If you have good credit and are struggling under the weight of student debt, this card can help “accelerate” your loans’ ultimate payoff. That’s because Sallie Mae boosts cash-back reward redemptions by 25% when they are directed toward any student loan payments, which brings your cash-back return to just over 1.5%. This may help you stay vigilant, and may even motivate you to pay down your loans a little more quickly.
In the first year, your acceleration is juiced with an additional 1.25% match for new cardholders on up to $20,000 in spending.
That said, there are credit cards offering more cash back over the long term, even if you include the 25% boost. And with some of those cards, you can easily direct your rewards toward student loans all on your own, or work with the issuer to send payments. The real value may be in the discipline this card instills. Sallie Mae will send your student loan issuer a payment directly, making it less tempting to use your rewards for treats or fun.
Decent bonus for new cardholders
Generous 0% balance-transfer and introductory rate
Limited redemption options
Long wait for extra cash-back
Foreign transaction fee
Non-competitive rewards rates, long term
- Easy-earn everyday rewards: Earning 1.25% back plus 25% more value when you redeem for student loans makes the card competitive, as a total of 1.56% back without caps or rotating categories means the card is a no-hassle option.
- Decent bonus for new cardholders: Earning 2.5% cash back over the first year is very competitive (at least for the first year) and can help you make a small dent in student loan amounts.
- Generous 0% balance-transfer and introductory rate: Cash-back rewards cards don’t regularly offer 15 months of 0% introductory APR and balance-transfer rates.
- Limited redemption options: It makes sense that you wouldn’t have many redemption options, since after all, the idea is to pay down your loans. Still, it’s worth noting that if you don’t partake in the incentive, you only have two other options: redeem your cash as either a statement credit, or make a deposit to a checking or savings account. If you’re looking for travel credits or redemptions for merchandise, look elsewhere.
- Long wait for extra cash-back: Most cards don’t require you to wait 12 months to earn your new-cardholder bonus, with a few exceptions.
- Foreign transaction fee: Leave this card at home when traveling, as you’ll pay a 3% fee for use outside the U.S.
- Non-competitive rewards rates, long term: After you’ve paid off your student loans, earning 1.25% back is lower than most other cash-back credit cards, so you’ll want to shop for a new card earning at least 1.5% back or more.
Bonus for New Cardholders
The bonus works like this—you earn 1.25% cash back throughout the first 12 billing cycles, and at the end of the 12-month period, Sallie Mae matches your first $20,000 in spending with an additional 1.25%.
The 1.25% match will be applied to your rewards balance within two billing cycles of your account anniversary for a total of up to $250 (if you spent $20,000).
Earning Points & Rewards
You don’t need a college degree to understand how to maximize your rewards earning with this card. You’ll earn a flat 1.25% back for each dollar you spend. That’s all there is to it. The rewards you earn are unlimited, but note that you will forfeit them if you close your account before cashing them in.
On the redemption side, things are slightly more complicated, but not much. If you use your rewards for student loan payments, you’ll get the best rate of return. Essentially, the 25% boost brings the total return up to 1.56%, rather than 1.25%.
This card also lets you get your cash in the form of a statement credit or deposit into a checking or savings account, but there’s no boost, so 1.25% will remain 1.25%. Either way, you’ll need to have accrued at least $25 in rewards to make a redemption.
If you don’t have student loans, the Sallie Mae Evolve card offers the same 25% bonus and first-year bonus match, but on your top two spending categories each month.
How to Get the Most Out of This Card
The math here isn’t complicated, either. Maximize the Sallie Mae Accelerate by using your rewards to pay down your student loans. It’s not a huge difference in earnings, but every little bit helps. Maximizing your rewards in the first year would require spending $20,000 that year to earn the maximum bonus, as long as you can repay your balance each month along with student loans.
After the first year, say you spend $1,000 on your credit card per month, for a total of $12,000 per year. You’d earn $150 in cash rewards every year with the regular 1.25% rate. By redeeming for student loan payments, on the other hand, you would receive an additional $37.50—or a total of $187.50.
Sallie Mae Accelerate Card’s Excellent Perks
The Sallie Mae Accelerate Card offers one benefit deemed “excellent” by the editors of The Balance:
- Cellphone insurance: This card provides cellphone protection against damage or theft with a $600 limit per claim. A $50 deductible applies each time you use this coverage, and you will receive a maximum benefit of $1,000 every 12 months.
- Free shipping through ShopRunner membership
- Concierge for booking travel
Cardholders can use an app to monitor their spending, pay bills, and dispute fraudulent transactions from their mobile device. They can also access their FICO score for free at any time. Telephone customer service is available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Eastern time.
If your credit card is lost or stolen, you’ll be able to temporarily “pause” your account with the mobile app. You can also set up customized alerts to keep yourself abreast of daily or weekly spending and when you’re getting close to your credit limit.
Fees charged by the Sallie Mae Accelerate are standard for the industry. Just be careful of the foreign transaction fee, which makes all overseas purchases cost 3% more.