• Best Practices

What advice should you have for students about the IRSDRT being down? ​

George Covino
It’s been about two months since the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRSDRT) was temporarily suspended as a precautionary measure by the IRS, following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves. The IRSDRT automatically transfers tax data from taxpayers’ federal tax returns to FAFSA forms, thus eliminating the need for extra forms and documentation. There appears to be some confusion regarding just what caused the concern, but it is clear that the tool will likely be down until October 1, 2017, for use on the 2018-19 FAFSA.

I wondered about the impact this was having on students, so I asked some colleagues attending the Eastern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (EASFAA) Conference in Burlington, Vermont what they were seeing at their institutions and what advice they have for students and families.

  • Cathy Fuller from Marlboro College said that as a small institution, they were not seeing a huge impact; however, her office is working one-on-one with students and families who are having difficulty.
  • Timing is everything as Larry Chambers, with Rochester Institute of Technology, told me they were able to change their Student Information System so families would have the latest information on what documentation they could use since the tool was down.
  • Allene Curto, from Springfield College, feels that it is a huge problem, especially since it happened at peak tax filing time. Because the responses for requests for tax transcripts can be slow, she recommends that families request a tax transcript now, in case they need it later.
  • Sonji J. tells her students to “go back to using your tax return to complete the form.” She notes that setting up the FSAID and pin is more distracting than the unavailability of the IRSDRT. She recommends that families set aside some time with no distractions so they can focus on the tasks associated with completing their application.
  • Administrators at a large urban university noted that because their deadlines are earlier, they haven’t had many issues; however, with prior-prior year, families should already have the documentation they need to complete the form.
  • I also spoke with several administrators serving graduate and professional students who didn’t feel it was much of an issue, since applications are generally due earlier than for undergraduates and most had already completed their applications and had access to the correct tax information.However, almost everyone mentioned that it was a big problem for community college students since they tend to file later in the process. Almost everyone also mentioned concerns should the tool not be available next year.
  • Reports in the media have caused many students to ask about it, reports another administrator. She recommends that students start earlier and reminds them that they should already have the tax information they need.

Federal Student Aid tweeted a chart that shows the location of required FAFSA fields on various tax forms. They also provide an FAQ on the IRSDRT with the latest information. I’ve added the chart to a “Moment” on my Twitter page called FAFSA information, including a link to the FAQ.  Check it out by following me on Twitter - @GeorgeRCovino - and clicking on “Moments” at the top of my profile page. As additional information becomes available, I’ll add it to the Moment.

Generally, communication is key. The more information you can provide to students and their families, the less likely they are to be frustrated when filing their forms.

How are you helping families complete the FAFSA without the IRSDRT?  I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can contact me via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.

George CovinoGeorge Covino is Student Connections’ vice president of student success.