Ask Stacy: How Can I Get a Government Grant?

American Flag w Money
Photo by Florence Joseph Mcginn / Shutterstock.com

It’s easy to believe there’s free money out there in the form of government grants. Offers are plastered all over the internet and on infomercials, all promising to hook you up with free government money — in exchange for a fee, of course.

But are they true? Over the years, this has been one of my most-asked questions. Here are a few samples.

Dear Stacy:

I’m curious to know if applying for government grants (other than just advanced schooling) is easy.

I have tried approaching the idea through search engines, and the only thing I can get to are pay-per-click sites that offer to see if I am eligible for government grants. Then I am bombarded by offers for more schooling. Is schooling the only way to obtain a grant?

There’s got to be a better way. I just don’t know what it is. Please help if you can.

– Tony

Stacy:

How can I apply for a federal grant without getting scammed. The grant money would be used for home improvements. Thank you very much for your help.

– Jim

Hi, I have a question. My name is Bonnie. My husband and I own a small business that we have put all of our savings into and now… we are having a hard time. So I applied for a small business grant. I received a phone call from a Mr. (redacted) from the web site (redacted) telling me we can apply for a fifty thousand dollar grant. If we give them $398 they will file the paper work and in 5 days we will know and it’s a money back guarantee. I would like to know if this is an upstanding web site. This is the second place to call me – the 1st one said I needed to give them twenty-five hundred up front and three thousand at the end when we received the grant money and it sounded funny, so I declined the first call. Thank you for your time.

Are government grants real?

Like most clever cons, the one about government grants contains a grain of truth.

The government does hand out grant money — just not to average folks like you and me and not just for the asking. They might give a grant to a university, for example, to explore the efficacy of an experimental drug. They may offer grant money to a business for a specific research and development project under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

But money simply to help prop up your small business or renovate your home? It’s not happening, folks. How do I know? Well, other than the fact that it’s illogical to expect taxpayer money to be given away willy-nilly to private citizens or for-profit business, Uncle Sam says so in black and white.

Here’s a cut-and-paste from this page of U.S. Small Business Administration website:

The federal government does NOT provide grants for starting and expanding a business.

Government grants are funded by your tax dollars and therefore require very stringent compliance and reporting measures to ensure the money is well spent. As you can imagine, grants are not given away indiscriminately.

Grants from the federal government are only available to non-commercial organizations, such as non-profits and educational institutions in areas such as, medicine, education, scientific research and technology development. The federal government also provides grants to state and local governments to assist them with economic development.

How to get a legitimate grant

To learn more about legitimate grants that may be available to small businesses or individuals, visit grants.gov. There is a lot to learn about real government grants as well as this list of resources for nongovernment grants:

The Foundation Center maintains a comprehensive database on U.S. and global grant-makers and their funding opportunities. It also operates research, education, and training programs designed to advance knowledge of philanthropy at every level.

The Funding Information Network facilitates access to grant resources and publications to under-resourced entities and populations.

State and regional directories can also be found with some research. Try using the Community Foundation Locator to find a grant-making foundation in your region. You may also use your preferred web search engine to find your state’s grant or foundation directory. Local libraries may have access to subscription-based search engines or the Foundation Center Cooperating Collections, so visit your library to work with them for assistance.

Visit the Community Central section to learn more about the organizations, agencies, associations, and other key actors that comprise the grants community. This is a helpful area for learning about possible partnerships and opportunities to help shape the grants world in the future.

This site also points you to other places where you may find money, depending on your circumstances:

  • GovLoans.gov: Sources for personal or business loans.
  • Benefits.gov: A place for personal help, like money for education and disaster relief. There’s a Benefits Finder tool to find programs you might be eligible for.
  • FedBizOpps.gov: If you want to sell to the government, this is your site.

If you’re trying to get financial help for your business, another essential stop is the Small Business Administration’s site at www.sba.gov. You won’t get free money, but you will get free information on finding funding, including government-guaranteed loans. You may also find a mentor who can help with your business through the SBA-supported SCORE program.

How to identify a rip-off

Note that this article is full of links to government-sponsored programs, yet you weren’t asked for your credit card number. Real grant sources are free to learn about and typically free to apply for. They’re not a secret, and you certainly don’t need any “expert” to help you secure them.

They’re also not what some sleazy ads would have you believe they are: a free-for-all where Uncle Sam throws boxes of fifties at anyone who can fog a mirror.

Rule of thumb: Whether it’s in the form of a grant or anything else, anyone promising free, easy money in exchange for a fat upfront fee is, more often than not, a liar and a thief.

Now there’s something you actually can take to the bank.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here. The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.

About me

I founded Money Talks News in 1991. I’m a CPA, and have also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options principal, mutual funds, life insurance, securities supervisor and real estate. If you’ve got some time to kill, you can learn more about me here.

Got more money questions? Browse lots more Ask Stacy answers here.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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