These days, it seems there are all sorts of "helpful" companies out there offering to assist with forms, paperwork and applications - for a fee. If it's true that the best things in life are free, then you shouldn't have to pay for them, consumer advocates warn.

While it's not illegal, consumer authorities are quick to point out that the services these firms offer to provide can be done by consumers for free. If a consumer thinks they genuinely need help filling out a form, there's usually free assistance available. They shouldn't fall for a pitch from someone who wants to charge for that help.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Edward G. Rendell says the state provides free assistance to eligible older adults and people with disabilities to apply for rebates of up to $975 from Pennsylvania's Property Tax/Rent Rebate program. There is no reason, he says, for anyone to pay for the help.

"It's unfortunate that some companies charge fees to provide a service that the government and other agencies provide for free," Rendell said. "Application forms and assistance are available at no cost from Department of Revenue district offices, local Area Agencies on Aging, senior centers and state legislators' offices."

Pennsylvania is providing a total of $772.5 million in property tax relief this year, including expanded rebates from the state's Property Tax/Rent Rebate program for seniors and residents with disabilities and general property tax relief for all homeowners that was distributed through school districts this past summer.

College aid information is free

Young people bound for college are also often approached by firms offering to sell information that is actually free. A case in point is financial aid information.

College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) reminds you that this information is always available for free,” the group says. "You do not need to pay for information on financial aid.”

Be careful about invitations, calls or emails about "free" seminars or "limited time only interviews" on ways to pay for college.  Many of these "free" seminars are actually part of a sales pitch for services you're led to believe will help you find financial aid.  

CFNC says you should be especially cautious of requests that require a fee for assistance, ask for your credit card number or bank account information to draft a fee, or ask for your social security number.

"Also, don't be fooled by companies that operate under names suggesting an association with the federal government but require you to pay for help to get a government grant," the group advises.

No payment is required for federal or state grants.  You simply need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) at to see if you are eligible.