It is the height of financial-aid season, that time of year when families scramble to grab grants, scholarships and loans to offset the rising cost of a college education (average annual tuition at four-year private colleges for the 2011-2012 academic year is $28,500, up 4.5 percent from a year earlier). Many will find themselves in a catch-22: They are considered too wealthy to qualify for help, but not wealthy enough to pay full freight.

Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that can help maximize the amount of financial aid families receive. Even families with incoming freshman can make moves to maximize their aid and scholarship packages.

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For example, one strategy is to accelerate any big-ticket business-related purchases into that crucial year to reduce reported income. "If you are thinking about buying a new car or renovating your office, go ahead and do it then," Dominick Caiati, president of College Funding Solutions of America, a Westport based college funding advisory service, said.

For parents who own a business, there are more options for shifting assets around to maximize aid. One is to move income from the parent's high tax bracket to the child's lower one by hiring your children to work in your company.

"Be careful not to exceed the maximum allowable income that a child may receive relative to filling out your FAFSA form," Caiati said. "You don't want this strategy to be counterintuitive so that it makes your financial aid form tilt against your favor of qualifying for financial aid.

These and other tips are offered on a regular basis at free community service workshop College Funding Solutions of America, LLC, will offer Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Westport Women's Club, Imperial Avenue, Westport.

For more information contact:Dominick Caiati at 203-604-5051 or email Dominick@collegefundingsolutionsofamerica.com .