Breach Brief – FAFSA

Applying for federal student aid  just got a lot harder for students and families. FAFSA or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid was breached and the IRS has taken part of the system offline.

According to Federal officials the online service known as the Data Retrieval Tool was shut down and will stay offline until the next application period. The service allowed students and families to import their tax information automatically to an already complex form used to secure federal student aid.

As a result of the shut down applicants will have to fill out their tax information manually using old tax returns. This time consuming task could slow down or even block some students from getting student financial aid. This is especially troubling as black and minority students lean more heavily on financial aid than their white counterparts.

Justin Draeger, president and chief executive of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators  said, “Its not impossible, but it it’s going to make it more difficult. Not everybody has access to their prior year’s return.”

Officials removed the online tool in early March after suspicions were raised that identity thieves may have stolen personal information using information found, or stolen, elswhere.  It is suspected the thieves used the information to steal additional information from FAFSA and the IRS.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the agency couldn’t risk the safety of taxpayer data. “Protecting taxpayer data has to be the highest priority, and we will continue working with (the Education Department office that handles student aid) to bring this tool back in a safe and secure manner.”

For students and families who are not in possession of copies of their tax returns, the IRS reccomends contacting their tax preparer or checking the tax software they used to file their returns.  Filers can also contact the IRS for a tax transcript that includes a summary of previously filed tax returns.

Students and parents should check the FAFSA website for application deadlines.

Officials reported that the  data tool will remain offline until the start of the next FAFSA season begins Oct. 1.

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