How much can you borrow in student loans?

The amount you can borrow in student loans depends on factors such as your academic year and dependency status.

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Wondering how much you can get in student loans? It depends on the type of loan, your year in school, and other factors. Learn more.  (Shutterstock)

How much you can borrow in student loans is generally limited. These limits depend on the type of loans you take out, whether you’re a dependent, and other factors. 

No matter what your limit is, it’s best to only borrow what you truly need. You should also exhaust your federal loan options first, before turning to private loans, as federal student loans come with certain benefits and protections. 

Credible lets you compare private student loan rates from multiple lenders, all in one place.

How much can you get in federal student loans?

The amount you can borrow in federal loans depends on a few factors, including your dependency status and the type of loan you take out. Three main types of federal student loans are available: 

  • Direct Subsidized Loans The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest that accrues on Direct Subsidized Loans while you’re enrolled at least half-time, during periods of deferment, and up to six months after you graduate. The aggregate loan amount is $23,000 for undergraduates. For graduate students enrolled before July 1, 2012 (or for prior undergraduate study), the loan amount was $65,500. Graduate students are no longer eligible to receive Direct Subsidized Loans.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans Available to both undergraduate and graduate students, these loans aren’t based on financial need. Borrowers are responsible for paying all accrued interest. Your school’s financial aid office determines how much you can borrow, which is based on your cost of attendance and any other financial aid you receive. These loans have an aggregate limit of $57,500 for undergraduate students and $138,500 for graduate students. 
  • Direct PLUS Loans — Parents of dependent undergraduate students, as well as graduate and professional students, can take advantage of these loans for expenses that aren’t covered by other types of financial aid. You’ll need to go through a credit check, and your loan limit is your cost of attendance minus any other financial aid you receive.

Borrowing limits for dependent undergraduate students

The amount you can borrow each year depends on your academic year. You can borrow up to an aggregate total of up to $23,500 for subsidized loans or $13,500 for unsubsidized loans. For example, you can only borrow up to $3,500 in subsidized loans in your first year of school, but for your third year and beyond you can borrow up to $5,500.

If you hit either your annual or total borrowing limit and your parents don’t qualify for a PLUS Loan, the higher federal student loan limits for independent undergraduate students apply to you. For example, for your first year of school, the limit would be $6,000 in unsubsidized loans once you’ve reached the subsidized loan limit.

Borrowing limits for independent undergraduate student

An independent undergraduate student is someone who doesn’t have the financial support of their parents and is at least 24 years old, married, or an emancipated minor. 

Like dependent students, the annual loan limit depends on the type of loan and academic year. The aggregate loan limit for subsidized loans is $23,000, while the unsubsidized loan limit is $57,500.

Borrowing limits for graduate students

Borrowing limits include the amount of federal student aid you’ve already borrowed for your undergraduate studies. Graduate students aren’t eligible for subsidized loans.

  • Annual Unsubsidized Loan limit — $20,500
  • Aggregate loan limit — $138,500

Borrowing limits for Direct PLUS Loans

You can borrow up to the cost of attendance for Direct PLUS Loans.

Since PLUS Loans have higher interest rates than other types of Direct Loans, it’s best to max out any Direct Unsubsidized and Subsidized Loan limits first. Keep in mind that you’ll need to go through a credit check as part of the application process. 

Borrowing limits for private student loans

Private student loan limits vary by lender, but the maximum amount you can borrow is generally your school’s cost of attendance.

If you have low or limited credit history, you’ll likely need a cosigner, since private student loan lenders require a credit check and other financial details (such as your income) as part of your application. 

If you need to take out private student loans, visit Credible to compare private student loan rates from various lenders in minutes.

How much should you borrow in student loans?

You should only borrow what you truly need to pay for your tuition and other educational expenses. Borrowing more means you’re responsible for a higher loan balance and the interest charges that come with it. To determine what amount to borrow, estimate how much you think you’ll need to cover all your expenses, including tuition, housing, meal plans, books, and supplies. 

To figure out how much student loan payments you’ll owe after graduation, it’s a smart idea to calculate your future monthly payment. That way, you can prepare and map out your budget accordingly to ensure you’re on top of your payments.

What if you don’t use all your student loan funds?

You have several options if you don’t use all your student loan funds, including:

  • Return excess funds. You can return federal student loan funds up to 120 days after disbursement. Unfortunately, you likely won’t be able to return private student loan money. See what your options are by contacting your school or loan servicer.
  • Apply it toward other educational expenses. Depending on your loan agreement, you may be able to apply your loan funds toward other expenses, though with federal loans, you're limited to certain types. 

With Credible, you can compare private student loan rates without affecting your credit.