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Sallie Mae Accelerate Card Review

Dayana Yochim

Written by Dayana Yochim
Edited by Carolyn Kimball
Fact-checked by Andrea Coombes

March 12, 2024

Why trust us? has no financial relationship with any of the credit card providers whose products we analyze and review. Our opinions are based solely on data and our own extensive independent research — that means unbiased guidance for consumers. Rewards cards in our cashback credit card calculator are listed in descending order according to how much money they pay out annually based on the inputs.

Editor’s note: The Sallie Mae Accelerate card has been rebranded as the ignite World Mastercard through First Bank & Trust. See more information here. To find a great cashback credit card for you, use our credit card rewards calculator.

If paying down your student loans is a priority, this cashback card from Sallie Mae offers an incentive — a 33 1/3% rewards rate booster (turning a 1.5% cashback rate to 2% cashback) to direct the money towards any federal or private loan.

Spend money to pay down your student loans faster? This is the way with the Sallie Mae Accelerate rewards card. The card pays a higher cashback rate (2% vs. 1.5%) if you put your earnings toward your student loan balance, thus using rewards to accelerate your debt payoff. The deal applies to private or federal student loans from any lender, too, not just Sallie Mae ones.

The Accelerate rewards card setup works for those who need more incentive to throw extra money towards student loan debt. Otherwise, you could probably earn a similar or higher cashback rate (even from Sallie’s other rewards card — the Evolve card) and have more flexible rewards options.

The basics: Redeem 2% cash back to help pay down any student loan, or earn 1.5% cashback for everything else.

Pros and cons

thumb_up_off_alt Pros

  • Earn 2% cash back when redeemed to help pay down a student loan
  • No annual fee
  • $200 bonus for spending $1K in first three months
  • No cap or expiration on rewards
  • Secondary cell phone coverage and other Mastercard bennies

thumb_down_off_alt Cons

  • Limited redemption options (which is kinda the point, but still)
  • The 1.5% base cashback rate is pretty basic
  • $25 reward redemption minimum
  • No welcome bonus or 0% intro APR on transfers or purchases
  • The 3% foreign transaction and 5% cash advance fees will leave a mark
  • Not really worth it if you don’t have student loan debt

Cashback rewards spending categories

The following table shows the cashback rewards rate per $1 spent in the six most common spending categories. The “Bonus Rate” refers to the amount you can earn in excess of the card’s standard rewards rate.

Some cashback cards limit the spending amount eligible for the bonus rate (aka the “Spend Cap”). Once you hit that cap (e.g., $1,500 spending in a particular category during a defined time period), the rewards rate on future purchases in that category reverts to the lower “Default Rate.”

Category Default Rate Bonus Rate Bonus Spend Cap Bonus Spend Period (Months)
Gas 1.50% - - -
Travel 1.50% - - -
Dining 1.50% - - -
Entertainment 1.50% - - -
Pharmacy 1.50% - - -
Groceries 1.50% - - -
Other Purchases 1.50% - - -

Note: The Sallie Mae Accelerate card pays a higher 2% cashback rate when you use your rewards to pay down any private or federal student loan. In our calculator we use the 1.5% default cashback rate that applies to rewards earnings that are not used for loan paydown.

What we like

It’s all about how you redeem your cash back. Direct the money toward a federal or private student loan, and the 1.5% base rate per $1 spent becomes 2%. That’s a 33 1/3% boost to your cashback rate.

Keep your calculator handy: An increased student loan payment also reduces how much you’ll pay in interest ✅ and how long the loan will loom ✅. Zing!

There are no caps on how much you can earn in rewards. And, no, this is not an excuse to go on lavish shopping sprees in the name of earning more cash back to put towards your student loans. There is no universe where the spend-more-to-save-more math makes sense.

Pay your cell bill with your Accelerate card to access Mastercard’s secondary cell phone insurance on up to three phones ($600 max claim after $50 co-payment).

An added security measure beyond the $0 liability on unauthorized charges is the ability to “pause” your credit card temporarily for any reason.

What we don't like

Your cashback rate is docked half a percent to a very average 1.5% if you don’t go with the student loan pay-down option and opt instead for a statement credit or electronic deposit into a checking or savings account.

There’s a $25 redemption minimum requirement. At 2% cash back, that’ll require $1,250 in spending. At the 1.5% rate you’ll need to charge $1,666 to rack up enough to be eligible to cash out.

With a little discipline, you could pay off your student loan even faster by getting a card with a higher overall cashback rate and using the rewards cash to pay down your loan. Just sayin’.

Planning a trip back to where you spent your semester abroad? You’ll want to retrace your steps without this Accelerate card to avoid the 3% foreign transaction fee.

Avoid borrowing cash from Sallie: The cash advance fee is a steep 5%, or $10, whichever is greater.

The fine print

No, there won’t be a quiz. But it’s still a good idea to read through the card terms and conditions and cashback reward details for the Sallie Mae Accelerate Mastercard.

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The results of the Credit Card Rewards Calculator are based on the monthly spending amounts you enter and the annual dollar value of the rewards each credit card program pays per $1 spent. Credit card companies often express this payout amount as a percentage (e.g., 1.5% of every dollar spent) or on a points basis (e.g. ,1.5 points for every dollar spent). We converted all of them to a dollar amount (“Cash Back Per Year”) to make comparing offers easier.

To calculate the amount of cash back you could earn per year, we factored in:

  • Spend category inputs: The default dollar values for each “Spend Category” in the Best Cashback Credit Cards tool — gas, groceries, travel, restaurant, entertainment, pharmacy, other — are based on average American spending data from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also include additional spend categories (such as streaming services, online shopping, utilities, transit, Amazon and more) to help you see which rewards cards are most closely aligned with your actual spending patterns. We encourage you to customize the monthly spend inputs for the most accurate results.
  • Tiered rewards rates: If a rewards credit card pays higher cashback rates on certain spending categories (also called “Bonus Rewards”), that difference is reflected in the total “Cash Back Per Year” tally.
  • Rewards spending caps: Some cards impose category- or time-based limits (monthly, quarterly, annually) that affect the amount of rewards you can earn. For example, a card may pay 3% cash back on groceries on up to $1,000 of spending each quarter, then revert to the base/default rewards rate until the following quarter. We accounted for bonus spending caps and timeframe in the calculations.
  • Default rewards rates: Purchases that exceed a spending cap are usually subject to a lower default rewards rate (e.g., 1% or 1.5%). We mathed that out too.
  • Annual fees: If a rewards card charges an annual fee, we deducted that amount from the “Cash Back Per Year” total to provide a true accounting of a card’s annual rewards payout.

What’s not included in the “Cash Back Per Year” total is the cash value of any sign-up/introductory bonus. We highlight any Welcome Bonus separately. While sign-up bonuses can be the most lucrative part of getting a new cashback rewards credit card, not everyone will want or be able to do what it takes to earn the extra cash. (It usually requires spending a certain amount in a specified time period after the card is activated.)

About the Editorial Team

Dayana Yochim
Dayana Yochim

Dayana Yochim has been writing (articles, books, podcasts, stirring speeches) about personal finance and investing for more than two decades, focusing on bringing clarity and the occasional comedic aside to what is often a murky, humorless topic. She’s written for NerdWallet, The Motley Fool,, Woman’s Day, Forbes, Newsweek and others, and been a guest expert on "Today," "Good Morning America," CNN, NPR and wherever they’ll hand her a mic.

Carolyn Kimball
Carolyn Kimball

Carolyn Kimball is Managing Editor for Reink Media Group and the lead editor for content on Carolyn has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at major media outlets including NerdWallet, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News. She specializes in coverage of personal financial products and services, wielding her editing skills to clarify complex (some might say befuddling) topics to help consumers make informed decisions about their money.

Andrea Coombes
Andrea Coombes

Andrea Coombes has 20+ years of experience helping people reach their financial goals. Her personal finance articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, MarketWatch, Forbes, and other publications, and she's shared her expertise on CBS, NPR, "Marketplace," and more. She's been a financial coach and certified consumer credit counselor, and is working on becoming a Certified Financial Planner. She knows that owning pets isn't necessarily the best financial decision; her dog and two cats would argue this point.