Free Financial Aid Calculator for 2021-22
This Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator will help you determine your need-based aid eligibility based on federal financial aid formulas. To get started, watch the instructional video to learn how to calculate your EFC and learn more about the other resources on this page.
When you’re done using the calculator, you can print your results or send a copy to your email address.
Additional tutorials and resources are available below the calculator here.
How To Use This Calculator
This video will walk you through each of the inputs step-by-step. I describe what information to put into each blank. I also point out the common mistakes that people make and how to avoid them.
Introduction To Need-Based Aid
This video explains how need-based aid is calculated. This video is a great introduction to help you understand how the federal financial aid formula works. We cover the five key factors that have the most impact on the amount of aid that you receive. They are:
- Student Income
- Student Assets
- Parent Income
- Parent Assets
- Number of Students in School
This video also explains which assets are reported on the FAFSA form and which assets are not. This calculator is the most accurate if you enter your assets as you would on the FAFSA.
Understanding the Five Federal Financial Aid Programs Video
This video explains the five core federal financial aid programs which include:
- Pell Grant
- Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants
- Federal Direct Student Loan
- Federal Plus Loan
Who Is Your Parent – Help for Divorced and Blended Families
If you’re a parent who is divorced or separated, or you have a blended family, understanding which parent’s information belongs on the FAFSA form is a challenge. This video explains how the FAFSA should be completed and will help you enter the proper information into this financial aid calculator.
Calculator Input and Output Descriptions
Number of Parents: Enter 2 if married and in the same household. Enter 1 if separated, divorced or a single-parent and the student’s other parent is not in the same home. Enter 2 if both parents are in the same home (it doesn’t matter if you’re married, separated, divorced or never married). If you are remarried enter 2 and add in the new spouses income and assets. Click here to watch Who Is Your Parent – Help for Divorced and Blended Families
Age Oldest Parent: Enter the age of the oldest parent. If you entered 1 for number of parents, use the age of that parent.
Number of College Students: Enter the number of college students in your household. Do not include parents that are returning to school. Do not include students that are in graduate school, older than 24, or otherwise independent.
Total People in Household: This would include parents and children, including college students. If you also have any other dependents such as grandparents, adult children, etc. they will also be included.
State of Residence: The state you currently live in.
Adjusted Gross Income (AGI): This is the adjusted gross income that is reported on your taxes. It can be found at the bottom of the first page of your 1040 tax return. You can estimate it by adding all of your taxable income.
Retirement Contributions: Enter your total contributions to retirement plans that reduce your taxable income. Typically these contributions are to retirement plans provided at work that allow pretax contributions (401(k), 403B, 457, SEP, simple etc.). Also include tax-deductible contributions to traditional IRAs. Please note this is only contributions for this tax year, it is not the value or balance in these accounts.
Child Support: Enter the amount of untaxed child-support that you receive as a positive number. If you’re paying child support and paying taxes on it as well, enter the annual amount as a negative number.
Tax-Free Income: Enter any other tax-free income. Do not include any Social Security for you or for your children. (They already show up on your taxes, and any amount that is not taxed is not included). Typical tax-free income would include income from tax-free investments like municipal bonds, housing allowances, and disability income.
Parent 1 Income from Work: Enter the amount that parent one earn as wages as well as income from self-employment. Typically any income that is subject to social security taxes or self-employment taxes.
Parent 2 Income from Work: Enter the amount that parent two earn as wages as well as income from self-employment. Typically any income that is subject to social security taxes or self-employment taxes.
Income Tax Paid: Enter the amount of income taxes paid. This can be found on your 1040 under the line total tax. Note: This is not your refund or payment submitted with your taxes, this is the total federal income taxes that you paid for the year.
Bank Accounts: Enter the total amount that parents have in the bank. Include checking, savings, CDs and any other deposits that are not in a retirement plan. Do not include retirement plans or IRAs. Bank accounts in the student’s name will go in the student assets category.
Investments: Enter the total value of parents investments. Typical investments would include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and stock options. Do not include investments that are inside a retirement plan, IRA, annuity or life insurance. Also include the value of exotic investments if you have them. Exotic investments would include REITs, oil and gas partnerships, stock options, stock derivatives, gold, commodities, futures contracts etc.
Real Estate: Enter the net value of all real estate that you own other than your primary residence. Do not include the value of your primary residence or any debt associated with your primary residence.
Trust: Enter the value of any trust where the parents are the owner or beneficiary. Assets in a revocable trust should be treated as owned by the trust owners and entered in the categories above.
College Plans: Enter the total value of all college savings plans including 529s and Coverdells. Include the value of all plans owned by the parents for any of the children as well as any college plan owned directly by the student. For example: If you have a 529 for each of your three kids they all are considered a parent asset and their total value would be included here.
Business / Farm: Enter the total net worth of your business or farm. Do not include family farms that parents live on and operate.
Other Assets: Enter any additional assets that would be assessed by financial aid. Most people will leave this at zero.
Student Income: Enter the students total income based on their taxes or other sources if the student was not required to file taxes. Note that this calculator will be less accurate for students earning more than $12,000 per year.
Student Assets: Enter the total value of all assets in the student’s name. This would include bank accounts, as well as investments such as stocks and mutual funds. Do not include 529’s that are owned by the student they belong in parent assets. Also include UTMA and UGMA accounts. (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act and Uniform Gifts to Minors Act)
Cost of Attendance: This is the total cost of attendance for one year at the college you’re planning to attend. Cost of attendance includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, personal expenses, and travel. Cost of attendance information for the colleges in each state is available here.
Cost of Attendance: This is the cost of attendance of the school for one year. You entered it above.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC): This is your expected family contribution. EFC is calculated based on your financial information.
Estimated Financial Need: This is an estimate of the amount of need-based financial aid that you are eligible for. Some families will receive enough aid to cover the entire need, while others will not. For example, let’s say that we have two families that both need $10,000. One family may receive the full $10,000 while the other may only receive $5,000.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
If the EFC is $10,000, does that mean we will have to pay $10,000 as parents?
The EFC or estimated family contribution is used as part of the financial aid calculations. It is not necessarily the amount that parents will pay. It’s closer to say that EFC is an estimate of what the parents should be able to afford to contribute for college including, college savings, current income, student loans and other resources. I have often seen the parent contribution end up being substantially more or substantially less than the EFC.
If parents are divorced or separated, whose information is used for calculating financial aid?
Determining which parent belongs in the financial aid forms can be relatively complicated for families that are divorced, separated or blended. Oftentimes only one of the parents will be on the financial aid forms. If that parent is remarried the new spouse will be included as well. However, some colleges will look at both of the parents and potentially all stepparents when determining aid.
If parents refuse to help with college, will the student be considered independent?
No. There are very specific criteria for a student to be considered independent. They include things like the student being 24 years or older, or the student being married. Most families are not willing to do the things necessary to be considered independent. However, if you meet any of the criteria for being independent take advantage of it. It is probably to your advantage.
How accurate is this EFC calculator?
This calculator is reasonably accurate for the typical family with a student is attending college shortly after high school. We tried to balance simplicity and ease-of-use with accuracy. Results of this calculator are only an estimate. This calculator is not for independent adults returning to school, students in graduate school, or part-time students.
What can we do to lower our EFC?
Typically you can lower your EFC by reducing your income or assets that you report. You may be able to reduce your income by adjusting benefits at work, changing your compensation if you’re self-employed, or adjusting income from investments or rental property. You can reduce your assets by using strategies such as paying off debts, shifting money into retirement plans, were re-positioning assets. CAUTION: Lowering your EFC will not necessarily provide more aid or reduce your out-of-pocket costs. Use this calculator to determine how your EFC would change in different scenarios.
Does it make sense to change our finances in order to improve our EFC?
It only makes sense to make changes in your finances if the benefits that you going to receive will be greater than the cost of making the changes. First you need to verify that the changes will result in a useful benefit. For example more grants or scholarships or better loans. Second you need to understand the costs for making the changes including taxes, interest expenses, surrender charges, and access to your funds.
Where can we find the cost of attendance for a particular college?
The cost of attendance is available on every college’s website. Typically if you search the website with the exact term cost of attendance you will find the cost of attendance page. This page will have total cost of attendance as well as each of the components (tuition and fees, room and board, books, personal expenses, travel).
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is the free application for federal student aid. This is the form that you will complete in order for the government to calculate your exact EFC (for the federal method).
What is the CSS profile?
The CSS profile is an additional financial aid form in addition to the FAFSA that is required by approximately 300 colleges. Typically these colleges are the more prestigious and expensive private colleges in the US.