Annual and Aggregate Student Loan Limits

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Joe Arns

By Joe Arns

August 9, 2023

How much student loan funding can I get for college? The answer depends on a few factors, but you can find a general maximum by looking at annual and aggregate loan limits. 

Annual loan limits specify the maximum amount of money you (parent or student) can borrow from a student loan program per year. Aggregate loan limits specify the maximum amount of money you can borrow in total from a student loan program. 

Annual and aggregate student loan limits vary depending on the type of loan, the student’s degree level, year in school, dependency status, the college’s cost of attendance, other aid received by the student, and the loan program’s individual policies.

Federal student loan limits are specified by the Higher Education Act of 1965 and are adjusted by Congress about once a decade. Private lenders and other financial institutions like banks and credit unions set their own undergraduate and graduate student loan limits, and tend to adjust them more frequently. 

When students reach the annual or aggregate loan limits for federal student loans, they may need to borrow from a private or parent loan program to cover remaining college costs. These loans have higher borrowing limits to meet students’ financial needs; however, they may also contribute to over-borrowing by students and parents.

Cost of Attendance Caps

The Federal Direct Stafford Loan and Federal Direct PLUS Loan are subject to cost of attendance caps. The amount borrowed may not exceed the cost of attendance, less other financial aid.

Most private lenders also base annual loan limits on the college’s cost of attendance.

The cost of attendance includes:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books, supplies, and equipment
  • Transportation
  • Miscellaneous/personal expenses

A student with above-average expenses, special needs expenses, or dependent care costs may need to appeal to the college financial aid office for a documented increase in the cost of attendance.

The cost of attendance cap is reduced by the amount of other financial aid received by the student. Financial aid may include grants, scholarships, tuition waivers, student employment and student loans,  and may reduce the eligible federal loan amounts below the legal maximum.

Subsidized loans, such as the subsidized Federal Stafford Loan, may also be limited by the student’s demonstrated financial need. Demonstrated financial need is the difference between the cost of attendance and the student’s Student Aid Index (SAI), as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Annual Loan Limits

In addition to the cost of attendance caps, federal law prescribes specific maximum annual amounts for Federal Direct Stafford Loans. Private student loans may also have annual dollar limits, typically $40,000 or more. The annual limits on private student loans are generally higher than the limits on federal student loans.

Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans

Federal Student Aid offers subsidized and unsubsidized loans capped depending on your dependency and year of study. 

Federal Direct loans don’t have a direct annual loan limit for unsubsidized loans. Rather, they combine the annual and aggregate loan limits for both subsidized and unsubsidized, and specify the subsidized loan limits within the overall amount. Subsidized loans have a separate, lower annual limit considered within the Federal Direct loan overall limit. After a student reaches the limit for direct subsidized loans, they may borrow more funds as unsubsidized loans. 

Subsidized loan limits are the same for dependent and independent students. Unsubsidized loan limits are logically equal to the overall direct loan limit, less any subsidized loan received.

The annual loan limits for independent students are higher than those for dependent students. If a dependent student’s parent is ineligible for the Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loan because of adverse credit history, the student becomes eligible for the increased unsubsidized Federal Direct Stafford Loan limits available to independent students.

Graduate and professional school students are not eligible for subsidized federal loans — only unsubsidized loans. 

The table below displays the annual loan limits for Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. All graduate students are considered independent, as you’ll note their loan limits in the independent student column.

Degree Program and
Year in School

Subsidized Loan Limit

Total Loan Limit (Including Subsidized and Unsubsidized)

Dependent Students

Independent Students

1st Year Undergraduate Students




2nd Year Undergraduate Students




3rd, 4th and 5th Year Undergraduate Students




Graduate Students




Professional Students




*Note: Health professional students studying medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmacy studies, and other specializations may be eligible for greater Direct unsubsidized loan limits than those listed above. To find out if you’re eligible for additional Direct loan funding, contact your school’s financial aid office.

Federal Direct PLUS Loans

The annual limit for Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loans and Federal Direct Grad PLUS Loans is the cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received in all circumstances. So, there is no specified annual or aggregate loan limit for Direct PLUS Loans in dollars.

Private Student and Parent Loans

Most private student loan lenders limit annual borrowing to the cost of attendance less all other financial aid received, including federal loans. However, some lenders do have an annual cap that might be less than the cost of attendance.

If you’ve decided a private student loan is right for you, check out our list of the best private loans for college.

Aggregate Loan Limits

Aggregate loan limits describe the maximum amount of money students can borrow throughout their entire education. Students later in their degree programs are more likely to reach their aggregate student loan limits than students just starting their degree. Once a student reaches their aggregate loan limit, they cannot borrow more money from the specified loan program. However, an aggregate loan limit is not a lifetime limit. A If a student pays back some of their loans, they’ll reduce their outstanding loan debt and therefore come below the aggregate limit, allowing them to borrow more. 

Typically, graduate aggregate loan limits include debt taken on as an undergraduate student.

Likewise, the aggregate loan limits for private student loans usually count amounts borrowed through federal loan programs toward those limits.

As with annual loan limits, federal law sets aggregate loan limits for subsidized and unsubsidized Direct Loans.

Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans

The aggregate limits for subsidized and unsubsidized Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans are determined by the student’s degree program and whether the student is dependent or independent. The year of study is irrelevant because aggregate loan limits apply to the entire duration of the degree. Dependent students whose parents are ineligible for a Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loan are eligible for the same aggregate unsubsidized Federal Direct Loan limits as independent students.

Undergraduate aggregate loan limits for Direct loans  is $31,000 for each dependent student. The aggregate limit for independent undergraduate students and dependent students whose parents are unable to obtain Direct PLUS Loans is nearly twice as much at $57,500. Up to $23,000 of undergraduate Direct Loans may be subsidized — this limit applies to both dependent and independent students. The unsubsidized loan limit is equal to the overall limit, less the value of subsidized loans received.

Graduate aggregate loan limits don’t include subsidized loans and amount to $138,500. Remember, graduate students are considered independent students. 

Similar to annual loan limits, aggregate loan limits may be higher for students enrolled in certain health professional programs. Contact your school’s financial aid office for more details, as the amount varies in these scenarios. 

The aggregate loan limits for Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans are shown in this table.

Degree Program

Subsidized Stafford Loan Limit

Overall Stafford Loan Limit

Dependent Students

Independent Students

Undergraduate Students




Graduate Students





Federal Direct PLUS Loans

There is no aggregate limit for the Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loans and Federal Direct Grad PLUS Loans.

Private Student and Parent Loans

Most private student loan lenders have aggregate limits based on the combined total amount borrowed from private and federal loan programs.

Aggregate limits for private student loans can be up to $120,000 to $150,000 for undergraduate students and up to $350,000 to $500,000 for graduate and health professions students. Graduate students pursuing an MBA, law degree or certain health professions are usually subject to higher aggregate borrowing limits.

Interest Rates for Student Loans

Interest rates for undergraduate and graduate student loans vary depending on your credit history, lender, and whether the loan is private or offered by Federal Student Aid. 

Rates vary each year as well, but you can secure a fixed rate for a few years instead of a variable rate, if you’d like. 

From July 2023-July 2024, the interest rates for federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans are as follows:

Federal Direct Subsidized Loans

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Federal Direct PLUS Loans (Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS)

Undergraduate Borrowers



8.05% (parents of undergraduate borrowers)

Graduate Borrowers




Interest rates for private loans vary and can change frequently. You can find current rates offered by various private lenders on Saving for College, along with other information and lender ratings.


Learning the annual and aggregate loan limits for federal and private student loans can help you better plan your finances for college. Interested in finding private student loans to fund your college education? Learn more about the best student loans of 2023.

A good place to start:

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