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Sallie Mae Credit Cards Provide Options for Students and Recent Grads

6 min read
Ellen Sirull By Ellen Sirull Updated Nov 11, 2019

Sallie Mae is well known as a private student loan lender. Recently the company began offering credit cards tailored to the needs of college students, recent graduates, and all other consumers.

Student loan debt is a growing issue for many Americans. In fact, according to Experian, it reached another all-time high of $1.4 trillion in 2019, an increase of 116% in the last 10 years.

Sallie Mae now provides three different credit cards, and one helps with paying off student loans a bit more quickly. The cards offer similar benefits and vary mostly by the reward bonuses and introductory APRs; they’re intended to help consumers at different stages in their lives, from young student to working professional.

Side-by-Side Comparison of the Sallie Mae Credit Cards

Sallie Mae Ignite Student Card Sallie Mae Accelerate Card Sallie Mae Evolve Card
Best For Students Recent graduates or anyone with a student loan Any consumer
Annual Fee $0 $0 $0
Cash Back 1% on all purchases 1.25% on all purchases 1.25% on all purchases
Cash Back Bonus 25% bonus on all cash back earned after making six consecutive on-time monthly payments 25% bonus on any cash back used to pay down student loans 25% bonus on any cash back earned in your top two spending categories each month
Introductory Purchase APR 0% for 6 months 0% for 6 months 0% for 12 months

Sallie Mae Bank is the credit card issuer for each of these Mastercards.

In addition to the perks outlined below, all three cards come with:

  • Cell phone protection: Pay your monthly cell phone bill with your card and get up to $600 per claim in cell phone protection (a policy provided under Mastercard with a $50 deductible per claim). This is a nice benefit and it’s quite rare for credit cards without annual fees.
  • Credit score access: Get your free FICO Score 8 through the Sallie Mae mobile app and online, based on your TransUnion credit report.
  • Lost card assistance: Disable your card quickly in your online account if you lose or misplace it.
Sallie Mae is also working on rolling out instant access to accounts, so you can instantly access your new card account after you’re approved and begin earning cash back on purchases immediately. It’s introduced the cards with a mobile-first cardholder experience to address that many students, millennials, and consumers want to easily manage their finances and cards on the go.
Sallie Mae Ignite Student Card

Sallie Mae Ignite Student Card

Our rating
Credit rangeNo Credit
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.74%–24.74% Variable
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securely on the issuer's website

Pros

  • Available for students, so you don’t need an established credit history to get approved
  • No annual fee
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 6 months, then 14.74%–24.74% Variable
  • Cash back: 1% on all purchases
  • Additional rewards: Unlock added rewards with responsible personal finance behavior, with a 25% bonus after making six consecutive on-time monthly payments. (1.25% cash back in total)
  • Entry in Sallie Mae’s Swipe Away $10K Sweepstakes

Cons

Making the Most of the Sallie Mae Ignite Card

Using this cash back card for your cell phone bill means if you lose your phone, you’ve got some coverage. It can help you get started with a credit card relatively easily, form healthy credit card spending habits, and build credit while keeping an eye on one of your FICO credit scores.

Sallie Mae’s Swipe Away $10K Sweepstakes, running through September 2020, also means you can enter to win $10,000 each month towards paying down student loans. Here are the details on the promotion:

  • Sallie Mae Ignite and Sallie Mae Accelerate cardholders could win $10,000 toward their student loans.
  • You get one entry for: getting a card; each purchase made with the card; sharing a picture of you using your card on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtags: #SallieMaeWin10k and #Sweepstakes.
  • Sallie Mae selects one $10K winner each month. Plus, your entries roll over from month to month, so that means more chances for you to win!
Sallie Mae Accelerate Card

Sallie Mae Accelerate Card

Our rating
Credit rangeFair
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.74%–24.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

Pros

  • Sallie Mae touts it as “the only cash back credit card that gives you a bonus when you use your rewards to pay down a student loan.”
  • No annual fee
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 6 months, then 14.74%–24.74% Variable
  • Cash back: 1.25% on all purchases
  • Additional rewards: 25% bonus on any cash back rewards used to pay down student loans. This applies to all federal and private student loans, not just Sallie Mae student loans. (1.5625% cash back in total)
  • Entry in Sallie Mae’s Swipe Away $10K Sweepstakes

Cons

  • You may be able to get more cash back with other rewards cards (we have some other options to check out at the end of the article). However, if you have student loans, you can use this card’s rewards to directly reduce that debt, a feature you won’t find with any other card on the market.
  • The ability to pay off loans directly is an interesting feature, but most other reward cards can have the same overall effect. If you earn rewards with any card and redeem them for statement credits or direct deposits (or anything you were going to buy anyway), that’s extra money in your pocket that can go toward your student loans.

Making the Most of the Sallie Mae Accelerate Card

If you’re a recent graduate and have student loan payments, using this Sallie Mae Mastercard to get cash back for paying down student loans gets you added rewards. It could be a good move if you’re having trouble qualifying for other credit cards.

Paying your cell phone bill with the Accelerate card can help you replace your phone for less money if it’s lost or stolen, an outsized benefit on a no annual fee card. You’ll also qualify for the sweepstakes mentioned above, for the chance to win $10,000 to pay down student loans.

Sallie Mae Evolve Card

Sallie Mae Evolve Card

Our rating
Credit rangeFair
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.74%–24.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

Pros

  • A simple cash back card, but one that can provide more than most other flat-rate cash back cards in your top two monthly categories.
  • No annual fee
  • Purchase APR: 0% for 12 months, then 14.74%–24.74% Variable
  • Cash back: 1.25% on all purchases
  • Additional rewards: 25% bonus on cash back rewards earned from your top two purchase categories each month (1.5625% cash back in total)

Cons

  • The base cash back rate of 1.25% is pretty meager. The extra rewards in your top two spending categories can help, but everything else will earn at a low rate.
  • There’s a 3% foreign transaction fee, so if you travel internationally you should try to use a card without that fee.

Making the Most of the Sallie Mae Evolve Card

If you have two main categories you spend a substantial amount on over other purchases, this Sallie Mae card could be a way to rack up more rewards — but you should also consider other cards with specific bonus categories for those purchase types.

You’ll enjoy cell phone protection if you pay your phone bill with the card (a benefit not many cards offer). If you’re clumsy this might be nothing to sneeze at. The low introductory interest rate is also helpful if you know you have some bigger expenses coming up, like with a move.

Why Sallie Mae Is Now Offering Credit Cards

You might be wondering why Sallie Mae got into the credit card game. Donna Vieira, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Sallie Mae, explains: “For our customers, it’s not just about getting to, and graduating from college, but also reaching milestones after college.”

“We are creating products that empower them to accomplish what’s next with confidence while fueling their own financial independence. Our new credit cards, co-created and developed with students, parents, and recent graduates, offer simplicity and provide the right benefits at the right time, both during and after college,” adds Vieira.

Sallie Mae conducted a study called Majoring in Money with Ipsos, a global research firm, which found that nearly 6 in 10 college students have at least one credit card. Additionally, the study shows that the biggest reason given for getting a first credit card is to build credit. Sallie Mae’s Ignite card was designed with that in mind, allowing students to get a credit card and rewarding financial responsibility.

The 2019 Majoring in Money study points out that roughly 6 in 10 students would be interested in a credit card that offers loan repayment rewards (thus the Accelerate card, which Sallie Mae notes is the only card to offer a cash back bonus when you use rewards to pay down a student loan).

How to Get a Sallie Mae Card

Sallie Mae credit cards were made available to existing Sallie Mae customers first, so if you have a Sallie Mae student loan or savings account, you may have been able to snag one early. As of October 9, 2019, the cards are open to all U.S. consumers.

You should know that you can only have one of the Sallie Mae cards at a time. The cards follow along the path many consumers take in life. So, you may have the Ignite card to establish credit, move on to the Accelerate card when you graduate, and then get the Evolve as you enter that next phase of “adulting.” You just contact Sallie Mae’s credit card customer service to request moving to another card.

The Bottom Line

The Sallie Mae cards offer students and anyone with student loans some unique value to help pay off those loans more quickly. Though these cards don’t offer sign up bonuses, the Evolve card provides some pretty solid cash back rewards in your top two monthly categories.

Not satisfied with Sallie Mae? There are some other great credit cards you can check out to fit those same niches, including:

Credit Cards for Students

Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

Our rating
Credit rangeNo Credit
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR16.24%–26.24%Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Our rating
Credit rangeNo Credit
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR14.74%–23.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

READ MORE

Best Student Credit Cards

Credit Cards for Recent Grads

Citi<sup>®</sup> Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Citi® Double Cash Card - 18 month BT offer

Our rating
Credit rangeGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR15.49% – 25.49% (Variable)
Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card

Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card

Our rating
Credit rangeGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR13.74%–24.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

READ MORE

Best Rewards Credit Cards

Credit Cards for Making Purchases With a 0% APR

Citi Simplicity<sup>®</sup> Card - No Late Fees Ever

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Our rating
Credit rangeGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR16.24% - 26.24% (Variable)
BankAmericard® Credit Card

BankAmericard® Credit Card

Our rating
Credit rangeGood
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR15.24%–25.24% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

Best 0% APR Credit Cards

See them here!
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AT A GLANCE

Sallie Mae offers three credit cards with various rewards and benefits, intended to help students and consumers as they progress through life. One is the first ever credit card to offer a special bonus for paying off student loans, and the others provide interesting bonuses of their own.

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