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FAFSA Application Tool Shut Off Due to Security Concerns, IRS Says

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By guest blogger Liana Heitin

The Internal Revenue Service purposefully shut off a key tool for helping students and parents apply for federal student aid, and the tool will continue to be unavailable for "several weeks," government officials confirmed in a statement yesterday.

In a joint release, the IRS and the U.S. Department of Education cited security concerns as the reason for suspending the Data Retrieval Tool, which allows students and parents to import tax information directly into their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. 

The tool was down for about a week before the federal agencies publicly acknowledged the issue, according to Allie Bidwell, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. The FAFSA website was still directing applicants to use the DRT until late yesterday. (It now states the tool is "unavailable.")

To be clear, families can still file their FAFSAs, but they'll need to input their tax information on their own. The deadline for federal aid for the 2017-18 school year is June 30, but deadlines for state aid differ, with some as soon as today. 

The Data Retrieval Tool was put in place seven years ago to make the application process less complicated and time-consuming. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators wrote in a statement that "applicants who use the DRT are less likely to be selected by ED for verification, a sometimes cumbersome process whereby a school is required to collect additional information from students to verify FAFSA information."

Carrie Warick, the director of policy and advocacy for the National College Access Network, wrote in a blog post that students who were expecting to use the DRT "will now encounter a new wrinkle in the 11th hour that may prevent many from filing on time and gaining access to valuable financial aid."

For the 2015-16 application cycle, more than 7.4 million students, or about 38 percent of applicants, used the DRT to help file their FAFSAs.

The tool was shut off "as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves," the statement from the IRS and the Education Department says. "The scope of the issue is being explored, and the IRS and FSA are jointly investigating the issue."

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