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Sallie Mae may be best known for offering private student loans, but the lender has rolled out a trio of no-annual-fee rewards credit cards targeting students and young adults, including one that gives cardholders extra credit when they redeem their earnings toward student loan payments.
Here's what you should know about the cards:
The Sallie Mae Ignite, designed for students establishing credit, offers an unlimited 1% cash back on every purchase. After making six consecutive on-time payments, cardholders can snag a 25% bonus on those rewards. It also comes with an introductory 0% APR offer of six months on purchases. After that, a standard variable APR will apply.
The Sallie Mae Accelerate is aimed at those with student loans. The card earns an unlimited 1.25% cash back on all purchases, and a 25% bonus on rewards that are redeemed to pay down any federal or private student loan. It comes with a 12-month introductory 0% APR offer on purchases. After that, a standard variable APR will apply.
The Sallie Mae Evolve is for those whose spending patterns may vary from month to month. The card resembles the structure of the Accelerate, paying an unlimited 1.25% cash back on all purchases, but it also offers a 25% bonus on rewards earned on your top two spending categories each month. It comes with a 12-month introductory 0% APR offer on purchases. After that, a standard variable APR will apply.
“Our cards are targeting younger individuals who are adulting and early nesters,” says Anthony Moschella, senior director, Sallie Mae credit cards. For some, the Ignite could be their first card, Accelerate is focused on more recent grads, or those with a student loan. Evolve is when you move beyond and you're establishing your life beyond graduation, like starting a family or buying a home.”
In 2020, Sallie Mae says it will enable cardholders to seamlessly product-change their card from one to another, to dovetail with new life stages and spending patterns.
All three cards run on the Mastercard network and offer a cell phone protection benefit worth up to $600 per claim if you pay your monthly bill with your Sallie Mae card. Rewards on the cards never expire and can be redeemed once you've accumulated at least $25 in earnings.
Sallie Mae previously offered a different credit card, the Sallie Mae MasterCard. It is no longer available.
Are these cards a good deal?
The Sallie Mae Ignite joins just a small handful of cards that offer rewards to those working on improving their credit profile. There's no downside to having six months of interest-free breathing room on purchases, either. But if you don't need that intro offer, you may also want to consider the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students. It earns an unlimited 1% cash back on all spending, which isn't as high as the Ignite's highest potential earning rate. But unlike the Ignite, the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students charges no foreign transaction fee and waives your first late fee. It, too, runs on the Mastercard network and offers a $600 cell phone insurance benefit, but it will also reimburse you for annual Amazon Prime student subscription fees, up to a lifetime total of $59, after you spend $500 in the first three billing cycles.
If you're looking for all the help you can get to whittle down your student loans, the Sallie Mae Accelerate can save you the extra step of redeeming your rewards and then separately using that windfall to help pay off your balance. But if you don't mind a less streamlined process of debt payoff and you have some established credit, other cards can earn you more cash back on your spending to put back toward your loans. The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, for instance, offers a total of 2% cash back on every purchase — 1% when you buy, and another 1% when you pay your bill. That will net you more in the long run.
The Sallie Mae Evolve can be bested by several other cards on the market. The 25% bonus feature means you'll earn about 1.56% back on purchases in your top two categories, and 1.25% back on everything else. Any number of cards offer less complicated flat-rate rewards of 1.5% or better on everything you buy.
» MORE: How to choose a rewards card