The next FAFSA application cycle is quickly approaching, and come this October students and parents will again be able to fill out their financial aid applications with the help of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which the Department of Education (ED) has said will be back up and operating – but with a few modifications.
Last spring, ED and the IRS took the tool offline, initially claiming the temporary suspension was due to "technical issues." Later, however, officials revealed the outage was the result of concerns over identity theft. The tool – which allows applicants to transfer tax information from the IRS into their FAFSA applications – was then unavailable for the remainder of the 2017-18 FAFSA application cycle. ED later brought the tool back online in May for borrowers applying for income-driven repayment plans, and said it would again be available for FAFSA applicants for the 2018-19 cycle, beginning Oct. 1, 2017.
In order to better protect applicants’ information, though, the tool will return with some changes. Specifically, the tool will "limit the information that displays to the applicant in order to enhance the security and privacy of sensitive personal data transferred to the FAFSA from the IRS," ED announced in May. Sensitive data, such as adjusted gross income, will not be displayed to the applicants.
With those changes in place, students and parents are likely to have questions about how and whether they should continue to use the DRT. Here are a few important points to keep in mind when speaking with applicants who have questions:
Know the background of how and why the DRT went down in the first place. You should be able to explain to students and parents that the tool was temporarily suspended due to security concerns, and that these new changes were implemented to address data security. The changes are not intended to make things more difficult, but to better protect applicants’ sensitive information.
While using the tool is optional, it’s still a more streamlined way to file the FAFSA. It pulls information directly from the IRS, so manual entry errors are eliminated.
Reassure families who might be wondering how they can know if their information is correct if they can’t see it. Assure them the information comes directly from what they filed with IRS. If they are comfortable they filed their tax return correctly, they should be comfortable with that information.
Tell families that using the DRT can save them time on the back end if they are selected for verification. If they have to provide documentation of tax information to the school, it will be less time-consuming with the DRT. Without it, manually reviewing that information can slow the process.
If you have more questions about advising students and parents who have questions about the return of the DRT, join us on Twitter on Monday, Sept. 11, from 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm ET for "office hours." Tweet at NASFAA using the hashtag #AskNASFAA, and our policy team will answer your questions about advising students and families on this topic.
Publication Date: 9/1/2017