Are There Pell Grant Income Limits?

Written by Michael Bennet

When students ask me about the Pell Grant income limits I simply explain to them that they don’t really exist, and that almost anyone can become eligible for a Pell Grant. Most students are then in a state of shock when they hear me say this to them, as it is common knowledge that a student’s Pell Grant eligibility is closely linked with the amount of money either they, or their parents make.

While this is true to an extent, the Pell Grant is based mostly upon financial need, which is highly dependent on a student’s expected family contribution, or EFC.

  • Financial Need = Cost of Attendance (CoA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

Thus income does not play a direct role in determining financial need, and rather it is the EFC value where income makes a contribution. EFC is calculated using a formula that is established by the Department of Education upon the collection of certain data that a student provides during the completion of the FAFSA.

The major factors at play here are the student’s income (and assets if independent), the parents’ income (and assets if dependent), the household size, and the number of family members attending postsecondary institutions.

This is clearly where income plays a large role, with higher incomes resulting in higher EFC values. Although there is a maximum EFC cutoff threshold to become eligible for the Pell Grant, EFC isn’t completely derived as a result of income, and therefore the existence of so-called Pell Grant income limits is false.

For example, if the student comes from a family that makes the state median in terms of income, yet has several children in college, there is still a very good chance that the student will still be able to qualify for a Pell Grant.

Rough Pell Grant Income Guidelines

Most Pell Grant awards are given to students that come from families who make less than 23,000 dollars per year, while some aid is given to students who come from families who make upwards of 60,000 dollars per year. This example could be a case where the student would still qualify even if their parents made around 50-60,000 dollars per year due to the fact that they had so many children in school.

Ultimately if the student can get their EFC below the max cutoff threshold of 4,995, they will become eligible for the Pell Grant provided that everything else that is relevant to their application is in order. Pell Grant limits with regards to income should therefore be used as general indicators, and not as absolute binding values.