It always starts simply. You need money for college, so you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and take out a federal direct student loan. Whether you run into unexpected expenses or choose a more costly degree path, you may end up needing additional funding.
It doesn’t matter how many student loans you already have. The only thing that matters is whether you’ve reached the annual or the aggregate federal direct student loan limit. If you’ve hit that limit, you won’t be eligible for more federal direct loans.
For private student loans, lenders will look at your total loan amounts and use that information to determine whether or not you qualify for a loan. If you already have a lot of student loan debt, a private lender may not approve you. The lender will also look at your current major and GPA when deciding whether or not to approve your request.
Are there limits on how many student loans I can take out?
Student loan limits only apply to the dollar amount, not the number of loans you take out. Both annual and aggregate limits vary depending on whether you’re taking out federal or private student loans. They may also depend on whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate student.
Read below to learn more about student loan limits and how they may apply to you.
Federal student loan limits
Federal student loan limits vary depending on the student’s grade level and if they’re a dependent or independent student.
Independent students have higher loan limits but must meet the following criteria to qualify:
- Age 24 or older
- Attending a professional or graduate school
- Veteran or current member of the military
- Orphan or a ward of the court
- Have legal dependents other than a spouse
- Emancipated minor
- Homeless or at risk of becoming homeless
If you don’t meet any of these criteria, then you are classified as a dependent student. The annual limits for federal student loans for undergraduate students are as follows:
|Year in School||Dependent Student||Independent Student|
|Third-year and beyond undergrad||$7,500||$12,500|
The total aggregate limit for dependent undergraduate students is $31,000 a year, while the limit for independent undergraduate students is $57,500 a year.
You can learn more about federal student loan limits here.
>>Read more: Do student loans cover a semester or year?
Private student loan limits
Each private loan company has its own annual and aggregate student loan limits. Some may cover the annual cost of attendance minus other financial aid, while others may limit it to $15,000 a year. To find out what the limit will be, you’ll likely have to submit a full application.
The aggregate limit often ranges from $120,000 to $150,000 for undergraduate students and between $350,000 and $500,000 for graduate and professional students. You can check out our best private student loans page to see what limits top lenders have.
Private lenders may use your credit score, how much you’ve already borrowed, and other factors to determine how much to lend you. You may be able to borrow more if you have a cosigner than if you do not.
What happens if I maxed out the limits available to me in student loans?
Many borrowers run into the problem of maxing out their federal direct student loans while still needing more money to pay for college. If you’re an undergraduate student, one option is to have a parent take out Federal Parent PLUS loans, which are federal student loans that a parent can use to pay for a child’s college education.
The annual limit on a Parent PLUS loan is the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid. Parent PLUS loans have higher interest rates than other federal student loans and less access to income-driven repayment. Because there is no income verification as part of the loan application, you should be cautious that you don’t borrow more than you can repay.
Another option is taking out private student loans. Private student loans are often used to fill in gaps after exhausting federal funding options.
If you reach your limit on private loans, you may be able to find another lender. However, private lenders will check your credit and verify your income, and if they think you’ve borrowed more than you can afford to repay, you may be denied a private loan. This will be on a case-by-case basis.
If you need more money to pay for college and have exhausted loan options, contact the university’s financial aid department. There may be emergency grants and scholarships you can apply for.
How to borrow responsibly
Don’t use the annual and aggregate limits on student loans as guidelines for determining how much to personally take out. A better rule of thumb is to never borrow more than you’ll earn your first year after college.
For example, if you plan to be a teacher, use sites like Payscale.com or Salary.com to find the average annual salary for an entry-level teacher in your state. Use that as the baseline for how much to borrow. If the average teacher earns $40,000 in their first year, you shouldn’t borrow more than $40,000 in student loans.
If you end up borrowing more, you may find it difficult to buy a house, save for retirement, or go on vacation. And if you want to go back to school or start a business, you may need to wait until your loans are paid off.
Before relying too heavily on student loans, you should maximize other types of financial aid like grants, scholarships, and work-study opportunities. Keep applying for grants and scholarships even after you start school; there are plenty of awards available for upperclassmen. Talk to your academic advisor about ways to minimize your college costs.
Stick to a budget while you’re in college and try to minimize your living expenses. Live with as many roommates as possible. Find a part-time job to cover some of your expenses although you should be cautious that additional income does not affect your need-based financial aid.
Only use your student loans to pay for necessary expenses, like tuition, rent, and textbooks. If you’re tempted to use it for DoorDash or Spring Break trips, just remind yourself that every dollar you spend is a dollar you’ll have to pay back later—with interest.
Another important rule is to not take out private student loans until you’ve maxed out federal loans. Private student loans do not offer income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness programs. They also have shorter forbearance periods.