AS stimulus check negotiations drag on Americans can claim “free government money” from unclaimed taxes, pensions and ten other ways.
Claiming free government money may appear as a scam but here we’ll show you 12 completely legit ways you can earn those funds.
1) Unclaimed pension benefits
Pensions have largely been replaced by 401(k) plans so today fewer workers receive pension, which promise guaranteed income in retirement.
However, many Americans leave their scarce pension benefits on the table.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. says 80,000 workers are owed over $300million in unclaimed pension money.
If you think some of that money belongs to you, you can go on the PBGC’s website – pbgc.gov – and use its search engine.
You can search for your unclaimed money by using your name or name of a company where you worked at.
2) Unclaimed tax refunds and other forgotten funds
According to the IRS, $1billion or more in tax refunds go unclaimed each year.
Americans have three years to file a tax return and claim their refund money – if they don’t, the money goes back into the agency’s coffers.
There is no penalty for not filing a tax return if you’re due a refund, but it’s worth to file each year just in case Uncle Sam in fact owes you money.
According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, there is more than $40billion from forgotten bank accounts, life insurance policies, utility deposits and other sources.
You can see if you’ve any long-lost money by checking Missingmoney.com or Unclaimed.org.
3) Down payment assistance
First time homeowners may be hesitant of buying that dream home they’ve had their eyes on due to the 20 percent upfront cost (down payment) they have to scrape together.
However, federal, state and government agencies have grant programs to help first-time buyers.
One example is The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Good Neighbor Next Door program.
This program picks up half the price of a home for teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who commit to live in a community for three years.
The department’s website (hud.gov) can direct you to homebuyer assistance programs available in your state.
4) Help with utilities
According to the Census, the average US household spends over $4,000 a year, around $337 a month, on utilities including electricity, heating and phone services.
In fact, for many low income families these bills can add up and contribute to their financial struggle.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program helps low income Americans stay connected by providing up to $9.25 monthly discounts on phone or broadband internet service.
While the federal Health Department’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, offers state-issued grans for heating and air condition costs in the home.
5) Free tax services
Tax filing can be a hassle and searching for help from an accountant can cost you a large sum.
However, websites such as Credit Karma makes filing your taxes easier and free.
If you prefer in-person help, you might be able to get that at no cost through the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or VITA program.
Here’s how it works: Retired tax experts volunteer in their communities to help complete tax returns for people who earn $56,000 or less, or who are disabled or not proficient in English.
A related service offers seniors free tax help and more.
According to the IRS, volunteers for its Tax Counseling for the Elderly program bring specific knowledge about pensions and retirement finances unique for older Americans.
6) FHA mortgage refunds
FHA home loans, which are backed by the Federal Housing Administration, are popular with first-time homebuyers because the loans comes with low mortgage rates and low down payments, even if they have a so-so credit score.
The FHA guarantees to pay a portion of the loan if you default, but you agree to take on some risk by paying mortgage insurance premiums, or MIP, starting with an upfront premium at closing of 1.75 percent of the loan amount.
The housing agency has determined that some borrowers are owed refunds of part of their upfront MIP if they didn’t default on their loans.
You can find out if you have some mortgage money waiting by reading the FHA’s refund fact sheet.
7) Education assistance
Education can be costly for students, the average annual tuition and fees in 2020 are around $37,000 at four-year private institutions, according to US News.
In-state students pay more than $10,000 a year at public colleges.
However, federal and state grants can make paying for college much easier on your wallets.
You could get a federal Pell Grant if you’re able to show you have “exceptional financial need.”
For the 2020-2021 academic year, Pell Grants are available for up to $6,345 and since it’s a grant, the money doesn’t have to be paid back.
You can also try to apply for a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant through the financial aid office at your school.
Amounts range from $100 and $4,000, based on your financial situation.
The first step students should take is filling out a FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
8) Social Security
According to the Urban Institute, Americans often receive "free money" from Social Security, more back in the form of benefits than they ever put in.
A 2018 study from the think tank found that a single woman turning 65 in 2020 after working in low-earning jobs will have paid $132,000 in total Social Security taxes, but will collect $209,000 in lifetime benefits.
A married one-earner couple whose breadwinner hits 65 this year after making average money will be paid $294,000 into the system but will get back $529,000.
9) Social Security’s lump-sum death benefit
The lump-sum death benefit has been around since 1935, before the program offered survivors benefits for widows, widowers and other dependents.
Once those benefits came along, the death payment evolved into money for burial expenses, but it doesn’t go very far today.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, in 2019, the average funeral cost $7,640.
Proposals have been made over the years to end or increase the benefit, but they’ve never pulled through.
10) Unemployment benefits
When you lose your job, through no fault of your own, the government will help you financially for some time.
Unemployment benefits first starting being paid to financially deprived Americans after the events of the Great Depression during the 1930’s.
Today’s unemployment insurance system is overseen by the federal government but run by the states.
Benefits can last up to 26 weeks and range from $235 a week (in Mississippi) to $555 (on Massachusetts).
During the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government threw an additional $600 per week, but those benefits ran out on July 31.
Congress is still negotiating on whether the bonus benefits will return or not.
11) Compensation when you’ve been scammed
If you’ve ever been ripped off by phony scam calls the Federal Trade Commission can help you get some money back.
First, you need to file a complaint with the agency, at ftc.gov, explaining what happened and how much you lost.
If the FTC gets enough complaints, it takes legal action against the company, recovers money and sends checks to customers.
Recent FTC checks have gone to people who fell for fraudulent business opportunities and for shoppers who paid for LED light bulbs that didn’t work well.
12) Weatherization money
The federal Weatherization Assistance Program has money available for weather stripping, insulation and other home efficiency updates to make your home more energy efficient and cut your heating and cooling bills.
Up to 30 million US families qualify for this benefit, which the US Department of Energy says saves households an average of $283 or more a year.
Eligibility is based on income, for example, a family of four can get weatherizing help if their annual income doesn’t exceed $52,400.
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