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% - 22.99% 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
Current Offer

Earn 2% cash back on your first $20,000 in purchases for the first twelve months.

Who Is This Credit Card Best For?

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    Savvy Saver

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 (we’ll get into that more below), 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

  • Bonus offer is limited

  • 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. 
  • Bonus offer is limited: This card only rewards extra cash back on the first $20,000 spent in your first year. It doesn’t double your earnings on all purchases, like some other student card bonuses. That limitation means you can’t earn more than $200 by year’s end with the Ignite—and you’ll spend $20,000 to get there, which may be challenging if you’re a cash-strapped student. Other student cards require far less in spending to qualify for a similar new-cardholder bonus. 
  • 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

Instead of a bonus that requires you to spend a certain amount right after opening your account to earn some extra cash back within a few months, this card essentially doubles your first-year earnings. For the first year, you’ll earn 2% back on every purchase.

The bonus works like this: throughout the year, you earn 1% cash back on all purchases. At the end of the 12-month period, Sallie Mae matches your first $20,000 in spending with an additional 1% back. The extra 1% back will be deposited in your account in about shows up within two months.

This bonus offer is similar to what the Discover it Student Cash Back and the Discover it Chrome for Students offer, but as we explained above, the Sallie Mae Ignite offer isn’t unlimited. You can actually earn a similar bonus faster with several other student card offers.

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.

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 $135 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: as a statement credit or as 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 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 in case 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, monitor your spending, and dispute fraudulent transactions if needed. 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

The Sallie Mae mobile app lets you temporarily disable your card in the event it’s lost or stolen. You can also 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% - 22.99% 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 June 11, 2020.

  2. Sallie Mae. "Sallie Mae Ignite." Accessed June 11, 2020.

  3. Sallie Mae. "Contact Us." Accessed June 11, 2020.