College students who plan to borrow to cover their educational costs might wonder, “How much student loans can I get?” Here’s the short answer:
- Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loan limits: Borrow up to federal student loan limits or your cost of attendance, whichever is lower.
- PLUS Loans and private student loan limits: Borrow up to 100% of your cost of attendance, or the dollar amount that your college says it should cost to enroll and attend its programs.
Armed with this information, you can more effectively plan out your student loan and borrow responsibly — while still getting the funds you need to pay for college.
How much student loans can I get?
Knowing how much student loans you can can help you decide which types of student loans are best for you.
Here’s what you need to know as you figure out how much student loans you can get — and decide how much debt you should take on.
Federal student loan limits
The first type of loan that students should consider is federal student loans, which are offered through and guaranteed through the Direct Loan Program. This program offers four types of Direct Loans, and caps how much you can borrow with each under the following rules:
- Annual limits: The maximum amount of that the borrower can take out in an academic year.
- Aggregate limits: The maximum cumulative amount that a borrower can borrow in student loans.
- Cost of attendance: In addition to annual and aggregate limits, the federal government also limits loans by your costs. It will not allow borrowers to take out more student loans than their college program costs.
How much student loans you can get, specifically, will vary by your student status. For example, the Direct Loan program lends less to students who are dependents (per FAFSA guidelines), or who are in their first or second year of college. For independent students and upperclassman, the borrowing limits are higher.
Here are the federal student loan limits for different types of Direct Loans.
|Type of federal student loan||Who can get this loan?||Annual loan limit||Aggregate limit|
|Direct Subsidized Loans||Undergrads with demonstrated financial need||$3,500 for freshmen, up to $5,500 for upperclassmen||$23,000|
|Direct Unsubsidized Loans*||Undergrads||$5,500 for dependent freshmen, up to $12,500 for independent upperclassmen||$57,500|
|Direct Unsubsidized Loans* (graduate students)||Graduate and professional students||$20,500||$138,500|
|PLUS Loans||Graduate and professional students, and parents of undergraduates||Cost of attendance (after all other student aid is applied)||None|
*Subsidized Loan amounts will also count toward these limits.
To access these federal student loans, you’ll need to file a FAFSA. The colleges you’ve applied to use your FAFSA information to evaluate your need and eligibility for federal student aid, including loans. Next, these colleges will send you financial aid award letters outlining what kinds of aid you can get.
So as you want to know how much student loans you can get, pay attention to this letter. It will list the types and amounts of federal student loans you’re being offered.
Private student loan limits
Private student loans are offered by banks and lenders directly to students and their parents. They aren’t part of the federal government’s programs, so they won’t have the same rules for how much student loans you can get.
This can actually be good news for students who have hit their federal student loan limits and still have costs to cover. For instance, if you go to a more expensive university and pay a higher tuition, those federal student loans won’t go as far. In these cases, private student loans can help to cover any leftover costs.
What you can borrow with private student loans will also vary by lender, as each bank will have its own lending rules. Here’s what private lenders will look at when deciding on your student loan amount:
- Lenders’ limits or guidelines: Each bank or lender will have its own limits on annual borrowing, while others may just have a certain maximum yearly amount you can borrow. Citizens Bank’s private student loans, for example, are limited at $100,000 for undergraduates.
- Credit qualifications: Lenders might limit student loan amounts based on your qualifications for a loan, too. You’ll need good credit to get a private student loan, for example. If you do not have any credit history you’ll likely need a parent or trusted adult cosign the loan for you.
- Education and employment: Private lenders might also limit loan amounts to what they determine will be affordable. To figure this out, they might look at details such as the type of degree you’re earning, and your cosigner’s income.
- Cost of attendance: Lastly, most private lenders will also consider your cost of attendance when deciding how much student loans you can get from them. Many will offer financing of up to 100% of your cost of attendance, but few private lenders will let you borrow more than what your program costs.
How much student loans do I need?
Instead of asking “How much student loans can I get?” consider how much you really need.
The answer to this question is going to be different for each individual. Depending on your school’s tuition, room and board, books, and living costs, your college expenses could differ wildly from someone else’s. CollegeBoard’s tool to calculate how much college will cost.
You can also borrow less if you get grants, scholarships, and other student aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. The FAFSA4Caster tool can help you estimate how much federal aid you’re likely to receive, and how much you’ll have to finance with loans.
Already have student loans? Check out Student Loan Hero’s calculators to determine how much you’ll pay in interest, compare your loans, or find your expected monthly payments. Whether you borrow with federal loans, private student loans, or both, it’s important to make sure you’ll be able to afford this debt in repayment.
Lauren Bowling contributed to this article.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 2/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.23% – 13.23%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.20% – 11.44%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 10.11%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.85% – 6.99%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|