College & Workforce Readiness

Automated Tax-Retrieval Tool to Return to FAFSA

By Catherine Gewertz — September 27, 2017 2 min read
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The automated tool designed to make it easier to put tax information into financial-aid applications will be back online Oct. 1, according to federal officials.

You probably remember that the “data-retrieval tool” was taken down last spring after hackers tried to use it to get personal tax information from the system. (A Louisiana man faces federal charges for trying to break into that system to get President Donald Trump’s tax returns. But that’s another story.)

When they disabled the data-retrieval tool, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Education officials said they’d have it back up and running by Oct. 1, when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid becomes available for students to fill out. An Education Department spokeswoman confirmed that the tool—known as the DRT—will be up and running by Oct. 1.

The DRT is the piece of the FAFSA application system that lets students import their families’ tax information into the form automatically. Before its security vulnerability came to light, professionals in the counseling and financial-aid worlds hailed it as an important form of help on an application that can be daunting.

Last month, the Education Department’s office of Federal Student Aid announced security changes for the DRT. Families can use the tool to import their tax information, officials said, but won’t be able to see the dollar amounts. In each data field, they’ll just see “transferred from the IRS” instead.

Some counselors were concerned about that change, saying they feared it could discourage students from submitting the FAFSA because they couldn’t see and confirm that the tax information was accurate.

Even still, the data-retrieval tool is seen as an important way to encourage families to apply for college aid, and those who work with students on that process welcomed its return.

David Hawkins, the executive director for educational content and policy for the National Association of College Admission Counseling, said his organization was pleased to hear reports that the data-retrieval tool will be up and running again by Oct. 1. Students have come to rely on the DRT for “a more streamlined way to file the FAFSA because it eliminates the potential for manual entry errors,” he said in an email.

Families will notice that financial information such as their adjusted gross income is not displayed, but they “can rest assured that the information comes directly from what they filed with the IRS, so if they are comfortable they filed their tax return correctly, they should be comfortable knowing the tax information being imported into their FAFSA is correct,” said Erin Powers, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.