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How is Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) or SAI Number Calculated?

Note: Changes effective in the 2024-2025 award year will require schools to transition from the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to the Student Aid Index (SAI). SAI replacing EFC is one of many changes implemented as part of the FAFSA Simplification Act. Both EFC and SAI may be used interchangeably, though SAI is the accurate metric for the FAFSA moving forward.  

Navigating college funding can seem overwhelming, but breaking things down to pieces and understanding how they all come together can make it more manageable.  

As you review your financial aid award letter, one item that may stick out is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number. Colleges use your EFC to determine your financial aid options for the upcoming school year. So, what is the EFC, and how will it affect your financial aid package? 

This article will help explain how EFC is calculated and how this metric (now known as SAI) is used in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) process.

What Is Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

EFC is a number used to gauge a family’s financial strength and eligibility for federal student aid. If you’re wondering how your EFC is calculated, it’s based on your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and other benefits such as unemployment or social security. 

It’s also important to learn what EFC is not.

The Expected Family Contribution Index is not the exact dollar amount a family will pay for college, nor does it directly equate to the financial aid a student will receive. Think of the EFC as a yardstick colleges use to calculate the federal student aid a student can receive. It’s the starting point or reference number colleges use to distribute need-based financial aid. 

What Is SAI: How SAI Will Change EFC (2024-2025 Award Year Update)?

SAI stands for Student Aid Index. EFC was replaced with SAI for several reasons, but the change was part of a larger series of changes made to the FAFSA to reduce confusion, fix minor challenges, and build greater transparency.  

For instance, many families and students understood their EFC as the total cost they were expected to pay for college, but the number may not accurately represent their total school costs. Using a more general term can help students and families look at their college financing options differently. 

The SAI is a number calculated based on the income, assets, taxes, and demographic info of the student and parents. The SAI can be negative, up to -1,500. A lower number does not necessarily increase eligibility, but it allows colleges to identify and group students with greater financial needs. While the SAI is not solely determinative, a higher SAI will typically lead to lower amounts of available financial aid, and a lower SAI will often increase the amount of need-based aid available. 

The main changes in how SAI is calculated compared to EFC involve three areas: 

  • The number of children in college a parent has at the same time will not affect the SAI
  • The Small Business Exclusion that was included with the EFC has been eliminated in the SAI 
  • The Family Farm Exclusion that was a part of the EFC has been modified, although, in some circumstances, the net worth of the family farm can still be excluded as an asset

Understanding the FAFSA and EFC

The FAFSA and EFC are connected and work together in the federal student aid process. To fully grasp how EFC is calculated, you need to understand how FAFSA works.  

Students and families must complete the FAFSA every year to determine what federal student loan options they qualify for (federal loans, grants, scholarships, work-study, etc.). Once the Department of Education processes your FAFSA application, they provide you with a Student Aid Report (SAR), a comprehensive summary that includes your EFC number.  

The EFC provides a financial snapshot for the financial aid officers at your college and is a crucial factor in determining the federal aid you may be eligible to receive. You can estimate your aid package with a FAFSA EFC Calculator to ensure you receive the maximum aid possible. It is also important to stay up to date with this year’s FAFSA deadlines and get your application submitted early. 

Note: 2024-2025 Award Year Update: The SAI functions in a nearly identical way to the EFC. It provides colleges with insight into your financial situation and needs. It also serves as a factor that determines your financial aid eligibility. The primary difference between the SAI and the EFC is that it eliminates some confusion and makes minor changes to what can be used or excluded from the SAI calculation.

EFC and its Significance to Financial Aid

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a crucial factor in financial aid calculations to find the types of financial aid you can qualify for and the amount of aid you can receive. Financial aid options that your EFC can impact include grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and federal student loans. 

The EFC operates on a straightforward principle—the lower the EFC, the greater the potential for receiving aid. On the other hand, a higher EFC can indicate that the student’s family has a greater ability to contribute to the cost of education, which can impact the amount of need-based aid the student qualifies for.  

Though EFC does not directly determine the amount of money a family will need to contribute toward college costs, it’s an essential factor in the financial aid equation that shapes a student’s eligibility for federal aid.

Factors Considered in EFC Calculations

Calculating the EFC considers multiple aspects of a family’s financial situation, including income, assets, family size, and dependency status. Collectively, these elements paint a picture of a family’s financial health and serve as critical inputs in the FAFSA EFC calculation. Here’s a look at how each factor relates to your EFC. 


Income is the cornerstone of the EFC calculation. It considers the student’s and parents’ taxable and non-taxable earnings. Non-taxable income can include various sources like untaxed portions of pensions, unemployment benefits, and child support received. It’s important to note that income isn’t considered in isolation—it’s weighed against the family’s size and the number of family members attending college. 

Understanding how income influences the EFC is critical to the EFC calculation process. It’s not just about the absolute income figure; it’s about the relative contribution capacity it represents in a family’s financial landscape. 


In the FAFSA EFC calculation, assets are another crucial consideration. The net value of a family’s assets, including cash, savings, investments, and other properties (excluding the family home), is factored into the EFC. This reflects the family’s potential capacity to fund educational expenses over and above income. 

This doesn’t mean every dollar of assets is treated the same. The calculation uses a specific formula to factor in assets, recognizing that families also need these assets for other critical living expenses. Assets are typically given less weight than income in the formula.

Family Size

Family size also carries significant weight in the EFC calculation. The logic is straightforward—the more members in a family, the higher the potential education costs and living expenses. On the other hand, larger families may often have a lower EFC, reflecting the broader financial responsibilities they shoulder.

Dependency Status

Your dependency status—whether considered a dependent or independent student—also plays a decisive role in your EFC. Independent students typically have a lower EFC, primarily because their parent’s financial information isn’t factored into the calculation. 

This status influences not just the information considered in the calculation but also other pieces of information as well. For instance, an independent student with dependents other than a spouse is given more allowances in the EFC calculation than a dependent student, potentially reducing the EFC further. 

Visit the Federal Student Aid website for more information on the comprehensive changes involved with the FAFSA Simplification Act.

EFC Calculation Methodology

Note: Along with the switch from EFC to SAI, there are also changes to the criteria used to calculate federal financial aid eligibility. To see these specific differences, please read our section on SAI calculation methodology. 

The formula for calculating the Expected Family Contribution is specific and regulated by law. It considers a degree of predictability and consistency to ensure all students are assessed relatively against the same set of parameters. 

The federal government updates the EFC calculation formula regularly, and you can download the official EFC Formula Guide directly from the FAFSA website. The formula varies slightly depending on whether you are: 

  • a dependent student 
  • an independent student without dependents other than a spouse 
  • an independent student with dependents other than a spouse 

It is also important to note that the EFC estimates what a family can expect to pay for college. The actual amount you will pay may be higher or lower and can also vary from school to school.

SAI Calculation Methodology

Like the EFC, the method for calculating the SAI is well-defined and controlled by governmental regulations. The SAI is designed to maintain a level of consistency to ensure all students are assessed equally and fairly. 

The SAI formula undergoes periodic reviews and updates by the federal government, and the changes can be seen by visiting the official FAFSA Federal Student Aid Estimator. Like the EFC, the SAI formula you will need to use will vary depending on if you are: 

  • a dependent student 
  • an independent student without dependents other than a spouse 
  • an independent student with dependents other than a spouse 

Also, like the EFC, the SAI is merely an estimation. The actual contribution may vary, especially between institutions.

Interpreting and Using the FAFSA EFC Number

Once your FAFSA is processed, you’ll receive your Student Aid Report (SAR), including your all-important FAFSA EFC number.  

Upon receipt of the SAR and the EFC, colleges use this figure to provide a customized financial aid package. The EFC serves as a benchmark, determining the need-based aid for which a student is eligible, and helps colleges determine the gap between the cost of attendance (COA) and what a family can contribute, shaping the details of a potential aid package.

Learn More with Ascent Funding

As you and your family consider the next steps in your college journey, it’s important to understand how key financial concepts like EFC and SAI can influence the amount of federal aid you may qualify for.  

Ascent is committed to providing students with the financial knowledge and confidence to make well-informed decisions for the future. From scholarships to college loans, we’re here to support your higher education goals every step of the way.  

Check your rates today to learn more about how our cosigned and non-cosigned loans can help supplement your college expenses or follow our blog for more student success tips and insights. 

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