Digital student-aid form takes a hit as IRS data retrieval tool goes down

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The Internal Revenue Service’s data retrieval tool, a federal tax service that is vital to the federal student aid application process, is down due to technical issues, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

NASFAA President Justin Draeger confirmed to FedScoop on Thursday that the IRS tool has been down since at least last Friday, but he could not provide a timeframe for when it could be back up and running.

The organization has been in contact with the IRS, Draeger added, but said that the agency has provided very little information besides confirming the data retrieval tool is down.

He stressed that students should not be deterred from filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but anticipated extra hurdles for both filers and those reviewing the applications.

“It’s true people can still complete FAFSA,” Draeger said. “The problem is that the entire application and verification processes are built on this IRS data retrieval tool. So for some students it is going to be a longer process and for other students it could lead to a lot of other headaches.”

“There also may be extra work on the other side of the application for those verifying information,” he added.

The IRS data retrieval tool, offered now for eight years, electronically transfers federal tax information in to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the formed used by undergraduate and graduate students to apply for grants, loans, and other forms of aid.

With the tool down, applicants now must manually upload federal tax documents, which could increase the likelihood of error because a recent change in the upload process, Draeger said.

“This is a year where we transitioned which base tax year is used,” he said. “That decision was largely based on use of this tool. Without that tool, we’re presumably going to have a larger numbers of error codes, especially with students using wrong tax year.”

In a joint statement released Thursday, IRS and Department of Education officials said they “continue to work on the issue,” adding that FAFSA applicants can manually upload information from their tax returns.

The technical issue comes at a rather inopportune time: several states have FAFSA deadlines approaching, including Indiana, which has its filing deadline Friday. Texas has its deadline on March 15.

The National College Access Network, a nonprofit that works for postsecondary education access, said on its Twitter account that it is also tracking the situation and informing members about what it called a “universal issue.”

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Department of Education, Education, FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Internal Revenue Service, IRS