How Much Can You Get in Student Loans?

Several factors determine private and federal student loan limits, including cost of attendance and degree level.
Anna HelhoskiOct 27, 2021
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Learn more about how much college could cost — and, how to afford it:

Student loans aren’t limitless. The maximum amount you can borrow depends on factors including whether they’re federal or private loans and your year in school.

Undergraduates can borrow up to $12,500 annually and $57,500 total in federal student loans. Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 annually and $138,500 total.

But just because you can borrow that much doesn’t mean you should. To keep higher education affordable, calculate how much you should borrow for college based on your expected future earnings and aim to keep your student borrowing below that amount.

Federal student loan limits

The maximum you can borrow depends on your year in school, your status as a dependent or independent student, and the type of loan. There are three main types of federal student loans: Direct subsidized, direct unsubsidized and direct PLUS.

To apply for federal student loans, submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — this FAFSA guide walks you through the process.

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Check out NerdWallet and Inceptia’s guide to navigating money and careers after college.

Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loan limits

Subsidized loans are for undergraduates only, while unsubsidized loans are available to both undergraduates and graduate students.

There are both annual and aggregate loan limits for these loans. The aggregate limit is the total amount of federal student loan debt you can take on throughout your undergraduate and graduate-level studies. If you reach your total limit, you can take out additional federal student loans if you first pay down your outstanding debt.

Dependent undergraduate students

First year

$5,500 overall; $3,500 subsidized

Second year

$6,500 overall; $4,500 subsidized

Third year and up

$7,500 overall; $5,500 subsidized

Total limit

$31,000 overall; $23,000 subsidized

Independent undergraduate students

First year

$9,500 overall; $3,500 subsidized

Second year

$10,500 overall; $4,500 subsidized

Third year and up

$12,500 overall; $5,500 subsidized

Total limit

$57,500 overall; $23,000 subsidized

Graduate and professional students (unsubsidized only)

Annual limit

$20,500

Total limit

$138,500, including undergraduate loans

If you’re a dependent student and your parents aren’t eligible for a direct PLUS loans — for example, if they have an adverse credit history — you may be eligible for additional unsubsidized loans.

Direct PLUS loan limits

PLUS loans are available to graduate and professional students, and to parents of dependent undergraduate students.

There are no specific caps on PLUS loan borrowing. The maximum amount of PLUS loans you can take out is the school's cost of attendance minus other financial aid you receive or your child receives. Cost of attendance includes tuition and fees, room and board, and books and other supplies.

Max out federal subsidized and unsubsidized direct loan borrowing before tapping PLUS loans; PLUS loans have higher student loan interest rates.

Private student loan limits

Private student loan limits vary by lender. Generally, the amount you borrow can’t exceed your school’s total cost of attendance.

Max out federal student loan borrowing before taking out private student loans. Federal loans have protections that private loans don't, including income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs.

Lender

Private student loan minimums and limits

Ascent

Non-co-signed future income-based option:

  • Minimum loan amount: $2,001

  • Maximum loan amount: $200,000 (lifetime maximum). Annually, the cost of attendance.

Co-signed and non-co-signed credit-based options:

  • Minimum loan amount: $2,001

  • Maximum loan amount: $20,000

Citizens Bank

Minimum loan amount: $1,000

Maximum loan amount: $100,000 (lifetime maximum). Annually, the cost of attendance minus financial aid.

College Ave

Minimum loan amount: $1,000

Maximum loan amount: School-certified cost of attendance minus financial aid.

CommonBond

Minimum loan amount: $2,000

Maximum loan amount: $500,000 (lifetime maximum). Annually, the school-certified cost of attendance.

Discover

Minimum loan amount: $1,000

Maximum loan amount: School-certified cost of attendance minus financial aid.

Earnest

Minimum loan amount: $1,000

Maximum loan amount: School-certified cost of attendance.

LendKey

Minimum loan amount: $1,000

Maximum loan amount: School-certified cost of attendance minus financial aid.

MEFA

Minimum loan amount: $1,500

Maximum loan amount: School-certified cost of attendance minus financial aid.

MPOWER

Minimum loan amount: $2,001

Maximum loan amount: $25,000 per semester and $50,000 annually

Navy Federal

Minimum: $2,000 Maximum: $120,000 for undergraduates and $160,000 for graduate students.

PNC

Minimum: $1,000

Maximum: $50,000

RISLA

Minimum: $1,500

Maximum: $45,000

Prodigy Finance

Minimum: $15,000 ($35,000 in certain U.S. states)

Maximum: $220,000.

Sallie Mae

Minimum loan amount: $1,000

Maximum loan amount: School-certified cost of attendance

SoFi

Minimum loan amount: $5,000

Maximum loan amount: School-certified cost of attendance

Custom Choice

Minimum: $1,000

Maximum: The school-certified cost of attendance minus other aid, not to exceed $99,000

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