When you are pursuing your education, you may need to take out student loans. But exactly how much money should you borrow to pay for your degree? 

It's important to think this question through so you don't graduate and end up with regret because your student loan balance is higher than you'd like. 

Two adults looking at financial paperwork.

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How much should you borrow to pay for your education?

You'll want to make sure you can comfortably afford to pay back your student debt in a reasonable time. You don't want educational loans to interfere with your ability to accomplish other life goals like buying a house or saving money for your retirement. 

To do that, you should generally aim to keep the total amount you borrow to the amount of money you expect to earn as your starting salary after you graduate. So, for example, if you will be entering a career where you expect to make around $30,000 or $40,000 after graduating, then you'd want to avoid borrowing more than around $30,000 or $40,000.

On the other hand, if you'll be pursuing a more lucrative profession, you may be able to afford to borrow more. For example, medical professionals routinely graduate with well over $100,000 of student debt -- but that amount should be reasonable to pay off if they intend to go into a profession where they'll make a six-figure income. 

Keep the future impact of your educational debt in mind

While it's tempting to borrow as much as you need to attend your dream school and pursue your passion, the reality is that this could come back to bite you if you don't make enough money to comfortably make your monthly payments.

While there are some options, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, that allow you to get some of your debt discharged if you go into public service work, you generally are going to have to pay back all you owe -- or make payments for decades on an income-driven plan until your remaining loan balance is cleared after 20 or 25 years. 

There are very real consequences of borrowing too much, as your debt will affect your ability to do the things you want later in life. To try to keep your debt burden manageable:

  • Look into scholarships, grants, and other sources of funds that don't require you to pay back the money after graduation.  
  • Don't borrow for any non-necessities, such as spring break trips or an expensive student apartment. 
  • Consider whether attending a costly school is worth it based on how much your earning potential will increase or whether you may be better off opting for a less expensive program.
  • Aim to work during school if doing so won't interfere with your academic progress.

Taking these steps to limit your debt can help you avoid borrowing more than you need -- and you'll be grateful you made the effort when you can easily afford your monthly student loan payments on your post-grad salary.