FAFSA's data retrieval tool to come back online in time for 2018-19 application cycle


The Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT), which was taken offline earlier this year for security reasons, will return in time to assist students who are applying for federal aid for the 2018-19 school year.

Federal Student Aid, an office within the Education Department, set an Oct. 1 goal for the tool’s reinstatement many months ago. That’s the date the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form becomes available for college students planning to enroll by fall 2018.

The DRT allows families and students filing a FAFSA to automatically fill their IRS tax return information into the form, providing the “fastest, most accurate way” to input the tax information and “reduc[ing] the amount of paperwork you need to provide your school later,” according to Federal Student Aid.

However, the tool was turned off in March when officials at the IRS and Federal Student Aid worried that data from the tool was vulnerable and being misused by identity thieves. The DRT moves sensitive information like Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and tax filing statuses. That provides thieves with enough personal information to file fraudulent tax returns and profit off the tax refunds, James Runcie, chief operating officer at Federal Student Aid, has said.

To prevent future identity theft, the DRT — which will come back online Sunday, just as the 2018-19 FAFSA form becomes available — has been equipped with additional privacy and security features.

So, while families can still import their tax information directly into their FAFSA from the IRS, the information they transfer will not be visible on their screens. It will instead say “Transferred from the IRS” where appropriate, including in fields like “What income tax return did you file for 2016?”

“Not displaying your information prevents potential identity thieves from accessing it,” the Federal Student Aid office website says.

Details about the transferred tax information will not be visible on the IRS DRT website, on FAFSA.gov or on applicants’ Student Aid Reports. The DRT will not be available for the 2017-18 FAFSA form — only the 2018-19 one.

The Federal Student Aid office has more details about the technical changes to expect.