SAI Versus EFC: Understanding the New Student Aid Index


Last month we touched upon the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) Simplification Act in our blog “How the FAFSA Simplification Act Paves the Way for Student Success” where we gave high-level insight to what changes the FAFSA Simplification Act is bringing to the world of Financial Aid. Digging a little deeper on these changes, we’ll be exploring one of the Acts biggest overhauls, the EFC otherwise known as the Expected Family Contribution. If you are a student and have ever filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), then you may be vaguely familiar with the term “EFC.” As a Financial Aid administrator, then you may be intimately familiar with how the EFC heavily affects Title IV.

Spoiler Alert! That EFC is going away! The FAFSA Simplification act is replacing EFC with what is now known as “SAI” or Student Aid Index. Today we’ll be breaking down the difference between that old EFC, and the new SAI explaining what it even is, how it’s different, and why it matters.

What is an EFC?

EFC stands for “Expected Family Contribution.” It is a number that the government calculated using the information the student supplied on the FAFSA. It is used to explain how much money a student’s family is expected to pay for their college education. Colleges and Universities will use that EFC number to determine how much financial aid a student can receive in grants, loans, or work-study programs. A common misconception with the EFC is understanding that the EFC number is NOT the exact amount of money a family will pay, but simply a way for a college to understand a student’s financial need.

What is SAI?

SAI stands for “Student Aid Index.” Like EFC, it is a number that the government calculates to see how much financial aid a student can receive for college. It was introduced as part of the FAFSA Simplification Act and will not go into effect until the 2024-2025 award year when it will completely replace the old EFC number. Unlike the EFC, SAI has nothing to do with how much the student’s family must pay but instead indicates if a student qualifies for additional financial help. It is designed to make it easier for students to apply for financial aid, looking at more distinct factors from the FAFSA than the EFC does.

EFC and SAI are both numbers intended to show the school and student how much financial aid a student can receive for college. One of the main differences (besides the name change) is that SAI offers more clarification on whether a student qualifies for aid.

What are the main differences between SAI and EFC?

Calculating SAI

SAI and EFC are different in what they represent and how they are used in the financial aid process. We will uncover 3 of the main differences.

  1. Meaning: EFC is a number generated to indicate how much money a family is expected to contribute towards the student’s college education while the SAI is a number generated to indicate whether a student qualifies for Title IV (grants, loans, federal work-study)
  2. Interpretation: This is one of the biggest reasons for the name change from EFC to SAI. EFC was often misinterpreted as the total amount of money a student and family were expected to pay. (I know, this is getting confusing!) But EFC was never about the total amount a family had to pay, just how much the government calculated they could help pay. SAI clarifies this by indicating there is an eligibility index for student aid. So, this number is NOT the actual amount to be paid like an EFC appeared to represent.
  3. Calculation: How much Title IV a student can receive is decided based on a calculation. SAI and EFC share similar calculation methods with some main differences in how each handles negative numbers. The EFC does not calculate amounts below 0. If a student’s EFC were negative, their FAFSA application would be considered invalid for financial aid awarding. SAI changes that and allows for negative numbers. This is used to differentiate greater levels of need instead of invalidating a student’s aid options. Another significant difference in the calculation is family members. Part of the EFC calculation included the number of family members enrolled in college, the SAI excludes that data in the calculation.

In the financial aid world, transitioning from EFC to SAI marks a key difference in the calculation process. While both are used to determine financial aid, they differ in important ways. SAI is designed to provide greater clarity and avoid misconceptions about actual payment amounts. Unlike the EFC, SAI allows for negative values and no longer considers family members in college to further streamline the process.

Students High-fiving after Contacting FAS about SAI questions
To ensure schools navigate these changes efficiently and maintain financial aid compliance, we at Financial Aid Services, a third-party financial aid consultant, offer valuable assistance. With our expertise in processing Title IV and our software automations, we empower schools to provide students with seamless financial aid support. Follow us to stay ahead in the ever-evolving landscape of financial aid with Financial Aid Services as your trusted partner!

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