FAFSA tool change could make application process more difficult

Students will have to manually input tax information into the online form due to an IRS rule change.

For Maddy Devlin, a junior communications major, filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a nuisance because her parents live in New York and she is one of 11 siblings.

Every year, she has had to bother her dad multiple times a week for the correct information that she needs to fill out the form, she said.

“As a dependent, your parents have to do it for you with their tax returns, so it’s just a whole other thing where they are already being pulled in 11 directions plus their own lives,” Devlin said. “So getting them to do this for me is usually a headache.”

This year’s FAFSA form requires filers to manually enter tax information, NJ.com reported, potentially making the process more difficult for students and families.

In a move intended to make the filing process easier, the Internal Revenue Service changed tax rules so that families can file the 1040 form separately from tax schedules for alternative income, like capital gains or unemployment benefits, this year, NJ.com reported.

But the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which in previous years allowed filers to transfer all information from the 1040 form into the FAFSA, doesn’t allow families to transfer numbers from the tax schedules, according to NJ.com.

The FAFSA opened on Oct. 1. Universities determine a student’s financial aid package after Federal Student Aid calculates their estimated need through the FAFSA and Expected Family Contribution formula, according to FSA’s website.

But if students complete their FAFSA after March 1, Student Financial Services cannot give them priority consideration because “all funding sources may not be available,” according to the university’s Undergraduate Admissions website.

The FAFSA also requires students to report their parents’ names, dates of birth and social security numbers, as well as their own personal and financial information.

Douglas Webber, an economics professor, said the removal of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool leads to a higher chance of students or families making errors while filing. If families make serious errors, like a mistake in family contributions to tuition, students could not get the financial aid they need.

“If [family contribution] dramatically increases, you’re going to be getting less aid than you should, and if it decreases that in a big way, you might think you have more aid than you actually do,” he said. “Once it’s corrected, you could have money taken away from you so neither amounts to a good thing.”

The FAFSA is difficult to file because the government is asking for specific financial information to understand the resources people have to pay for college, Webber said.

“The FAFSA is a way of trying to put everyone as much as possible on the same playing field,” Webber added. “The problem is that requires asking a lot of very detailed questions that require tons of information from your parents, tons of information from your taxes, and it’s oftentimes not very easy to get that information, particularly if you’re just a student and your parents aren’t being super helpful.”

Webber estimates that the FAFSA is written at a graduate-level reading comprehension, which affects students who have parents who did not attend college, he said.

“I didn’t know a lot about [filing taxes], so I was already trying to learn about that, so looking at the FAFSA and not being what I was already used to and what my dad was used it, it just adds a whole other layer of confusion,” Devlin said.

Kathryn Oleary, a freshman media studies and production major, said that last year, she and her mother had difficulty filing the FAFSA, so she didn’t get the aid she should have at first.

The removal of the Data Retrieval Tool could cause problems for students because it will be more time-consuming, she added.

“On top of work and doing stuff like schoolwork, actual work, and especially … juniors who have actual jobs and internships, that’s just going to be another pile on top of things,” Oleary said.

Tyler Wright, a doctoral physical therapy student, files his own FAFSA but does not fully understand the process, he said.

“The IRS tool just made everything expedited from not having to look back into your tax records,” Wright said. “But it’s just going to take me that much longer to do it.”

Benjamin Aitoumeziane, a senior political science and economics major, said that he is lucky his parents have been “very helpful and communicative” so he can reach out to them for tax information, but he doesn’t see the logic in removing the retrieval tool, he said.

“I feel like that would just hurt families, especially first-[generation] college families,” Aitoumeziane said. “A lot of people are very foreign to [the FAFSA]. My parents went to college, and they’re still foreign to it.”

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