Most student loans have several types of limits on the amount you can borrow.
The cost of attendance limit may be applied in addition to (or instead of) the annual loan limit. This loan limit is intended to prevent the total of all financial aid, including the student loans, from exceeding the college’s total cost of attendance.
When you take out a student loan, both the annual and aggregate loan limits are applied to the loan amount. Each type of loan limit represents a restriction on the amount you can borrow. All restrictions on your eligibility must be applied in combination.
Sometimes, you may want to borrow an amount that satisfies the annual limit, but you will qualify for a lower amount because your total debt would exceed the aggregate loan limit. You will then be restricted to the lower loan amount.
For example, the Direct Unsubsidized Loan has annual limits for dependent undergraduate students based on the student’s year in school. The 2019-2020 loan limits are:
The Direct Unsubsidized Loan also has an aggregate loan limit of $31,000 for dependent undergraduate students.
Suppose a dependent undergraduate student in a 5-year engineering degree program borrows the annual maximum for each of the first four years, for a total of $27,000. During the student’s fifth year the annual limit would be $7,500. However, as the next table shows, the remaining aggregate loan eligibility is only $4,000 after the end of the fourth year. So, the student can’t borrow the $7,500 annual maximum as a fifth-year senior. Instead, this student can borrow no more than $4,000.
|Year||Annual Limit||Amount Borrowed||Aggregate Debt||Remaining Aggregate Loan Eligibility|
|First Year (Freshman)||$5,500||$5,500||$5,500||$25,500|
|Second Year (Sophomore)||$6,500||$6,500||$12,000||$19,000|
|Third Year (Junior)||$7,500||$7,500||$19,500||$11,500|
|Fourth Year (Senior)||$7,500||$7,500||$27,000||$4,000|
|Fifth Year (Senior)||$7,500||$4,000||$31,000||$0|
Private student loans usually have an annual limit equal to the cost of attendance minus other financial aid. Most private student loans have aggregate loan limits of $75,000 to $120,000 for undergraduate students and higher limits for graduate and professional students. These aggregate loan limits usually include all student loan debt, including both federal and private student loans.
Medical and dental residency and relocation loans and law bar study loans typically have annual loan limits that are 50% lower than the annual loan limits for students who are currently enrolled in school.
A federal student loan limit isn’t the amount you will be able to borrow, it’s the maximum the school can approve you to borrow. Your school might give you less than the loan limit.
The annual and aggregate borrowing limits on federal student loans vary based on several factors:
If your grade level changes in the middle of the academic year, you may qualify for higher annual loan limits. You would then be eligible to borrow the difference between the new annual loan limit and the amount you already borrowed during the same academic year.
Similar rules apply to transfer students. Transferring from one school to another does not reset the loan limits. Transfer students may borrow the difference between their annual loan limit at the new school and the amount received at the previous school.
Loan fees (which may be added to the loan balance) and capitalized interest do not count against the loan limits.
Your school's financial aid office determines how much you will be able to borrow each year. This amount might be less than the annual loan limit.
Eligibility for Direct Subsidized Loans is based on demonstrated financial need, up to the annual and aggregate loan limits. (As of July 1, 2012, students attending graduate school or professional school are no longer eligible to borrow new Direct Subsidized Loans.)
Eligibility for Direct Unsubsidized Loans does not depend on demonstrated financial need.
Aggregate loan limits, sometimes referred to as cumulative limits, may be refreshed by repaying the debt. So, if you have hit the aggregate loan limit, you will need to pay down your loan before you will be eligible to borrow more.
The aggregate loan limits for students attending graduate school or professional school students include any undergraduate federal student loan debt.
Borrowing Limits for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
Higher Direct Unsubsidized Loan Limits for Health Profession Students
Health profession students, such as students enrolled in medical school, are eligible for higher Direct Loan limits.
There are two different levels of increased loan limits, depending on the area of study (see table). These limits are available only to health profession students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities. Students enrolled at foreign institutions are not eligible.
|Health Professions Programs Eligible for Higher
Direct Unsubsidized Loan Limits
Direct Unsubsidized Loan Limit
9-Month Academic Year
Direct Unsubsidized Loan Limit
12-Month Academic Year
Some schools may also offer 10-month or 11-month academic programs, which would have different annual limits than those listed here. Check with your school’s financial aid office to get the limits for your program.
Additional Loan Funds for Preparatory Coursework
These loan funds are limited to a period of 12 consecutive months.
If Parents Refuse to File the FAFSA
If a dependent undergraduate student’s parents refuse to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the college’s financial aid administrator may allow the student to borrow additional Direct Unsubsidized Loans despite the incomplete FAFSA. The student, however, will not be eligible for the Direct Subsidized Loan, the Federal Pell Grant, or other forms of Title IV federal student aid.
Increased Direct Unsubsidized Loan Limits for Dependent Undergraduate Students
There are times when a dependent student can become eligible for the same Direct Unsubsidized Loan limits as independent students:
In some circumstances, college financial aid administrators may allow a dependent undergraduate student to borrow at the higher Direct Unsubsidized Loan limits available to independent students without requiring the parent to obtain a denial of a Parent PLUS Loan.
Examples of these parental circumstances:
The parent must be unable to borrow and/or repay a Parent PLUS Loan because of these circumstances. Unwillingness to borrow is not enough to justify the higher Direct Loan limits.
College financial aid administrators aren’t required to make the student eligible for the higher loan limits, even if exceptional circumstances exist.
Prorated Annual Loan Limits for Undergraduate Students
Annual loan limits for Direct Loans are prorated (adjusted) for undergraduate students who are enrolled in programs that are:
For example, if an undergraduate student in a 4-year Bachelor’s degree program will be graduating at the end of the fall semester (halfway through the academic year), the student is eligible for half of the annual loan limit for seniors.
Half-time students are eligible for the same annual loan limits as full-time students.
The annual loan limit for the Direct PLUS Loan (Parent PLUS Loan or Grad PLUS Loan) is the annual cost of attendance minus other aid received during the enrollment period. There is no aggregate loan limit. The loan limits are the same for both parents of undergraduate students as well as graduate students.
There are no limits on Direct Consolidation Loans (also known as Federal Consolidation Loans), other than the underlying limits on the loans included in the consolidation loan.
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