Sallie Mae Ignite

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The Sallie Mae Ignite card offers cash-back rewards to students seeking a card to further build a credit profile while earning some rewards. The rewards earning rate isn’t anything special at first, but cardholders who consistently pay on time will earn a little extra—and lay the groundwork for a strong credit history.

Sallie Mae Ignite

Overall Rating
Sallie Mae Ignite
Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 12.99% - 24.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 1.0% cash back on eligible purchases. Plus, make six consecutive on-time payments and get a 25% bonus on your base cash back rewards.
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Foreign transaction fee (%) 3%
Ratings Breakdown
for Interest
for Fees
for Rewards
for Credit
Current Offer

Students, earn a $50 cash back reward after you spend $250 in the first 3 months.

Who Is This Credit Card Best For?

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The Sallie Mae Ignite was created for students and young adults who have started building credit (and have a recommended credit score of at least 670) and want to start earning credit card rewards. 

Better still, those who can responsibly manage a credit card will get a bigger return. If you prove yourself with six straight months of on-time payments, Sallie Mae will increase the cash-back rate from 1% cash back to 1.25% cash back on each purchase. That’s a solid earning rate, especially when you consider the new cardholder bonus, but you can still earn much more with a card that rewards some categories more than others, such as gas, groceries, and restaurant purchases.

This card is for those who want a simple card and easy rewards. If you have good credit and want to really rack up rewards on your purchases, this isn’t the card for you.

  • More rewards for responsible credit use

  • Earning rewards is simple

  • Introductory 0% APR on balance transfers

  • Few redemption options

  • Small welcome bonus

  • Foreign transaction fee

Pros Explained

  • Bigger rewards for responsible credit use: This card’s earning rate will jump from 1% to 1.25% after you make six consecutive on-time monthly payments. This is great motivation to learn good credit habits while you maximize rewards. Plus, as student cards go, 1.25% cash back isn’t half bad. Other cards may have higher rates, but only for a limited time or on certain spending categories.
  • Earning rewards is simple: There are no categories to track or earning limits to worry about with this card. Just use it for all purchases you can afford to pay off each month, and you’ll earn a consistent rewards rate, plus a little bit extra for making on-time payments, as we mentioned. 
  • Introductory 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers: The introductory 0% APR applies to both purchases and balance transfers, which is a nice combination for a student card. If you use one or the other, you won’t have to worry about juggling different interest rates, which keeps this card simple. However, the duo-rate offer is brief—just six months—which isn’t as long as what some other cards offer right now.

Cons Explained

  • Few redemption options: Rewards can only be redeemed for statement credits or electronic deposits into a checking or savings account, and not until your rewards balance reaches at least $25. By comparison, many other student cards let you use rewards at any point for many different things, including gift cards, merchandise, and even travel. 
  • Small welcome bonus: This card only offer $50 cash back for spending $250 in the first three months of account opening. While easy to meet the spending requirement, there are other cards that offer more valuable offers to new cardholders that are relatively easy to achieve.
  • Foreign transaction fee: If you’re a student who frequently travels or plans on studying abroad, you may want to keep looking for one of the cards that don’t charge an additional 3% in foreign transaction fees, as this one does. There are several student cards available that don’t tack on an extra cost for using the card outside the U.S.

Bonus for New Cardholders

Students can earn a $50 cash back reward after spending $250 in the first 3 months. This bonus isn't as competitive as other student cards, but the low spending requirement makes it easy to achieve. Plus, you'll get a 25% bonus on your base cash back rewards when you make six consecutive on-time payments as a new cardholder.

Earning Points and Rewards

The Sallie Mae Ignite card lets you earn 1% cash back on every dollar you spend, with no limits. You’ll get 25% more (for a total of 1.25% back) once you’ve made at least six consecutive on-time monthly payments on your card.

A 1.25% cash-back rate is better than many similar student rewards card cards that offer just 1% cash-back on all purchases. While there are other student cards with better-earning rates, those also often require spending in particular categories or only offer higher earning rates for a limited time. 

Nevertheless, with this card, if your annual credit card spending is $12,000, and you pay your bill on time each month for the first six months, you’ll earn $270 in cash back in your first year and $150 every year thereafter (assuming you maintain that level of spending each year, of course).

Redeeming Rewards

The Sallie Mae Ignite card lets you redeem rewards in two ways: a statement credit or a cash deposit into a checking or savings account. Those are pretty limited options, but it also keeps things simple.

Just keep in mind you need to accrue at least $25 in rewards before you can redeem.

How to Get the Most out of This Card

Making on-time credit card payments is always important, but it’s particularly important with this card. It’s the only way to reach and maintain the higher—and competitive—cash-back earning rate, after all. Only use this card for what you can afford to pay off each month. Keeping your balance low and making on-time payments are key factors to growing your credit even more over time.

If you want to take advantage of either a 0% APR offer to finance a big purchase or pay off another card balance, just remember the deals only last for six short months. Make sure you pay off your purchases and transfers in full before the offer ends to maintain any interest savings.

Excellent Perks

The Sallie Mae Ignite card comes with one perk the editors of The Balance consider excellent compared to more typical card benefits:

  • Cellphone insurance: Pay your phone bill with this card to qualify for cellphone coverage if it’s damaged or stolen. This coverage is good for up to $600 per claim and up to $1,000 in claims every year. Just note there is a $50 deductible per claim, and the coverage is secondary to any other cellphone insurance you may have.

Customer Experience

Sallie Mae offers a helpful mobile app that lets you pay bills and monitor your spending. Cardholders can also check their FICO score for free at any time through their online account management page or the Sallie Mae mobile app. If you want to reach customer service by phone, you’ll have to do it Monday through Friday during standard hours.

Security Features

Sallie Mae lets you temporarily disable your card in the event it’s lost or stolen. Also, you can use the app to set up customized alerts. Other credit card security features are standard for the industry.


The fees on this card are consistent with those charged by other student cards. One to be aware of is the foreign transaction fee, which tacks on 3% to each purchase you make overseas. 

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Sallie Mae Ignite
overall rating
Recommended Credit
Score Our recommended ranges are based off of the FICO® Score 8 credit-scoring model. Credit score is one of the many factors lenders review in considering your application.
350 579
580 669
670 739
740 799
800 850
Good - Excellent
Regular APR (%) 12.99% - 24.99% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 1.0% cash back on eligible purchases. Plus, make six consecutive on-time payments and get a 25% bonus on your base cash back rewards.
Our Methodology
At The Balance, we are dedicated to giving you unbiased, comprehensive credit card reviews. To do this, we collect data on hundreds of cards and score more than 55 features that affect your finances.
  • Our Reviews Are Always Impartial: No one can influence which cards we review, the way we present them to you, or the ratings they receive. The scores and reviews come directly from the data we collect and our editorial expertise, and we focus on three areas:
  • How Much Does It Cost? With credit card debt at an all-time high, we believe you should know the cost of carrying a balance. Because of that, we give regular purchase APRs significant weight in overall scores, and cards receive low marks if they have an array of pricey fees.
  • What Are the Rewards Worth? Cards accumulate rewards in different currencies—points, miles, cash back—and their values vary widely. To simplify the problem, we built a system that fairly compares rewards and gives them a dollar value. We do this by looking at the ways you can earn and use rewards, which includes evaluating Americans’ typical spending habits and analyzing common travel patterns.
  • Does It Make Your Life Easier? Our scoring system favors cards that accept a wide range of credit profiles and offer simple solutions for things like checking your credit score or contacting customer service. Finally, we give preference to credit cards that have several tools for dealing with fraudulent charges.
  • For every review on The Balance, we hold the credit cards to these standards, and we set the bar high. While we recognize the appeal of splashy features like six-digit sign-up bonuses, our approach ensures that credit cards with the best combination of value, affordability, and accessibility receive the highest scores. See our full methodology for more details.