place for you to start in order to find out what you might be missing. It covers support available for those looking for affordable rentals, help for those who might be looking to buy their own home, special resources for singles or families with kids, how to get help for important repairs to your home, ways seniors can get money out of their home without moving, and more. Even if you think you’ve covered all the bases in terms of finding a place - or a better place - to live, there is important information for you here.
Getting some assistance for child care can make a big difference in a family’s finances. Fortunately there are some assistance programs for eligible families and not all of them come from the government. Recent increases proposed for the Child Care Development Fund as well as block grants received by the states may also provide some relief. And a simple telephone call can help you find out what’s available in your state. Details about these and other assistance options are in our article about assistance for child care.
The best way to create long term improvements in your life is to figure out how to earn more. Easier said than done, we know. But in a pinch, there are a couple of places to look for emergency situations. Lots of standard ideas as well as creative approaches are covered in I Need Help; Grants to Pay Bills; and Money for a Car.
Though they may seem out of your reach at the moment, some part time and/or self employment opportunities might be right for you. In today’s “gig economy” you can sign up and drive for Uber; sell items you make on Etsy; do odd jobs and errands for people through Task Rabbit and other sites; or check your local labor office for job training opportunities in your area.
National Prescription Drug Cards: You may have seen ads or received mailings about these cards. They don’t charge a fee to get one and make it sound like a big deal that you’ve “been accepted.”
These cards supposedly can save you big amounts - they claim up to 75% - when you have to fill a prescription. But be aware that a lot of investigative reporting has gone on regarding these maybe “too good to be true” cards.” Pharmacists at major drug chains often say that they accept several of these cards. But they knew of no discounts of as much as 75%. Typically the cards can get you get a price that is higher than what you would pay if you had health insurance but about 10% off what you would be charged without the card. So the cards could benefit those not covered by health insurance or a prescription drug plan.
If you have any problems, though, it is apparently impossible to get anyone on the phone. Investigations by the L.A. Times and others have revealed a very convoluted (and purposely complex) organization structure. Companies operate under many different names and appear to be set up as extensive lead generating concerns.
And on that topic: the legal language on and about the card is very carefully worded. It makes it sound like the personal information you provide will be kept private. But closer analysis of the legalese makes it clear that they can and will share your information with their “partners.” So be sure the possible discounts make it worth it to you go get lots of calls and mail solicitations about partner services…
Internet Access and Computers: There are some great programs out there to help you and your family get connected and lessen the “digital divide.” Communications are so critical to life these days you shouldn’t be without it - but it's pretty expensive.
The FCC has ordered carriers to offer some programs to help. You may know about “lifeline” services which require that bare minimum phone service be provided to certain income levels. There are also other programs that focus on digital communications for your home. A program called Connect2Compete is a program made up of both private companies and non-profits. Many cable and internet companies have joined in as well. If you live in an area where the median income is less than $35000 a year (there are 14,000 zip codes where that's true) or if you have a child in a school free lunch program, and in some areas if you are receiving SNAP or TANF benefits, then you probably qualify.
As an example, Comcast has a program called “Comcast Internet Essentials.” For qualifying households it offers internet access for $9.95 per month. There is no credit check, no fee for installation,and a router for WIFI is included in the package. You do not need to sign a long term contract. In addition to online access you can also purchase a computer (laptop or desktop) for $149.99 plus tax and it will include Microsoft Office, Norton security software and a 90-day warranty. They make it very easy to apply and place your order online. This sounds like a great deal you should look into sooner rather than later! (We are not associated with Comcast and receive no payment if you sign up with them.) You should also check other carriers which have similar services.
All those options are a great starting point for improving your life and your family’s. There are more promising programs in the works so check back often for updates. You can also keep up with the latest if you follow us on Google Plus.