5 Things to Know About Sallie Mae Credit Cards

Sallie Mae's no-annual-fee cards — the Ignite, Accelerate and Evolve — are for students and young adults, but they underwhelm in terms of rewards and fees.
Melissa LambarenaJun 16, 2021

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Sallie Mae isn’t just in the business of private student loans. It also offers three starter credit cards for students and young adults. They include:

  • The Sallie Mae Ignite for students (a co-signer option is available).

  • The Sallie Mae Accelerate for those paying off student loans.

  • The Sallie Mae Evolve for those who want a bump in rewards.

If you're just getting started with credit, these options offer decent rewards minus the annual fee. But if you've already been working your way toward good credit (a FICO score of 690 or higher), other cards may offer more value. Here’s what you need to know.

1. You can earn bonus rewards in the first year ...

None of the Sallie Mae credit cards offers an upfront sign-up bonus. Instead, you’ll get a chance to earn elevated cash back on all purchases during the first year of opening your account.

Here’s a look at what each card earns:

Sallie Mae Ignite

Sallie Mae Accelerate

Sallie Mae Evolve

Annual fee




First-year rewards

2% cash back on all purchases during the first year (on up to $20,000 spent)

2.5% cash back on all purchases during the first year (on up to $20,000 spent).

2.5% cash back on all purchases during the first year (on up to $20,000 spent).

Ongoing rewards

  • 1% on all purchases.

  • Plus, 25% bonus on your base cash back rewards if you make six months of consecutive on-time payments.

  • 1.25% on all purchases.

  • Earn an additional 25% bonus on cash back rewards used to pay down any federal or private student loan.

  • 1.25% on all purchases.

  • Get an extra 25% on cash back rewards earned in two top spending categories each month.

2. ... But otherwise, rewards are underwhelming

As a starter credit card aimed at students, the Ignite isn't a bad option. Not every student card offers rewards, and for those that do, a rate of 1% is decent. Still, it's possible to do better. The Discover it® Student Cash Back, for instance, earns 5% cash back in quarterly rotating categories that you activate, on up to $1,500 in spending per quarter (1% back on everything else). See Discover's quarterly rotating categories for more.

The Accelerate and Evolve, on the other hand, are designed for those who have an established credit history — but if you meet that requirement, again, you can do better. Both cards feature an ongoing rate of 1.25% back, which falls short of the industry-standard 1.5% back. And even with the 25% boost that each card offers, that brings your rate to about 1.56% back at most.

You can find many credit cards that earn 2% back on all purchases, and without having to factor in a complex points boost.

3. Foreign transaction fees aren’t a fit for international travel

While Sallie Mae credit cards are widely accepted as part of the Mastercard network, they aren’t well-equipped for trips abroad. All three cards charge a foreign transaction fee of 3% on every international purchase. That amount can add up, especially if you often travel abroad.

You can find plenty of cards, even some starter cards, that don't charge this fee. The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is a good example.

4. There’s a 0% intro APR period

Sallie Mae credit cards do offer a 0% introductory APR period, an incentive that is seldom available on starter credit cards:

  • Sallie Mae Ignite: Get a 0% introductory APR on purchases for 6 months and an ongoing standard variable APR of 12.99% to 22.99% (rates accurate as of October 2020).

  • Sallie Mae Accelerate and Evolve cards: Get a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months and an ongoing standard variable APR of 12.99% to 22.99% (rates accurate as of October of 2020).

5. Cell phone protection can save you money

Sallie Mae credit cards offer secondary cell phone coverage for stolen or damaged cell phones on up to $600 per claim (for a maximum of $1,000 per year). To qualify, you’ll have to pay your monthly cell phone bill with the card.

The protection extends to up to three phones, the primary line and two secondary lines. Each claim is subject to a $50 co-pay.

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.