This is one in a sporadic series of tips/ideas to help you stay middle-class (HTSMC). Whether you consider yourself on the lower- or higher-end of the spectrum, you can probably find some useful tips to help you stay there and find save more for retirement even as wages stay stagnant.
Work the System*
Most government programs help lower-income households. However, even if you’re solidly middle-class, there may be times — due to disability, unemployment, under-employment or circumstance — that you may actually qualify for some assistance. It is important that you keep abreast of new programs and policy changes that can help you and your family. I’ve had mixed experiences but during tougher times, the government has actually been a lifeline for me.
The first step is to check your state and local government websites. There are tons of resources out there and it can be confusing. However, take the time to familiarize you with different aid programs. In addition to widely-known programs like food stamps and disability benefits, there are other programs that have more wiggle room in terms of qualification requirements.
For example, when my husband and I were first looking to buy a house, we found out about a first-time home buyer program. Operated by the Southern California Home Financing Authority (SCHFA), this program provides low interest loans and closing cost assistance in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
Maximum Income Limits – Los Angeles County
Construction – New and Existing
|One or Two
|Three or More
|Up to $99,360||Up to $115,920|
As you can see from the above, a family or three or more could make over $100,000 per year and still qualify. That is not luxury-level living in Los Angeles but the cut-off is more generous than many other government programs. Another option in California is CalHFA, which requires first-time home buyers to take a home buyer education course.
A quick Google search for “first time home buyer [your city/county]” will pull up results pertinent to your area.
The bottom line is that there are programs out there to help the average middle-class Joe/Jane. You just have to look for these and once you find one that works for you, be persistent and ask a lot of questions. More to come…
* I realize that the term “work the system” has negative connotations. I’m not advocating doing anything dishonest. However, I believe that you need to be the squeakiest wheel (and very informed) in order to get services.