What Are Personal Grants and How Do I Apply?

Quick Answer

Government and private organizations offer grants for professional projects, medical procedures, educational opportunities and more. Before you count on one, know that grants are competitive, eligibility is strict and decisions take time.

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We all know money doesn't come for free, but in some cases, you can receive money that doesn't need to be repaid. Personal grants are monetary awards given out by the federal government or private organizations for eligible expenses or specific purposes. Unlike loans, the money is a gift, but the number of recipients and funds are limited, and eligibility and use requirements are strict.

What Are Personal Grants?

The federal government and some private organizations award grants, which are monetary awards that are free and do not require repayment.

These aren't frequently given to individuals, however. You're more likely to find grants for small businesses, nonprofits, universities, local governments and research labs, according to USA.gov. They're commonly used to fund innovative research, support community projects, assist with recovery initiatives or stimulate economies.

It is still possible to find some personal grants available to individuals for very specific purposes, such as education, a work initiative or a community project. Both the federal government and private organizations offer grants of varying amounts, ranging anywhere from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Grants are completely different from government benefit programs such as food stamps or welfare, and they're not meant to replace them or help meet basic needs. Instead, grants are intended to help someone with a specific opportunity or pursuit they cannot afford otherwise.

You must meet the specific eligibility criteria of the grantmaker and submit a detailed application and often a proposal, and you might wait six months or a year before you know if you've won. Given that the grant process is slow and only a limited number of grants are available, they shouldn't be relied on.

What Can You Use a Personal Grant for?

The potential uses for a personal grant are endless; you just have to find one that matches your needs and eligibility. For individuals, you can find grants for a vast range of purposes. Here are just a few examples:

  • Paying for education. The government awards federal Pell Grants to a limited number of undergraduate students with "exceptional financial need" who haven't yet earned a degree. Eligible students can receive up to $6,895 per year for the 2022-23 school year.
  • Buying a home. Some programs offer down payment grants to help low- or moderate-income individuals achieve homeownership.
  • Supporting veterans. Certain grants are intended to help military families, especially those struggling with expenses or in need of career assistance. For example, the Unmet Needs program through the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization provides financial aid grants up to $1,500 for individuals for a variety of needs.
  • Funding professional work. Private organizations offer grants to help professionals pursue career advancement and projects. Many grants are geared toward scholars and researchers, but they're available to other professionals, too. For example, the Fund for Investigative Journalism provides grants up to $10,000 to individual journalists who need additional resources. In another field, National Geographic offers grants to "Explorers" who are working on projects in science, conservation, technology and related fields. One grant program is for less experienced professionals and awards up to $20,000, while the other is for more established professionals with impactful projects and awards up to $100,000.
  • Covering specific healthcare needs. Other organizations offer grants to people unable to afford specific medical costs. Some charities offer financial awards of several hundred to several thousand dollars for individuals who need help paying for in-vitro fertilization treatment (here's a list of some compiled by FertilityIQ). Another example: Point of Pride offers grants for LGBTQ+ people who need financial assistance to afford gender-affirming surgery.

How to Apply for a Personal Grant

There isn't one single grant application; you have to apply individually for a specific grant with that particular grantmaker. Competition is often fierce due to limited funds and recipients, so it's key to pay close attention to detail. Here's how to get started:

1. Find Relevant Grants

If you're seeking a government grant, you can find current opportunities on the non-government portal USGrants.org. While the federal government has an official grants database at Grants.gov, it only lists grants for organizations and entities working on government-funded programs and projects. You can find some grants and financial assistance programs similar to grants on the government's Benefits.gov page, though they're mixed in with non-grant programs, so read carefully.

When seeking grants through private organizations, one helpful method is to Google "grants for [insert need here]." For example, "grants for IVF." Sometimes these opportunities are called "financial assistance" or "funds" instead of grants, so check to ensure they're truly grants and don't need to be repaid. There are also paid portals like GrantStation.com that compile opportunities from the government and private organizations.

2. Review Criteria Carefully

Grants often have detailed eligibility criteria, and it's important to read all of the requirements so you don't waste your time applying to grants you're not eligible for. Restrictions might involve income or financial need, geographic location, career experience, military service, age and so on. Make sure to also check the deadline.

3. Do Your Research

Before you apply for a grant, carefully research the organization and avoid anything that requires you to pay to apply or touts "money for nothing." Grant fraud is prolific since criminals prey on those seeking free money, so look out for red flags.

4. Find Out the Application Steps

The application process is unique to the grantmaker, so to improve your chances, carefully review the steps and follow them carefully. Depending on the grant, you may need to provide proof of financial need or other documents.

It's also common to be required to submit a written proposal of what you intend to do with the money. Take the time to write a compelling proposal with any data, graphics or tables needed to help make your case. Make sure to proofread it, and it's wise to have some friends or family review it for feedback or errors before you submit it.

5. Submit and Wait

Once you submit the application, you'll wait to find out if you were chosen. Depending on the grant selection process, you may wait months or longer for an answer. If you've won, you may need to provide proof that the funds are used for the purposes described. Also, some grants are taxed, so check the IRS rules so you know whether you need to set aside money for tax time.

The Bottom Line

Those lucky enough to be awarded a grant can enjoy the rare gift of money that doesn't need to be repaid. But given that personal grants aren't terribly common, competition is steep, requirements are hefty and the selection process is lengthy, it's not a reliable, quick or easy way to get funding.

If you're in critical need of money, or you're working on a set timeline, it may be better to borrow funds via a personal loan, line of credit or credit card. While the money must be repaid (along with interest), those with excellent credit can secure a low interest rate. If a personal loan seems like a better option than going for a grant, try Experian's CreditMatch™ for personal loans, which provides you with custom offers tailored to your credit profile.