Without a doubt, figuring out how to pay for college can be a pretty stressful experience. You might be considering a financial aid consultant to help you through the college cost maze. Financial aid consultants provide advice and services to make the financial aid process a little easier. But before you choose a consultant, there are some things you should consider.
When to Use a Financial Aid Consultant
Financial aid consultants can take the frustration out of filling out forms, but not everyone needs one. Use these tips to decide whether you really need an expert or whether you can solve your problems on your own.
Do get a financial aid consultant if you don't have the time to fill out the FAFSA, are unfamiliar with financial terms or have special circumstances that makes the FAFSA hard to complete. Applying for financial aid can be complicated, so if you're pressed for time or are confused, an advisor can assist you.
Don't get a financial aid advisor if you have the time or have a straightforward income situation.
Even if you find you need more assistance, don't rush to hire a private consultant. Basic questions may be easily answered by any number of free services available to you. Start by checking at your school or local library to see if they offer free workshops on filling out the FAFSA. If you have specific questions, call the free Federal Student Aid hotline at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243 or TTY 1-800-730-8913). And to make the most of your FAFSA, check out FinAid!'s article on Maximizing Eligibility for Financial Aid
Don't Get Taken for a Ride
If you choose to hire a financial aid consultant, find a qualified professional. To avoid getting stuck with a bad consultant,
- Call your campus financial aid office for their input. They probably won't recommend a consultant, but they will tell you if they've had trouble with any consultant in particular.
- Consider the consultant's qualifications. A consultant who has worked in a university financial aid office or is a Certified Public Accountant or Certified Financial Planner will have more expertise than someone without that specialized training.
- "Find out how long they've been in the industry," says Michael Alexander, a financial aid consultant for 28 years. "Experience matters - you want to be sure you use the services of someone with breadth of knowledge and experience, especially with something as complex as financial aid administration."
- Never use a consultant who encourages you to do something unethical. If you lie about your assets, you'll end up paying a big fine - or in jail.
Be aware that some consultants charge reasonable fees ranging from $50 to $100, while others charge anywhere from $250 to $1,000. The FAFSA is a free application. A financial aid consultant can charge a fee for helping you fill out the FAFSA, but you don't have to use their services to apply for federal student aid.
Figuring out financial aid can be a headache, so it's nice to know there's help. But before you choose a financial aid consultant, get the facts!