Free Financial Aid Calculator for 2024-25
The Student Aid Index (SAI), formerly known as Expected Family Contribution (EFC), is used as part of the financial aid process at most colleges. This calculator will help you determine your need-based aid eligibility based on federal financial aid formulas. Enter your data below to get started and then email a copy of the results to yourself and print a copy to keep for your records. 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.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Student Aid Index or Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?
The Student Aid Index (SAI), formerly known as Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is used as part of the financial aid process at most colleges and universities. Your SAI is a number that is calculated and shown during the process of submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It measures a student’s and family’s ability to pay for college. Schools use it to help determine your eligibility for need-based financial aid and how much aid they will offer you. Your SAI is not necessarily the amount that you will actually pay for college. It’s closer to say that your SAI is an estimate of what schools might determine your family can afford to contribute toward college, including current income and assets, college savings, and other resources. What you will actually end up paying at a given school will be determined by that school’s financial aid office.
What is the difference between Student Aid Index (SAI) and Expected Family Contribution?
There is no difference between SAI and EFC. Beginning in 2023, EFC was renamed to SAI to avoid confusion over what the number actually means. The old name led many families to believe that the EFC was the amount they would be expected to pay toward college rather than an estimate of their financial need.
If the SAI is $10,000, does that mean we will have to pay $10,000 as parents?
The SAI is not necessarily the amount you will pay. It’s closer to say that your SAI is an estimate of what colleges might think your family can afford to pay toward college based on your current income, assets, and other resources. I have often seen families end up paying substantially more or substantially less than their SAI. Each college’s financial aid office makes the final decision on how much you’ll have to pay and how much need-based financial aid you’ll receive.
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 who is attending college shortly after high school. I 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.
Do all schools use SAI to help decide our federal financial aid award?
No. Most schools use the SAI formulas as part of their financial aid process, but schools can use their own formulas instead. Ultimately, while many schools will use the SAI as a guideline, but they can award need-based financial aid funds as they see fit. This is why you should only use the SAI as an estimate and never assume that it’s the final amount you will be required to pay.
What can we do to lower our EFC?
Typically, you can lower your SAI by reducing the 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, and re-positioning assets. CAUTION: Lowering your SAI will not necessarily provide more aid or reduce your out-of-pocket costs. Use this calculator to determine how your SAI might 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?
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.
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.