Just in time for upperclassmen filling out their FAFSA for the 2017-18 school year, the handiest tool was shut down March 10th. Students applying for financial aid or supplying schools with financial data for institutional grants are required by their colleges to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, commonly known as FAFSA. One of the most convenient tools imbedded in the form is the DRT or Data Retrieval Tool. The DRT transfers the applicant to the IRS webserver and downloads 2015 tax information.
The DRT is more than convenient. It eliminates typographical errors and guarantees colleges that the information is accurate. Many schools routinely audit financial information for families that don’t make use of the DRT, requesting the full 1040s for the parents and students as well as any business form like the 1065 they may have filed. This makes the financial aid more time consuming for all involved.
Why did the DRT stop working? It seems that the government feared data breaches like one that occurred in 2015 on a related online IRS portal used to verify income data for income-based student loan repayments.
According to Douglas Belkin, reporting for Morningstar.com, the IRS stated the shutdown was “part of a wider, ongoing effort to protect the security of data as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.”
If you’re an upperclass college student getting ready to fill out the FAFSA for this year, keep the following tips in mind:
- It will take you and your family longer to fill out the FAFSA than it did last year. Don’t procrastinate.
- Recheck the FAFSA to make sure the income information is accurate. Remember you can change and resubmit the FAFSA if you find an error even after it has been submitted.
- Your chances of an institutional audit to verify your income data will be greater this year than in the past. Keep the information you collected to fill out the FAFSA handy in case you get audited.
- Filling out the FAFSA income section will not affect financial aid awards in any way. Don’t blow off filling out the form just because you have to enter a few numbers by hand!