Verification Woes Top List of DRT Concerns in Recent NASFAA Member Poll
NASFAA recently asked our members to weigh in on the challenges they are facing as a result of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) going down, and increases and delays in verification was by far the biggest concern cited.
The straw poll conducted last week said, “Please describe the effects of the suspension and the impact of those effects on your students and your office operations. For example, have you needed to reassign resources or change priorities; if so, how? Have verification efforts changed? Are you experiencing unanticipated consequences? What relief could be provided to mitigate the impact?"
Of the 192 responses from the two- and four-year public and private sector institutions, a significant portion (55 percent) said that their top concern was the increase in and/or delay in verification as a result of the DRT outage. Among them, 26 percent said that there has been an increase in the percentage of applicants selected for verification, and 81 percent said that the verification process has been lengthened or delayed due to the DRT outage. Some respondents said that both issues have occurred.
Several reasons were cited as contributing to the increases and delays in verifications including:
- Delays in obtaining a tax return transcript;
- Longer processing times due to the use of paper tax return transcripts; and
- Difficulties for families collecting all of their verification documents.
The straw poll also shows that 23 percent of respondents are seeing an increase in 399 issues and flags, 22 percent said their students and families are experiencing delays or issues in obtaining their tax return transcripts, and 12 percent said their students and families are experiencing confusion about things like completing the FAFSA and obtaining tax return transcripts, among other issues.
Just over 8 percent said they had experienced other types of administrative burden aside from or in addition to those most frequently mentioned, including having to update all documents on their websites to explain how to file the FAFSA without the DRT, needing additional counselors to help with student questions, or managing FAFSA's completed incorrectly.
Three percent of respondents said their school would be delaying financial aid awards as a result of the DRT outage, and an equal percentage said their institution is seeing negative enrollment effects.
Several respondents also commented on their institution's’ experience so far with the DRT outage, including the following:
- "Our office has experienced a 50% increase in the number of students selected for verification since the IRS DRT became inactive in March. We are hopeful that the Department will provide some relief in acceptable documentation requirements." (Public 4-year institution)
- "We are seeing more files selected for verification. The IRS is slower in responding for requests for tax transcripts and we have added the verification of non-filing for 17-18. The earlier start helped but the administrative burden is unmanageable. We don't have the option to add staff because of budget issues so students will suffer." (Public 2-year institution)
- "We noticed a significant drop in the number of students who were able to complete the verification process, due mainly to the difficulty students are having getting a tax transcript in a timely manner. Many students are reporting that they cannot get through the fax number for the IRS tax transcript or letter of non-filing. In addition, it is taking several weeks (sometimes months) for students to receive the tax information from the IRS.” (Public 4-year institution)
- "Our student population usually needs assistance completing the FAFSA and lots of coaching completing verification documents. The unavailability of the DRT is requiring more direct assistance be provided to students - assuming they show up for their FAFSA appointment with their tax return. Additional appointments are being added to enable students to return with tax returns to assist in completing the FAFSA. We are also experiencing longer periods of time to complete verification, since the tax transcript is not always available online. Returning to pre-DRT verification documentation would enable us to comply with verification requirements in a more timely fashion and enable disbursement of funds for indirect expenses to students more quickly.” (For-profit 2-year institution)
- "We are a small FA office of 1.5 FT employees. We are seeing more students get selected for verification as they are trying (incorrectly) to copy over their 2015 income from the 16/17 to the 17/18 FAFSA. Whereas before most of our students (probably 90+%) used DRT, now the late FAFSA students don't have the option and are finding themselves selected for verification which is getting delayed as they request IRS taxes and then stop by the office. We are spending more time notifying students of what they need to do to be verified and helping students get their FAFSAs fixed. We have not had extra resources as a result-unfortunately, we are 'doing more with less' as it always seems to go.” (Private 2-year institution)
- "Students are having to dig up year old taxes because those numbers don't automatically repopulate. Then, if they need to complete verification, they have to create an account on the IRS site or send in a paper request for the tax transcript. It is time consuming and labor intensive. At least 10% of my student may not have financial aid to start classes in August.” (Private 4-year institution)
Thank you to all of our members who participated in the poll and shared comments. If you did not participate in the poll but would like to share your thoughts, please do so in the comments below!
Publication Date: 4/24/2017