Thousands of high school graduates in Florida have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in recent weeks, taking the consequential step to finding what financial aid is available for college. But a recent development from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will undoubtedly make completing the form more burdensome for students from this point moving forward.
In a March 9 joint-statement from FSA and IRS, it was confirmed that the FAFSA’s IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) was taken down as a precautionary step while officials work to strengthen the security of information provided by the tool.
Why is this important to students? Here’s what you need to know:
Why is the IRS Data Retrieval Tool important?
The Office of Federal Student Aid has taken several measures in recent years to help eligible students access financial aid by simplifying the FAFSA. One such step was the launch of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool in September 2010, which allowed online filers to transfer tax return information directly to the FAFSA. This allowed users to save considerable time and cut down on errors from manually inputting tax figures.
How long will the IRS Data Retrieval Tool be down?
Based on the recent FSA-IRS joint-statement, it will be unavailable for “several weeks.”
How does this affect Florida students?
Based on FSA data, conservative estimates would show that over half of high school seniors use the IRS DRT to complete the FAFSA, potentially impacting tens of thousands of Florida students. For students attending college in 2017-18, they will now need to manually enter their parents’ 2015 tax information. For several reasons, a student may not have ready access to these forms, which will extend the time it would otherwise take to complete the FAFSA form.
How can students get their parents’ 2015 tax returns if they don’t have them?
FAFSA applicants can request a copy of their tax return transcripts, which has the income information needed to complete the form, from the IRS here. Once ordered, a transcript by mail can take five to ten days. Online transcripts are also available, but require users to verify their identity—which, as our colleague Carrie Warick at the National College Access Network found out recently, is easier said than done. Click here to read her blog on her unsuccessful attempts to retrieve her transcripts online.
What you can do to help
Spread the word about the outage and make sure your students have the information they need to complete their FAFSA. Students should not wait until the DRT is functioning again, as its return time is still unknown. More instructions from NCAN can be found here.
We also encourage you to let officials in D.C. understand the importance of the FAFSA is and how this issue is impacting your efforts to help students access financial aid. Tweet your messages to @FAFSA (Office of Federal Student Aid) and @IRSnews (Internal Revenue Service) and contact your Congressional representatives to make sure they are aware of the issue affecting your students.
For more on this development, follow the National College Access Network and National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators for additional information and updates.