The IRS Data Retrieval Tool that many students use to complete their FAFSA is currently unavailable, and officials estimate it will be several weeks before it is back up and running.
Representatives from the IRS and the Office of Federal Student Aid said Thursday that they decided to suspend the service out of concern that it could be misused by identity thieves.
Although FAFSA applicants still have the option to enter income information manually, college access advocates are concerned that students and families who can’t access the tool will face more complications in their quest to access federal student aid.
The IRS Data Retrieval Tool, introduced in the 2010-11 school year, helps speed up the application process and reduces the potential that a student’s FAFSA will be flagged for verification — a process that can delay the awarding of financial aid packages.
According to Inside Higher Ed, students whose applications are flagged for verification are required to provide a 2015 tax transcript — documentation that can take up to 10 days to receive through the mail.
“Some institutions will not give [students] a financial aid package or financial aid award letter until verification is complete. For some first-time students, it could impact which school they decide to attend,” Carrie Warick, with the National College Access Network, told Inside Higher Ed. “More broadly, we know the more steps there are in the process, the more barriers there are, the more students we lose along the way.”
Officials with the IRS and the Office of Federal Student Aid say they are working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. In a statement released this week, the agencies told families to check their tax returns for the income information required when filing a FAFSA.
“If you did not retain a copy of your tax return, you may be able to access the tax software you used to prepare your return or contact your tax preparer to obtain a copy,” the document notes.
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