Many states and colleges have financial aid deadlines in the next few weeks, but technical difficulties are making it harder for students to fill out the applications.
The IRS “data retrieval tool,” which allows students to automatically import data from their families’ tax returns into their Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, is down and won’t be back online for several months, the education department announced Thursday. The federal deadline for student aid isn’t until June 30.
The department has encouraged students to use the data retrieval tool in recent years because it reduces errors and streamlines the application process. Students can still file for aid without the tool, but they’ll have to manually enter their tax info, which could make their applications more likely to be selected for extra scrutiny.
In most cases, it’s still better to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible, rather than to wait for this issue to be fixed. Some financial aid is given out on a first-come, first-served basis, so the sooner you get your FAFSA in, the better your shot at getting a larger financial aid package.
Students aren’t the only ones affected by the tool’s outage. It’s also part of the application process used by graduates applying for an income-based repayment program, which will lower their student loan payments.
In both cases, applicants will need to get a copy of last year’s tax returns in order to complete their paperwork without the data tool. If you haven’t saved your return, you might be able to access it via your tax software or your tax preparer. Otherwise, visit www.irs.gov/transcript to get a copy of your returns in the mail within five to 10 days.
Students can get additional guidance from their college financial aid offices.