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
|$5,500 — no more than $3,500 can be subsidized
|$9,500 — no more than $3,500 can be subsidized
|$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
|$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.
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.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). 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-criteria 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.