Nearly two months after the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) went offline, the Department of Education (ED) is taking measures to provide relief to students, families, and financial aid administrators struggling as a result of the tool’s outage, which some say has caused a spike in verification requests.
Millions of financial aid applicants use the IRS DRT each year to streamline and simplify the FAFSA application process. But without the tool – which automatically transfers tax information from the IRS into the FAFSA and helps with data accuracy – financial aid administrators have reported increases in the number of students being selected for verification. More students are presumably being selected for verification because they have had to manually enter their 2015 tax information for the FAFSA in lieu of using the DRT.
In March, NASFAA sent a letter to ED, asking Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Federal Student Aid Chief Operating Officer James Runcie to take steps to provide relief for students and aid administrators dealing with the sudden and unexpected outage, which is expected to continue until the next FAFSA filing season. The actions announced Monday address some of NASFAA’s concerns.
Initially, ED said students selected for verification would still be required to provide tax transcripts, which can be a difficult process for some students and families, according to the National College Access Network. But on Monday, ED announced that rather than collecting tax transcripts, institutions may consider a signed paper copy of the 2015 IRS tax return for verification documentation.
In the case of students selected for verification of nonfiling, students will no longer be required to provide documentation from the IRS or other tax authorities that show they, their spouse, or their parents did not file a tax return. However, these students must still provide a signed statement “certifying that the individual has not filed and is not required to file a 2015 income tax return,” as well as a document listing the amount and sources of any income from that year. They must also submit a copy of a W-2 (or an equivalent document) for any source of employment from that year.
"These flexibilities are an important step toward making the process easier. They help applicants who normally would have used the IRS DRT to more easily complete the application process," DeVos said in a statement. "We will continue to look for additional ways to ease the burdens created by the IRS DRT outage until the tool can be restored with added security measures in place later this year."
Publication Date: 4/24/2017