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Everything You Need To Know About Grants

Making ends meet can be a daily struggle for a low-income family. Just when you feel like you're getting ahead, you run into unexpected expenses: car trouble, job loss, home repairs, broken appliances, emergency medical bills, pricey traffic tickets, and too many more to list. Fortunately, low-income families have options available when they are experiencing financial hardship. Grant money is one of these options.

Grants are free, one-time gifts that are available to qualified individuals. Such support used to be available almost exclusively to organizations. Now, however, some limited opportunities do exist for individuals and families in a limited number of situations. You can find opportunities at the local, state or federal level, and sometimes from corporations and nonprofits. Grants can help low-income families with issues such as living expenses, job opportunities, insurance, childcare, home energy costs, education, tax preparation and much more! Programs are typically created to encourage a specific activity and may have limitations or requirements that determine funding eligibility.

Grants mean free money, and of course, the competition to get them is intense. Nobody should ever count on being funded, but if you meet the qualifications, it's always worth applying. The secret is to do your research and know whether you are qualified, so you don't waste time applying for something you won't get.

Let's look at some of the most popular and widely available opportunities. We'll list links to pages with more details at the end of this article.

Education
Education grants are for individuals who plan to attend college and cover education-related expenses like tuition and books. Most government education funding involves filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As the name says, the FAFSA is free, so don't pay anyone to fill it out or submit it for you!

The most common form of federal education support is the Pell Grant, which offers a subsidy of up to $5,920 per year. What any given student gets depends on financial need, cost of attendance, student status, and educational plans. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is for students with exceptional financial needs. You'll have to fill out the FAFSA, but the program is administered through the school, so you should discuss eligibility with your school's financial aid office. Federal Work Study provides part-time work, usually on campus, that helps students pay their costs and gain work experience.

Some education support is available only to specific categories of students, and if you are in one of these categories, you should certainly apply. Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) supports students who are training to be teachers, while the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants support students who lost a parent to combat in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Scholarships
Look for scholarships that fit your particular life and situation. Many scholarships are for specific groups. The federal government cannot distinguish between racial or ethnic groups in evaluating candidates, but some private organizations do. You can use a website such as Scholarships.com to search for scholarship opportunities, but your best bet is often to consult with your school's financial aid office, which will be aware of all the possibilities, including possible local or school-specific options that are not nationally available.

Home Ownership
Grants supporting home ownership come from government agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and private organizations like Habitat For Humanity, which provides a limited number of housing grants. HUD opportunities include the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, known as SHOP. Funding provided by SHOP is not allowed to exceed $15,000 per home. The organization requires potential homeowners to invest manual labor into the building of their home. The goal of SHOP is to help individuals who may not have otherwise been able to purchase a home.

For those looking for cheaper housing, Section 8 vouchers will pay part of your rent or in some cases your mortgage, allowing you to get into a home for less money.

Home Repair
Individuals who may not be able to obtain a home equity loan may qualify for a home repair grant. Funding is available to help with home repairs that will make a house safe, or improve its energy efficiency. Types of home repairs may include upgrading electrical wiring, replacing a septic tank, or installing storm windows.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture works in conjunction with programs like the Rural Repair and Rehabilitation Loans and Grants program to provide individuals with home repair financing. Local state and city offices may also offer similar programs. The Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income individuals and families make repairs needed to save energy and reduce utility bills.

For Senior Citizens
Money is available to assist senior citizens with housing costs, home repairs, food aid, medical care, and other living expenses. Many of the programs that seniors can use are available for the general public but have a separate set of requirements for seniors. In many cases seniors have preferential access to these programs.

For seniors, the most common grants include Medicare and the Social Security Administration's Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI).