You’ve carefully crafted the perfect admissions essay. You aced the SATs, and you’ve been accepted and are excited to start your college adventure. But before you can head off to the land of academic promise, you’ll need to determine how you are going to fund your education. A majority of students turn to student loans as an option.
As you are determining the path you are going to take to pay for college, it’s worth noting that most student loans have a limit on how much you can borrow, not just over your lifetime but also annually.
While it’s less likely that you’d run into with student loan lifetime limits as an undergraduate, if you’re planning on attending graduate school the lifetime loan limits are something you may have to consider.
So, what is the maximum student loan amount for a lifetime? It depends on which types of loans you have, where you are in school, and your financial situation. In this guide, we’ll cover both federal and private student loans and what to do if you’re getting close to the maximum.
What Is the Lifetime Limit for Student Loans?
As a student, you can borrow federal student loans, private student loans, or both . But depending on how much you take out in loans, you may run into annual and lifetime limits.
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 choose (subsidized or 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. 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||$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, your annual and lifetime limits can vary by lender . That said, the annual limits typically cannot exceed the cost of attendance at your school.
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.
One way to pay 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.
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.
If it seems like refinancing might make more sense (for example, if you have a well-paid job lined up), you can get an idea of how your payments could be affected by refinancing using SoFi’s student loan calculator. When you refinance with SoFi there are no origination fees or prepayment penalties.
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.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.