If you’ve filled out the FAFSA paperwork and come back with an EFC of zero, you might think there’s been a mistake. After all, everyone’s EFC is sky-high, right?
On the other hand, you might be celebrating big time. Doesn’t an EFC of 00000 mean that you won’t have to pay anything for college?
Let’s slow down. Some folks do get a 0 EFC, but it doesn’t mean you get a free ride. Here’s how to understand that number!
Why Would You Have a 00000 EFC?
There are a couple of different reasons a FAFSA EFC would be zero. If your adjusted gross income is low enough, you automatically get 0. For 2018-19, that number was $25,000 or below on your 2016 income tax return.
If your income is below $49,999, your family qualifies for a simplified needs test. This means both the parent’s and student’s assets are not counted in the EFC calculation, and may lead to a 00000 EFC result.
A student will also have a 0 EFC if they are considered independent from their parents. There is a long list of ways to qualify for independence.
Here are a few of them:
- The student is 23 or older
- The student is married or separated (but not divorced)
- At the beginning of the current school year, the student will be enrolled in a master’s or doctoral degree program
- The student is currently on active duty or a veteran of active duty service who was released for a reason other than dishonorable discharge
- The student has one or more children who will receive more than half of their support from him or her
- The student is an orphan, emancipated minor, or has been a dependent ward of the court
A student with an EFC of zero is considered a “full-need student.”
What Does it Mean to Have No EFC?
Being a full-need student means that you will get more aid from schools than someone with a higher EFC, but it does not necessarily mean that all of your financial need will be met.
There are very few schools that meet full need. Many of these schools have their own need-determination system, using the CSS profile or another similar form. This may result in an EFC higher than zero, although it may still be low.
If you want your student to have full need met, it’s important to position them properly. Make sure they focus on schools where their academic and test results are in the upper tiers for incoming freshmen. This will help the school be interested in ensuring they attend, leading to more aid.
Unfortunately, a zero EFC doesn’t mean school is free. Not only do many schools leave you to pay a percentage of your own need, you may find that some of the aid requires you to take out loans.
Aid Packages for Full-Need Students
A full-need student will have access to some additional funding not available to others. One of the most important is federal Pell Grants, which do not have to be repaid.
A school must be eligible for Title IV in order to include these grants in an aid package. Most schools are, but a few are not. Keep that in mind as you compare options!
Pell Grants are awarded based on financial need, EFC, enrollment status, and cost of attendance. The maximum for a Pell Grant in 2019-20 is $6,195, and the award cannot be higher than the cost of attendance.
Unfortunately, Perkins Loans expired on September 30, 2017. These low-interest loans were a good tool for folks with a 0 EFC, and there is currently no program to replace it.
Other Aid Sources
Work study and Stafford loans work just like they would for any other student. You don’t have to accept these options if you prefer not to or don’t need to.
Keep in mind that loans have to be paid back just like other student debt options, so they can cause a financial burden if you aren’t wise with them. Also, even with all the aid offered, you may still have a funding gap.
Remember, many schools don’t cover 100% of need!
Getting the Most Aid Possible For Your Full-Need Student
Having a full-need student gives you some advantages, but you still have to carefully select colleges to focus on. You should also apply as early as you can each year, so your student will be first in line for aid.
Need help finding which schools are most generous to your full-need student? Let us help. Check out our College Data Spreadsheet today!
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