More than two months after the Internal Revenue Service took its Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) offline, making life a bit more difficult for student borrowers and FAFSA applicants, the missing tool should be coming back online by the end of May or early June. Or at least the part of the tool that covers applications for income-driven repayment (IDR) plans will be back according to a statement from James Runcie, Chief Operating Officer of the Department of Education.
When the IRS originally took down the tool in March, the government agency said it was a precautionary move over worries that hackers could steal sensitive personal information. During his Senate Finance Committee testimony at the time, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen claimed that as many as 100,000 taxpayers’ information may have been stolen from a breach of the Internet based tool. The IRS commissioner said during testimony that around 8,000 fake refunds were issued for a total of $30 million. The IRS stopped an additional 14,000 fake refunds from being sent out. After all of the bad news, the IRS and Department of Education did not give a time frame for when the tool would be back online.
Addressing the issues that were uncovered, the updated data retrieval tool will include new security features designed to prevent hackers from stealing sensitive data. The statement noted that these protections are meant to safeguard the personal and tax information of about 4.5 million users. While this is good news, students using the tool to apply for financial aid via the FAFSA won’t regain access until October. As mentioned earlier, the imminent relaunch applies to those who are applying for IDR plans.
While the initial scare had lawmakers calling for a alternative, the progress made on the original tool so far is sure to be helpful. In order to stay in IDR programs, student debt holders must recertify their income on an annual basis. Before the tool went offline, borrowers could easily complete this step because the tool automatically imported federal tax return information. When the DRT went down, borrowers resorted to filling in the information manually or turned to paper applications, slowing down the process considerably. Those who file late could get stuck with higher monthly payments or additional interest tacked on by a loan servicer.
Author: Andrew Rombach
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