Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial
research influence how products appear on a page.
Student Loans

Current Federal Student Loan Limits

Federal student loans make up the majority of college financing. These fixed-rate loans are easy to get and don’t require a credit check or a set income level to qualify.

Federal student loans offer several benefits, but the U.S. government limits how much you can borrow to cover your education costs. Here’s what to know about the federal student loan limits for undergraduate and graduate students working toward a degree.

Do all federal student loans have the same limit?

No, all federal student loans don’t have the same limits. The Department of Education limits how much college students can borrow based on several factors, including dependency status, year in school, and other financial aid received. This information is included in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which you complete to apply for federal student loans.

Different types of loans have different limits too. Regardless of limits, even if multiple federal loans are available to you, we recommend prioritizing some loans over others.

For example, Direct Subsidized Loans can be much more affordable than Direct Unsubsidized Loans because the government pays (or subsidizes) any interest that accrues on that loan while you’re in school. With Unsubsidized Loans, interest accrues while you’re in school and is added to your original loan amount. You pay for all interest and principal (the original amount borrowed).

Certain federal loans also have different maximum borrowing limits for dependent versus independent students. Your dependency status and total loan amount are based on age, marital status, occupation, and grade level.

Direct Loan limits for dependent students

Direct Loans, less commonly called Stafford Loans, are federal college education loans for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

They come in two varieties: Subsidized and Unsubsidized. The federal government covers interest on Subsidized Loans while the borrower is in school or during deferment, and students cover the interest on Unsubsidized Loans.

Subsidized Loans from the federal government are only available to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. Because of the covered interest payments, Subsidized Loans cost the borrower less, but Unsubsidized Loans have fewer restrictions on how much you can borrow.

For dependent students—those listed on someone else’s tax return as a dependent child or adult—federal student loan limits are as follows:

Year in schoolAnnual borrowing limit, Subsidized Loans*Annual borrowing limit, Unsubsidized Loans*
1st-year undergrad$3,500$5,500**
2nd-year undergrad$4,500$6,500** 
3rd- & 4th-year undergrad$5,500$7,500**
Limits for all years$23,000$31,000**
*For dependent students, **Including Subsidized

Direct Loan limits for independent students

College students who can prove they are independent might qualify for more federal funding to help pay for their education. Independence as a student means no one else can claim or is claiming you as a dependent on their tax return.

To be considered independent, you could be at least 24 years old, be married, have a dependent child, or be a member of the U.S. military. These are just a few qualifying situations.

Independent students are, in theory, managing the financial aid process for college on their own and may need additional federal loans.

While less restrictive than dependent students’ borrowing limits, limitations still exist for independent students who qualify for financial aid. These limits are as follows:

Year in schoolAnnual borrowing limit, Subsidized Loans*Annual borrowing limit, Unsubsidized Loans*
1st-year undergrad$3,500$9,500**
2nd-year undergrad$4,500$10,500**
3rd- & 4th-year undergrad$5,500$12,500**
Limits for all years$23,000$57,500**
*For independent students, **Including Subsidized

The U.S. Department of Education considers all graduate students independent. Federal student loan limits for grad students are as follows:

Year in schoolAnnual borrowing limit, Subsidized LoansAnnual borrowing limit, Unsubsidized Loans
Graduate or professional studentN/A$20,500
Aggregate loan limits* $65,500$138,500
*Including loans received for undergraduate studies

Parent PLUS and Grad PLUS loan limits

If federal Direct Loans aren’t enough to cover the full cost of attendance, graduate students could qualify for a Grad PLUS Loan, and parents of an undergraduate student could qualify for a Parent PLUS Loan.

Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS Loans differ from Direct Loans because they’re only available to graduate students and parents of students without an adverse credit history.

The borrowing limits for Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS Loans also differ from Direct Loans. Annual limits don’t apply, but students or parents can’t borrow more than the total cost of attendance minus other financial aid.

Funding from our top-rated lenders

  • Borrower $1,000 to 100% of certified costs
  • Use our editorial ratings to find the best match
  • Compare loans for undergraduates, graduates, parents, and career-training programs

What affects federal student loan limits?

Federal student loans are an excellent first choice for student borrowers, but these loans might not offer all the funding you need.

Federal student loan limits can be affected by a student’s:

  • Dependency status
  • Year in school
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Enrollment status (full-time versus half-time)

These factors will influence how much federal financial aid you can get through Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loans. If it’s not enough, you might need supplemental financing through private student loans or other funding sources.

Do federal student loan limits change?

Yes. Federal loan limits increase as students advance in school. For example, a third-year student will have a higher limit than a second-year student, who will have a higher limit than a first-year student.

The federal government adjusts loan limits periodically, taking into consideration factors like inflation.

Can you appeal for a larger loan amount?

If you need to borrow more in federal loans than the current limit, you may be able to request a higher amount, depending on your course of study. For instance, graduate students pursuing certain healthcare degrees may qualify for as much as $26,667 in additional federal loans for that year.

If you need to borrow more because you were denied certain federal loans or are limited in your borrowing ability due to your FAFSA, you may be able to appeal that decision through your school’s financial aid office. To do so, you’ll write a letter explaining your appeal and any extenuating circumstances you want the Department of Education to consider.

Why are there limits on federal student loans?

The Department of Education (DoE) has a budget to follow each year, which includes a line item for educational lending. Without limits, the DoE could easily run out of available funds before all eligible students can access the loans they need.

Federal student loans also come with certain benefits, such as loan deferment, forbearance, income-driven repayment, and loan forgiveness. By limiting how much it lends, the government can ensure it is able to forgive loans for eligible borrowers.

Options after maxing out federal student loan limits

If you’ve exhausted your scholarship, grant, and federal loan options and are still falling short on your tuition, housing, and other related expenses, it might be time to look at other options.

Part-time work

Students can work part-time to pay for additional expenses that their federal loans and scholarships don’t cover. 

Federal work-study programs

Many schools also offer work-study programs on campus, which can make it easier to earn money while attending classes.

State and private student loans

Students can turn to various state and private student lenders to cover their remaining balance. These loans rarely have the same protections and benefits as federal loans and usually have stricter credit requirements.

However, private student loans often have high borrowing limits, so you can take out what you need to cover any remaining educational costs.

Funding from our top-rated lenders

  • Borrower $1,000 to 100% of certified costs
  • Use our editorial ratings to find the best match
  • Compare loans for undergraduates, graduates, parents, and career-training programs