If you have children and they’re nearing college age, it’s highly likely that you’re looking into hiring a college aid planner to help you figure out how to pay for their college tuition costs. If you are, there are a number of things you should look for in order to make sure that you hire the best.
First, keep in mind that unlike a financial planner or someone who prepares taxes, college aid planners do not have a nationally established certification program. (Incredibly, most traditional exams for financial planning don’t include anything about college aid either.)
One program that does offer a certification is the National Institute for Certified College Planners. In order to get that certification, a person must complete 16 hours of continuing education every year after they take an online exam and, obviously, pass that exam. Once they do they will become a Certified College Planning Specialist or CCP.
Someone who’s a Certified Educational Planner or CEP can also help you as they are experienced in everything from planning college aid to counseling families about college admissions. Most are actually high school or university counselors to begin with.
Keep in mind that, just like a tax preparer must list their professional ID on any tax return that they file for a client, a college a planner must sign your FAFSA form. This will protect you from any fraud that might be discovered later and, if your college aid preparer refuses to sign this form for you, that’s not a good sign and should be a reason to not hire them.
One other bit of very important information is that you can get your FASFA form online for free. If you find someone who says that you can’t do it yourself, or you find someone who doesn’t state on their website that the FAFSA is a free document provided by the federal government, they probably don’t have your best interests in mind.
Something else to keep in mind is to start getting advice as early as possible. The FAFSA uses your financial information from the year prior so, if you show up only a few months before your son or daughter’s high school graduation, your financial aid planner might have difficulty helping you. If, however, you show up one or two years early they might be able to determine a number of ways to offset investment gain capital losses that will reduce your income for the year and, possibly, help you to actually qualify for more financial aid.
Finally, there is definitely not a shortage of free advice online and also through the counseling services offered by your child’s high school. Before hiring a professional, make sure you take advantage of these free options.