Undergraduate vs. Graduate Student Loans: 6 Ways They Differ

Heading off to graduate school? You’re probably not a newbie at the financial aid process after your years as an undergraduate. You might even have a few things to say about the increase in graduate student loan borrowing.

Out of the over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the United States, dollars borrowed by graduate school students are rising more quickly than undergraduate debt.

The reality is that, when looking at funds borrowed over the last academic year, the percentage taken out by graduate students is at 40% of the total, compared to 32% in 2002.

However, it’s a mistake to assume that graduate student loans are the same as undergraduate loans. There are actually significant differences between the two, and knowing those differences can be the key to saving money on your grad school debt in the long run. Here are some key factors to consider when taking out graduate school loans.

What Does Undergraduate Mean

In the context of student loans, undergraduate refers to someone who has not yet completed their bachelor’s degree.

What Is an Undergraduate Student

An undergraduate student is someone who is pursuing their Bachelor’s or associate’s degree.

What Is an Undergraduate Degree

Associates degrees are generally offered at two-year community colleges. A bachelor’s degree generally takes about four years to complete. Bachelor’s degrees are often completed at four-year colleges or universities. There is a wide variety of Bachelor degree programs ranging from history, english, to engineering, math, chemistry and more. Three of the most common types of bachelor’s degrees include Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Science. Program requirements for undergraduate degrees will vary by institution.

What Does Graduate Mean

A graduate is someone who has successfully completed a specified course of work. In terms of student loans, graduate refers to any student who has completed their bachelor’s degree.

What Is a Graduate Degree?

Graduate degrees are specialized degrees that students can pursue after completing their bachelor’s or undergraduate course work. Graduate degrees include master’s, doctorates, and PhD’s, MBA’s, and JD’s. Depending on the program coursework for a graduate degree can take anywhere from one to six years to complete.

What Is a Graduate Student?

A graduate student is someone who is pursuing graduate studies. Law students, medical students, and PhD candidates are all examples of graduate students.

Recommended: Applying to Graduate School: Smart Tips & Strategies 

Differences Between Undergraduate and Graduate Programs

Beyond differences in coursework, there are few differences when it comes to student loans and financial aid options for undergraduate and graduate students.

1. Graduate Students Are Typically Considered Independent Students

As a graduate student, you’ll still need to (complete the FAFSA®) to qualify for federal student aid; you no longer need to include financial information about your parents on the form.

That’s because students who are pursuing either a master’s or doctorate degree are virtually always considered to be independent students.

There are a couple of key benefits associated with being an independent student. First, it helps streamline filling out the FAFSA. And, secondly, as an independent student, you’ll likely report much less income because your family’s earnings generally are no longer considered when financial aid eligibility is calculated, which could potentially give you access to additional aid options.

There are circumstances where undergraduate students can also be considered independent, but it’s usually more common with graduate students.

2. Graduate Student Loans Typically Have Higher Interest Rates

The 2022-2023 federal student loan interest rates for graduate and professional students are 6.54% for Direct Unsubsidized Loans for Graduate or Professional students and 7.54% for Direct PLUS loans — much higher than the 4.99% interest rate on federal undergraduate student loans.

(Note: Federal student loan interest rates are reevaluated annually, and updates are announced in early July.) Private student loans, another option for grad students, can come with even higher rates.

Graduate students can use federal student loans to pay for qualifying education expenses, including tuition, fees, college textbooks, and living expenses.

PLUS loans are funded by the U.S. Department of Education and require a credit check, although the credit requirements are not as stringent as they would be with a private lender. At 7.54%, they have the highest interest rates of all the federal student loans.

Federal loans also have fees that should be factored into the total cost of borrowing. For Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, the loan fee for the 2022-2023 school year was 1.057%. For Direct PLUS Loans, the fee was 4.228%.

These fees are deducted proportionally from each loan at the time of disbursement. This means that the amount of money a borrower receives will be less than the total value of the loan. Borrowers are still responsible for repaying the total value of the loan.

3. There Are No Subsidized Graduate Student Loans

Grad school federal loans start accruing interest charges while you’re a full-time student, unlike subsidized loans for undergraduates.

Say for example, you borrowed $20,000 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans (for graduates) to cover the cost of tuition when you started the program. When you factor in the current disbursement fee of 1.057%, you would have received approximately $19,789.

Since this loan type is unsubsidized, it will accrue interest while you attend school. Note, that even though you received $19,789, interest will accrue based on the loan total of $20,000. If the program is two years long, and you made no payments during that time, the loan would have accrued approximately $2,616 (assuming the interest rate stays the same 6.54% for those two years). For undergrads with subsidized loans, the interest clock doesn’t start until after graduation.

4. Borrowing Limits Are Higher for Grad Students

Typically, graduate students can borrow $20,500 annually in Direct Unsubsidized Loans, although there is currently a lifetime cap of $138,500 when undergrad loans and graduate school Direct loans are combined. If you’re in a qualifying health field, you may have a higher lifetime limit, potentially up to $224,000.

Compare that to annual limits for undergraduates, and they’re typically capped at $5,500 during year one; $6,500 for year two; and $7,500 for subsequent years, with a total availability of $31,000.

Having said that, although graduate students have more flexibility in how much can be borrowed, it can be challenging to pay back those higher amounts of debt.

5. Graduate Students May Qualify for Competitive Rates on Private Student Loans

Private student loans aren’t backed by the federal government; they’re issued by private lenders or banks.

If you’ve already established a solid credit history and/or have steady income coming in, those are important cornerstones that may help you qualify for more competitive rates on private student loans. This is in contrast to the typical undergrad, who may be new to credit and lending entirely, and don’t usually have well-paying, full-time jobs.

Though keep in mind that private student loans don’t necessarily offer the same borrower protections as federal student loans — things like income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness options. Because of this, federal loans are usually prioritized over private student loans.

Recommended: Private Student Loan Guide

6. Student Loan Refinancing Can Be a More Viable Option for Graduate Student Loans

While anyone with higher education debt can apply to refinance student loans, there are a couple reasons why this option tends to be more popular with grad students.

First, in order to qualify to refinance loans at a lower interest rate than what a borrower may currently have, a strong credit history that includes a positive track record of paying debts is important — and proof that you make enough money to pay back the loan (among other factors that will vary by lender). Depending on a graduate student’s background, there is a chance that they might be viewed as a more stable lending choice than an undergraduate.

Additionally, some graduate programs offer the potential for students to increase their earning potential after graduation, which also could be appealing to private lenders.

The other reason is that undergrads with federal student loans enjoy interest rates that are typically quite low already, and can be tough to beat when compared to private loan interest rates. Grad students, on the other hand, often carry student loan debt with higher interest rates and generally have higher debt burdens than undergraduate students.

With a strong credit history and steady employment (among other factors), it may be possible to get a better deal — and save money over the life of the loan — through refinancing.

Student loan refinancing won’t be the right option for everyone. Federal loans come with a variety of protections and benefits, like income-driven repayment plans and loan deferment. When you refinance a federal loan, it becomes a private loan, and will no longer qualify for any federal benefits.

7. Federal Grants are Few and Far Between for Graduate Students

Even if you were eligible for a Federal Pell Grant the last time around, you can’t count on that for graduate school. What are Pell Grants? They are a need-based grant that does not need to be repaid, and are typically awarded only to undergraduate students.

There are a variety of other opportunities available to grad students to help them finance their education, including some grad school scholarships, other grants, and fellowships. Grants are generally offered based on financial need while fellowships are awarded based on a student’s academic performance and research.

Scholarships, grants and fellowships are available through sources like federal and state government, schools, and even some corporations. Each opportunity might have very specific application criteria or might only be for students specializing in certain areas of study. You may be able to find even more scholarship money, by looking for any scholarships that go unclaimed each year. Contact your school’s financial aid office and check out SoFi’s guide to unclaimed scholarships for more information.

Thinking Outside the Box: Paying for Graduate School

When you think about paying for graduate school, it’s natural to consider student loans, but there are additional avenues likely worth pursuing. For example, your school of choice may offer scholarships, fellowships, and grants.

Typically, the college will use the information in the FAFSA® to decide what funding, if any, they can offer you.
Other times, though, there may be separate applications unique to your school; you can ask for specifics at the financial aid office. Sometimes, the award might be small; other times, it might be full tuition reimbursement.

Becoming a Teaching or Research Assistant

Some graduate students work on campus as teaching or research assistants. These opportunities could offer the opportunity for students to expand their skill set while earning some income.

Working Full-Time as a Grad Student

If you’re pursuing a graduate degree while working full time, you can check with your employer to see if they offer a tuition reimbursement plan.

If they do, the program will have its own parameters and processes.

Sometimes, if you accept funds from this program, you’ll need to stay at the company for a predetermined amount of time; other times, they might fund only certain degrees.

Still other times, they may not specifically have tuition reimbursement funding available, but there might be professional development dollars you can access. Or, your employer may be willing to allow you to work a more flexible schedule to accommodate your class schedule. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Finding Scholarships

You can also use databases like FastWeb or SoFi’s scholarship search tool to see if there are private scholarships available that you might qualify for.

Want access to more student loan resources? Explore our student loan help center to help guide you in your debt repayment!

The Takeaway

Graduate students are those who have completed some type of bachelor’s program and are pursuing an additional degree, such as an MBA, master’s, PhD, or doctorate. Graduate students may be eligible for different types of federal loans and financial aid than they were as an undergraduate. However, federal student loans for graduate students typically have a higher interest rate and fees than options for undergraduate students.

Student loans can get complicated — SoFi is here to help. In addition to the competitive refinancing options available to qualified borrowers, SoFi offers private graduate student loans that can help you to focus on your degree, not your debt.

With SoFi, there are no fees — meaning no origination fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees — and no fuss. You can fill out our simple online application in just minutes and have access to live customer support seven days a week.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended to December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since in doing so you will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave up to $10,000 and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients unrefinanced to receive your federal benefit. CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Return on Education for Bachelor’s Degrees

If you’re thinking about going to college, or you have a child who is, you’ve probably experienced a fair amount of sticker shock when considering the cost of attending different schools.

Though a college education is an investment in the future — as with any investment, it’s important to consider what you’ll get in return to determine if it’s worth it. While it’s important to weigh the cost of college against future income and earning potential, there are also intangibles to consider, things like friendships, network building, and other soft skills.

This guide and benchmark aren’t official measures and they’re not set in stone by any means; we know there are many reasons to get an education, many of which can’t be (and probably shouldn’t be) measured and quantified. This guide is meant to offer tips to help in a challenging and competitive working world. Your mileage — and your life’s path — may vary!

Average Costs of a Degree

Choosing the right college is a multifaceted decision. Considerations include where the school is located, whether it has programs that meet your interests, what student culture is like, and, of course, price.

The price tag for college can be jaw dropping. The total cost for tuition, fees, and room and board at a private non-profit four-year college can set you back more than $38,070 per year on average.

Head to an elite private school like Columbia University in New York and tuition and fees can be upward of
$60,000 per year. At a public four-year college, you can expect to pay an average of about $10,000 per year in tuition and fees, which is cheaper, but still nothing to sniff at.

Return on Investment by Education Level

One way to make this consideration is by looking at the ratio of the cost of your degree to your expected income once you graduate. Your return on education is much like a traditional return on investment calculation, which looks at the ratio between net profit and cost from investing resources.

In this case, time and money are the resources you’re investing, and your future income is the profit. The return on investment for your education will depend largely on how much you spend on your schooling, what type of job you get after school, and to a certain extent, what you major in.

Associate’s Degree Return on Investment

Associate’s degrees can typically be completed in one to two years and often at a community college, which can make them more affordable than other four-year degrees. According to data from Education Data Initiative, the return on investment for an associates degree is 363.5% after 20 years.

Bachelor’s Degree Return on Investment

Bachelor’s degrees typically take students four years to complete. According to Education Data Initiative, the return on investment for a bachelor’s degree is 38.1% after 20 years. Though this estimated return on investment can vary greatly based on the major you pursue. For example, computer science degrees offer an ROEd of 716.6%.

Master’s Degree Return on Investment

A Master’s degree can be completed after a student receives their Bachelor’s degree. This degree allows the student to specialize in a specific area of interest, such as those who pursue a Master in Business Administration. The return on investment for a master’s degree is 90.1% after 20 years, according to Education Data Initiative.

Doctoral Degree Return on Investment

A doctoral degree is generally the most advanced degree one can get in a particular field. Doctorate degrees can take up to eight years to complete, though the exact timing will vary depending on factors like the program type, structure, and research being completed by the doctoral candidate. The estimated return on investment for doctorate degrees is 84.0% after 20 years according to Education Data Initiative.

Professional Degree Return on Investment

Professional degrees are advanced degrees that prepare a student to work in a particular field, for example law or pharmacy. After 20 years, the return on investment for a professional degree is 60.4%, according to Education Data Initiative.

Highest Earning Degrees

The return on education will vary depending on the degree program you chose. For example, a student with a computer science degree may earn more than an English major. There are of course exceptions, but it’s a good idea to understand the norm for particular fields. These are some of the high-earning degrees by level.

Associate’s Degrees

As mentioned, an associate’s degree takes about two years to complete and can often be finished at a community college for significantly less than it may cost to get a four-year degree. Associate’s degrees often allow students to specialize in a specific trade or field. And in some cases this specialization can lead to a high-earning career.

One of the top-earners post-associate degree are air traffic controllers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Air traffic controllers earn a median income of over $129,000.

Dental hygienists, MRI technicians, and funeral service managers all earn an average salary of $70,000 or higher, making them top associates degrees based on earning potential.

Bachelor’s Degrees

According to Best Colleges, some of the bachelor degrees with the highest earning potential include petroleum engineering, aeronautics and astronautics, computer science, electrical engineering, and public accounting.

For example in 2021, petroleum engineers earned a median salary of $130,850. Accountants and Auditors earned a median salary of $77,250 per year, according to the BLS.

Certifications

Some people may consider adding a certification to their resume in order to boost their earning potential. Professional organizations often award certifications for specific skill sets. Some top earning and in-demand certifications include those for project management or data engineering.

Bachelor’s Degree ROI by Major

The return on investment can vary quite a bit based on the type of bachelor degree pursued. As mentioned, computer science degrees have some of the best return on investment for Bachelor’s degrees — about 716.6% over 40 years, according to Education Data Initiative. Take a look below at a list of majors and their estimated return on investment after 40 years, according to Education Data Initiative:

•   Business finance — 710.2%

•   Business accounting — 547.2%

•   Electrical engineering — 517.8%

•   Biology — 225.0%

•   Communications — 209.3%

•   Architecture — 188.6%

•   Art Degree — 70.5%

Need help financing your education?
SoFi private student loans have no fees
and flexible repayment options.


Consider What Can’t Be Measured by Money

Yes, going to college or pursuing other higher education opportunities can be expensive. But in addition to the cost and potential boost in earning potential, there are a variety of intangible benefits that can’t be measured by a dollar. For example, college students living on campus are gaining a newfound independence and developing life skills they’ll carry with them.

College might be when a student learns how to budget or applies for their first credit card. SoFi’s money management guide for college students is filled with strategies, ideas, and tools to help college students manage their finances.

Plus, many colleges have strong alumni networks that can help when a student is looking for a job post-grad. Students have the chance to not only get to know themselves better, but in the process they may make life-long friends.

Controlling Costs

One way to improve return on investment is to lower the amount of money you are paying for school. This could be particularly useful if you already know you want to pursue a career in a relatively low paying field.

Scholarships

One way to offset the cost of tuition is to look for scholarship programs that help pay your tuition or other college costs. Many schools offer need-based financial aid to families who might otherwise struggle to pay tuition costs. In some cases, you could even get a full ride.

You can find scholarships by looking at your school’s financial aid website, connecting with your guidance counselor, or reviewing databases or online scholarship search tools.

In some cases you may be able to apply for unclaimed scholarships to help supplement the aid you have already received.

Grants

Students may qualify for grants directly from their school or through federal financial aid. Grants typically do not require repayment so they can be an incredibly helpful addition to a student’s financial toolkit when it comes to paying for college. Pell Grants are one type of grant awarded by the federal government to students who demonstrate exceptional financial need.

Recommended: What Are Pell Grants?

Pell Grants are usually only available to undergraduate students. In order to maintain eligibility for a Pell Grant, undergrads will also be required to meet satisfactory academic progress requirements.

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

If you need to take out student loans to help pay for college, keep an eye on your terms and interest rates to help you keep costs down. If you take out federal loans and plan to work for certain non-profits or government organizations, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. After making 10 years worth of qualifying monthly payments, the remaining balance of your loan may be forgiven through this program.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans don’t qualify for federal benefits like PSLF, but they can be helpful tools for students who have exhausted their federal financial aid option.

If you are interested in paying for college or another higher education degree with a private student loan, take the time to shop around and review interest rates, terms, and other fees or benefits offered by lenders. For more information on evaluating loan options, take a look at SoFi’s private student loan guide.

Employer Support After Graduation

Finally, some employers may also help you pay back your student loans as part of a benefits package. Consider working for an employer who offers these benefits.

The Takeaway

College students can estimate the return on their educational investment by looking at how much they’ll pay for their degree and comparing it to their lifetime earnings. Though important, the money you’ll eventually earn isn’t the only thing you should consider when choosing a college. Getting a bachelor’s degree can help you acquire skills and expand your horizons in ways that aren’t directly related to your degree or job prospects.

When you decide on the right school for you, take the time to consider all your options — including scholarships, grants, federal and private student loans, post-graduation repayment programs, and other sources of public and private funding — to help you achieve your education and career goals.

Visit SoFi to learn more about how to pay for college and whether SoFi’s private student loans can help.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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What Is the Maximum Student Loan Amount for a Lifetime?

It can sometimes seem like there are an endless amount of student loans, but there are borrowing caps in place. Students face both annual and lifetime borrowing limits for federal student loans. The lifetime aggregate limit for undergraduate students is $57,500, of which no more than $23,000 can be in subsidized loans. For graduate students, the lifetime borrowing limit is $138,500, of which, no more than $65,500 can be in subsidized loans.

Private lenders may also have lifetime and annual borrowing limits, though those limits will be set by the lender. It’s possible to hit the maximum amount of loans allowed before finishing school, so it’s helpful to understand how much you may be eligible to borrow.

What Is the Lifetime Limit for Student Loans?

Students have the option to borrow federal student loans, private student loans, or both. Depending on factors like your year in school, there are aggregate and lifetime limits for borrowing.

Federal Student Loan Lifetime Limits

Federal loans have both annual and lifetime limits. The limits can vary by student, depending on three factors, including:

•   Your year in school

•   The type of loan you are eligible to borrow choose (subsidized vs. unsubsidized)

•   Your dependency status

Independent students, who the U.S. Department of Education considers to be on their own financially, can borrow more than dependent students who can typically get help from their parents.

Even if you’re financially independent of your parents, the definition of an independent student is fairly strict, and if you are under the age of 24, you’ll need to confirm you qualify as an independent student. If you’re not sure what you qualify as, see your guidance counselor or an admissions counselor who may be able to help.

If you’re not sure what you qualify as, see your guidance counselor or an admissions counselor who may be able to help. Here’s how the loan limits shake out depending on your status and year in school, straight from the U.S. Department of Education:

Year In School

Dependent Students*

Independent Students**

First-year undergraduate $5,500 — no more than $3,500 can be subsidized $9,500 — no more than $3,500 can be subsidized
Second-year undergraduate $6,500 — no more than $4,500 can be subsidized $10,500 — no more than $4,500 can be subsidized
Third-year and beyond undergraduate $7,500 — no more than $5,500 can be subsidized $12,500 — no more than $5,500 can be subsidized
Graduate and professional student annual limit N/A (all graduate and professional degree students are considered independent) $20,500 — none can be subsidized
Lifetime limit $31,000 — no more than $23,000 can be subsidized $57,000 for undergraduates — no more than $23,000 can be subsidized

$138,500 for graduate and professional students — no more than $65,500 can be subsidized

*Except students whose parents are unable to obtain PLUS Loans.

**And dependent undergraduate students whose parents are unable to obtain PLUS Loans.

Note that the lifetime limit for graduate and professional students includes the amount in federal loans you borrowed during your undergraduate studies.

Private Student Loan Lifetime Limits

If you choose to borrow private student loans, know that the annual and lifetime limit may vary by lender. That said, the annual limits typically cannot exceed the cost of attendance at your school, less any financial aid you have already received.

The total cost of attendance is a number determined by your school and typically includes tuition and fees, on-campus room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and dependent care.

As for lifetime limits, it may depend on whether you’re an undergraduate student or a graduate student. Some private lenders may offer higher limits if you’re doing an MBA or going to law or medical school, for example.

Some lenders have just one limit for all loans. But in some cases, you may even see two-lifetime limits: one for loans through the private lender and one for total federal and private loans.

So, if you’re considering borrowing from a private lender, ask about their loan limits before applying to make sure you get the funding you need.

What to Do If You’ve Hit the Maximum Federal Student Loan Amount

If you’ve reached your lifetime limit for federal student loans or you’re close to it, it’s probably time to start thinking about how you’re going to repay your student loans. Here are some options if you’ve maxed out your options for federal loans.

Consider Student Loan Refinancing

One way to make progress toward paying off your student loans and potentially save money along the way is to refinance them with a private lender (provided you haven’t reached your limit with these loans, too). Student loan refinancing can allow you to replace your current loans with a new one.

In some cases, you may qualify for a lower fixed or variable interest rate than what you’re currently paying. You could also adjust your repayment schedule to pay off your student loans faster or take some more time to fit your budget better.

With a lower interest rate, you could reduce the amount of money you spend on interest over the life of the loan. If you lengthen the term of your loan you’d decrease your monthly payments but will pay more in interest over the life of the loan.

In other words, if you refinance your student loans, you may get more flexibility with your payments as you eliminate your debt. However, it is important to note that if you refinance your student loans with a private lender, you may forfeit eligibility for federal benefits, such as student loan forgiveness.

Check Out Federal Assistance Programs

If you’ve maxed out your federal student loans because your income isn’t where you’d like it to be, you may want to take a look at federal programs like income-driven repayment plans, deferment, or forbearance instead — all of which you’d give up access to if you refinance with a private lender.

Consider a Private Student Loan

If you’ve reached your limit on federal student loans but still need some assistance paying for your tuition, you might consider taking out a new private student loan. There are options for fixed or variable private student loans, and some lenders like SoFi offer flexible repayment options. Partial, deferred, or interest-only payments put a bit less strain on your budget.

The Takeaway

There are both annual and lifetime borrowing limits for federal student loans, the lifetime limit for undergraduate students is $57,550, of which no more than $23,000 can be in subsidized loans. Private lenders may also have borrowing limits, but they will be set by the lender. Generally speaking, private student loans are limited to the cost of attendance.

SoFi is one of the leading private student loan lenders and offers fee-free private student loans with competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers. The simple application can be completed entirely online.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Do Student Loans Count as Income?

On top of sorting out whether you’re eligible for federal student loans and the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, you may be wondering how student loans may impact your taxes and whether student loans count as income. In a nutshell, the answer is no, student loans are debt, and do not count as income.

Fellowships and other forms of financial grants, however, may be counted as income, depending on how the funds are spent. And loans that are forgiven have counted as income.

Read on for more about the tax implications of student loans, grants, and student loan repayment. Of course, this is just a helpful guide as you begin to explore the basics of student loans and taxes; always seek out a tax professional to help you with your specific situation.

Are Student Loans Taxable?

There are multiple types of student loans — each with their own unique terms. As noted earlier, though, student loans are not taxed as income.

This is true of other types of loans generally as well, like credit card spending, mortgages, and personal loans (unless the loan is forgiven) — basically most credit that needs to be repaid. The IRS considers student loans a form of debt — not income — therefore, it is not taxed.

The only time that student loans (or other types of debt) can be taxed is if they are forgiven during repayment. If you are eligible for a federal student loan forgiveness program and have met the requirements (which vary, and may include stipulations like making eligible payments for 20 to 25 years via an income-driven repayment plan or completing eligible public service work/payment requirements, and others), the remaining balance on your student loans (the amount forgiven) may be taxed as income, depending on the repayment plan. This could amount to a hefty tax bill.

Does Biden’s New $10K or $20K Student Loan Cancellation Counts as Income?

In August 2022, President Biden announced that student loan borrowers could qualify for up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness. The loan amounts forgiven under this plan will not be considered taxable income for federal income tax purposes. However, in some states, student loan borrowers may be required to pay state income tax on loan amounts forgiven under this program.

According to the Tax Foundation, states that have the potential to impose state tax on this as of August 2022 include Arkansas, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Wisconsin. Though states may decide to make administrative or legislative changes before tax returns are due.

Are Scholarships Taxable?

The high-level answer to this question is: it depends. There are many different forms of scholarships, grants, and fellowships that are awarded to students to cover the costs of studying and research. Some are need-based and some are merit-based. The basic difference between scholarships and loans is that a scholarship is given while a loan is borrowed. You won’t typically have to pay back a scholarship, but you do have to pay back a loan.

Most scholarships are not taxed when you are enrolled in a formal educational institution and the scholarship is directly used to cover the costs of tuition, fees, books, and supplies used for study.

There are some situations in which scholarships can be taxed, however. For instance, a scholarship can be taxed as income if you use it to cover what are considered “incidental” expenses related to your education such as travel, room and board, and supplementary equipment and supplies.

Another type of scholarship that can be taxed is a scholarship that has a service-related requirement to it. This frequently applies to scholarships for graduate students. If you are required to teach, provide research assistance, or perform other services as a condition of your scholarship, it can be taxed as income and you will be required to report the scholarship as part of your gross income.

(For more about which types of scholarships are considered income and what scholarship-related activities are taxable, check out IRS Publication 970.)

Does Financial Aid Come with Any Tax Benefits?

Student loans aren’t usually taxable as income, and in fact may come with a tax benefit that is meant to make repayment a little easier on borrowers investing in their education. The Student Loan Interest Deduction allows you to deduct the amount of interest you have paid on your student loans up to a maximum of $2,500 per year, if your modified adjusted gross income is less than $85,000 (or $170,000 for joint filers.)

For instance, let’s say you have $30,000 in federal student loans with a 7% interest rate on that amount over a standard repayment period of 10 years. On the Standard Repayment Plan, your monthly payment could be about $350, of which roughly $175 is interest. So, in your first year of repayment, you could be paying about $2,100 in interest. In this scenario, you may be eligible to deduct that from your annual gross income, meaning you could pay less in taxes. This deduction can also help defray some of your repayment costs.

How Can I Make My Student Loan Repayment Easier?

The costs of student loans come in the form of the interest you pay each month on what you borrow. The example above, of a $30,000 loan with a 7% interest rate, shows just how much student loan borrowing can cost you per year. Over a standard repayment period (10 years), you would hypothetically pay roughly $11,800 in interest in addition to repaying the $30,000 principal.

So what can make repayment easier, other than the student loan interest deduction? One option is to refinance your student loans with a private lender.

If you already have private and/or federal student loans, you may be able to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate than you currently are paying. If you are eligible to refinance your student loans, you could shorten your term length, qualify to lower the interest rate on your loans, or possibly lower your monthly payment (by extending your term). But there can be some drawbacks to think about.

For instance, federal student loans come with several benefits and protections such as forbearance, deferral, and income-driven repayment plans that private loans do not offer. If you think you might need some of these benefits, or if you are eligible for student loan forgiveness, it might not be the right time to refinance.

However, if you have a steady income and good cash flow — along with other aspects of your financial picture that are appealing to a lender — and you are ready to focus on paying down your loans, refinancing might be the right solution for you.

SoFi is a leader in the student loan space, offering refinancing options to help you save on the loans you already have.

The Takeaway

Generally, student loans are not considered income, so are not taxed. The exception is when your federal student loan is forgiven. In that case, the IRS may count the canceled debt as taxable income. Educational grants and scholarships, on the other hand, may or may not count as income. Typically, they are taxed when they are spent on expenses outside of tuition and fees, such as room and board and travel.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended to December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since in doing so you will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave up to $10,000 and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients unrefinanced to receive your federal benefit. CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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What Is the Average Length of Time to Pay Off Student Loans?

Whether you’ve just graduated from college or you’ve been making payments for years, your student loan debt can seem endless. When you take out a federal student loan, the Standard Repayment Plan is 10 years. But, the average student borrower takes 20 years to pay off their loans, according to the Education Data Initiative.

And not all loans are treated equally. Your major, amount borrowed, loan type, and chosen career path can all influence how much you could end up paying back. But before you panic, know that there are steps you can take to help reduce your student loan debt.

How Long Are Student Loan Terms

How long it takes to pay off student loans can vary based on a few different factors. There is a specific selection of student loan terms available for federal student loan borrowers. The Standard Repayment Plan spans 10 years but borrowers can change their repayment plan at any time, without incurring any fees.

The terms on private student loans are set by the individual lender. Terms are set at the time the loan is borrowed. To adjust the terms of a private student loan, the borrower will generally need to refinance the loan. Check in directly with the private student loan lender.

Federal Student Loan Terms

While most federal student loans use the standard, 10-year repayment plan, other loans have different options. (And both Direct Consolidation Loans and FFEL Consolidation Loans offer 10- to 30-year repayment terms.)

Here are the repayment plans that the U.S. The Department of Education has set up for federal loans.

•   Standard Repayment Plan: up to 10 years

•   Graduated Repayment Plan: up to 10 years

•   Extended Repayment Plan: up to 25 years

•   Income-Driven Repayment Plans, including:

◦   Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plan: up to 20 years

◦   Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan: 20 or 25 years

◦   Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan: 20 or 25 years

◦   Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan: 25 years

Income-driven repayment plans — PAYE, REPAYE, IBR, and ICR — forgive any outstanding balances if they aren’t completed by the end of the term. (Though you may have to pay taxes on the forgiven balance.)

Private Student Loan Terms

For those who’ve taken out private student loans to pay for school, the payment plan may differ from those with federal loans. Some private lenders have terms that are 10 years like their federal counterparts. Other lenders cap terms at 20 or 25 years.

The repayment timeline for private loans varies — for some private loans, you might have to start paying it back while you’re still in school. And they might have fixed or variable interest rates. Because of this, it’s hard to specifically gauge how long it takes the average person to pay off their private student loans.

Paying Off Your Student Loans Sooner

There are plenty of smart ways to pay off student loans. Most important is that you make your payments on-time each month. But, strategies like making overpayments can help you accelerate your pay-off timeline. Regardless of the type of loan you have, there are steps you can take to help get rid of your student debt sooner than you originally thought.

Paying More Than the Minimum

Paying the minimum might be what you can afford right now. But if you come into some extra cash — whether through a bonus at work, a gift from a relative, or your tax refund — you can use this money toward your student loan balance.

Cutting away at your debt when possible may help shorten the length of your repayment.

Want to pay your student loans off fast?
Understand how student loan
refinancing can help.


Refinancing your Loans

While consolidating your federal student loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan is an option for some, those with private student loans may want to consider refinancing instead.

Refinancing your student loans means a private lender pays off your student loans for you and then you pay back your lender with a new loan, new interest rate, and new terms. Ideally, your interest rate would be lower, which could save you money on interest over the life of the loan.

Refinancing allows you to combine all your loans, private and federal, into one for more streamlined payments. But if the interest rate offered isn’t lower than what you’re currently paying, or there are more fees, you might want to keep your options open.

And keep in mind that when you refinance, you’ll lose your federal loan benefits like income-based repayment plans or forbearance. If you’d like to continue taking advantage of those benefits, refinancing might not be for you right now. Ultimately, refinancing should be helpful, not cause more stress or create more debt.

Choosing Another Payment Plan

As mentioned, federal student loan borrowers can change their repayment plan at any time. Calculating your student loan payment is easy with tools like SoFi’s student loan calculator. These calculators can help estimate how much you’ll be paying each month on your student loans. Once you get an estimate, you can more easily decide if you want to choose a new payment plan or stick with your current payment plan or switch to another.

Income-driven repayment plans are one option that allows borrowers to lower their monthly payments, though generally, this results in an extended loan term with increased interest costs. Continue reading for more details on the income-driven repayment plans available for federal student loans.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Income-driven repayment plans use your discretionary income and family size to determine how much you pay on a monthly basis. This can be helpful for those in entry-level, lower-paying positions, as they could pay less monthly early on.

As your financial situation improves, your monthly payment minimum increases in turn (and vice versa). Remember that income-based repayment plans often have longer terms, which could mean you end up paying more interest over the life of your loans. Three types of income-driven repayments include PAYE, REPAYE, and ICR plans.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plan

On the PAYE Plan, loan repayment takes place over 20 years. Payments are 10% of your discretionary income, but never more than what you would pay on the standard 10-year repayment plan.

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan

Borrowers on the REPAYE Plan will pay 10% of their discretionary income toward student loan payments. Repayment terms are 20 years for students paying off loans exclusively from undergraduate studies. Borrowers with graduate degrees will repay over a period of 25 years.

Recommended: REPAYE vs PAYE

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan

The loan repayment terms for the ICR Plans is 25 years. Loan payments can be either 20% of your discretionary income or the value of what you’d pay on a fixed payment repayment plan over 12 years — whichever is lesser in value.

Exploring Your Employee Benefits

Your job might be able to help you with your student loan debt. Some employers offer matching contributions on your student loans up to a certain amount, similar to a 401(k).

Negotiating a Raise

Between your minimum payments, monthly expenses, and other financial obligations, your budget may be stretched as thin as it can go. If your employee review is coming up, this might be an opportunity to talk to your supervisor about a raise.

While there are many strategies, and you’ll know your boss/employer best, examples of things to mention during your review include your recent accomplishments, your dedication and loyalty to the company, and your willingness to go above and beyond.

If you’re coming up short on achievements, you might start keeping tabs on them and prepare to bring them to your boss in a few months. Your first job out of college probably won’t be your last, so a new job with a higher salary, especially if the one you’re currently in lacks growth opportunities, might be better for you.

Refinance Your Student Loans With SoFi

You can refinance student loans to (hopefully) secure a lower interest rate which could reduce the amount of money you’ll owe over the life of the loan. It’s also possible to adjust your repayment term — though keep in mind that extending your term may result in lower payments but may increase your interest costs over the life of the loan.

Refinancing at SoFi is easy — it takes a few minutes to fill out a simple, online application. Qualifying borrowers can secure competitive interest rates and there are no fees. Plus, as a SoFi member you’ll gain access to other benefits like career coaching.

Interested in refinancing your student loans? With SoFi, you might qualify for a more competitive interest rate, and applying is quick, easy, and all online.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended to December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since in doing so you will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave up to $10,000 and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients unrefinanced to receive your federal benefit. CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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