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BBB: College financial aid

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(KTVI) - With college costs rising faster than inflation, financial aid is a big part of the equation high school seniors and their parents use to pick a college or university. Chris Thetford explained to Ellior Weiler that the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises students to take advantage of free tools for finding aid and be wary of companies that ask for a fee to help you find college money.

“Most families need scholarships or grants to offset tuition costs,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO. “Paying a fee to get that money is often an unnecessary expense, especially when many of these schemes provide little or no information that families couldn’t find on their own.”

In some cases, companies promise to handlepaperwork that can make you eligible for the aid – for a fee. However, the standard application for financial aid is most often the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which students and their parents can complete themselves. More information is available online or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.

College financial aid offices require the FAFSA to assess a student’s eligibility for need-based aid, and they may require additional information. Most are willing to advise prospective students on how to apply for aid and answer questions about financial aid packages they offer when a student is accepted for admission.

Some companies offer a money-back guarantee if they fail to find aid. But fine print on the offer makes it nearly impossible to obtain a refund. Other offers say you have been selected for an award you never applied for. If you didn’t apply, it’s probably a scam. Requests for bank account or credit card numbers or other sensitive information also can be a clue that the offer is fraudulent.

High school guidance counselors often can help students search for information on scholarships based on their talents, academic achievements, essay contests or other merit-based aid. Information on many awards is available free online or at public or school libraries.

Legitimate companies can help students find aid, but they will never promise results. However, parents and students usually can find the same awards on their own by searching online or going to the library.

BBB advises students to:

  • Take your time. Don’t be rushed into paying for help at a seminar. Be cautious if a representative urges you to buy now to avoid losing an opportunity.
  • Be cautious if a company is reluctant to answer any questions you have about the service or the process. If the company orseminar representative is evasive, walk away.
  • Ask your guidance counselor or a college financial aid office whether they have experience with the company.
  • Be skeptical of glowing success stories touted on websites or at seminars. Ask instead for the names of families in your community who have used the service in the last year. Talk to them and find out about their experience with the firm.
  • Ask about fees associated with a professional financial aid search and find out if the company provides refunds. Get the information in writing, but realize the dishonest companies may refuse to provide refunds despite stated policies.
  • Beware of letters or emails saying you’ve been selected to receive a scholarship for a contest you never entered.

Investigate any company that you consider using to help find aid. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.

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