Online FAFSA Tool Disabled: Creates Complications for Students - Fastweb

Online FAFSA Tool Disabled: Creates Complications for Students

IRS Data Retrival tool pulled from site; unavailable until October.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

April 06, 2017

Online FAFSA Tool Disabled: Creates Complications for Students

If you filed the FAFSA back in October or earlier this year, give yourself a pat on the back. As they say, “the early bird gets the worm” — or in this case, an easier experience completing the FAFSA.

In March, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool became unavailable on the online FASFA form. The Hill reports that “the IRS earlier this month decided to pull the online tool as a precautionary step following concerns that personal information could be taken and used by identity thieves.”

When the IRS Data Retrieval Tool was fully functioning, it allowed students and their parents to do the following:

  • Provide tax information easily.
  • Ensure that their tax information was the most correct and/or up-to-date.
  • Made it unnecessary to provide tax return information to schools.

The IRS states that the tool will not be available until the next FAFSA season, which begins in October. As for now, the IRS and FSA are exploring the issue, which they claim is “relatively isolated” and “no additional action is needed by taxpayers and filers.”

While the IRS and Department of Education both state that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool does not affect ability to complete and submit the FAFSA, it is a huge hindrance to the process. In response to the crash, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) urged Secretary DeVos, of the U.S. Department of Education, and Jim Runcie, COO of Federal Student Aid, in a public statement to provide relief to students and their families while the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is down. They asked for the following:

  • Update and correct information regarding the tool crash across all federal financial aid websites.
  • Allow signed tax returns to satisfy verification documentation requirements on the FAFSA.
  • Limit the number of FAFSA verifications to ensure that the financial aid process remains uninterrupted.
  • Exercise greater tolerance for school resolutions of conflicting information given that the IRS tool is meant to provide the greatest income accuracy during this first year of examining the prior-prior income.

While it is completely necessary to take every step to ensure the safety and security of information provided on the FAFSA, specifically as it pertains to taxes and income, the lack of transparency regarding the issue is troubling. In their letter, NASFAA points out that the tool unavailability was not acknowledged until a week after it was disabled. Additionally, there was no indication of the tool’s status on the FAFSA website at the time of the crash, although there is an announcement on the home page now. Whether or not Secretary DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education plan to provide further relief, as outlined in the NASFAA statement, remains to be seen.

For now, students and their families should seek assistance in filing the FAFSA as state financial aid deadlines still loom. Meet with your guidance counselor, call a financial aid administrator at the schools you plan to apply to or seek out local FAFSA help events and workshops, which are typically hosted by high schools, colleges and private organizations. Remember, you can still complete the FAFSA without the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, and if you have yet to file, get started now so that you can tackle any difficulties that arise sooner rather than later.

Check back with Fastweb for updates on the availability of the IRS Data Retrieval tool on the FAFSA.

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