How Much Money Can I Take Out in Student Loans?

 March 25, 2021
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how much can i take out in student loans

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Private Student Loan rates starting at 2.49% APR

2.49% to 13.85% 1

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2.70% to 11.79% 2

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3.37% to 13.72% 3

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  • Variable APR

Note that the government has paused all repayment on federally held student loans through the end of 2022, with no interest to be charged during that period and no loans to be held delinquent or in default.

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How much money can I get in student loans? It varies considerably: The maximum amount you can borrow depends on your dependency status, year in school and degree program as well as your loan type.

  • Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loan limits: Borrow up to the Department of Education’s student loan limits or your cost of attendance, whichever is lower.
  • Federal 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 costs to enroll and attend its program.

Of course, you still need to know what the federal student loan limits are, so read on to find out. With this information, you can borrow responsibly, while still getting the funds you need to pay for college or graduate school.

How much in federal student loans can I get?

The first type of loan that students should consider is federal student loans, which are offered and guaranteed through the Direct Loan Program, also known as the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. This program offers four types of Direct Loans for in-school students, and caps how much you can borrow with each under the following rules:

  • Annual limits: The maximum amount 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 upperclassmen, the borrowing limits are higher.

Below are the federal student loan limits for different types of Direct Loans, as of March 9, 2021.

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 the 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.

How much in private student loans can I get?

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 more in 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. For undergraduates at the following private lenders, for example…
Lender Annual limit Aggregate limit
Ascent $200,000 (for cosigned loans)
$20,000 (for non-cosigned loans)
$400,000 (as of Aug. 12, 2022)
Citizens Bank 100% of cost of attendance $150,000
College Ave $150,000 $300,000
CommonBond 100% of cost of attendance $500,000
MPower Financing $25,000 (per loan) $50,000
PNC $50,000 $225,000
Note that some private lenders count your federal loan borrowing toward your aggregate limit.
All limits were current as of March 9, 2021, except as indicated.
  • 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 to 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?

Knowing how much student loans you can get can help you decide which types of student loans are best for you. But 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. You can use the College Board’s tool to calculate how much college will cost, or ask your preferred schools about their net price calculators.

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 savings, income, private gift aid and loans.

Already have student loans? Check out our student loan calculators to estimate how much you’ll pay in interest, find your expected monthly payments or estimate the benefits of refinancing. 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, Rebecca Safier and Andrew Pentis contributed to this article.

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