The IRS Just Removed This Tool From the FAFSA and It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Shot of graduation caps during commencement.

It just got a little trickier to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA.

The Internal Revenue Service recently removed the Data Retrieval Tool from the FAFSA online application process, citing privacy and security concerns.

What Is the IRS Data Retrieval Tool?

College students who want to apply for financial aid must fill out the FAFSA to get the ball rolling.

It’s a preliminary requirement to request federal grants, work-study jobs, or student loans to help pay college tuition.

The FAFSA is fairly easy (although definitely not fun) to fill out, but the amount of financial aid you’re eligible for is based on a complex formula that includes data on your family’s income, assets and benefits.  

That data is pulled from taxes returns you filed in the previous year (or your parents, if you’re still a dependent).

The Data Retrieval Tool made it super quick to include tax information in your FAFSA. It connected the application directly to the IRS database and filled in all your tax-related info with just a couple clicks.

It was so easy.

Why Did the IRS Remove the DRT?

The IRS’s joint statement with the Education Department says, “the IRS decided to temporarily suspend the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.”

Why Does It Matter That the DRT is Gone?

The DRT was more than just a convenience for FAFSA applicants.

For some people it meant the difference between getting financial aid for college and not being able to apply at all.

How many of us carry around detailed information about the previous year’s tax return in our head?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Without the DRT to look it up, applicants have to refer to a digital or paper copy of their previous returns to accurately fill out the FAFSA — which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

There are any number of reasons why applicants can’t get their hands on their old tax returns. The documents could be lost, destroyed in a fire or flood, or simply misfiled with old report cards from fourth grade.

Getting parental tax returns can be even more of a challenge, especially for people who are no longer in contact with their parents.

The DRT was an important option for getting information applicants need to properly fill out a FAFSA — and now it’s gone.

What Now?

If you’re filling out your FAFSA and don’t have a copy of the tax return you need, you’ve got a couple of options.

Visit the IRS website Get Transcript to download a free summary of your tax return. It won’t have as many details as the original return, but it should contain enough information for you to complete the FAFSA.

You can also request a free copy of your transcript to be mailed to the address on file with the IRS. Visit the Get Transcript website or call 1-800-908-9946 to place an order.

Your Turn: Does the removal of the Data Retrieval Tool affect your ability to fill out your FAFSA?

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She usually uses this space to crack a joke but she doesn’t want to get on the IRS’s bad side.

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