What if Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is 0 on the FAFSA?

How to know your dependent status

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

The FAFSA has a lot of different details about it that can be confusing if you’re a newcomer to navigating financial aid services. There are many different steps that you need to take in order to complete your financial aid package. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be misunderstood by the majority of students and sometimes even their parents. 

Your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, on the FAFSA, is a simple way of saying that you have a certain income threshold based on your parents financial contribution. Zero is the lowest EFC number with 99,999 as the highest. If a dependent students' family's income is less than $24,000 and government assistance was needed for that filing year, the EFC will automatically be zero. A zero means a family has no ability to contribute to the student's education. Read on for more information on how to file a FAFSA.

The FAFSA form is still confusing for many students and parents who fill out, even with assistance. 41% of students didn’t know that filing the FAFSA early increases their chances of getting more financial aid. 85% of students didn’t know that the FAFSA determines eligibility for free aid. Photo courtesy of Time

What is the FAFSA? 

To apply for the FAFSA, your parents or guardians have to submit their tax paperwork. Understanding taxes is only the beginning of the financial aid process. It's crucial to fill out this form so you can discover your eligibility for aid. Filling out the FAFSA is free for all, and once you get the hang of it, it's really simple to figure out. The first time you do it is always the hardest, so that’s why we’re here to assist in any way possible to smooth out the process. 

When you go to the Department of Education’s website, they offer you a step by step guide to filling out the FAFSA form. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal grants, work-study, and loans, and sends that info to the colleges of your choice. After your institution receives the information, they will determine how much financial aid, scholarships, loans and grants they will give you for that year. The IRS Data Retrieval Tool makes the process of filling out the FAFSA easier and almost instantaneous. 

After you receive your financial aid offer, you will be able to review it and, if necessary, adjust it. Each college will give you a different offer, so try to compare them to see which one is the best fit for you. Also, think about how your offer may change throughout the four years you attend. Once you've narrowed down your decision you'll inform them before the deadline, accepting the offer. 

In order to determine your eligibility for non-federal financial aid, you need to fill out the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. Unlike the FAFSA, it provides your university with additional financial information in order to determine any additional needs. This tool helps individual colleges determine how much of their own personal scholarship dollars they want to award you. The CSS Profile is free to fill out for American families that make up to $100,000 per year, and costs up to $25 per year otherwise. You can view Grantford’s breakdown of the CSS Profile here.

The opportunity to fill out the FAFSA and CSS Profiles for the 2022-2023 school year began on October first, 2021. It's best to fill it out as soon as possible to maximize the amount of aid you receive. Federal financial aid is given on a first come, first serve basis. Check out our FAFSA Tips and Tricks to learn more and to get a head start on your FAFSA application. 

Another way to pay for college is through grants and scholarships. Although each institution is different, there are several global, national, and local scholarships you can apply for. These are based on your community involvement, major, calculated financial need and through submitting an essay.

Your EFC is an index number that colleges use to determine how much financial aid you would receive if you end up attending their school. The information you report on your FAFSA form is used to calculate your EFC. Photo courtesy of Pexels

What is your Expected Family Contribution? 

Your EFC is an index number used to determine your eligibility for federal student financial aid. This number results from the financial information you provide in your FAFSA. It's reported to you on your Student Aid Report (SAR).

Your EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law and considers your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security). Schools use the EFC to determine your federal aid eligibility and financial aid award. You can calculate your predicted EFC on the College Board website.

Your eligibility depends on a combination of different things: your EFC, year in school, and the Cost of Attendance (COT) at the school of your choice. When you enroll in college, your financial aid package takes the EFC and subtracts the COA to determine the amount of financial need that you have. Try talking to your school, applying for more scholarships, or reading our article about other options to consider if you didn't get enough financial aid.

What does it mean when your EFC is 0? 

Just because your EFC is at zero doesn’t mean that your cost of attendance is free. It depends on the institution in which you want to attend to determine this. It does mean, however, that you are a “full need student.” Any person with an EFC number at 0 will receive the maximum amount of student aid that your school can provide. A number over 5,273, however, will result in no financial aid at all. So, after the calculation is made, the concept is simple: The closer you can get to zero, the more federal dollars you'll have to help pay for tuition and fees.

There are other ways to determine if your EFC could be 0. Students who are financially independent from their parents also are considered as an EFC 0. For instance, if your parents don’t claim you on their tax return, or if you are estranged from your family. If you don’t have a legal guardian, you also have an EFC of 0. To be eligible for these qualifications, you need to be aged 24 or older; married or separated (but not divorced); at the beginning of the current school year, be enrolled in a degree program; a veteran of active duty service who was released for a reason other than dishonorable discharge; or if you have one or more children who will receive more than half of their support from you. 

What else am I eligible for if my EFC is 0? 

When your EFC is zero, you are eligible for almost all federal based aid programs available. This includes, Pell Grants, Federal Work-study programs, and Stafford loans. Students are generally awarded based on financial need, EFC, enrollment status, and cost of attendance. The maximum for a Pell Grant for 2019-20 is $6,195, and the award cannot be higher than the COT.

Grantford’s blog is available as a free resource for current and aspiring students looking to maximize their financial aid knowledge. Photo courtesy of Pexels


Figuring out your financial aid situation is not an easy task, but with the help of Federal Aid resources and your student loans, as well as grants and scholarships, the process can be a little easier. If you need help figuring out whether you are eligible for any of these resources, or if you think your EFC is close to 0, then you might be in luck. 

Want More Tips? 

If you’re looking to find more scholarships, or other ways of achieving your college degree for free, look at scholarship search engines online. We recommend searching via the State Department of Education, our Go Financial Aid Facebook and Twitter pages, and free scholarship search engines like Niche, fastweb, College Board, Scholly, and CollegeScholarships.org. If you’re still looking to make a college decision, check out college selection search engines such as US News and Cappex

Going through college applications, alongside figuring out your financial aid status can be a confusing and difficult process. Grantford's team hopes to provide students in both undergrad and graduate programs with resources to even the playing field. You can meet with us or view our various categories of resources on our website. For annual updates, subscribe to our financial aid advice newsletter.

Liz Anastasiadis
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