Colleges needed a fair way to assess a students’ financial need and to determine what scholarships or loans they’re eligible for. Expected family contribution or EFC is the number used by colleges to figure this all out.
Below, we’ll explain what EFC is, what it’s used for, how to calculate your estimated expected family contribution, and how to appeal it.
What is the Expected Family Contribution?
What is the Expected Family Contribution Used For?
Colleges use your estimated expected family contribution to determine your family’s financial need. They subtract your EFC from the cost of attendance or COA, which includes tuition, room and board, supplies, and books. The difference is the amount of need-based aid you need in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study, and subsidized federal loans.
Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Financial Need
A low EFC means that you’ll qualify for more federal-based aid. A high EFC means that you’ll need to resort to other options like unsubsidized federal loans, Parent Plus Loans, private loans, or savings.
The Two Types of EFC
Depending on where you attend college, your EFC is calculated using one or two methods—institutional and/or federal. All students have their EFC calculated using the federal methodology (FM). This determines your eligibility for federal financial aid as well as institutional-based aid (in most cases).
Students attending certain private colleges or public colleges also have their EFC calculated using an institutional methodology (IM). It’s a slightly different calculation that tends to place more responsibility on the student. The University of Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the University of Virginia all use IM to determine eligibility for institutional grant money.
Calculating the Estimated Expected Family Contribution
Figuring out how to pay for college is stressful. Determining your estimated expected family contribution can give you some answers as you await official financial aid documents from your chosen college(s). The federal government and colleges use a specific formula to calculate a family’s EFC, but there are a few ways that you can do it yourself.
Use an online EFC calculator to calculate your estimated expected family contribution. Bear in mind that you will need to input a lot of personal financial data, so choose the site carefully. College Board, the organization that oversees the SATs and AP tests, offers a free EFC Calculator. It’s thorough and has you input the same type of information that goes on your FAFSA. You’ll need access to your and your parent’s tax returns from two years prior to fill it out properly.
Just to give you an idea about what to expect, here’s a sample of what the calculator determined given the following information:
Mariah is 18, has no siblings, lives with her married parents, and is planning to attend the University of Virginia. Her parents had a combined adjusted gross income of $50,000 in 2017 and have $6,000 in savings. Mariah had an adjusted gross income of $1,000 in 2017 and has $1,000 in savings. Her family rents, so they don’t have any equity in a house. Based on this information, Mariah’s EFC is as follows:
$3,761 for Parents + $200 for Mariah = $3,961 Total EFC
$2,021 for Parents + $1,261 for Mariah = $3,282 Total EFC
For Mariah’s circumstances, her EFC for federal aid is higher than her EFC for institutional aid. Her college also places more weight on her income and savings and less weight on her parents’ income compared to the FM calculation.
Why Should I Calculate My Expected Family Contribution?
Calculating your EFC can help you better prepare for college. Since it considers your tax return from two years prior, you could theoretically calculate your EFC two years in advance. This would only give you a rough estimate since the calculation method can change, but it’s better than nothing. Estimating your EFC will give you idea of your family’s financial responsibility when it comes time to pay for college. The knowledge can bring some peace of mind or motivate you to start saving.
Your family should use the estimated expected financial contribution to guide their financial decisions for the next two years. For example, based on the results, your parents could decide to open a 529 College Savings Plan. With this investment account, they can save money tax-free to put toward your future educational expenses. The money is considered the parents’ asset, so it doesn’t affect the EFC as much. Plus, it will accrue some interest, so you’re getting more than you put in.
Appealing Your Estimated Expected Family Contribution
The FAFSA has you submit income data using tax documents from two years prior. This is an advantage if your parents were promoted within the last year and your current income is higher. It’s also a disadvantage for some families because a lot can happen in two years.
Say both of your parents worked two years ago and brought in two full-time incomes. If your dad no longer works for whatever reason, your family’s current income looks a lot different now than it did on the documents you submitted for your FAFSA. To account for this, colleges allow you to submit an expected family contribution appeal. It’s a form where you can submit a request for a reevaluation of your family’s financial situation based on more recent financial information.
Valid reasons for an Expected Family Contribution appeal include:
- Reduced income or loss of wages
- Divorce or separation
- Death of parent or spouse
- Out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses
You can only fill out an appeal after you have submitted your FAFSA. Start the process by contacting your college’s financial aid office directly. They can walk you through the process and send you the appropriate paperwork. View Ohio State University’s Expected Family Contribution Appeal to get an idea of the type of materials you’ll need to provide with your appeal. Collecting these materials and writing an explanation of events will take some time, but it’s worth it. It could end up saving your family a lot of money and reduce your student loan borrowing.