Smart Money interviews Inspirica Founder and CEO, Lisa Jacobson, on questions to ask tutoring companies. From background checks to financial aid, Jacobson lists questions parents don’t think to ask. She also offers insight into why certain programs may not be the best options for students, from conducting an entire tutoring program online to beginning SAT prep too early:

Because background searches typically costs around $100 a person, some companies skip them to save money, says Lisa Jacobson, CEO of a tutoring and test-prep firm in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. (Jacobson says her company, Inspirica, contacts each applicant’s references and checks for a criminal history). Parents should ask learning centers where they find tutors and if they do background checks; if tutors are certified teachers, that’s also a good sign. In addition, parents who hire a private tutor for their child should first conduct their own background searches…

Guarantees and vague promises shouldn’t carry too much weight. “If a center says its median SAT score increase is 150 points, what that means is half the kids are below that and half are above,” says Jacobson, CEO of Inspirica. “But most parents just look at that 150 and expect that will be their child’s final score…”

“Very few tutoring companies advertise that they offer financial aid or scholarships, but they do,” says Inspirica’s Jacobson. “If you can’t afford it, you should ask anyway.” Each year, she says, Inspirica tutors volunteer at a variety of schools in New York, but the company also gives a 10% reduction discount for families that enroll in 45 hours of tutoring…

On the flip side, some parents bring their children for SAT prep as early as when they’re in eighth grade, and many test prep centers will gladly take them in – after all, it’s money in their pockets. “People call us when their children are in eighth and ninth grade – it’s not necessary,” says Inspirica’s Jacobson. “Students have such a packed schedule because of all the state-mandated testing, and they’re learning harder and harder material [in school].” By focusing on their school work and exams, students will naturally make enough progress and have more knowledge to get acquainted with the SAT when they’re juniors… A new wave of tutoring is under way with companies beginning to offer online sessions. But remember, “It’s always better if you’re in person even though people seem to be wowed by technology and education,” says Jacobson, whose company does offer online services.

If the student is determined to stick with the Internet, he or she should meet with the tutor in person first so that the tutor can get acquainted with their learning style. Also, make sure the tutor will be available by phone throughout the sessions, and check if the online classes will involve interactive features. Otherwise, the tutor becomes “a disembodied head,” says Jacobson.