The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is complicated enough, but worries of a potential security infiltration prompted the government to shut down a part of the online application, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool, that current and college-bound students use to apply for financial aid and student loans.
According to a press release from the Department of Education and Internal Revenue Service in early March, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool was taken down for data security concerns. The press release did not specifically mention a deadline when the tool would be available once again, but it did give a ballpark of “several weeks.”
Commenting on the tool’s absence, the IRS claimed it was a “precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.” Further details are pending. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool automatically uploads tax information for FAFSA applicants, so a data breach on such a tool would likely result in tax fraud for affected FAFSA applicants.
Notably, the FAFSA is not completely dead without the tool; it is just more of a hassle for some applicants. The standard FAFSA application and income-driven repayment plan application are still live, but they require tax information to be manually inputted, hence the hassle.
The absence of the tool comes at a precarious time given the deadline to apply for financial aid and student loans in multiple states is coming up soon or has already passed, impacting untold numbers of student loan borrowers.
Take the state of Texas for one example. The deadline to apply for FAFSA passed on March 15 with the Department of Education ignoring calls from Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas to make the link workable again for those looking for student loans and other aid. On the FAFSA, Rep. Doggett commented, “It is vital to ensure both data security and student accessibility. If the tool remains offline, more millions in student financial assistance could go unclaimed.”
Federal financial aid is a necessity for millions of college students in the country even if the application can be a convoluted process. Rising college tuition is commonly referenced whenever higher education is mentioned, and this rise in price is matched by a rising student debt toll, numbering over $1.4 trillion.
The absence of the tool also comes at a time when many college students have little knowledge about FAFSA. Take LendEDU’s recent survey on college student knowledge of the FAFSA and financial aid. While 90 percent of college students heard of FAFSA, 84 percent had no idea when the deadline to fill out the application was. What’s more, 16 percent of survey respondents thought the application cost money even though it’s free. Even more worrisome, 78 percent of college students didn’t know what FAFSA stands for while 80 percent of college students didn’t know the current interest rate on federal loans.
At any rate, it is obvious that the tool within the FAFSA is somewhat of a necessity for unknowledgeable college students and high school graduates. It is easy to surmise that a college student wouldn’t know much about taxes if they lack the knowledge on the somewhat simpler system of financial aid and federal student loans. Despite this, a breach in data is no joke, and it is completely unrealistic to expect the tool again until there is a significant reduction in information security risk.
Author: Andrew Rombach
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