fafsa application for student aid

No one likes filling out the FAFSA – it’s right up there with filing taxes and getting teeth pulled in terms of enjoyable activities. But in the last couple of years, the FAFSA got a whole lot easier with the introduction of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allowed students to automatically populate information for big chunks of the FAFSA.

In March, the IRS took the tool down.

Why did the IRS disable the Data Retrieval Tool?

The tool helped hackers steal about $30 million from the U.S. government, placing some 100,000 people at risk for identity theft. If you’re one of them, you should have already heard from the IRS or will be notified soon, and the IRS will offer free credit monitoring.

When will the IRS Data Retrieval Tool be back online?

The IRS and Department of Education have issued a joint statement saying that the tool will likely remain unavailable until the beginning of the next FAFSA season in October, 2017.

How does the Data Retrieval Tool being down affect my FAFSA?

With the tool down, you’ll need to manually enter all tax information. It’s a headache – but it’s not an impossible hurdle. You can do it!

How do I get the info I need to complete the FAFSA without the IRS Data Retrieval Tool?

In order to manually input your family’s tax information, you’ll need last year’s tax return. There are several ways to get this info:

• It’s good idea to save tax returns for a few years – see if your parents have a copy of theirs.

• If your family used tax software to file taxes (like TurboTax, for example), you or your parents should be able to log in to access the old return.

• If your family hired someone to do their taxes, that tax professional will have a copy on file.

• No one has a copy and your parents have no idea how to access it – oh no! It’s okay. Visit the IRS website to request a tax return transcript online (or to request one by mail).

Great, I have the forms. Now what?

Check out this Department of Education webpage for help figuring out where to find the information you need to complete the FAFSA.

What’s being done to help students with the FAFSA now that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is down?

A number of Congressional members have requested that the Department of Education offer support to students affected by the outage, including relaxing verification requirements and ensuring enough manpower to provide support through the call center, and some states and schools have pushed back their priority FAFSA deadlines (check with your school).

This is awful. Do I have to fill out the FAFSA?

Do you need financial aid? Do you want financial aid? If you answered yes to either (or both) of these questions, you should fill out the FAFSA. In fact, we recommend that even students who think they won’t be eligible for financial aid still complete the FAFSA. If you don’t complete the form, you definitely won’t qualify for financial aid. If you do complete the form, you never know – you might qualify for aid you aren’t aware of.

Yes, manually entering all of your family’s tax information is somewhat time consuming and annoying. But remember that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool didn’t even exist until 2010 – before that, everyone always had to manually enter the data.

With any luck, the IRS will resolve security concerns and the tool will be up and running next year.