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What is the Most I Can Borrow for Student Loans?

Once you have accumulated as much federal student aid from your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application, scholarships, work-study, and savings money as you can, you might find that you still need extra cash to pay your tuition bill. If this is the case, student loans can be a great solution to get you across the finish line and into class.

Knowing how much you can take out in federal and private loans to accompany any financial aid you already have is key to borrowing effectively for your education.

Undergraduate Federal Loan Limits

Federal undergraduate loans have various limits, depending on the type of loan, what year of school the student is applying for, as well as whether the student is considered a dependent or independent. An undergraduate student is considered independent if he or she meets any one of the criteria below:

  • Is married
  • Will be 24 years old before January 1 of the school year for which they’re applying
  • Has been legally emancipated from parents or guardians
  • Has a child or dependent
  • Is on active duty or a veteran of the U.S. armed forces
  • Was orphaned or in foster care after age 13
  • Was determined to be an unaccompanied/homeless youth

Once you know if you are borrowing as a dependent or independent undergraduate student, review the tables below to see how much you can borrow each year you are enrolled.

Dependent undergraduate student borrower limits

Year in school Total Subsidized
First year $5,500 $3,500
Second year $6,500 $4,500
Third year and beyond $7,500 $5,500
Total limit $31,000 $23,000

Independent undergraduate student borrower limits

Year in school Total Subsidized
First year $9,500 $3,500
Second year $10,500 $4,500
Third year and beyond $12,500 $5,500
Total limit $57,000 $23,000

A dependent student whose parents are unable to obtain a Parent PLUS loan may also be able to borrow at these limits.

Graduate Federal Loan Limits

If you are applying for graduate or professional school federal loan programs, your only option is unsubsidized loans and you can borrow up to $20,500 annually. The aggregate loan limit is $138,500 which includes your undergraduate federal loan balance.

Direct PLUS loans, which are another type of federal loan available to graduate students only, do not have the same limits—but also have higher rates than regular federal student loans.

Parent PLUS Loan Limits

Unlike loans for students, there is no absolute maximum PLUS loan amount that parents can borrow. Instead, the maximum is calculated as the cost of attendance at the school your child will attend, minus any other financial assistance they receive. As each school’s cost of attendance may change year to year, your limit for a Parent PLUS loan may also change.

The interest rate for Parent PLUS loans is fixed at 7.08%. If you have a qualified credit history, you might actually receive a lower rate from a private loan provider.

Earnest Student Loan Limits

Earnest private student loans start at $1,000 (unless specified by the state of residence) and can be up to your entire cost of attendance for the academic year, on approved credit. 

If you’re considering a cosigned private student loan, the student and cosigner must live in the District of Columbia or a state that we lend in but they do not need to both live in the same state. For more information on Earnest’s private student loan, visit our eligibility guide.

Don’t Forget To File Your FAFSA

Before borrowing any money, make sure that you correctly file your FAFSA every year that you will be attending school. This is how the government and your school will evaluate how much financial need you have, and your annual financial aid package. 

The FAFSA application is also how a school determines if you are eligible for work-study on campus. Make sure you aren’t leaving free money on the table before borrowing for school.

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.