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FAFSA tax retrieval tool taken down

Students applying for federal financial aid have to turn to a more complicated process

Staff Writer

The nationwide IRS data retrieval tool for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — commonly known as FAFSA — is unavailable until further notice.

The tool, removed in March, is used to obtain tax information from the IRS for student financial aid eligibility, said Tabatha Turner, the senior associate director for the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid at UNC.

Turner said the tool is a more efficient way to access tax information than directly requesting an IRS tax transcript — a paper form that would be sent to the family and then to the school.

“Any student who had not yet filed for FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year would be affected by the DRT tool being down,” she said.

Since UNC’s FAFSA form became available in October and its deadline is two months earlier than most other states, Turner said few students at UNC were affected by the change since many had already filed the form.

Students who had filed the FAFSA form and were selected for verification — when income information is checked for accuracy — would also be affected by the tool’s removal, she said.

“It delays students from getting financial aid rewards,” Turner said.

The Office of Scholarships and Student Aid can make financial awards based on a signed copy of a parent and student’s tax return.

But she said the disbursement of financial aid funds will be held in the fall until the office gets the copy of the financial aid transcript.

“This gives them a few months to get that (information) instead of holding up their financial aid package,” Turner said.

The University uses FAFSA to determine eligibility and amounts for federal financial aid, Turner said.

The financial aid office uses a separate and more detailed form, the College Board CSS Profile, to award aid from University funds. Unlike the FAFSA form, the CSS costs money to fill out.

FAFSA is notoriously complicated, said Cassandra Davis, research assistant professor at the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina.

“There’s these extra steps in a process that should be straightforward,” Davis said.

FAFSA applies to students at universities, community colleges, as well as others looking to earn educational certificates, Davis said.

“It’s typically geared for a certain population of students — people who are more likely to not be able to afford these opportunities,” Davis said.

Michala Patterson, a first-year student at UNC, receives financial aid through FAFSA. She said as an only child filling out the form manually with her her single mother, the form was very unclear, and they had no instruction.

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“The level of difficulty for it was sky high, mostly because it required a lot of tax information that we did not really know about,” she said.

State aid programs and funds are also available to students, Turner said.

“Just because a student doesn’t apply by the deadline, doesn’t mean the money has run out,” she said.