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What’s the Student Aid Index (SAI)?

Published February 28, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    Beginning with the 2024-25 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), the U.S. Department of Education is replacing the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) with the Student Aid Index (SAI).

    With previous iterations of the FAFSA®, the EFC was integral in helping colleges and universities determine how much aid students may have been eligible to receive. The same will be true for the SAI going forward.

    Continue reading to learn more about what the SAI is and how it’s calculated.

    What’s the SAI and what’s it used for?

    The SAI is the eligibility index number used by financial aid offices at colleges and universities to award aid beginning with the 2024-25 FAFSA®. This number helps schools determine how much federal student aid and other types of aid to award to students, if any.

    Your SAI is determined by the information you input on the FAFSA® about you and your family’s finances. It considers you and your parent’s (if you’re a dependent) or your spouse’s (if you’re married) income and assets.

    In many ways, the SAI calculation mirrors the EFC calculation used on earlier FAFSA® forms, although not completely. Changes to the calculation include:

    • The SAI won’t consider the number of family members a household has in college as a part of its analysis.
    • The SAI calculation eliminates the EFC allowance for state and local taxes.
    • The SAI can be a negative number (unlike the EFC) as low as –1,500. A negative SAI indicates a higher need for financial aid.
    • The SAI calculation increases the Income Protection Allowance (IPA). This allowance shelters a certain amount of parental income from inclusion in the calculation of total income.

    Why’s the SAI important?

    The SAI may be a significant number to understand for students applying to college and seeking federal financial aid and other types of aid. The number itself is significant because a lower index number can indicate to colleges that you may demonstrate a higher need for financial aid.

    How’s the SAI calculated?

    Your SAI is calculated using several factors such as your and, if applicable, your parent or spouse’s income, assets, and benefits (like unemployment). In many cases, the higher the income, the higher the SAI.

    Although the SAI doesn’t determine how much financial aid you receive, it helps colleges understand how much financial aid you may need. For example, having a lower SAI may increase the need-based aid you’re eligible to receive, while a higher SAI may result in a lower amount of financial aid you may be eligible for.

    Your financial need amount is produced by subtracting your SAI from the cost of attendance (COA) for a college and other financial assistance you may receive. Cost of attendance typically includes tuition, fees, and room and board.

    The equation to calculate a student’s financial need generally looks like this:

    COA – SAI – Other Financial Assistance = Eligibility For Need-Based Financial Aid

    For example, if your college’s COA is $35,000 and your SAI is $2,000, and you won’t be receiving other financial assistance, your potential for need-based financial aid will be $33,000. 

    You must submit the FAFSA® each year you’re planning to attend school to be eligible for federal student loans, grants, work-study, and even some institutional and privately funded grants and scholarships. As you file a FAFSA® for each year you’re in college, your SAI might change. The amount of need-based aid you’re eligible to receive can increase or decrease.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that this equation calculates eligibility for need-based financial aid – it's not a guarantee that you’ll receive a set amount of aid.

    When will you receive your SAI number?

    Once you submit your FAFSA®, you’ll receive an email with instructions on accessing your FAFSA® Submission Summary online once it’s available. Your FAFSA® Submission Summary will include the information you reported on your FAFSA®. It will also include your SAI, along with your estimated potential eligibility for The Pell Grant, federal student loans, and whether you’ve been selected for FAFSA® verification.

    Final thoughts

    Your SAI is used to help determine the amount of financial aid you may be eligible for. Each student’s SAI is calculated based on their specific financial circumstances. This is why it’s so important to file your FAFSA® carefully for each school year to ensure your SAI accurately reflects your circumstances.