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be money smart

avoid bad deals and scams

Don't pay for information and assistance you can get for FREE, and learn how to protect your identity. Here are some things to watch out for.

Fee-based scholarship searches. Bad deal. Commercial financial aid advice services may cost more than $1,000, but you should never have to pay for this information.

Here are sources that offer information FREE:

  • The Federal Student Aid Information Center. Call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243); TTY users can call 1-800-730-8913
  • Your state higher education agency
  • A college or career school financial aid office
  • Your high school counselor
  • Your library's reference section
  • FREE online scholarship searches
  • Foundations and religious or community organizations
  • Ethnicity-based organizations
  • Your employer or your parents' employer

"So it's definitely been a battle, but a good one. I've learned a lot about money management and finances."
Louisiana State University

Fee-based FAFSA assistance. At best, a bad deal and sometimes a scam. Lots of free help is available to help you fill out the FAFSA. Web sites that offer FAFSA help for a fee are NOT affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education. If you are asked for your credit card information, you are NOT at the official FAFSA Web site.

Get FAFSA assistance from these FREE resources:

  • The official FAFSA site
  • Financial aid administrators at schools you are considering

  • The Federal Student Aid Information Center. Call 1-800-4-FED-AID
    (1-800-433-3243); TTY users can call 1-800-730-8913

Private loans. Watch out for bad deals and be wary of scams. Although private loans can be useful, the interest rates on them can be higher, and repayment terms can be harsher than government loans. Use all federal student loan options first; check out Federal Aid First. Investigate the private loan organization, check with the Better Business Bureau, get references and read the fine print.

Identity theft. Be alert for scams. Protect your identity as you go through the financial aid application process. To reduce risk:

  • After completing your FAFSA online, exit the application and close the browser.
  • Don't tell anyone your Federal Student Aid PIN, even the person helping you fill out the application.
  • Review your financial aid documents and keep track of the amounts you applied for and received.
  • Never give personal information over the phone or Internet unless you made the contact. For questions about a solicitation or your student loan account, call 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).
  • Keep receipts and documents with personal information in a safe place and shred them when you are done with them.
  • Immediately report lost or stolen identification to the issuer and to the police, if appropriate.
  • Only use your credit card to make purchases online when you are sure the site is secure and your computer has up-to-date firewall and anti-virus protection. Frequently review bills and statements for unauthorized use.

Report fraud and identity theft. For more information about financial aid fraud or to report fraud, visit the Federal Trade Commission's scholarship scams page.

If you suspect that your student information has been stolen, contact one of these resources immediately:

  • U.S. Department of Education, 1-800-MIS-USED (1-800-647-8733)
  • Federal Trade Commission, 1-800-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338)

Get fiscally fit. The information here can help you hold on to more of your money before you start college. But once you go, there's much more you should know. Visit  the Financial Literacy section at Student Aid on the Web  for more complete financial planning advice. Learning good financial habits won't just help you once you start college, it will continue paying dividends for a lifetime.