Special Bulletin: IRS Data Retrieval Tool Back On-Line for Income-Driven Repayment Applications

Good news! The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) is once again operable for federal student loan borrowers requesting Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans.

When such borrowers apply for IDR plans on their federal student loans, they must provide information to the U.S. Department of Education data from their recent tax returns. The DRT the easiest and fastest way to do this but, in early March, the IRS made the DRT inoperable due to security concerns.

Now, new encryption has been added to the DRT. The Department of Education and IRS will also be back on-line to provide tax return data for the 2018-19 Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) when that form becomes available this coming October 1.

Special Bulletin: Status of IRS Data Retrieval Tool

A key tool used by students seeking financial aid borrowers applying for income-driven repayment plans on their federal student loans is still offline. However, a new government announcement outlines a schedule for getting it back up and running.

In March, the government shut down the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), expressing concerns about the need for extra system security. Here’s where things are now according to a recent status announcement from the U.S. Department of Education —

DRT in October for Student Financial Aid Applicants: For the next 5 months, students will need to keep finding and using recent federal tax returns for themselves and their parents in order to accurately complete their Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAs). The government’s announcement says it’ll be October 1 when a new, more secure DRT will become available to them.

DRT on May 31 for Student Loan Borrowers: Parents and ex-students seeking to certify their eligibility for one of the 4 federal student loan income-driven repayment plans will again be able to access to the DRT beginning May 31, the announcement says. Until then, they’ll need to keep submitting alternative documentation when applying for these plans. Alternative documentation could be paper copies of their federal tax returns or pay stubs.

If and when more information about this problem becomes available, College Affordability Solutions will post another bulletin.

Special Bulletin: IRS Data Retrieval Tool Offline Until October!

Remember back on March 18, when there was the bulletin about the IRS shutting down the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) Americans use to load key data onto their FAFSAs? Now, the IRS and U.S. Department of Education announced that parents and students should plan for the DRT to be offline until the next Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) cycle begins on October 1m.

ED and IRS reminded parent and students that the online FAFSA continues to operate and that, to load data onto that FAFSA that would have come from the DRT, they can access paper copies of their federal tax returns and/or pay stubs, then manually transfer those data to their FAFSAs.

FAFSA filers can also get their 2015 “tax transcripts” from the IRS in order to secure the data they need. These transcripts can be downloaded online from the IRS’s Get Transcript Online website.

College Affordability Solutions will keep you posted on new developments regarding this problem in future bulletins that will be posted on this website.

Before College: Should You File a Financial Aid Appeal?

Your 2017-18 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — despite all the information it collects, it can’t cover everything. It doesn’t gather unusual information that could impact your student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) — the key to determining his eligibility for financial aid awarded on the basis of financial need.

Since 2015 ended, did you suffer:

  • A big income loss — a layoff or employment termination — that’s still affecting IMG_5702you; or
  • Any major uninsured medical expenses in 2015, 2016, or 2017; or
  • Similarly unavoidable financial problems?

If so, appeal. These may lower your student’s EFC, qualifying her for more need-based aid.

The financial aid office can tell you how to do an appeal. You’ll no doubt be asked to file it in writing and to provide documents proving your income reduction, medical bills, or other financial losses. Why? Because parties funding your student’s need-based aid often audit EFCs. If they’re not convinced that your student’s EFC is correct, the school becomes liable for need-based aid it gives him in excess of his resulting financial need.

DOG_ATTACKKeep copies of the documents you submitted with your appeal. You might need to them to respond to follow-up questions from the aid office.

Because there are so many appeals at this time of year, file yours as soon as possible to give the aid office’s staff sufficient time to review it and make a determination before May 1. That’s when your student must make a go/no-go decision about which 4-year college in which she’ll enroll next fall, and you don’t want this decision made without knowing her financial aid situation.

If your student’s EFC should be changed, the aid office will tell your student. And should additional need-based aid still be available, it’ll send him a revised financial aid award letter showing changes in such aid.

Remember, the EFC can’t be lowered for small, optional, or routine financial matters. A successful appeal will document that your situation is exceptional and unavoidable — e.g. medical bills aren’t for something like elective cosmetic surgery. It’ll also demonstrate that your situation significantly impacts your ability to help pay your student’s college costs — i.e. the loss you’ve suffered costs more than just a few hundred dollars.

If you meet these criteria, file an appeal ASAP. It could make a difference!

Questions about the financial aid process? Contact College Affordability Solutions for a free consultation at (512) 366-5354 or collegeafford@gmail.com.

Special Bulletin: IRS Data Retieval Tool for FAFSA Not Working

Hopefully you filed your 2017-18 FAFSA many weeks or months ago. If you haven’t filed it yet, you’re going to hit a snag just as we reach many college and state deadlines for getting priority to receive various forms of financial aid.

The IRS has announced that it, “. . . decided to temporarily suspend the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.”

The DRT is the mechanism through which most students ensure that key fields on their Free Applications for Student Financial Aid (FAFSAs) are accurately populated with data. FAFSA information is used by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and colleges to determine how much need-based financial aid students may receive for IMG_56692017-18.

While the DRT has worked well in past years, nobody knows when it will begin operating again for 2017-18 FAFSAs. Some colleges and states are changing their FAFSA priority deadlines because of this failure. In Texas, for example, the state is allowing colleges to suspend its March 15 deadline. So check with the school(s) your student may attend during the upcoming academic year.

If necessary, get a copy of your 2015 federal tax returns out of your records and manually enter data required by the FAFSA. Do this as soon as you can because, if you miss the school or state’s FAFSA priority deadline, your student will go to the end of the line for certain grants, scholarships, loans, or work-study awards.

College Affordability Solutions will publish another special bulletin when the DRT is back up and running.

Before and During College: Has Your Student Been Asked to Verify FAFSA Data?

So your student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has already been completed and submitted. Now one or more of the colleges to which that FAFSA’s data were sent tells your student it needs to verify those data. Why are they doing this and what needs to be done?img_5119

Verification is used to confirm your student’s FAFSA. It’s needed because students sometimes make mistakes when completing FAFSA’s. So do parents whose children are dependent students. It’s also needed because, unfortunately, some families deliberately provide false information to rip off the system.

The U.S. Department of Education processes FAFSAs, and it selects them for verification — some because they likely have incorrect data, others at random. Colleges may also use their own methods to select FAFSAs for verification.

Being selected doesn’t mean anyone thinks you or your student did anything wrong. In fact, colleges may even release financial aid to students before verification is completed. But because they must repay any aid released for which students aren’t eligible, almost no schools do this.

And because there’s never enough money to cover the full financial need of all their img_5115students, most colleges won’t even award aid until verification is finished and they know exactly how much need your student has.

So your student (and you, if you too completed the FAFSA) must react quickly to any notice received about verification. Delaying may cause your student to miss out on grants and scholarships because the funds for those awards are all committed by the time verification gets done.

This notice will come to your student by email or regular mail. It’ll provide the key facts:

  • What FAFSA data need to be verified;
  • Acceptable documentation for verifying those data; and
  • Where to deliver that documentation, by when, and what happens if it’s late.

Once the college completes verification, it’ll tell your student:

  • Any corrections that are necessary; and
  • What it and/or he or she must do to correct those FAFSA data.

So watch out for verification notices, react to them quickly, and to follow their instructions to the letter. Otherwise, your student may lose grant and scholarship aid, making it much more difficult to afford college without extra borrowing!

College Affordability Solutions can advise you on all parts of the financial aid process, including verification. Email collegeafford@gmail.com or call (512) 417-7660 for assistance.

A Year of College Affordability Solutions

College Affordability Solutions is dedicated to helping families keep higher education spending within their means. It uses this website to highlight postsecondary educational cost-management strategies at the times of the year when you and/or your student are most likely to need them.

21-of-the-most-beautiful-college-campuses-in-amer-2-20243-1428837186-9_dblbigDespite those who’ll try to talk your student out of college, postsecondary education is still worthwhile even if he or she has to borrow to pay for it. But student loans increase the cost of college, so do everything possible to minimize their use.

Over the last year, we’ve covered several approaches to keeping college and college-related debt affordable. Click on any of the links below to learn more . . .

Before College

Various investment and savings programs can help you prepare for college bills. Among these are 529 plans and college savings bonds, but you should explore them all – the sooner the better.

And be sure to apply for financial for every year of college. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after October 1 but, by all means, before your FAFSA priority deadline arrives.

Student dependency status plays a big role in who completes the FAFSA. Other family factors do, too. But it isn’t as hard to complete as you’ve heard, especially if you fulfill 5 key steps, gather all the documents you need, and get answers to your last-minute FAFSA questions before doing so.

Long before the FAFSA, your student needs to begin aggressively searching for scholarships. It’s critical to know about the when and where and the how of doing this.

Pay close attention after you file your FAFSA to make sure you handle what happens next. Then carefully assess your financial aid offers as they arrive from colleges.

But it’s not all about financial aid and scholarships. A critical factor in college affordability is for your student to enroll in a college and major that fits him or her well.

During College

Once college begins, you can help your student keep his or her expenses within reason.140815_FF_BestCollegeCard Limited spending and indebtedness is important even with today’s low college loan interest rates.

Some of the most effective strategies for minimizing student borrowing include your student getting through college in 4 years or less while carefully managing money and avoiding rip offs such as the recent “student tax” scam. A little-known but highly-effective cost-saver involves returning unneeded federal loan dollars with 4 months of disbursement.

Help your student keep college more affordable by giving him or her some holiday gifts that’ll lower his or her reduce expenses upon returning to school and by recommending he or she generate funds through seasonal employment instead of borrowing.

After College

Seven out of 10 students borrow before earning their degrees, and over 90% of their loans come from federal loan programs. Fortunately, the government has designed  post-graduation strategies to help keep educational debt manageable.

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Your student needs to understand what happens to college loans after graduation. It’s worthwhile to consider the pros and cons of student loan consolidation, an often-used tactic for reducing monthly debt payments. Equally important is knowing how your student might qualify for forgiveness on all or part of what he or she owes.

Coming in 2017

We’re taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but beginning January 4 we’ll start publishing again about plans for keeping college affordable. Here’s hoping you have the happiest of holiday seasons, and that you’ll rejoin us then!

 Find out more about College Affordability Solutions and its services at https://collegeafford.com, or by calling (512) 366-5354.