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If you plan to go to college, one of the most important things to do is figure out how you’re going to pay for your education. College is expensive, so many students turn to student loans to pay for tuition and their living expenses while they study.
How much you can borrow depends on a wide variety of factors. If you’re getting federal student loans, undergraduates can borrow up to $12,500 per year and $57,500 in total. Graduate students can borrow $20,500 per year and $138,500 in total.
If you’re looking for private loans, the amount you can borrow depends on the lender, your credit, your cosigners, and the school that you plan to attend. While you should always try to minimize the amount that you borrow to save on interest, it’s important to know if you’ll be able to borrow enough to cover the cost of your education if necessary.
On this page:
- Federal student loan limits
- Private student loan limits
- Can you take out more than one student loan at a time?
- How much should you borrow in student loans?
Federal student loan limits
Many students can get federal student loans directly from the Department of Education. These loans have a lot of advantages over private loans but federal borrowing limits can be low depending on the loans for which you qualify.
The amount that you can borrow from the government varies with your year in school and your status as a dependent. For example, first-year undergrads can borrow just $5,500 but third and fourth years can borrow $7,500 per year.
If your parents can’t claim you as a dependent on their taxes those limits jump to $12,500 per year.
To apply and qualify for federal student loans, all you have to do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Maximum amount of Direct Subsidized & Unsubsidized Loans
Direct Subsidized Loans are only available to undergraduate students and are offered based on financial need. While you attend school at least half-time, the government covers interest payments for subsidized loans, meaning your loan balance won’t increase while you’re in school.
Any undergraduate or graduate student can get a Direct Unsubsidized Loan so long as they’re attending school at least half-time. These loans accrue interest while you’re in school but still offer lower interest rates and better terms than most private loans.
Both types of loans have a six-month deferment period after you leave school. Generally, you want to use subsidized loans before unsubsidized and unsubsidized loans before private loans.
Dependent undergraduate students
|Year||Subsidized Borrow Limit||Total Borrowing Limit|
|3rd-year & beyond||$5,500||$7,500|
Independent undergraduate students
|Year||Subsidized Borrowing Limit||Total Borrowing Limit|
|3rd-year & beyond||$5,500||$12,500|
Graduate and professional students
|Annual Limit||Total Borrowing Limit|
Maximum limits for Direct PLUS Loans
Direct PLUS Loans are another source of money for students who need additional funds to afford college. There are two types of PLUS loans: Parent PLUS Loans and Graduate PLUS Loans.
- Parent PLUS Loans are designed for parents of undergraduate students who want to help their children pay for college. Borrowers must be parents of dependent students, have healthy credit, and meet other general eligibility requirements.
- Graduate PLUS Loans are available to independent graduate students who have solid credit and are attending school at least half-time.
You can apply for both types of PLUS loans by filling out the FAFSA and then going to StudentAid.gov and applying for a loan directly on the website. Both loans also offer a wide variety of repayment plans so you can choose one that suits your needs.
PLUS loan borrowing limits are much looser than those on Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. You can borrow up to the full cost of attendance, minus any financial aid that you’ve received, but the rates tend to be higher than Direct Loan rates.
Remember, a college’s cost of attendance includes tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, transportation, and other related costs.
Private student loan limits
Private student loans are loans that come from individual banks and lenders. The borrowing limits vary from one lender to another and can also depend on your credit history. Often, you’ll want to get a cosigner to help you qualify for a loan and get a reasonable interest rate.
Here’s a list of some popular private lenders and their maximum loan amounts for undergraduates—typically, graduate students can borrow more. You can visit our guide to the best private student loans to see our top choices.
|Lender||Max. Loan Amount|
|College Ave||100% of school-certified cost of attendance|
|CommonBond||100% of attendance cost|
|Discover||100% of school-certified costs|
|Earnest||100% of school-certified cost of attendance|
|Sallie Mae||100% of school-certified cost of attendance|
|SoFi||100% of school-certified cost of attendance|
Can you take out more than one student loan at a time?
Yes, it’s possible to take out more than one student loan at once. Many people have to do this if they want to borrow enough to cover the costs of their educations.
If you’re using federal loans you can get all three types of loans—subsidized, unsubsidized, and PLUS loans—at once. If your federal loans aren’t sufficient to cover your expenses, you can also apply for student loans from private lenders.
How much should you borrow in student loans?
When you borrow money, you have to pay it back eventually. Plus, you have to pay interest on the loan and most loans accrue interest even while you’re in school and not making payments.
That means that you should only borrow money that you need to borrow. Do what you can to keep your expenses low while you’re in college because every dollar you don’t borrow will save you multiple dollars down the road.
If you’re trying to figure out how much you need to borrow, consider the following questions.
- Have you maxed out other forms of financial aid? Grants, scholarships, and work-study are all great ways to pay for your education and save you money in the long run. There are all sorts of scholarships out there, so do some research to see if you can find one that applies to you and your educational goals.
- Can you afford repayment? The more you borrow, the more it will cost to repay your loans. Before accepting a loan, figure out what your monthly payment will be and decide whether you’ll be able to handle that payment. Our student loan calculator can help you determine your monthly payment as well as the total cost of your loan.
- Is there a less expensive college that you can attend? Many people have their dream college, but some schools charge far more for education than others. Going to a community college for a year or two and transferring to a larger school or attending a public college over a private one can save you a lot of money and help you borrow less.
Author: TJ Porter