Today, a year of college can cost more than what some people earn annually. The high cost can be especially hard for young adults, who often have few savings from which to draw for their education. To cover the cost of getting a degree, millions of students rely on the federal student lending program that the federal government offers. In order to get federal student loans, students and their parents must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The maximum amount you can get from a FAFSA loan each year depends on whether you're a dependent or independent student and which year of school you're in. There are also maximum lifetime limits that vary for undergraduates and graduates.
What Is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA is required of all students who want to be considered for loans, grants and work-study opportunities given by the federal government. Federal loans are made by Federal Student Aid, an agency that is part of the U.S. Department of Education. This agency is the largest provider of financial assistance to American college students. In fact, each year it supplies more than $120 billion in funding to more than 13 million students. Each of those students must fill out a FAFSA annually to be considered for loans, grants and work-study.
FAFSA Loan Maximums
Federal Student Aid distributes a huge amount of money to students each year. Despite that, there are college loan limits that determine how much an individual borrower can take out each year and how much one person can have in federal student loans over the course of his life. That amount depends on your year in school and whether you are dependent on your parents or not. Keep in mind that your school determines how much federal aid you get, so the maximums are not guarantees.
For first-year undergraduate students, the limit is $5,500 or $9,500 if the student is an independent or if her parent cannot get a federal loan. For second-year undergrads, the amount increases $1,000 to $6,500 for dependent students and $10,500 for independent students. In the third year of undergraduate study and any undergrad years beyond that, dependent students can borrow $7,500, and independent students can borrow $12,500 annually.
Graduate and professional students are all considered independent borrowers. They are only able to access unsubsidized student loans, which generally don't have as generous terms as subsidized loans. The FAFSA loan maximum for graduate and professional students is $20,500 annually.
Lifetime College Loan Limits
In addition to the caps outlined above, there are limits on how much a student can borrow from the federal government over a lifetime. Dependent students can borrow a maximum of $31,000. Independent undergraduate students can borrow $57,500. Graduate and professional students can borrow $138,500, which includes any loans that they received for their undergraduate education.
Kelly Burch is a freelance journalist living in New Hampshire. Her writing on educational issues has appeared on Bright, The Washington Post, We Are Teachers and School Leaders Now.