Tax transcripts still slowed by breach

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Many college students depend on federal financial aid, which is obtained in part based on tax information.

With the impending arrival of a new year, many college students are getting ready to head back to campus.

They’ll also be working on getting the money they and their families need to pay for the coming and future semesters. In most cases, the process to determine just how much financial assistance a student qualifies for involves getting taxpayer information from the Internal Revenue Service.

This year, however, retrieving that tax filing data is not as easy.

Students who need a tax transcript, which shows all the information entered on a prior tax return, should be prepared to work around some IRS security issues.

Get Transcript restrictions

The IRS has limited the accessibility of its online Get Transcript tool since it was hacked in May.

The tiny bit of good news is that criminals gained access to the transcript tool’s database by using individuals’ information obtained from sources outside the IRS. The bad news is that the security breach was much worse than originally thought, with investigators discovering that around 334,000 taxpayer records were exposed.

The IRS is still working on security upgrades to the Get Transcript tool. While that continues, online viewing of old tax data and transcript printing has been temporarily halted.

Alternate transcript options

However, you still can use the Get Transcript tool to order a tax transcript online and have it mailed to you. It will be sent to the taxpayer’s address of record.

You also can order a transcript by calling 800-908-9946 and following the automated prompts. Or if you prefer, submit Form 4506T-EZ to request an individual tax return transcript by mail or fax.

The IRS says that by using any of these options, taxpayers should receive their transcripts within 5 to 10 days from the time the IRS receives the request.

You also might want to check out the IRS Data Retrieval Tool on the FAFSA website to import your tax return information to your financial aid application. The temporary shutdown of the Get Transcript tool does not affect the Data Retrieval Tool.

When applying for financial aid or making any transaction that requires your personal information, be sure that it’s safe. And if the worst does happen and you do become an identity theft victim, monitor your credit to ensure that no one else is using your data. You can get a free credit report through myBankrate.

Keep up with what’s happening in the tax world by subscribing to Bankrate’s free Weekly Tax Tip newsletter. You also can follow me on Twitter: @taxtweet.