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How Does Household Income Correlate to EFC?

January 10, 2019

For families applying to college, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is a critical metric in determining eligibility for financial aid.

The EFC represents the amount that the family, including the student, is expected to contribute to the cost of that student’s education. The higher the EFC, the less financial aid that the student is eligible for; the lower the EFC, the more financial aid the student is eligible for.

There are two main aid forms used to calculate EFC, each of which calculates the metric differently: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and CSS Profile. While just over 200 institutions use the CSS Profile, the vast majority of colleges use the federally-administered FAFSA to calculate students’ EFC. For this article, we’ll be focusing on the FAFSA’s formula.

All families that apply for college financial aid should fill out the FAFSA. But for families looking to start their college research early without having to complete all the necessary paperwork, getting a working estimate of what their student’s EFC will look like can be a useful guiding tool. For those families, we’ve built a helpful table estimating EFC based on the household’s income.

How to Use Our EFC Tables

The tables below are estimates to help families at a get a general sense of their EFC at a variety of income levels, without having to go through all the work of filling out the FAFSA. That said, the only way to get their student’s actual EFC is to fill out the FAFSA (which we strongly recommend doing). Use these tables as a simplifying guide only.

The tables below use the 2019-2020 EFC formula for dependent students living in a two-parent household. If your student is claimed as a dependent for tax purposes, and is applying to college for the 2019-2020 academic year, you’re in the right place.

Moreover, this table assumes that you will only have one student attending college in 2019-2020. That said, if you have more than one student attending college, the EFC usually adjusts such that parents’ expected contribution does not increase. Students’ expected contribution will only be impacted if they have income or assets of their own.

Also note that we estimate EFC using the parents’ combined adjusted income before federal income taxes, and assume that the student has no financial income or assets. The tables themselves estimate the impact of federal income taxes, and assume that your family is paying federal income taxes in full while taking a standard deduction. If your tax situation is different, then this estimate is likely to be diverge more from your actual EFC.

2019-2020 Estimated EFC Reference Table for College Financial Aid

To use these tables, firstly, find the row with the household income that most closely corresponds to the parents’ combined gross income (and only the parents’ income), in the column to the far left.

Then, find the column with the number of dependent students in the family that will be attending college in the 2019-2020 academic year.

The figure for that household income and that number of dependent students is what we estimate to be the EFC for each individual student.


Total Size of Household (Including Student)

Adjusted Gross Income










































































































































































How We Got These Estimates: Methodology and Assumptions

To get these estimates, we first recreated the actual formula to preserve as much of the original calculations as possible. Then, in order to arrive at some specific figures, we had to make some assumptions and do some back-of-the-envelope math.

Here are a few of the most important assumptions and estimates:

  1. We gave a “Blank/Invalid State” as our state of residence. The FAFSA formula gives you a lower EFC if you live in a high-tax state, like New York. If the state you give is illegible, the formula fills in placeholder tax rates similar to those of a low-tax state, like Texas. We use these as our assumed values.

  2. We assumed that the two legal parents are married, or unmarried and living together.

  3. We assumed that you will only have one student attending college. Families who already have children attending college are likely to already understand their eligibility for financial aid.

  4. We assumed that the student has no income or assets of her own. If she does have either, this will usually result in a higher EFC.

  5. We assumed that the oldest parent in the household is 50 years old, a typical age for most parents of traditional age college students.

  6. We assumed cash and taxable assets of $20,000. Financial assets like these do have an impact on EFC, but many families don’t have enough assets for this to have a larger impact than their household income. The amount of taxable assets only begins to significantly affect EFC at high levels, such as in the six-figure range or above.

  7. We assumed that the household is paying full federal income taxes, and taking a standard deduction. This is a useful simplifying assumption, but if this isn’t true for your family, your EFC may diverge farther from our estimates.

  8. We estimated the family’s federal income taxes, based on their household income and marital status, and compared these to the income tax brackets for 2018. Paying more in federal income tax usually lowers a family’s EFC; for our purposes, however, estimating this is enough to get us in the range of a reasonable EFC.

What Now?

Having an estimate of your EFC doesn’t mean you’ve finished all your financial aid paperwork, like the FAFSA or CSS Profile. But it does give you a guide for researching college costs.

When researching colleges, pay attention not just to their Cost of Attendance, or the total cost of college before financial aid, but to their Average Percent of Need Met. The latter number tells you, on average, how much of the Cost of Attendance above your EFC that the college usually pays for.

Because your financial aid offer may vary because of factors like GPA or SAT score, this average doesn’t necessarily predict how much financial aid the college will actually offer your student. But it does help your family get a sense of the amount of aid you might receive.

Looking for more personalized financial aid estimates for your college list? Edmit can help—we use machine learning algorithms and publicly available data to help families make smarter college financial choices. Start your college search by creating an Edmit account today.