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.
» MORE: Your guide to financial aid
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.
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)|
|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 limit|
|Ascent||The school-certified cost of attendance, minus financial aid, up to $200,000.|
|Citizens One||$150,000 for undergraduates, including federal and other private student loans.
Up to $350,000 for graduate and professional students — including federal and other private student loans — depending on your area of study and degree program.
|College Ave||The school-certified cost of attendance, minus financial aid.|
|CommonBond||Total school-certified cost of attendance, up to $500,000.|
|Discover||The school-certified cost of attendance, minus other financial aid.|
|Navy Federal|| The school-certified cost of attendance, up to $120,000 annually for undergraduates and $160,000 annually for graduate students.
|PNC||$40,000 annually for undergraduates.|
|RISLA||The total school-certified cost of attendance, minus financial aid, up to $40,000 annually.|
|Sallie Mae||The total school-certified cost of attendance.|
|SunTrust||The total school-certified cost of attendance, minus financial aid, up to $65,000 annually and $150,000 overall.|
|Wells Fargo||$120,000 total, including other federal and private student loans.|