This afternoon the Department of Education announced that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), an integral resource that allows students and parents applying for financial aid to import tax information directly into their federal financial aid application, will be “offline until the start of the next FAFSA season," which starts in October. The tool, which was disabled in early March, was taken down due to security concerns.
Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), made the following statement regarding the continued outage:
“We are very disappointed to hear that the Data Retrieval Tool, a resource students and families have come to rely upon and which our current application and verification processes are built, will be offline for an extended period of time. While we understand the need to ensure proper security, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s statement that this tool merely provides a 'convenience for applicants' betrays a disheartening lack of understanding about how vital this tool has become in streamlining the financial aid application process.
Absent from the press release is any mention or reaction to a recent call from thousands of institutions, financial aid administrators, college access professionals, admissions and guidance counselors, and students to provide relief for students and institutions as they deal with the sudden and unexpected outage of the DRT.
It is important that students and parents know that they can still complete and submit the FAFSA, despite the DRT outage. We would advise families having difficulty with their financial aid application to reach out to college financial aid offices, high school guidance counselors, and other college access professional for assistance. Though the DRT outage may add an extra layer of complexity to the financial aid application process, it should not derail parents and students from applying for funds to help them pay for college.
The Department of Education needs to take immediate steps to mitigate the negative effects for students, including:
Updating and correcting FAFSA information and instructions across federal websites regarding the availability of the IRS DRT. Even now, four weeks after the DRT was originally taken down, students are still reporting that they are being directed during the application process to the nonfunctioning IRS DRT. Not only does this confuse students, but the misdirection also does not give applicants an opportunity to get back to their FAFSA application to complete the process.
Allowing signed copies of tax returns from applicants to satisfy verification documentation requirements in place of Data Retrieval Tool information or IRS tax transcripts.
Revising the verification selection criteria to provide a more generous tolerance to ensure that the number of students selected for verification remains stable and manageable for institutions so that financial aid processing can continue uninterrupted.”
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 20,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every ten undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit www.nasfaa.org.
Publication Date: 3/30/2017