All parents with children in college know costs are rising and that more students are turning to financial aid to pay tuition. Better Business Bureau officials warn that some companies are out to take advantage of students and their parents. The organization issued a warning for companies with web sites, seminars or other schemes that promise to find scholarships, grants or financial aid packages for a fee. Officials said the companies may promise a money-back guarantee, but the conditions of the guarantee make it nearly impossible to get a refund. In other instances offers are made promising students they are the finalists for a scholarship, but demand a fee before they can be issued their reward money.
Some companies promise to handle the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) paperwork that can make a student eligible for the aid, but they charge a fee for their services. In reality, students and their parents can complete the forms online for free themselves. More information is available online or by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. BBB officials said parents and students should check with their high school guidance counselors often for information on scholarships based on their talents, academic achievements, essay contests or other merit-based aid. Students can also find details about scholarships and grants for free online or at libraries. The BBB offers these recommendations on their website for parents and students:
• 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 or seminar 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 web sites 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.
• You can check the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org
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