Students and families seeking financial assistance for the college will notice potentially confusing changes this fall when they fill out an important federal form known as Fafsa.
The Fafsa, for a free application for federal student aid, is the main portal of federal financial assistance for students, including grants and low-cost student loans. States and many colleges also use the Fafsa to screen students for their own financial aid.
Many students and parents complete and file the Fafsa online because it allows them to automatically transfer the income information into the form using the Internal Revenue Service data recovery tool. The tool was not available for the filing of Fafsa since March, after the I.R.S. suddenly suspended for security reasons.
This week, the federal Department of Education said the tool had been put back into service for the Fafsa 2018-2019 production season, which began Sunday.
Theirs. The tool now has “additional security and privacy protections to protect taxpayers’ confidential data,” the ministry said in a press release.
In practice, this means that the online form will look different from that of the registrants, said Carrie Warick, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the National College Access Network. Specifically, applicants for transferring financial information using the recovery tool can not see the actual tax return data in their Fafsa online.
According to the education department, instead of numbers being forwarded, “applicants and parents will see the words” transferred from the IRS “in the data entry fields throughout the online Fafsa form.”
The advantage is that the data should be safer; Previously, public servants feared that criminals could extract income data from online forms and use them to file fraudulent tax returns to collect illegal refunds.
The disadvantage is that because students and their families can not see their tax data imported, they can not make any changes or corrections to the information. However, the Ministry of Education told financial aid professionals: “Since the data comes directly from the income tax return filed by the applicant or parent and the income and taxes can not be updated, we do not think it will be necessary to make many corrections to these articles. ”
If changes are needed – for example, if a family’s income has changed dramatically since the filing of the tax return – students must contact the financial assistance administrator of the college they are applying to.
Justin Draeger, President and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said that while the situation was not ideal, it was better to have hidden data than to have no data. recovery tool. This is because the information transferred from the I.R.S. It is generally accurate, he said, and using the tool avoids problems that may delay the financial assistance process, such as the need to provide additional documentation to verify income.
“The tool continues to make the process faster, easier and more accurate,” said Diane Cheng, Associate Director of Research at the Institute for College Access and Success, which offers more information on changes on his website.
Students and their families should know that financial aid administrators know that families can have questions on the form, Mr. Draeger said, and that they expect to receive more calls.
“They will always do everything they can,” he said, “to help students apply for financial aid.”
Students and their families should also be aware that after using the recovery tool, they may receive a letter from I.R.S. informing them that their tax information has been transferred, said Ms. Cheng. I.R.S. Official Notifications tend to make recipients nervous, she says, but letters are just another step to increase security.
This is the second year that students and their families were able to submit the form in October, three months earlier than in the past. The start date has been moved as part of a move to give students more time to apply and to have more financial information when making decisions about attending college to attend. Almost 238,000 online applications were submitted on the first day, an increase of 8% over last year, the Education Department said.
Here are some questions and answers about the financial aid and the filing of the Fafsa:
Where can I find Fafsa online?
The form is available on a new web address: https://fafsa.gov.
When should I classify Fafsa?
As soon as you can, make sure you qualify for as much help as possible. Some states have early turnaround times, and some are distributing aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so early deposit is the best, Cheng said. The Department of Education lists online status deadlines.
Can I use the I.R.S. data recovery tool if I drop a Fafsa for the current school year?
No. The tool is not available to anyone who completes a Fafsa for the 2017-2018 school year, which ends in June 2018. Candidates can still complete the online form, but they must enter the income information manually.