Universities, Family Question Company Charging for Free Financial Aid Information

Schools warn students about company charging for free information; company defends practice

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A California-based company says for $65 it will send students a personalized list of free and need-based financial aid programs. But experts say that same information is easily accessible for free. (Published Thursday, Feb 27, 2014)

    A California-based company is charging cash-strapped students for financial aid information that experts and universities say is available elsewhere at no cost.

    The company is called the Student Financial Resource Center (SFRC). It soliciting DFW-area students and promising to help find them money for college for a $65 fee.

    “Do you have to pay $65 to get it? No. not at all,” said Todd Mark with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas. “Why waste $65 when the information is already available and accessible for free.”

    Yet this company is soliciting students in North Texas, like Sam Houston State University sophomore Adrianne Grimm.

    Several weeks ago she got a letter from the company in the mail.

    “I was ready to fill it out,” Grimm told NBC 5.

    She said it looked like other financial aid information she had received and the logo even looked similar to the U.S. Department of Education, home of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

    “I figured it was FAFSA asking me to fill it out for next year,” she said.

    But her father, NBC 5 photojournalist Mike Grimm, quickly learned this letter had no affiliation with FAFSA at all.

    Southern Methodist University posted an alert about SRFC on its website, which reads in part:

    An organization calling themselves the Student Financial Resource Center is requesting information from continuing and first year students. This is NOT a request from the Department of Education or from SMU.

    Student Financial Resource Center is NOT affiliated with SMU, the US Department of Education or the College Board.

    NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit reached out to SRFC. Via email, the company acknowledged the information is available at no cost elsewhere.

    But it said: “SFRC saves students valuable time by conducting precise extensive research to match each student’s qualifications and background to available free merit and need-based financial aid programs.”

    SRFC said schools posting warnings have “rushed to judgment.”

    In the end, no matter how students get the information about financial aid, they’re still going to have to do the heavy lifting and fill out the applications themselves.

    College financial aid offices, the U.S. Department of Education and school guidance counselors can all help students find free information about financial aid opportunities. SMU also points to free scholarship search engines like Fastweb.com and CollegeBoard.org. The bottom line, experts, students and parents said it takes time and a lot of research.

    “It’s almost a full-time job just trying to get ready for college,” Mike Grimm said.