Education

VSAC president urges IRS to act quickly to fix FAFSA tool

Smack dab in the middle of peak application time for college financial aid, the IRS shut down a tool used to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form online.

On March 9, the Internal Revenue Service turned off the Data Retrieval Tool, which prefilled answers to questions for applicants. The IRS said fears over identity theft led to the decision. Families will now be required to manually enter data from their 2015 tax forms.

In a statement, the agency said the decision was part of “a wider, ongoing effort at the IRS to protect the security of data.”

The IRS described the suspension of the Data Retrieval Tool “as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.”

February and March are the busiest months for families filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and many colleges expect a down payment by the first week of May.

Scott Giles, the CEO of the Vermont Student Assistance Corp., is pleading with the federal Department of Education and IRS to get the tool quickly back up and running.

“As college acceptances are beginning to pour in, it is imperative that Vermont families are equipped with financial aid information and resources to make smart education decisions,” Giles said.

FAFSA applications can still be submitted online, but manual submissions of IRS information takes more time, and families that don’t use the data tool are more likely to be singled out for an audit to verify the accuracy of the information.

Vermont is a first come, first serve state meaning that students who get applications in early are more likely to get aid. VSAC has counselors available to help families with filing FAFSA forms: 800-642-3177.

“Despite this disruption in the middle of financial aid season, VSAC strongly encourages students and families to file the online FAFSA, as well as the Vermont State Grant,” Giles said.

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Tiffany Danitz Pache

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  • Robert Lehmert

    Thanks for this story. I sympathize. It would be sad if some young man or woman ended up making a decision not to continue education because it was not possible to manually gather this information. Blocking it for data security is a symptom of a much larger problem.