Current Federal Student Loan Limits
For many students, federal student loan limits play a part in how much funding is available. Students should recognize that there is not an unlimited amount of federal student loan assistance on the table and planning accordingly based on the maximum loan amount is important.
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Most students pursuing a college degree need help with paying for their education. Given the rising cost of college, student loans from both public and private sources help cover the savings gap. However, student loan debt is a burden for many college graduates, with the average monthly payment at more than $300.
To help combat the challenges faced by millions of borrowers when repaying student loan debt, there are limits to how much an individual student may borrow for their education costs.
Federal student loans make up the majority of college financing. This is because they are relatively simple to obtain, and they require no thorough credit check or financial requirements to qualify.
The Department of Education has set strict limitations on the amount college students can borrow based on several factors, including dependent status and information included on the FAFSA, year in school, and other financial aid received.
This guide provides details about the federal student loan limits for undergraduate- and graduate-level students working toward a bachelor’s degree or another degree program.
Stafford Loan Limits for Dependent Students
Stafford Loans are college education loans provided by the federal government for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. They are either subsidized or unsubsidized loans, where the federal government covers interest on subsidized loans and students cover it on unsubsidized loans.
Subsidized Stafford Loans from the federal government are only available to those who are pursuing an undergraduate degree and who have a financial need. While direct subsidized loans ultimately cost the borrower less because of the covered interest payments, unsubsidized loans have fewer restrictions on how much can be borrowed.
For students who are dependents—that means listed on someone else’s tax return as a dependent child or adult—federal student loan limits apply as follows:
- First-year undergraduate students – $5,500, with no more than $3,500 as subsidized loans
- Second-year undergraduate students – $6,500, with no more than $4,500 as subsidized loans
- Third- and fourth-year undergraduate students – $7,500, with no more than $5,500 as subsidized loans
Each of these loan limits for federal student loans is per year. There is also an aggregate loan limit of $31,000 for dependent undergraduate students, with no more than $23,000 as the aggregate limit for subsidized loans.
Stafford Loan Limits for Independent Students
College students who can prove they are independent may qualify for more federal funding to help cover the cost of their educational goals. Independence as a student means there is no other person who can or is claiming the student as a dependent on their tax return.
Independent students are managing the financial aid process for their college years on their own, in theory, and therefore may need additional help through federal Stafford Loans.
While less restrictive than dependent students’ limitations, there are still federal student loan limitations imposed on independent students who qualify for financial aid. The restrictions are as follows:
- First-year undergraduate students – $9,500, with no more than $3,500 in subsidized loans
- Second-year undergraduate students – $10,500, with no more than $4,500 in subsidized loans
- Third- and fourth-year students – $12,500, with no more than $5,500 in subsidized loans
Similar to dependent students, independent students face aggregate student loan limits. Undergraduates may have no more than $57,500 in total federal student loans, with no more than $23,000 in subsidized loans. It is also important to note that all graduate-level students are considered independent students. They also have federal student loan limits, as follows:
- Any graduate or professional student is limited to $20,500 in federal student loans, all unsubsidized, each year.
- The aggregate loan limit for graduate or professional students is $138,500, with no more than $65,500 in subsidized loans. This limit includes all federal loans received for undergraduate studies as well.
PLUS and Grad PLUS Loan Limits
When federal Stafford Loans are not enough to cover the full cost of attendance, graduate-level students may qualify for a Grad PLUS Loan and parents of an undergraduate student may qualify for a Parent PLUS Loan.
Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS Loans differ from Stafford Loans in that they are only available to graduate-level students and parents of students who do not have an adverse credit history.
The loan limits for Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS Loans also differ from Stafford Loans. There is no annual limit as a set dollar amount, but students or parents may not borrow more than the total cost of attendance, less any other financial aid received.
What Variables Impact the Amount of Federal Student Loans I Can Qualify For?
Federal student aid has loan limits to help curb the potential for over-borrowing to fund one’s education. However, these limits can be impacted by other sources of financial aid, including any scholarships received, grants, or private student loans. Federal student loans are reduced based on these factors, and for nearly all students, the amounts available are far less than private student loans.
Also, your dependency status, your year in school, and your enrollment status (for example full or half-time) will impact how much federal financial aid you can receive through subsidized or unsubsidized loans. Each of these factors influences what you are eligible to receive and may dictate your need for supplemental financing through private student loans or other funding sources.
Federal student loans are the go-to for the majority of college students earning a degree today. That is because federal student loans are easy to secure whether you are a dependent or independent student, a graduate or undergraduate student, or you have varied credit history and income.
However, the annual federal student loan limits on the actual loan amount can make it a challenge to pay for the full cost of attendance.
Understanding these student loan limits laid out in this guide is a great place to start in realizing what is available to you through the Department of Education and its various loan programs.
This information is also beneficial in helping you determine what amount, if any, is needed through other financial options, including private student loans, scholarships, grants, or PLUS loans.
For reference, when private student loans are factored in, the maximum student loan amount you can take out is typically the cost of attendance.
Author: Melissa Horton
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