5 Things to Know About Sallie Mae Credit Cards

Sallie Mae's no-annual-fee cards can be valuable for students who are new to credit cards. But for those with established credit histories, there are better options.
Feb 17, 2022

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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, best 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 without an 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 about the cards.

1. You’ll earn cash back with all 3 cards

The Sallie Mae credit cards offer sign-up bonuses as well as ongoing rewards. And in some cases, you’ll get a chance to earn elevated cash back.

Here’s a look at what each card earns:

Sallie Mae Ignite

Sallie Mae Accelerate

Sallie Mae Evolve

Annual fee

$0.

$0.

$0.

Sign-up bonus

Earn $50 in cash back after you spend $250 in the first 3 months of cardholding.

Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of cardholding.

Earn $200 in cash back after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of cardholding.

Ongoing rewards

  • 1% on all purchases.

  • Plus, 25% bonus on your base cash back rewards if you make 6 months of consecutive on-time payments.

  • 2% cash back when rewards are redeemed toward any federal or private student loan.

  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

  • 2% cash back on your two top eligible spending categories each month.

  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

2. Rewards are valuable, but there are more lucrative options

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.

With the Accelerate, the card’s base rate of 1.5% — which is on par with the industry standard — boosts up to 2% when you redeem rewards toward student loans. So when you use rewards for loan payments rather than statement credit or as a deposit into an account, you’ll get a total of 2% cash back toward those payments. For those carrying loans, this incentive can help pay down balances quicker.

The Evolve card, on the other hand, will boost you up to a competitive 2% back in your two highest spending categories each month. Cardholders can earn this elevated cash-back rate in one of 13 bonus categories, which include common expense categories like dining, gas, groceries and even health care. Not many cards on the market adjust your bonus cash back automatically, based on your spending. And the 2% rate is more than what many flat-rate cards offer.

Note, however, that both the Accelerate and Evolve cards are designed for those who have an established credit history — but if you meet that requirement, you can do better. There are many credit cards that earn 2% back or more on all purchases and don’t require you to factor in a complex points boost.

3. There’s a 0% intro APR period

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

  • Sallie Mae Ignite: Get a 0% introductory annual percentage rate on purchases for 6 months and an ongoing standard variable APR of 12.99% to 24.99% (rates accurate as of February 2022).

  • 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 24.99% (rates accurate as of February 2022).

4. 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 copay.

5. 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.

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