If you have good credit and don’t want to fuss with cash-back rewards on your purchases, the Sallie Mae Evolve may be a worthwhile option. You’ll get the benefits of both a flat-rate and tiered cash-back card, but without the complications. Each month you’ll get 25% more rewards in the two areas you spend the most on, but you don’t have to select them from a list beforehand or worry that you’re missing out on rewards if your habits change.
If you’ve got outstanding student loans, you may want to consider the Sallie Mae Accelerate card instead. That card offers the same 25% bonus if you put your rewards toward paying down your student loans.
With the 25% bonus in your top two categories, you’ll effectively be earning 1.56% cash back in those areas, and there’s no cap on what you can earn. That’s on top of the unlimited 1.25% back you’ll earn on all other purchases. It’s simple and easy, even if it isn’t especially lucrative compared to competing cards.
Bonus rewards automatically apply where you spend the most
Competitive 0% interest offer on purchases and balance transfers
Limited redemption options for rewards
- Bonus rewards automatically apply where you spend the most: Most tiered cash-back cards have set bonuses for set purchase categories, forcing you to predict your spending patterns ahead of time. By contrast, the Sallie Mae Evolve automatically applies your bonus to the two categories you spend the most in each month—it could be travel and gas one month, merchandise and restaurants the next.
- Competitive 0% interest offer on purchases and balance transfers: Sallie Mae won’t charge new cardholders interest on either purchases or balance transfers for 15 months, making this card appealing if you need to finance a big purchase or reduce high-interest debt accrued elsewhere. Some cards only have interest-free promotions on one or the other, and not always for as long of a stretch. (You must execute any balance transfers within the first 60 days you have the card.)
- Limited redemption options for rewards: Many credit cards let you redeem rewards for gift cards, merchandise, or travel, but the Sallie Mae Evolve card is strictly a cash proposition. You can redeem for a credit on your card statement or as an electronic transfer to a bank account.
Earning Points & Rewards
The Sallie Mae Evolve card gives you 25% more value in the two categories you spend the most money in, which translates to about 1.56% cash back. While that’s not terrible, there are plenty of cards that reward select categories at 2%, 3% or even 5% cash back. Then again, you’re usually stuck with those categories, and even if they change, you may not have control over what they change to. (And there may be caps on what you can earn with competing cards.)
For everything else you buy with the Sallie Mae Evolve, you’ll get the baseline 1.25% cash back, which is pretty meager. There are quite a few cash-back credit cards that offer 1.5% cash back on all purchases and you can even find a flat rate of 2% back on a few cards. Some competing cards also come with bonuses new cardholders can earn by spending a relatively modest amount in their first few months.
This cards rewards rate is made slightly better for new cardholders. For the first 12 months you have this card, you'll earn 2.5% back on every purchase instead of 1.25% back. That's a much more competitive earning rate, but it won't last forever.
The Sallie Mae Evolve card is pretty limited in terms of its rewards redemption program. You can redeem rewards for statement credits or electronic deposits into a checking or savings account. You’ll need to save up at least $25 in rewards before you can redeem it, too.
The total amount of rewards you can earn is unlimited, and rewards will never expire as long as your account remains current and open. Just make sure you’ve racked up at least $25 worth if you decide to close your card, since you’ll lose them otherwise.
How to Get the Most Out of This Card
Flat-rate cash-back cards don’t require you to do much to maximize your rewards, and this one is true to the model, albeit with a twist. Use the card for your regular purchases and you’ll earn at least 1.25% back on all purchases, with a 25% boost in your top two spending categories each month. You won’t have to predict your spending patterns to make sure you’re getting the highest rewards rate on the things you spend the most money on.
On the redemption side, you won’t have to move points around or try to figure out how to use your rewards to get the most value. You only have to decide if you want them as a statement credit or bank deposit.
So how much cash back can you really earn with this card? Let’s say your top two spending categories are groceries and gas, and you spend what the average U.S. household spends each month—$372 on groceries and $175.75 on gas, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In those two categories alone you would earn $102.72 in rewards each year, including $20.54 in bonus rewards.
The beauty of this card is that if you go on vacation the following month and spend more on dining out than groceries, your bonus rate will switch over to dining out.
Finally, consider taking advantage of the introductory 0% interest offers for either purchases or balance transfers, since they last 15 months. It can buy you time to pay off a big purchase, or if you’ve piled up expensive, high-interest debt elsewhere, you can transfer it to your Evolve account and get a jump on paying it down before interest charges resume. Just remember you’ll pay a 3% fee on any amount you transfer.
Sallie Mae Evolve Card’s Excellent Perks
This rewards credit card comes with one card benefit considered “excellent” by the editors of The Balance:
- Cellphone insurance: Qualify for secondary cellphone protection against damage or theft with up to $600 in coverage per claim. A $50 deductible applies for each claim you make, and you will receive a maximum benefit of $1,000 every 12 months.
Sallie Mae has a mobile app that makes it easy to track your spending, pay bills, or dispute fraudulent transactions. Cardholders also receive free access to their FICO scores each month. Unfortunately, if you need to speak with someone over the phone, you’ll have to do so during select hours, Monday through Friday.
You can temporarily “pause” their accounts if their credit card is lost or stolen. You can also set up account alerts to notify you when a purchase is made, when you’re getting close to your credit limit, and more.
Sallie Mae Evolve Card’s Fees
Watch out for this card’s foreign transaction fee, which tacks on an additional charge 3% charge any time you use your credit card to make a purchase overseas. Otherwise, this card’s fees are in line with other cards like it on the market.