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Student Aid Index (SAI) vs. EFC – What’s the Difference?

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Understanding your financial aid options is one of the most challenging steps for students and families when applying to colleges. For most, this process begins by applying for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®)

The FAFSA has included the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for many years. This metric indicates the financial strength of a prospective student and their family and is used to help determine how much financial aid the student is eligible to receive. 

As of 2023, the EFC was replaced by the Student Aid Index, or SAI. The SAI was introduced as part of a larger series of changes designed to improve the FAFSA and the financial aid process overall. The SAI was specifically developed to eliminate some of the confusion regarding the EFC and to improve the calculation to more accurately identify students who are truly in most need of aid.

This article will examine the differences between EFC vs. SAI and their role in applying for federal financial aid through the FAFSA.

What Is EFC?

The EFC, or Expected Family Contribution, was previously used in the FAFSA application process to indicate a student and family’s financial strength. Prior to being replaced by the SAI, the EFC was used by colleges and financial aid offices to help determine financial aid eligibility. 

While its name has been changed, its function in the financial aid application process is the same. The EFC is an index used to compare a student’s financial needs against those of other students. The calculation is based on the financial information provided in the FAFSA and includes factors such as family income, family assets, family size, and other criteria.

The EFC is not a dollar amount nor a reflection of the amount a family will be required to contribute toward tuition. It’s used by colleges and universities to compare students’ financial needs in relation to one another. A lower EFC correlates to greater financial need and eligibility for aid, while a higher EFC correlates to lower financial need and financial aid eligibility. 

What is the Student Aid Index (SAI)?

Similar to the EFC (which it has now replaced), the SAI is a number the federal government provides after the FAFSA is submitted. This number is then used to help colleges and financial aid offices determine a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid. Like its predecessor, the SAI is calculated based on information provided in the FAFSA, including the income, assets, taxes, and demographics of the prospective student and their family.

The SAI is not a dollar amount, and it does not represent the amount the student or their family must contribute. Instead, the SAI categorizes and compares students’ financial abilities and needs.

How Student Aid Index is replacing Expected Family Contribution

In December 2020, the United States Congress passed the FAFSA Simplification Act, which mandated many changes to federal financial aid programs. For example, the act greatly simplified the FAFSA form, which will now be several dozen questions instead of over 100, and expanded eligibility for Pell Grants. One of the biggest changes the act mandates is the replacement of the EFC with the SAI.

The FAFSA Simplification Act set deadlines for when different portions of the act were to go into effect. The initial change from the EFC to the SAI took place in 2023. Schools must switch from using the EFC to the SAI by the 2024-2025 award year when EFC will be discontinued entirely.

The application process will be very similar for most students. Prospective students will apply for the newly modified FAFSA using the new form. The government will then provide them with their SAI in the same manner that they provided the EFC.

Student Aid Index vs. EFC: Key Differences

The Student Aid Index was designed to provide more clarity around the meaning of the EFC, but not to completely change its function in the FAFSA process. In fact, the SAI is very similar to the EFC and is calculated almost identically. However, there are some key differences between EFC and SAI.

  • Name Change – The term ‘Estimated Family Contribution’ was confusing in the FAFSA process, as many families assumed it was the estimated amount the family would be required to contribute. The Student Aid Index is less confusing and accurately reflects the number used.
  • Elimination of the Small Business Exclusion – The EFC included a Small Business Exclusion, which allowed families to exclude certain small business assets from the assets reported on the FAFSA. The SAI no longer allows this exclusion.
  • Modification of the Family Farm Exclusion – The EFC contained the family farm exclusion, allowing families to exclude certain family farm assets from the assets reported on the FAFSA. The SAI does not allow for this exclusion, but in some circumstances, the net worth of the family farm can still be excluded as an asset.
  • Allowing of Negative Numbers – The EFC did not allow negative numbers. Instead, the lowest possible EFC was 0. The SAI does allow for negative results. The lowest possible EFC is -1,500.
  • Elimination of Counting Children Currently in College – The EFC allowed parents to consider how many children they had in college. At one point in the calculation, the EFC allowed parents to divide by the number of children in college that they had. The SAI has entirely eliminated the number of students a parent currently has in college from the calculations. This is likely the most significant change for many families.

There are also a number of benefits of the SAI vs. the EFC.

Some of the most important include:

  • Simplified Calculation – The SAI’s formula is simpler than the EFC, with fewer possible exclusions and steps. This makes it easier for families to understand and can reduce opportunities for misinterpretation.
  • Increased Accuracy – Because there are fewer exclusions and steps to the SAI calculations, families have fewer opportunities to make mistakes about what can and should be included and what can’t and shouldn’t. Perhaps most importantly, the SAI results more accurately represent which students are truly in most need of aid.
  • Easy Input – The SAI requires families to input less information. This makes the process easier, faster, and less likely to result in confusion or mistakes.
  • Reduced Confusion – The EFC caused confusion because many people thought it was the amount the family would pay. The SAI eliminates this confusion, and more accurately represents its intended purpose.

EFC vs. SAI: Adapting to changes in financial aid calculation

If you’ve never applied for financial aid before, transitioning from the SAI to the EFC will not impact your FAFSA application process. It will impact only the terminology you see on your Student Aid Report (SAR), which you will receive after your FAFSA is submitted and processed. The biggest difference is that your SAI number is less likely to confuse you and more likely to accurately reflect your financial needs.

Due to the modifications in how the SAI is calculated, some scenarios exist in which students may be eligible for less financial aid using the new SAI vs. the EFC. This is especially true for families with multiple children currently enrolled in college and those with small business or family farm assets.

Learn more about SAI vs. EFC with Ascent

Ascent is determined to support students in achieving their financial goals to succeed in college and beyond. Whether you’re looking to get ahead of FAFSA deadlines or are ready for a deep dive into FAFSA 101, we have the resources to help you navigate the college application process from start to finish. 

If your federal aid isn’t enough to fully cover your expenses, Ascent offers cosigned student loans and non-cosigned student loans to meet your unique needs. Check your rates today without impacting your credit score or contact us for more information.


What Is replacing EFC?

The SAI is replacing the EFC effective in the 2024-2025 award year, although it’s probably more accurate to say that the SAI is modifying and improving the EFC. EFC and SAI serve the same purpose in the federal financial aid process: to help the government and educational institutions determine which students most need financial aid. The SAI has refined the calculation and adjusted the verbiage to accurately reflect its purpose.

Is EFC the same as SAI?

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is not the same thing as the Student Aid Index (SAI). While the two are very similar, the SAI was introduced to replace the EFC, and there are a few key differences between the two.

The SAI is calculated slightly differently from the EFC, especially regarding what families can exclude as assets and if families can consider the number of children they currently have in college. These changes make the SAI a more accurate reflection of which students actually have the greatest need for financial aid. The SAI has also been rebranded to eliminate confusion caused by the EFC.

These differences will be minimal for most families, and their EFC and SAI will similarly impact what financial aid is available.

Is EFC going away?

The EFC will be retired in 2023. Beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, the federal government and schools that accept federal aid must fully replace the EFC with the SAI.

Although the SAI is replacing and modifying the EFC, the two calculations are very similar, and the results will be very similar for most families. In fact, much of the EFC is included within the SAI, although some parts have been moderately changed.

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