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Home Ask Ask the Edvisor I have reached my federal student loan limits. How do I pay for college?

I have reached my federal student loan limits. How do I pay for college?


I have reached the maximum limits on my federal student loans. Where can I get the money I need to pay for college?


Federal Student Loan Limits

The annual loan limits on the Direct Unsubsidized Loan range from $5,500 to $7,500 for dependent undergraduate students and $9,500 to $12,500 for independent undergraduate students. The cumulative loan limits are $31,000 for dependent students and $57,500 for independent students.

How to Make College More Affordable

If you need to borrow more than these limits, it may be a sign that you are over-borrowing. Total student loan debt at graduation should be less than the expected annual starting salary and, ideally, a lot less. If total student loan debt is less than annual income, you should be able to repay your student loans in ten years or less. If total debt exceeds annual income, you will struggle to make the monthly loan payments.

To get an estimate of debt at graduation, multiply your first year student loan debt by the length of the educational program. This figure should be within 15 percent of the actual debt at graduation.

Students who are enrolled at higher-cost colleges tend to borrow more. If you are still in your first year in college, consider transferring to a lower-cost college. Otherwise, continue pursuing your education, since it will be difficult to repay the debt without a college degree.

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If you are encountering financial difficulty, talk to the financial aid administrator at your college. The financial aid administrator may be able to provide additional funds, especially if your money problems are caused by special circumstances.

Next, create a plan for finishing your degree. Map out which courses will be taken each academic term, being mindful of prerequisite requirements and how frequently each class is offered. Consider taking on a heavier academic course-load during the school year or summer classes to continue making progress toward an on-time completion.

How to Find More Money for College

There are several methods of finding the money to fill the gap between college costs and financial aid:

  • Talk to your family. Perhaps your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or other relatives will be willing to give you the money you need to finish your degree. Read Asking Friends and Family for Money for College for some tips on how to ask for help. 
  • Look for a part-time job. Ask the college's student employment office if there are any work-study jobs available that no other student wanted. Also, look for job opportunities on- or near- campus. 
  • Sell excess belongings on eBay or Craigslist. If you haven't used something in a year, you probably don't need it. Consider whether there are belongings that aren't absolutely essential that you can sell or pawn to raise money, such as jewelry, automobiles or obsolete personal technology such as an old cell phone or computer
  • Pursue entrepreneurship. Create a “widget” that you can manufacture quickly and inexpensively, and sell it on eBay.
  • Search for scholarships on free web sites, like Also, enter the scholarship drawings on
  • Consider Peer-to-Peer Student Loans and Crowdfunding to Pay for College. Also, look into private student loans.

You could also take a leave of absence from school to work full-time for a short period to earn enough money to pay for the rest of your education. Most federal and private student loans have a six-month grace period after the student drops below half-time enrollment before repayment begins. But, beware; leaving school is the first step toward not finishing your education. Students who stop-out are less likely to graduate.

Finally, if graduation is a month or two away and you need to pay a few small bills before you can graduate, such as a library fine or parking ticket, use credit cards as a last resort. Colleges can withhold official academic transcripts and degrees if a student owes an outstanding financial debt to the school. Paying off the debt with a credit card can be an expedient way of dealing with the debt so you can graduate. Credit cards are among the most expensive forms of debt, however, so you should plan on paying them off quickly.

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