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.
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1 = Citizens Disclaimer.
2 = CollegeAve Autopay Disclaimer: All rates shown include the auto-pay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
* 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.
3 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
|3.54% – 12.07%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit CollegeAve|
|3.95% – 12.10%||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit Ascent|
|4.00% – 11.85%*3||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit SallieMae|
|3.94% – 12.19%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit Citizens|
|4.63% – 9.71%||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit LendKey|
|3.62% – 9.79%||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit CommonBond|