Applying for a student loan from the U.S. Department of Education is free. The application, called the FAFSA, stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid and may be found on the website fafsa.gov. The FAFSA can be a complicated form to fill out, and there was once an online service called Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. which helped students complete the complicated form for a fee. This service is no longer available but there are other solutions out there.
FAFSA Services Available
There are services available to help you fill out your FAFSA, however, the government's FAFSA site warns students that they don't have to pay to apply for a student loan from the government. There are scams out there but there are also legitimate services that can make your life a whole lot easier. Some ways to get assistance include:
- Exploring the resources available directly from the fafsa.ed.gov website
- Visiting your college's office of student financial assistance or calling your university directly
- Asking for help from your high school guidance counselor or college prep teacher
- Hiring a professional, certified college aid planner from the National Institute of Certified College Planners, or an organization such as CollegeAidPlanning.com
How FAFSA Helpers Aid Students
When scholarship scams were more prevalent, it was believed that “any help that you pay for can be received free from your school or Federal Student Aid." People often objected to paying a professional to prepare the federal student aid application, despite the 137 questions being more complex than most income tax forms, which they were likely to hire a tax consultant for.
Neither high schools, colleges nor the federal student aid telephone help desk has enough trained experts available to assist all college-bound and college students with their financial aid needs. No service is free as the federal help desk and high school counselors are paid with your tax dollars. College financial aid administrator's salaries are covered by students' tuition and fees charged. College financial aid offices help their students answer aid application questions, but they don't have enough trained people or hours in the day to prepare every student's federal student aid application.
The Complexity of Filling out the Form
Many people find the federal student aid form to be complex or too time-consuming to do themselves.
College-bound students are sometimes unable to turn to a college financial aid administrator for help because they are not members of a college yet. While high school counselors at public and private schools offer college prep guidance, the great majority have no financial aid training nor the time to help every college-bound student prepare their application.
The federal student aid helpline will answer individual questions but not advise on an individual's specific circumstances. Recently, the federal government offered one-on-one phone service to several states on a limited basis. The FAFSA helpline is not open 24/7, such as on weekends and nights, when parents are likely to prepare their children's FAFSA.
Guidance From Student Financial Aid Services
Student Financial Aid Services is available at least seventeen hours a day during peak aid application filing times. There is no limit on how often a client calls or how many people from an individual family are spoken to. Fees are relatively modest, ranging from $80 to $100 for a year, and a 100% money back guarantee is offered within sixty days of purchase. Advisors are rigorously trained and catch mistakes that even the Department of Education's computer misses-mistakes that can deprive students of aid. Their job is to accurately prepare an application and advise clients so they receive the most aid possible, and they currently hold a 99% client recommendation rating.
No legitimate FAFSA preparer charges for submitting the form. Fees are for the advice and expertise. The student financial aid system is complicated, as there are nine federal, 605 state, and about 8,000 college programs each with their own deadlines and rules. All of this information is tracked including policy decisions, rule changes, and more.
U.S. law does authorize paid FAFSA preparation and the only condition is that a paid FAFSA preparer posts in all of their marketing and on their website that their commercial business is not the Department of Education.
The website www.fafsa.com is a domain name the company founder, a college admissions administrator, purchased before the Department of Education had a FAFSA website. For transparency, the following is to be noted:
- The home page displays in a clear and conspicuous manner a notice that “We are not affiliated with the Dept. of Education.”
- The home page also states clearly that FAFSA can be filed for free, can be completed via paper or electronic form, and that professional assistance is not a requirement. It also states that the free service is available at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
- In the center of the home page, it is stated prominently that the website is the oldest and largest student aid advisory service and there is a fee for the service.
- Visitors are informed about the free FAFSA option in seventeen other prominent places on the website, and in total, forty-seven links are provided to www.fafsa.ed.gov.
- On every single page of the website, a disclaimer is included that says the website is not the Department of Education or FAFSA on the web. A link is provided to www.fafsa.ed.gov.
- The website provides a simple and clear side-by-side comparison of services that differ from the Department of Education and explicitly notes that the website is a paid service, and also notes that people can prepare the form themselves and file it for free on the other site.
- Every caller is informed that there is a free FAFSA option and that the FAFSA can be completed without professional help.
- In the “About Us” section of the website, it is clearly stated, “Student Financial Aid Services, Inc. is a fee-based preparation and advisory company” and the role is outlined.
- In all of the marketing communications and sales materials, information about the free FAFSA option is included.