The ‘college doctor’ is in

As college savings disappeared and loan providers shut down business last November, Jim Hayes opened up The College Planning Authority LLC, with the goal of helping families who were trying to save money on college costs, but didn’t know how.

One key piece of advice: “Start early and plan for all children,” says Hayes, citing a situation he sees too often – when a family saves everything to the first child without understanding the ramifications for the younger children later on.

Hayes, who relocated to New Hampshire after two years working as a full-time college planning specialist in California, has worked as a college admissions representative and financial planner in the past.

Hayes’ Londonderry-based business has already counseled over 50 families from the greater Manchester and Seacoast areas. His preferred clientele is, surprisingly, business owners.

“I can have the most success with them,” Hayes says. One tax professional sought help with an expected family contribution (EFC) of $72,000, to pay for a daughter attending a $50,000-per-year private college and a son who chose a state school that cost $22,000. Hayes helped the family reduce the EFC to just under $9,000, and it cost them $24,000 a year to send both kids to college.

“It cost him less out of pocket to send his daughter to that $50,000 school,” Hayes says. “The state school’s graduation rate [in four years] was 27 percent – with the private school it was 90 percent. It cost a lot less out of pocket to go to the private school.”

Another strategy Hayes uses is targeting college funds, rather than traditional Rotary clubs or chamber scholarships. Despite everyone – including colleges – being affected by the economic downturn, Hayes believes students can find the money they need from the college coffers.

“If students can market themselves right to the college, there is potential money there for them. The real scholarship money [is] going after the school’s money,” he says. “I had a family making $700,000 a year with $500,000 in bank assets — they got $25,000 a year to go to Johns Hopkins University.”

‘So much information’

The cost of education averages a 7 percent increase every year, according to Hayes, and college has become “big business.” Although every family differs, Hayes often sees parents who never dealt with such high costs when they went to college and find the process daunting.

“Most clients come to me because, frankly, they’re scared. It’s a complicated process, and I’m there to help them,” Hayes says. “I’m the college doctor.”

Hayes looks at each situation to assess it, then creates an action plan going forward. Often, he will call up the resources of professionals he has worked with all over the nation.

“To be in this business, you really need to stay on top of it. It’s always changing and evolving, especially in this economy,” Hayes says. “There’s so much information to be aware of, and I have professionals whose resources I draw on to better serve my clients.”

Hayes says he is the only full-time certified professional working exclusively in college planning in New Hampshire, out of about 500 full-time professionals across the nation.

An initial consultation is set up between Hayes and a client to ensure a good fit, and Hayes can offer a “complete package” at a certain rate or partial services tailored to the client. Hayes helps families fill out federal and college financial aid forms, negotiate for better financial aid packages, create college payment plans and evaluate out-of-pocket costs, among other services.

One client, Hayes says, paid $1,550 out of pocket to attend a $50,000 private school – after receiving $39,000 straight from the school.

These success stories have helped Hayes grow his business, which operates on a network of referrals and word of mouth, along with seminars he presents at high schools, business luncheons, Rotaries, churches – “everywhere,” Hayes says.

In fact, he may open College Planning Authority offices in Nashua and Concord as early as 2010.