Financial Aid

Federal Online Tool to Help Financial Aid Applicants Shuts Down

fafsa

The IRS and the Department of Education (ED) confirmed late Thursday that the federal government intentionally shut off an online tool used by millions of students each year to apply for federal student aid. This story was initially reported by Politico, The Chronicle of Higher Education and other sources.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which allows students to automatically import tax information onto their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), will be “unavailable for several weeks” as a result of concerns about security of student data, the two agencies said in a statement issued Thursday.

The IRS and ED statement said the decision to shut down the tool, which has been operating for seven years, was “a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.”

The statement did not offer any specifics, but said “the scope of the issue is being explored, and the IRS and FSA are jointly investigating the issue.”

“We believe the issue is relatively isolated, and no additional action is needed by taxpayers or people using these applications,” the statement continued.

Students who apply for federal financial aid will have to manually submit their tax information from copies of their tax returns.

Some advocacy groups have complained that the ED was slow to explain why the tool had been intentionally disabled, which occurred almost a week ago, Politico reported. The shutdown occurs as financial aid filing deadlines are approaching, making completing the FAFSA more difficult at a critical time.

“We are greatly concerned that the Department of Education took so long to put out a statement about what was happening with the tool,” said Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy for the National College Access Network, in an interview with Politico. “Many of our students count on this tool, so it’s important for our organizations to be able to provide them with information about what’s going on.”

More than 5.4 million students applied for federal student aid during the three-month window last year created by the Obama administration’s decision to make the FAFSA available on Oct. 1, as opposed to Jan. 1, Politico reported.

For more information on completing the FAFSA, visit this student aid and FAFSA site.

For information on applying for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, visit this federal student aid site.

More information on this story can be found on Politico.com or The Chronicle of Higher Education.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at rchang@1105media.com.

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