As October 1 approaches, the stress of the FAFSA submission grows. This is our second year with dealing with Prior Prior but we must face it with a new way of using the DRT system or the Data Retrieval Tool. In 2016, the DRT system was suspended due to personal identity problems. For the 2018-19 FAFSA submissions, DRT will be available starting October 1 with some changes.
The changes to DRT process are important to understand since the FAFSA submission will now be a blind income submission if you opt to use the DRT system. The blind submission is an important change that all parents need to be aware of especially first time filing families.
The DRT system is the system that links and verifies that the FAFSA income information is the same as what was reported to the IRS. The colleges need this verification as part of the process to deploy any Federal Financial Aid. Many state funded programs are also highly dependent on this verification.
The DRT process eliminated the need for paper submission of tax information at many colleges since an electronic flag identifies the IRS verification within the FAFSA system. This is a big help for the college financial aid offices.
DRT Blind Submission
Assuming there is no identity issue this year with the DRT system, you will need to use the DRT process for verification. The question for me is when should you use it?
Due to the identity problem last year, the DRT transfer will no longer display the data that was transferred from the IRS system. This means it is a blind income submission. This is a concern for me since the parent’s income portion of the EFC number is normally the largest part of the EFC number.
Many families who submit their FAFSA for the first time are sadly surprised with how high their actual EFC number is. Now without a way to see the submitted numbers, a stressful process may have just become worse.
New DRT Correction Process More Difficult
A new problem with the changes in the DRT system is the inability for families to make corrections electronically once submitted. Once a family uses the DRT system, corrections to the imported fields can only be made by a college financial aid office. This is a concern since the submission is blind and cannot be verified by the submitter.
As stated above, many first time filing families are surprised with their Expected Family Contribution or EFC. It is now our recommendation that you do it manually first and get an initial EFC. After the manual submission, turn the DRT on to make sure it is correct. The number should be very close if not the same number assuming you have inputted the same numbers as reported on the 2016 1040 and W2s.
If you are looking for help in mapping your information, the EFC PLUS software has a FAFSA answer key that will simplify the FAFSA mapping of the financial inputs. It will also help you with making a better college financial decision since it helps families compare college value more easily.
Our FAFSA Process Recommendation
Listed below is our recommendation for First Time Filing Students:
- Establish the FSA ID for both the student and a parent
- Go to the FAFSA site ( https://fafsa.ed.gov/index.htm )
- Create a New FAFSA
- Use Student FSA ID to start process
- Complete FAFSA manually using 2016 Tax information and current asset information
- Do Not Use DRT for Initial Submission do it manually
- This may require more work
- It will allow for an initial estimate of the EFC before the DRT is turned on
- Use EFC PLUS Answer Key to simplify FAFSA mapping
- Sign and Submission FAFSA using FSA ID
- Print out SAR since it will have Manual EFC number
- Submit FAFSA using DRT at some future date (2 options)
- Shortly after the manual FAFSA is processed OR
- Once you have committed to a specific college
DRT Submission Exceptions
If your 2016 taxes do not reflect your current financial situation, it is not recommended that you submit the FAFSA using DRT. This occurs when the 2016 tax information reflects a higher number. The most common events of this situation are a divorce, separation, loss of job, career downsizing or death.
In these situations, it is recommended that you submit a manual FAFSA with your current income. Additional verification will be required to validate the change by the college. This could include actual documents that were used in the 2016 taxes and documentation reflecting the change. Contacting the college’s financial aid office is also recommended to explain the changes.
Risk of Manual FAFSA Submission
One of our recommendations is to delay the DRT usage and allow the manual FAFSA be used for the college financial aid process. The FAFSA is used to establish the EFC. The colleges use this number to determine a family’s need at their college. This is the basis for the financial award letter given to the admitted students.
Once a student commits to a college then the DRT must be turned on for verification. If you have not used the DRT system earlier and a number was incorrect in the manual FAFSA then a family will have the risk of the financial award changing.
Most colleges only verify the FAFSA for the students who are enrolling at their college. Some colleges do it at the application period now that DRT is available. This minimizes the risk of initial financial award letters changing once a student enrolls. This is important to know for two reasons:
- in case of an overlooked number is used in the manual FAFSA
- why some colleges may send numerous reminders that the DRT system needs to be done
DRT Helpful Hint
In prior years, the DRT switch was very sensitive. It is important that you have your 1040 information in front of you. The input in the DRT fields must match exactly. Common errors are use of abbreviation or forgotten middle initials. If it does not match exactly then it will not process. At times, it can be very frustrating.
With the DRT system using a blind income submission, I have my concerns especially for first time filing families. It is our recommendation that a manual FAFSA submission be done first to get a good estimate of the number before using the DRT system. It is a little more work but may provide some confidence in the numbers that the colleges expect you to pay.