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Should You Hire a FAFSA Expert?


By Brian O'Connell

In a lean and mean economy, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a great vehicle for gaining access to all the college aid that Uncle Sam offers. But like most government documents, you�ll need to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes to navigate it.

To make sure you get all you can from your FAFSA filing, should you hire a financial adviser to act as a FAFSA tour guide? Here�s a look at both sides of the issue.

First, while the FAFSA is free, it�s going to cost you a few bucks to hire a college financial aid consultant. A one-time meeting to cover the basics should run about $100, but an in-depth review of the FAFSA can cost more � way more. Some financial aid consultants charge as much as $1,000 for a more comprehensive take on the FAFSA.

Still, with the average price of a four-year private college at $25,143 in 2009, according to the College Board, every penny counts when it comes to college financial aid. So if a seasoned financial aid professional can dig up several thousand dollars in FAFSA funds, then you�re way ahead of the game.

Before you begin vetting possible FAFSA consultants, know that the government has a decent online resource center. The site has tutorials on understanding the form, and offers access via �chat sessions� with its own team of FAFSA experts. It�s all free and that alone might give you all the information you need to maximize your FAFSA efforts.

But if it�s not, and you want to hire your own financial aid guru, make sure to:
  • Hire a FAFSA consultant who can fill out the FAFSA form for you. Anyone who claims to be a college funding expert, but doesn�t fill out the form for you, isn�t the expert you thought.
  • Contact the campus financial aid office of the college you�re targeting. Ask if they can refer a loan consultant, or at least can tell you if a specific FAFSA consultant has a good or bad reputation.
  • Look for an insider. Most likely, your best bet is a FAFSA expert who has worked in a college financial aid office or who has experience as a financial adviser or accountant. That kind of hands-on training is what you�re looking for in a financial aid consultant.
  • Avoid unscrupulous advisers. College funding experts who recommend that you fudge the numbers on your assets or ask you to take other unethical steps are a big red flag. You and you alone will be held liable if you lie about assets or otherwise hide financial information to cut a better deal.

If you have the time, the Sallie Mae Web site listed above should suffice. If not, go ahead and hire a FAFSA expert to do the job for you � but tread carefully.

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