Many students who would not otherwise be able to afford college pay their tuition with the help of federal student loan programs. Since the United States government offers these loans, they have lower interest rates than bank loans and do not require a credit check. However, there are limits to how much money you can borrow in student loans, and certain factors that dictate the amounts you may receive.
In order to receive any type of financial aid, including student loans, you must currently be enrolled in a degree-eligible program at an accredited educational institution. Additionally, you must be attending at least half-time. The number of credits you must be taking to be considered a half-time student will vary depending on the school's academic structure, but generally this is 6 semester credits or 8 quarter credits. Furthermore, to remain eligible for your student loans, you must maintain satisfactory academic progress.
The maximum student loan amount you can borrow each year will depend up on what level of school you are currently in, as well as your dependency status. First-year undergraduate college students who are considered dependents of their parents can borrow up to $5,500 for the year, while independent students may borrow $9,500. A second-year dependent students' limit is $6,500 and independent students' limit is $10,500. For the third year of college and beyond, dependent students are allowed to borrow $7,500, and independent students can borrow $12,500. Graduate and professional degree students may borrow $20,500 in student loans per year, regardless of what year they are in with respect to completion of their degree.
However, one cannot continue to go to school forever and take out student loans. The Department of Education has placed limits on the amount of student loan money a person may borrow over the course of their entire degree program. Dependent undergraduate students cannot have more than $31,000 in student loans when they graduate, and independent undergraduate students may not borrow more than $57,500. Graduate and professional degree students cannot have loans totaling more than $138,500, but this amount also includes unpaid student loans they received at the undergraduate level.
While there are specific maximum amounts of money a student can borrow, it is generally not recommended that a student borrow the entire amount he or she is allowed, unless necessary. Unlike grants and scholarships, you must repay student loans and while the Department of Education wants to provide individuals with the opportunity to earn a college degree, the government does not want students to incur significant lifelong debt to do so.