There is no rule that requires you to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, (DRT), however, the Department of Education would be very happy if everyone did use it when filing the FAFSA.
We’ve had several members of our Paying For College 101 group mention they have received an email suggesting they do so.
So…should you use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool or not?
Who Is Eligible to Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool?
Most students and parents who filed a U.S tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT) if they have already filed their taxes.
When You Should NOT Use the DRT
Those who should not (or cannot) use the tool (as stated on the studentaid.ed.gov website)
- The student/parent is married, and either the student/parent or his/her spouse filed as Married Filing Separately.
- The student/parent is married, and either the student/parent or his/her spouse filed as Head of Household.
- The parents’ marital status is “Unmarried and both legal parents living together.”
- The student/parent filed a Puerto Rican, foreign tax return, or an IRS Form 1040-NR or 1040NR-EZ
- You have been assigned an Identity Protection PIN by the IRS
- You have had a change in marital status since the tax year in question. This includes marriage, divorce or separation, or the death of a spouse. You should report income based upon your current marital status
- Your current address and the address on your relevant tax return are different
- You haven’t yet filed (or JUST filed) the relevant tax return
- You filed an amended tax return for the year in question. The DRT will only pull the information from your original tax filing.
Any students or parents who meet the above criteria will need to manually enter their tax return information.
Additionally, students or parents who filed their tax returns electronically within the last three weeks or through the mail within the last 11 weeks, might need to manually enter their tax return information or return at a later date to transfer their tax return information into the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form because their tax return information might not be available for transfer from the IRS.
IRA Rollover: Proceed with Caution
If you rolled over an IRA or pension plan in your FAFSA tax year, your income and expected family contribution (EFC) could be artificially inflated and treat the rollover as income.
The same issue could occur if you received Covid-19 unemployment benefits under the CARES Act,
This could incorrectly increase EFC, reducing the amount of aid you could qualify for.
For the past few years, the IRS DRT system has not properly retrieved and applied information related to IRA or pension plan rollovers. The data retrieval tool does not identify and exclude tax return IRA and/or Pension distributions that have been rolled over into another account.
Be aware that for security measures, once information is imported into the FAFSA application, the fields will be marked as complete, but will not show the values.
You will not be able to see or alter the imported numbers, which is problematic when rollovers are not properly handled.
Benefits of Using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
It has been suggested that using the IRS DRT may potentially reduce the chance of the student’s FAFSA being selected for verification.
If this is true, that’s a good thing, as being selected for verification takes time and effort.
Here are our suggestions…
To be on the safe side, whether you choose to use DRT or not, order your tax transcripts just in case the school asks for verification and make sure your student is checking his/her student portals for any requests for docs and/or financial aid award notices.
You can order your tax transcript here and remember it is for the tax year you used for filing FAFSA.
One More Thing…
If you DO use the IRS tool, expect that you will receive a letter or email from the IRS letting you know that they are checking to verify that you’re aware of the fact that someone accessed your records.
There’s no need to panic when you see it; just know it will be coming.
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