U warns of sites’ FAFSA charges

Dan Haugen

As students and parents begin looking for financial aid for the next school year, the Office of Student Finance is warning people not to be fooled by Web sites charging fees to process Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms.

Associate director of client services Judy Swanson said she doesn’t think the sites have caused many problems for University students, but her office wants to warn students regardless. She said staff read about the Web sites on a financial aid listserv, where workers at other schools have mentioned them.

In an e-mail sent to University students over spring break, the financial aid office names one such site – www.fafsa.com – but Swanson said others include www.easyfafsa.com and www.findcollegeaid.com.

“They call it the ‘Free Application for Federal Student Aid.’ It’s supposed to be free,” she said. “It’s very distasteful to charge students for something that is supposed to be free.”

The Web sites present themselves as easier, faster and friendlier routes to securing financial aid. Fafsa.com, which charges $79.99 for new applicants, says it completes the process with a “rapid-fire, ten-minute phone interview” or online in “47 fewer boxes and 90 fewer screens” than the free federal site.

All three sites do include links to the official FAFSA homepage, www.fafsa.ed.gov, where the same process can be completed for free.

“They try to make the FAFSA sound very hard and error-prone,” Swanson said, “and it’s really not.”

Michael Alexander, founder and CEO of Student Financial Aid Services – the company that owns fafsa.com – defended the site.

“We are not scam artists,” he said. “We’ve been in the industry for 30 years. We’re just offering a service for people who are confused or don’t have the time for this whole overwhelming financial aid application process.”

Students in line at the Bursar’s Office in Williamson Hall on Thursday were unenthusiastic about paying $80 for a faster loading Web site or the ability to file over the phone.

“Not for 80 bucks,” said Lisa Kassow, a College of Liberal Arts junior, who filed electronically on the Department of Education’s official FAFSA Web site last year and said she had no major problems.

Wede Smythe, a General College freshman, also said the $80 fee was too steep. She filed using paper forms last year and said she didn’t have any significant troubles.

Students seeking help completing their FAFSA application can visit or call the Office of Student Finance between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Dan Haugen welcomes comments at [email protected]