When IRS Data Retrieval Tool Isn't an Option for Completing the FAFSA

This is the final post in a three-part series on the FAFSA's income reporting options.

The Department of Education encourages students and families who are seeking grants, scholarships, and other financial aid for the 2013-14 academic year to utilize the IRS Data Retrieval Tool when entering their 2012 income data into the FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  With the DRT, students and their parents can transfer the income information reported on their tax return quickly, easily and accurately into the online FAFSA.

Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to use the Data Retrieval Tool. So, what can you do if you are not able to use the DRT?

First, make sure the DRT is not an option. You won’t be eligible to use the retrieval tool if you answer “Yes” to any of the following questions:

  • Did your file an amended IRS federal tax return for the 2012 tax year?
  • Did you file a Puerto Rican or foreign tax return?
  • Did you file your 2012 IRS federal tax return as “Married Filing Separately”?
  • Did you file your 2012 IRS federal tax return as “Head of Household”?
  • Did you file your 2012 federal tax return electronically during the last 3 weeks or by mail in the last 8 weeks?

If you the student or you the parent answer “Yes” to any of these questions, you will NOT be able to use the DRT to help you file the FAFSA.

Note to dependent students:  If you answer “No” to each of your DRT eligibility questions, you will be able to use the DRT to summon your income information from your federal tax return whether or not your FAFSA parent is able to use the DRT. Conversely, if your parent is eligible to use the DRT, but, you, the dependent student, are not, your parent can still employ the Data Retrieval Tool.

If you answered "No" to all of the eligiblity questions, you should try to use the DRT. For tips on how to do it, read my earlier blog post, "FAFSA/IRS Data Retrieval Tool – What It Is and How It Works".

But all is not lost if either or both of you can’t use the DRT. You and your FAFSA parent (if required) can still complete the FAFSA the old-fashioned way. Simply type in the answers to the income questions, by supplying the same numbers you reported on your federal income tax return. Just make sure that you don't accidentally transpose your income. Typos are a common FAFSA mistake, and FAFSA mistakes can be very costly if left uncorrected. 

Changes to the FAFSA have simplified the data entry requirements and taken much of the “mystery’” out of reporting income information. For each income question, the FAFSA identifies the line number on your federal tax return. Simply report the number recorded in that line item. As illustrated below, Question 84 in the parent’s info section (on the paper FAFSA) tells you that you’ll find the answer in line 55 on IRS Form 1040, or line 35 on Form 1040A or line 10 on the 1040EZ form. 

Do not hesitate to file the FAFSA. This application is everyone’s gateway to getting the financial aid funding needed to pay for college  ̶  including Federal Pell grants and Work-Study, low-cost federal student loans, state grants, and even institutional scholarships and merit awards.

If you’re unsure of how to answer any of the FAFSA’s income questions, take advantage of the readily available counseling services available in your community or at the Department of Education. During the next few weeks, you may have the opportunity to ask your question in person.  Professionals from the financial aid world will be on hand at College Goal Sunday and other FAFSA counseling events that are being held nationwide in January, February and March. 

Other resources are available to help you decide what to report, and financial aid professionals are just a phone call or keyboard query away.

  • You can call the financial aid office at the school you’re seeking to attend.
  • You can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center, which currently is taking calls seven days a week (except on federal holidays).  The center’s toll-free number is 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).  If you are hearing impaired, call the TTY number at 1-800-730-8913. You can type your question and get an answer via an online chat with the Federal Student Aid Information Center.  The hotline and chat services are free of charge and available 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Saturday (Eastern Time). Sunday service hours are available 12 noon to 6:00 p.m. (Eastern Time), through February 24.

In addition, CollegeUp.org offers a practical guide to completing the FAFSA as well as FAFSA FAQs.

Sue Allmon is a financial aid administrator with more than 25 years of experience in helping students find money needed to pay for college.

Related posts:

FAFSA/IRS Data Retrieval Tool – What It Is and How It Works

Filing Your FAFSA Before Filing Your Tax Return – Can It Be Done?




Comments for When IRS Data Retrieval Tool Isn't an Option for Completing the FAFSA

Name: eileen
Time: Monday, January 27, 2014

when i complete my taxes for 2013 i print out the fafsa with the information from my taxes , but my family size is 2 people more as i have a couple children living with us that file their own taxes, what do i do as i provide all rent, food,everything. can i add these two to my daughters fafsa. thank you

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Thursday, January 30, 2014


In response to your query that was posted January 27:

Financial aid rules for who “counts” in your household size are very different from the rules for filing taxes. If you have other people living in your home for whom you will provide more than 50 percent of their support for the upcoming financial aid award year (July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015), then you may include them in your household size.

Name: David
Time: Thursday, March 20, 2014

I filed my taxes electronically 6 weeks ago. The address matches exactly. I have my 1040 in my hand. It still fails. Now what?
There are other reasons that it fails, but they won't tell us what those are.

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Tuesday, March 25, 2014


In response to your comment/query that posted on March 20, 2014:

Yes, there are other reasons the IRS Data Retrieval Tool may not work besides the address. The FAFSA help page has additional information: https://fafsa.ed.gov/help.htm > click on the “IRS Data Retrieval Tool” option on the left and “Why is the IRS Data Retrieval Tool not working?” question. There is a link at the top of the response outlining the applicants who are “eligible” to use the tool.

If you are unable to use the DRT, you may still complete the FAFSA by manually filling in the income information from your taxes.

Name: Adriana madigan
Time: Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I am living off the post 9/11 gi bill-therefore i only had a t1098 to file- how do i fill out the tax portion of the FAFSA

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Thursday, May 22, 2014

Adriana Madigan:

In response to the comment/query you posted on May 20, 2014:

If you are not required to file a federal tax return then you should check that you are a non tax-filer for the answer to Question 32 on the FAFSA. Doing this will then permit you to “skip” to Question 39.

Name: Kendall Russell
Time: Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I'm an independent student, over 26 and married. My husband and I filed our taxes jointly. However, my mom has helped with some college expenses. When I put the amount she helped with on the FAFSA, it still said I qualified for a Pell grant. However, my school said my application was kicked back because it didn't match my tax return but there was no reason to declare the help on my tax return because my mother paid it direct to the school, so it was never part of my income. But now I can't get my Pell grant. What can I do to resolve this?

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kendall Russell:

In response to the comment/query you posted on October 22, 2014:

The funds your mother paid for your college expenses must be reported on the FAFSA as untaxed income (in question 45j); it likely would not be included on your tax return. It sounds like the “kicked back” application was selected for verification. The IRS data retrieval tool will not populate information into question 45j, so amounts reported there only reflect information the student provides. Please work with your school to complete the verification process, but bear in mind that it is possible that you may not qualify for a Pell Grant after verification.

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