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As you’re planning out how much college will cost, you might run into a pickle. What if you need more money than federal student loan limits allow?

Student loan limits exist to prevent you from taking on more debt than you can handle in hopes to prevent you from defaulting on those loans later on. If your financial need is great, but you’re hitting your annual or aggregate loan limits, don’t worry. You’ve got some options.

What are the student loan limits?

Your annual loan limit depends on the type of loan you take out. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and parents of students all have different federal student loan limits. Along with that, depending on whether you’re one of the many dependent students or an independent student your annual limit and the maximum amount you can take out is different.

First year$5,500

Up to $3,500 can be subsidized loans

Up to $3,500 can be subsidized loans
Second year$6,500

Up to $4,500 can be subsidized loans

Up to $4,500 can be subsidized loans
Third year and beyond$7,500

Up to $5,500 can be subsidized loans

Up to $5,500 can be subsidized loans
Graduates or professional student loan limitsNot applicable because all students here are considered independent$20,500 — unsubsidized only
Total aggregate loan limits$31,000

Up to $23,000 of this amount may be in subsidized loans
$57,500 for undergraduates
No more than $23,000 can be subsidized loans

$138,500 for graduate or professional students
Up to $65,500 can be subsidized loans

$224,000 for students pursuing degrees in eligible health professions
Up to $65,500 can be subsidized loans

While anyone can qualify for an unsubsidized loan, subsidized loans are based on need. Subsidized loans have slightly better terms. For example, the Department of Education pays the interest on subsidized loans while you’re in school. For unsubsidized loans, you’re responsible for the interest that builds up while you’re enrolled.

While there are federal student loan limits in place, your school’s cost of attendance determines how much money you can borrow in student loans. This varies by institution.

What to do once you’ve hit federal student loan limits

After you get as much free money as possible through scholarships and grants, federal student loans are a good next step if you need to borrow money. But if you still need to pay for college and you’ve hit your federal student loan limits, you still have a few other methods that might work.

1. Consider private student loans

Private student loans operate a bit differently than federal student loans. Interest rates for federal student loans are fixed no matter who you are. For private loans, interest rates are based off your credit history. If you’re a new student, you might not have any credit at all, which could hurt your chances of getting a private student loan. In that case, you might need to get a cosigner.

Not all lenders are the same and some offer better loans than others. Although some borrowers don’t need a cosigner, it’s a good idea to consider it. Make sure you review all your options before you sign up for a private student loan.

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2. Cut your class load

If you can’t afford the full cost of attendance, you might want to lessen the amount of classes you take. If you’ve hit your limits for the academic year, cutting your class load responsibly could ensure you don’t need to take out more loans which will save you money.

Full-time status is different depending on the school, and you might need to stay full-time to receive financial benefits, like some scholarships and grants. But you only need to meet the minimum threshold. If full-time at your school is 12 credit hours and you’re currently enrolled in 15, consider dropping some credits. Just don’t drop down to half-time.

While lessening your credit hours a little bit might help lower your cost of attendance, it’s not always a viable solution for everyone. Only cut down on classes if it helps you financially while also meeting your full-time status. For example, if you do lessen your course load, that might mean you won’t graduate in four years which could end up costing you more if you have to take out more loans for the extra semester or two spent finishing your degree. So if that could be the case for you, make sure to weigh all your options.

3. Pursue parent loans or gifts

Not everyone has the financial backing of parents from the start. If your family has the means to contribute to your education, see if they’re willing to help make ends meet.

This can either be in the form of an actual “gift” (where you don’t pay them back) or your parents can take out a Direct PLUS Loan or a parent loan from a private lender. A Direct PLUS Loan is a federal loan available to graduate students or parents of a dependent undergraduate student. A private parent student loan is one you can get from most private lenders, not the federal government.

Using a parent loan can help you pay for your education, but they’re not managed the same way as other federal student loans. For parent borrowers, credit will be checked, so you can’t have adverse credit to qualify. Along with that, Parent PLUS Loans and private loans tend to have higher interest rates than direct loans (like Direct Unsubsidized and Direct Subsidized Loans). Keep that in mind as you’re planning your finances to pay for college.

4. Talk to your school

If you’ve tapped into all your extra loan resources and you’re still coming up short, you might want to talk to your school’s financial aid office. Since cost of attendance for each school varies, so does their federal student aid. Some schools might have small grants to help students in need of making ends meet.

Along with that, some schools might offer you a monthly payment plan option instead of paying in one lump sum. You may feel overwhelmed or confused about how you’ll be able to afford your repayment plans if you’ve hit your student loan limits, but most of the time, schools want to help students, not hurt them. It doesn’t hurt to ask for help.

5. Enroll somewhere else

If you’re up against a wall and can’t afford to pay for school, you might want to consider changing schools.

Many local community colleges offer 4-year degrees with a much cheaper cost of attendance compared to their state and private school siblings. It might not have a sprawling campus or as many activities as other schools, but you can attend the classes you need for a fraction of the cost. You might feel bad about leaving the school of your choice behind, but if you can’t make payments, it might be something to think about it.

Use student loan limits to your advantage

To avoid hitting the actual loan amount limits, craft your attendance with them in mind. Always make sure you’re within your given range for federal student loan limits. If you need extra money after that, you have options. Do your research and make sure you choose what’s best for you.