6 Ways to Get Financial Help From the Government

There are financial assistance programs for such expenses as child care, utilities and groceries if you qualify.
Amanda Barroso
Kelsey Sheehy
By Kelsey Sheehy and  Amanda Barroso 
Edited by Courtney Neidel

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

There are federal and state grants and loans for people who are struggling to make financial ends meet. While not exactly "free money," these taxpayer-funded programs connect individuals and families with resources to help pay for such expenses as utilities, groceries, college tuition and even a down payment on a home.

Each program has its own set of qualifications, many of which are income-based. Having that information ready can make the application process go smoothly. (Find out how the government defines low income: What is considered low income?)

Get more financial clarity with NerdWallet
Monitor your credit, track your spending and see all of your finances together in a single place.

1. Get help with utility bills and groceries

Need help covering the costs of energy, phone service and groceries? These programs may be able to help:

2. Find money for child care

Child care is a major expense for many families. Annual costs for infant care range from just shy of $5,000 in Mississippi to more than $22,600 in Washington, D.C., according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on low- and middle-income workers

Economic Policy Institute. The cost of child care in the United States. Accessed Aug 23, 2023.

The Child Care and Development Fund can help ease the burden for low-income families. Administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the fund gives states, territories and tribes money to distribute to families to help pay for child care. Grants are income-based and typically cover care for children under 13. Contact the Child Care and Development Fund contact for your state.

3. Recover unclaimed money

Unclaimed money isn’t so much free as it is money owed to you. About 1 in 10 Americans have unclaimed money, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. What exactly counts as unclaimed money? It could be a long-forgotten deposit paid to a utility company, a lost savings bond, unclaimed life insurance benefits or an uncashed paycheck.

These unclaimed funds are turned over to the state when the owner can’t be located, often due to a clerical error or companies having an old address on file. Visit unclaimed.org, a site affiliated with the National Association of State Treasurers, to find out if you have money waiting to be claimed.

During the 2021 fiscal year, more than $4 billion in previously unclaimed property was returned to owners, according to NAUPA.

4. Get down payment assistance for a home

You want to buy a home but can’t afford a down payment. Enter state-based down payment assistance. These grants and loans help you cover the upfront costs of purchasing a home.

In Nevada, for example, prospective homeowners who qualify can get $15,000 in downpayment assistance that's forgivable after 3 years in the home

Nevada Housing Division. Home Is Possible Program. Accessed Aug 23, 2023.
. Help isn’t reserved for low-income borrowers; for government loans, Nevada’s program is available for incomes up to $90,000 for a family of four. Check whether you qualify.

See NerdWallet's guide to find down payment assistance programs in your state.

A smart view of your financial health
Get a quick read on how you’re set up to meet expenses and money goals.

5. Find tax credits for health insurance

Individuals and families who buy medical coverage through the government's health insurance marketplace (HealthCare.gov) may qualify for a credit toward their insurance premiums. The premium tax credit can be paid directly to your insurance provider, lowering your monthly payments.

6. Apply for college grants

College grants, like the federal Pell Grant, can make it easier to pay for college. Students who are eligible for the Pell Grant could get up to $7,395 for the 2023-24 award year

Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education. Federal Grant Programs. Accessed Aug 23, 2023.
. The exact amount awarded is based on factors that include financial need, the cost of attendance and enrollment status. Students can apply for the Pell Grant by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The application is also used to qualify for many state and institutional grants and scholarships.

Other federal grants for college include:

  • The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.

  • The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant.

  • The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.

You can also look for scholarships using the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search tool.

Watch out for scams

While there are ways to get financial assistance from the government, there are also grant scams that claim to give you free money from the government in hopes of stealing from you. Don’t be fooled. The government rarely reaches out to people with offers of free money, especially for starting a new business or covering personal expenses, and when it does, it’s never via social media. The goal of state and federal programs is to get people and families in need on their feet and on their way to financial independence.