IRS Data Retrieval Tool Suspended Indefinitely
The Internal Revenue Service and Federal Student Aid (FSA) announced March 30, 2017 that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has been suspended indefinitely amid concerns about a security breach.
“The Data Retrieval Tool on fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov will be unavailable until extra security protections can be added,” according to a joint statement from the IRS and FSA. “While we are working to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, students and families should plan for the tool to be offline until the start of the next FAFSA season.”
The FAFSA season begins on October 1.
The tool was suspended on March 3, 2017 without any advance notice to the public. The IRS said the suspension was a precautionary step because of concerns about identity theft. The Wall Street Journal reported that the tool was taken offline “due to criminal activity.”
“We know this tool is an easy way for students and families working on applications to access their financial data,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “While this tool provides an important convenience for applicants, we cannot risk the safety of taxpayer data.”
Although the tool has been suspended, the IRS and FSA said all the necessary information for filing the FAFSA can be found a previously filed tax return. They noted that students and parents completing a 2016-17 and 2017-18 FAFSA should manually enter 2015 tax information.
Nevertheless, the suspension of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool makes applying for financial aid more challenging for students, especially low-income students. Low-income students are more likely to be selected for verification. The National College Access Network (NCAN) recommends that low-income students obtain an IRS tax return transcript in advance, in case it is needed. This can minimize delays caused by verification.
If a tax return is not available to a filer, the IRS and FSA said applicants should contact their tax preparers.
“We have heard from students, parents and the financial aid community that applying for aid is harder without the DRT,” said James W. Runcie, Federal Student Aid chief operating officer. “We will do all we can to help students and families successfully submit applications while the tool is unavailable and remain committed to protecting applicants' personal information.”
Some advocates for low-income students are concerned that the IRS data retrieval tool may be offline for more than just six months. The IRS Get a Transcript tool was unavailable for more than a year after it was attacked by hackers. The tool’s new security restrictions make access much more challenging for low-income students.