The IRS DRT is Ready for FAFSA Season – Are You?

September 28, 2017

By MorraLee Keller, Director of Technical Assistance

The 2018-19 FAFSA season launches Oct. 1, and an old friend is back to help ease the process. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) is available once again to help families provide their tax information directly from the IRS. This tool was shut down in March due to security concerns over attempts to access people’s data to file fraudulent tax returns, but those issues have been addressed and we are back in business for the 2018-19 FAFSA.

To improve the system’s security, transferred financial information will now be encrypted. Instead of showing the actual information on the computer screen or a Student Aid Report, those fields will simply say “Transferred from the IRS.” Students and parents also will not be able to change or correct the information; if any adjustments are necessary, only financial office staff will be able make them. Please note that the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will still be visible on the confirmation screen and the Student Aid Report.

We anticipate concerns from students and families about not being able to view the transferred data. We understand this concern but know that using the DRT will be advantageous to students as it will likely reduce their chances of being selected for verification. The verification process is a hurdle for many students and families and we strongly encourage using any tool that will help students avoid that process. The information transferred is directly from the IRS data system, and therefore will reflect the information submitted on the 2016 tax returns. College aid offices will receive and be able to view all the detailed information transferred. If families have questions regarding their encrypted data, they should contact the financial aid office.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office has put together a set of information and FAQs regarding the DRT, and we strongly encourage the staff at your organization to review these resources and and share them with students and families. Our colleagues at NASFAA also provided some important points to keep in mind when speaking with applicants:

  • “Know the background of how and why the DRT went down in the first place. You should be able to explain to students and parents that the tool was temporarily suspended due to security concerns, and that these new changes were implemented to address data security. The changes are not intended to make things more difficult, but to better protect applicants’ sensitive information.
  • While using the tool is optional, it’s still a more streamlined way to file the FAFSA. It pulls information directly from the IRS, so manual entry errors are eliminated.
  • Reassure families who might be wondering how they can know if their information is correct if they can’t see it. Assure them the information comes directly from what they filed with IRS. If they are comfortable they filed their tax return correctly, they should be comfortable with that information.
  • Tell families that using the DRT can save them time on the back end if they are selected for verification. If they have to provide documentation of tax information to the school, it will be less time-consuming with the DRT. Without it, manually reviewing that information can slow the process.”

As in the past, families not eligible to use the DRT will need to manually enter all the required data into the FAFSA. Eligible applicants who elect not to use the DRT will also be able to manually enter their data. All data submitted manually will be visible on the web screens and Student Aid Reports.

Encrypted information will take some getting used to, but if the alternative is going through verification, it is our hope that the adjustment period will be quick. NCAN will continue to advocate for streamlined processes for FAFSA filing and tax transcript requests to help families move quickly and efficiently through the financial aid application process.

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