Sallie Mae Ignite

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The Sallie Mae Ignite card offers cash-back rewards to students and other credit card newcomers looking to build their credit profile. It’s a basic rewards rate to start, but cardholders who consistently pay on time will earn a little extra—and lay the groundwork for a strong track record.

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 (%) 14.49% - 24.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 1.0% cash back on eligible purchases
INTRO PURCHASE APR 0% for 6 Months
Foreign transaction fee (%) 3%
Ratings Breakdown
for Interest
for Fees
for Rewards
for Credit

Who Is This Credit Card Best For?

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    Savvy Saver

While there are definitely credit cards with higher cash-back rates on the market, the top rewards cards are mostly for consumers with good or excellent credit profiles. The Sallie Mae Ignite, on the other hand, was created specifically for students and young adults who have yet to establish a credit history but don’t want to miss out on the world of rewards. Better still, those who can responsibly support 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 by 25%. 

(Sallie Mae wouldn’t tell us what credit score an applicant would need to qualify, but the company did explain that several factors go into its approval decisions—including ability to repay.)

  • Bigger rewards for responsible credit use

  • Credit building with no annual fee and no deposit

  • Introductory 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers

  • Limited redemption options

Pros Explained

  • Bigger rewards for responsible credit use: This card’s rewards-earnings rate jumps from 1% to 1.25% after you’re on time with six consecutive monthly payments. This might be the motivation you need 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.
  • Credit building with no annual fee and no deposit: Many people with limited credit histories turn to secured credit cards to build credit. But those require an upfront security deposit to get started, and some charge an annual fee too. This credit card doesn’t burden you with either one.
  • Introductory interest-free period on purchases and balance transfers: The introductory APR of 0% applies to both purchases and balance transfers, which is unusual for a student card. And though it’s brief—just six months—it might help new cardholders meet the on-time payments requirement for earning more cash back. That said, the balance transfer offer may be too short to be really helpful as a debt retirement tool. 

Cons Explained

  • Limited 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, some credit cards for students and even some secured cards let you cash in rewards at any point, and offer gift cards, merchandise, and more. 

A secured credit card, which requires a deposit to open the account, is one alternative for people with a limited credit history. The deposit provides the lender some insurance in case the cardholder defaults. With an unsecured credit card like the Sallie Mae Ignite, there’s no security deposit, and lenders rely on an applicant’s credit score and other factors to determine how likely that cardholder is to reliably pay. 

Earning Points & 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.

To be sure, 1% or even 1.25% is by no means the highest cash-back rate available. Other cards offer better—but they also often require a good or excellent credit score. Nevertheless, with this card, if your annual credit card spending is $12,000, and you clear the on-time payment hurdle in your first six months, you’ll earn $135 in cash back in your first year and $150 every year thereafter (assuming you spend $1,000 each month and maintain that level of spending). 

Sallie Mae, best known as a student loan provider, offers bigger rewards opportunities on its other credit cards, the Sallie Mae Accelerate and the Sallie Mae Evolve. If you have a good (and more established) credit profile, you should consider these options instead. 

Redeeming Rewards

The Sallie Mae Ignite card lets you redeem rewards in two ways—as a credit on your card statement or as a deposit into a checking or savings account. It’s limiting, but also simple. Just keep in mind you’ll need to have accrued at least $25 in rewards before you can redeem. 

How to Get the Most Out of This Card

Not only will paying your bill on time help you grab the higher rate of rewards, but it will put you on strong footing as you make your way into the world of credit. Only use your credit card for purchases you can afford to pay off monthly, and never be late with your payments, and you may see your credit score improve over time. In fact, you’ll know for sure, since Sallie Mae provides Ignite cardholders with their FICO scores for free at any time.

If you have balances on other credit card accounts, the six months of 0% interest on balance transfers can help you pay off that debt sooner, though six months is not a long time. Just remember if you take this option, you’ll pay a fee of 3% of the balance transferred. Yes, interest-free promotions can help if you carry a balance from one month to the next, but try not to make this a habit. 

If you close your account without redeeming your rewards, you’ll forfeit them. With that in mind, it’s smart to wait until you have at least $25 in rewards to redeem before you close this credit card. 

Sallie Mae Ignite Card’s Excellent Perks

The Sallie Mae Ignite card comes with one perk the editors of The Balance consider “excellent”:

  • Cellphone insurance: Qualify for cellphone coverage against damage or theft when you pay your phone bill with your credit card. This coverage is good for up to $600 per claim, but a $50 deductible applies. Coverage is good for up to $1,000 in claims every 12 months. Note that this coverage is secondary to any other coverage you may have. 

Customer Experience

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

Security Features

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

Sallie Mae Ignite Card’s Fees 

The fees on this card are consistent with industry standards. 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 (%) 14.49% - 24.49% variable
Annual Fee $0
Rewards Earning Rate 1.0% cash back on eligible purchases
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.

Article Sources

The Balance requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy .
  1. Sallie Mae. "Pricing and Terms." Page 2. Accessed March 6, 2020.