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Direct Stafford Loan Limits for Borrowing

The Direct Loans program is the most popular type of federal student loan program, accounting for more than three-quarters of new student loan volume each year. Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans have fixed annual loan limits and fixed aggregate (cumulative) loan limits.

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Direct Stafford Loans for Undergraduate Students

There are two types of Direct Loans (sometimes called Stafford Loans) available to undergraduate students: Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Each has different annual and aggregate loan limits. Annual limits also vary by class level in school, dependency status, and degree level. The maximum annual amount a student can borrow from the Direct Loans program is also capped at the college’s cost of attendance minus other aid received. Annual loan limits may be prorated for academic programs that are less than a typical academic year in duration.

The overall annual and cumulative loan limits for the Direct Loans program are shown in this table.

overall loan limits for dependent and independent students
Loan Limits (Overall Direct Loans) Dependent Students Independent Students

   First-Year (Freshman) $5,500 $9,500
   Second-Year (Sophomore) $6,500 $10,500
   Third-Year (Junior) $7,500 $12,500
   Fourth-Year and Beyond (Senior) $7,500 $12,500
Sum of First Four Annual Limits $27,000 $45,000
Aggregate (Cumulative) $31,000 $57,500

Dependent undergraduate students whose parents are denied a Parent PLUS Loan are eligible for exceptional Direct Unsubsidized Loan limits, which are the same loan limits available to independent students. The college financial aid administrator may be able to award the higher loan limits in certain exceptional circumstances even without a Parent PLUS Loan denial. The annual loan limits for independent students are $4,000 higher per year during the freshman and sophomore years and $5,000 higher per year during the junior and senior years.

There are additional limits for specific purposes, such as:

  • Preparatory coursework necessary for enrollment in undergraduate school: $2,625
  • Preparatory coursework for Bachelor’s degree recipients to enroll in graduate/professional school: $5,500
  • Bachelor’s degree recipients for teacher certification or licensing coursework: $5,500
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There is a separate set of lower annual and cumulative loan limits for Direct Subsidized Loans, which are shown in this table. The Direct Subsidized Loan limits are the same for dependent and independent students. Eligibility for the Direct Subsidized Loan is based on demonstrated financial need. Any remaining overall Direct Loan eligibility, after subtracting Direct Subsidized Loan amounts from the overall Direct Loan limits, may be borrowed as an Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

Loan Limits (Direct Subsidized Loan) Dependent Students Independent Students

   First-Year (Freshman) $3,500 $3,500
   Second-Year (Sophomore) $4,500 $4,500
   Third-Year (Junior) $5,500 $5,500
   Fourth-Year and Beyond (Senior) $5,500 $5,500
Sum of First Four Annual Limits $19,000 $19,000
Cumulative $23,000 $23,000

Direct Stafford Loans for Graduate Students

Since 2012, students attending graduate school and professional school have been eligible for only the Direct Unsubsidized Loan. This table shows the annual and cumulative loan limits. Note that medical school students are eligible for higher loan limits. The cumulative loan limits include any undergraduate and graduate Direct Loan debt.

Loan Limits (Direct Unsubsidized Loans) Graduate School Medical School
Annual $20,500 $40,500
Cumulative $138,500 $224,000

direct stafford loan annual loan limits max you can borrow

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